We finished a week in Melbourne with a rather strong buzz; not of the alcohol sort, but from the caffeine. We had been warned that Australians in general, but Melbournians in particular, are extremely discriminating when it comes to their coffee; so much so that a Melbourne local not only has his favorite cafes, but his favorite baristas too.
From my own informal and by no means exact survey, I would guess that each block in the city averages at least two cafes, of which the vast majority are small and independently owned. Not only are supremely high-quality beans the simple standard in this town, but the baristas are of equally high caliber, weilding a portafilter and steamwand with such agility it would make any American-born hipster blush. And this is precisely why Starbucks didn’t stand a chance in this town.
But before we could even taste the coffee, we had to learn the lingo. They’ve developed a coffee-related vocabulary here separate from the rest of the world. I liken it to the eskimos with their 50 different words for what we simply term “snow.” In the same manner, what we simply call “coffee,” they more precisely name a “short black,” “long black,” “flat white,” "strong flat white," and the list goes on.
It may seem like just semantics (I made the same rookie assumption), but its not. There is, for example, a distinct difference between a flat white and a latte. And when you ask an Australian barista to explain the difference to you, they stumble with a loss for words, like there just isn’t the linguistic capacity within my American dialect to comprehend such a sophisticated nuance.
Probably because of Australia’s reputation as a country that likes their drinks, law enforcement limits blood-alcohol levels of drivers to just .05 (compared to .08 in America). This means a mere ½ glass of wine could disqualify you as designated driver. But lucky for us, they don’t limit caffeine intake while driving. So when Friday afternoon rolled around we were off like a prom dress in our rented fuel efficient vehicle driving on the wrong, I mean "left," side of the road toward Wilson’s Promontory, the national park southeast of Melbourne affectionaly known as "The Prom. "
With the stress of the city behind us and the weekend on the horizon, a spirit of spontaneity grabbed us and we made an unplanned pit stop at the suggestion of a small hand-painted wooden sign on the side of the road announcing a small-town brewery and distillery. We sipped some English-style ales and a house-made gin, but our favorite was the gin liqueur. Wanting to keep our blood alcohol levels at a responsible level for the rest of our drive, we bought a bottle as a treat for another day.
About an hour later, we entered The Prom, and shortly thereafter, we saw a kangaroo on the side of the road. With a level of excitement akin to seeing a lion in the wild, we pulled off the road to take pictures and obsess over our exotic find. Strangely, other cars drove by with no detectible level of interest.
After about 20 photos and 3 videos of the obliging kangaroo (if you didn't see our video, click here), we drove on only to find that, in Australia, kangaroos are about as exotic and uncommon as a pigeon. Nevertheless, we remained impressed, slowing for all of them much to the chagrin of the drivers behind us.
And to our own dismay, we learned the hard way that “roos” aren’t the smartest creatures. One of them after hopping alongside of our car for about 100 meters, suddenly jumped in front of us and bounced to the left and right a few times before jumping out of our way again.
Fortunately, Tom was driving and he is highly experienced at dodging bouncy objects in the roadway (I attribute it to his long hours of playing Mario kart in college). He slammed on the brakes, swerved a few times and avoided a very high deductible to fix our rental car. Apparently “roos” can do some real damage (which unfortunately happens quite often we later learned driving past hundreds of kangaroo-roadkill before arriving in Sydney 3 days later).
After our adventures in The Prom, we spent the rest of the evening driving in the dark to our bed and breakfast in the sleepy town of Lakes Entrance and retired to bed early, as a there was little else to do.
The next morning we awoke at sunrise. Since it is winter down here, the days are short, and we wanted to take full advantage of the little daylight we had. And we were sure glad we did, as we found some beautiful vistas and coastal gems. We stopped first in Mallacoota for a walk along the water and then in Eden for a lunch of oysters and champagne.
Luckily Tom didn’t drink the champagne, because on the way out of this sleepy little coastal town in mid-day, the police were conducting a DUI checkpoint. Unlike a checkpoint in the States where the cop simply asks you if you have been drinking, the Aussies actually make every driver breathe into a breathalyzer, even if you look and act as dry as the outback. So for the first time ever, Tom had to do a breathalyzer test. He passed.
We finished day two with some more incredible vistas at Narooma and it's Glass Rocks and some quick stops at the small beaches and coves south of Bateman’s Bay during sunset. At the suggestion of our host, we dined at Little Restaurant in Bateman’s Bay that evening.
I decided to see what all the roadkill tasted like and ordered the night’s specialty...Kangaroo! It’s a very lean meat, best served rare or medium-rare to avoid it coming out too tough. The verdict? Cute to look at, good to eat. I’ll eat it again.
Day three started off with breakfast on the verandah, a view of the bay, a mama kangaroo feeding on the lawn below with a little joey in her pouch, and our host telling us stories of shark encounters nearby. It doesn’t get any more Australian than this.
And just up the road, we actually got to touch the little furry guys. Well, I got to touch them. Tom was too scared and he stood about 100 ft away. Apparently, the youtube viral video of kangaroos fighting spooked him.
Mid-morning we crawled through the little heritage town, named Milton. Just inland, set amongst farmland, and somehow stuck in the 1950’s, towns like Milton are about as rare in Australia as a kangaroo. But new to the country as we were, we hadn’t tired of them just yet, so we stopped for a cup of coffee…I mean a long black. We were, afterall, still weaning ourselves off the caffeine addition we picked up in Melbourne.
But the highlight of this day’s drive was Jervis Bay. We stopped first at Hyams Beach to admire what has been named the “whitest sand in the world” and drool over the beachside homes overlooking this stunning bit of coast. The water was so bright in color that I had to squint.
A little further along the bay, we arrived at a small downtown area and again enjoyed a lunch of oysters (and champagne for me…Tom knows how to spoil a girl). The weather reminded me of California in the winter. The sun was shining but the air cool and the water sparkling. I love days like this when you can sit in the sun and not get hot.
From Jervis Bay, we hurried along the Grand Pacific Drive racing the sun to Sydney. We did make time for a short stop at Kiama to see a blowhole and more amazing coastal views. We could have stayed longer, but it was getting late and we really wanted to make it to Sydney before sunset.
And we did make it just in time. As we walked over to the public opening in front of the opera house, we turned back to watch as the sun set behind the harbor bridge. Melbourne, with its laneway cafes, expert chefs, and perfect cup of joe, may have won my stomach, but one look at this harbor at sunset and Sydney won my heart.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!