I have a super funny story for you.
We've been keeping it low-key in Melbourne, but we knew we wanted to get out of the city and see some "real" Australia, like the photo above of this Koala's backside.
So, we decided to rent a car to explore for a few days. Our plan was to first stop in Phillip Island, then spend a couple of days exploring The Great Ocean Road - which, if you can't tell from the name, is supposed to be great.
Phillip Island is about 2 hours away from Melbourne. A drive through what looks like small-town Missouri.
Phillip Island is lovely. It's surrounded by a beautiful ocean and a quaint small town that cares about preserving wildlife and nature.
Our first stop was The Koala Conservation Reserve, a natural habitat that homes injured or orphaned koalas. Our twins really were excited about this. And really, we were, too. I mean, Koalas are the cutest, right? We also saw wild wallabies, parrots, and cockatoos!
After this, we went just across the street to Amaze N Things, a fun indoor amusement place with mazes, puzzles, magic, and illusions. Think Casa Magnetica at Six Flags meets a kid's magic show. Think textbook vacation attraction. We had so much fun here.
Then it was off to the Penguin Parade, which takes place in a national park. Thousands of penguins swim back from the ocean every night and waddle up the beach to their burrows. It's the largest colony of little penguins in the world. The beach was beautiful, and we sat on the cold sand and watched the waves crash while the sun was setting and little penguins slowly and carefully waddled into the safety of their burrow for the night. They do this every day of the year. Their two jobs are to go out into the ocean and find food with their families and then quickly and quietly make their way back to their burrows at dusk. While hundreds of humans watch.
So, we had a solid adventure day. No major meltdowns, animals in their habitat, mirror mazes and lots of people with funny accents. Unfortunately, no one looked a bit like Crocodile Dundee.
After a quick dinner at the Penguin Parade, we started the two-hour drive back to Melbourne.
Luckily all the kids crash quickly, and Britt and I are just talking about whatever silly nonsense we can think of to make each other laugh.
Unluckily we hit something big. The tire starts shaking and is obviously flat. We are on a divided country highway; there's not much around, no street lights.
Britt sees a small house, and we pull off into the long driveway to avoid sitting on the sideway of the highway as trucks speed past at 100K per hour.
The tire has a huge three-inch piece taken right out of it.
At that moment, I wanted to blame Britt, even though it wouldn't be helpful or true. But you know how your brain looks for problems to solve, and when the issue you are faced with involves your partner…you might be inclined to make it their fault. No? You never do that? Oh yeah, me neither.
As you can imagine, I don't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with three sleeping kids in a car that is not mine, in a country that is not mine, with no one to call for help. Like, I really don't want this situation. I took a moment. Got quiet and still. Looked up at the night sky and just asked to be kept safe.
Luckily we look in the trunk, and there's a spare and jack. Unluckily the rental car company is not answering their phone. Also, the tire won't budge; the lug nuts are tight.
We try and try to get them loose. As we do, another car pulls off ahead of us. Just past yet another car that is being pulled onto a tow truck. Britt talks to them to get advice on getting road assistance. Turns out both of those cars hit a giant pothole just behind us. The same pothole we hit. Okay, now I know my misplaced blame doesn't belong to Britt.
The car getting towed had been waiting on said two trucks for over 3 hours.
That is not going to work for us.
The house owner comes outside, and Britt goes to talk to him. He's a kind young guy that would remind you of a good old boy from Texas if it weren't for the Australian accent and talk about kangaroos.
He helps us loosen the lug nuts and change the tire to the spare, which hilariously is flat. Luckily he has a compressor in his garage. So, he airs up the spare. We gratefully praise his good ol boy's ways and set out on our way back to Melbourne.
Oh, did you think that was the last part of the story? No, please!
We continue driving down the dark highway, and as we do, it seems like our headlights are getting dimmer. Or it's getting darker. Who can tell?
A turn takes us down an even more remote and darker road. By now, we can tell that the headlights are getting dimmer. And the dash lights are almost completely dim. The check engine light comes on. Check.
At a fork in the road, the car completely stops. No lights, no nothing. Won't even try to turn over.
Damn. Now we are even more in the middle of nowhere.
At that exact moment, a car drives by, and Britt waves them down. A nice man gets out, and after hearing our sad story and seeing our three children in the back, who is now awake and very freaked out, he happily helps us.
He and Britt push the car into a safe area and pop the hood to do that thing where you have a look around the engine even though you probably have no idea what you're looking at and you can't fix it. You know, just to check. Like, you might examine under the hood and realize, "Oh! Look, just a pesky squirrel in the engine. Get him out, and we will be on our way."
Unluckily there was no squirrel to speak of. Luckily the man says he lives two minutes up the road, and he will get his bigger car to take all of us to the local motel. Because there's no other way to get back to Melbourne (by now, it's past 10pm), and we'd for sure be waiting for hours on a tow truck for a car that is not our responsibility.
Britt calls the closest motel while the man does the car switcheroo to find out they have one room, and they are about to leave for the night. After Britt tells them our story, they agree to wait until we arrive and give us the last room.
While we wait, our two-year-old gets more and more upset. A mixture of being tired, not being asleep in a comfy bed, and sheer WTF is happening. He cries and says, "Fix it, Daddy." Which is more sweet and cute than it is sad. We just can't help but say awww in the face of his baby panic.
He quickly comes back with not one but two cars; he got his teenage daughter in on the fun, so we can head to the motel without being squished in one car.
We make it to the motel. Profusely thank the kind father-daughter duo.
Go into the motel lobby. Get the keys, and talk to the owner about our predicament. They told us the best way to get back to Melbourne would be a bus in the morning, and luckily there was a stop a three-minute walk down the street. We are too worn out to decide what we will do tomorrow. But we are so grateful for their info and their warm room.
After getting as cozy as you can in a drive-in motel in the middle of nowhere, we watch an episode of Anthony Bourdain with the boys before falling asleep. I often wonder What Would Anthony Do in wild travel moments, and there he was with me in this wild travel moment. Having dinner by a freezing cold river in Newfoundland. So, he wasn't much help.
The next morning we packed up and walked three minutes to the bus, which cost AUD 14 for the 5 of us. Then we have a sleepy, quiet ride back to the city. In full of gratitude for all the kind and helpful people there are in the world.
I can't help but think this could be a horrible experience on a regular vacation where you only have 5 or 8 days. But when it's woven into the fabric of traveling for 8+ months, it becomes a beautiful and hilarious piece of travel gold.
Travel will test us. Push us beyond the limits of your ability. And it is up to us to meet those moments with humor, gratitude, and without blame.
We never did make it to the Great Ocean Road.