Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Grand Slam Plan - Rumbling Tums in the Grampian Highlands!

I am contemplating putting up some serious resistance to leaving Melbourne and the Langham, in particular.  But Big Foot (yes, it's still big!) points out that the room rates multiplied several times over for this weekend and it's time to move on. And he's definitely looking forward to the big drive. So we pick up the hire car and head out of the city.

Our route combines motorways with some 'roads less travelled' and you quickly get a sense of how sparsely populated some areas are. We are still touristy enough to laugh and point out signs that remind you to beware kangaroos and koalas although I imagine that the koalas only need 'bewaring' at night as they are sleepy during the day (and most of the night as it turns out...)

We are on our way to the Grampian Highlands to Meringa Springs at the suggestion of friends from home and the two hour drive from Melbourne turns out to be more like four hours with only a stop for a kitkat and petrol. The last ten miles along eucalyptus-lined roads we hardly see a car and finally we turn in at the sign that says Meringa Springs. There are a few cottages, a helipad and a terracotta-painted house with no sign on the door. I push it open and an elderly chap is standing in reception and  confirms it is indeed Meringa Springs. He is Swiss and retired when he was 65 and built this tiny hotel in, well, the middle of nowhere.

Our room is a cottage a short walk from the main hotel with large sitting room, huge bedroom, bathroom and dressing room. The view from our balcony where we can sit - less of a balcony, more of a fenced patio - is across the bush to the mountains and it reminds me of Kenya. As evening draws in, with the most spectacular sunset, the wildlife makes its way nearer to the hotel.

But first we swim in the infinity pool which we have all to ourselves and bask in almost the first proper sun we've had on this trip before dinner in the tiny dining room. There are six other guests, all very friendly and it feels like a house party rather than a hotel. Dinner, Shiraz, bed.

One of the things I have especially enjoyed on this trip is my morning run. I've loved the experience of running on unfamiliar streets, never knowing what lies around the corner. My runs have thus far been city-based but this morning I lace up my trainers and set off across the uneven scrub of the bush. Almost as soon as I leave the immediate environs of the hotel, I come nose to nose (well, about 8 metres) with a large kangaroo. He looks at me - and we're at eye level - and I look at him. Will he run/hop? No, he just ignores me as I set off across the scrub. In my fifteen minute run (too hot and too many flies to stay out any longer) I encounter about 40 kangaroos and some turn and flee as they see me approach and others merely look at me and carry on grazing. Surreal. (Just briefly to fast forward to later in the trip, it turns out that this was a highly dangerous activity but no one told me so I did it anyway.)

We decide that after all our travelling we need a quiet day by the infinity pool and it's hot and blissful and a perfect day for reading, swimming and ... doing nothing. One other couple stay at the hotel too whilst the others set off walking and hiking in the Grampian Highlands. Stunning scenery but even we run out of gas sometime. As we get near to lunchtime, someone is waiting for the bar to open and I am looking forward to a salad or a sandwich. But the hotel remains resolutely empty and there's no sign of any staff - neither Paul, the proprietor, nor any of the other family members who work there. By about two pm, we are starting to get irritated by the lack of either food or drink and the neurologist husband and wife from Switzerland with whom we have been chatting are equally irritated. The nearest town is some thirty miles away so not a hop round the corner to your local Spar. Time to consult the internet where we discover on TripAdvisor that they don't do lunch. Surely they could have told us that at check-in? And the bar isn't open so between the four of us we amass two bottles of red wine and some peanuts and that has to keep us going till dinner. Luckily our Swiss friends are great company and despite rumbling tums we survive.

Dinner together is fun and we exchange email addresses and perhaps we will meet them again on the Great Ocean Road. This is such a truly beautiful place but I shall be ready to leave tomorrow.

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