I’ve never considered myself much of a “group tour kind of person.”
Group tours are too rigid, too time-constrained and usually don’t involve enough snack breaks.
Also, inherent with the name, group tours require that you travel in a group of people. And, well, I’m not much of a “people-person” or at least not a “big group of people I’ve never met before person.”
My aversion to group tours did not stop me from booking two group tours while I was in Melbourne.
Like many things I purchase over the Internet, this seemed like a good idea at the time.
However, by the time of my first tour, a tour of the Great Ocean Road, rolled around, I wasn’t so sure.
In addition to not being a “group tour kind of person” I’m also not what you would call a “morning kind of person.” In fact, I usually abide by a strict policy of absolutely no social interaction before noon.
So I wasn’t exactly keen to climb on to a mini-bus full of people at seven o’clock in the morning. Especially when it became quickly apparent that not everyone else on the bus had the same policies about early morning interaction as I do.
An Italian family of eight boarded shortly after me. Two middle-aged Italian women who appeared to be sisters spent the entire time chit-chatting animatedly amongst themselves in Italian. From the way these two carried on their discussion without stopping, I could only imagine that it had been years, possibly decades, since they had last seen each other.
Every once in a while the two women would decide to involve their other family members in their conversation. As their other family members were located in seats scattered about the mini-bus, this meant the women would have to yell fast-paced Italian over the seats while gesturing madly.
Have I mentioned that I also have a policy of no wild body language before noon, too?
In addition to disregarding my policy on early morning social interaction and animated gesticulation, it became quickly evident that the people in the bus also did not follow my policies on other important issues such as the making of bodily noises in public (and by “in public” I mean “directly behind my bus seat”), the wearing of too much cologne (and by “too much” I mean “so much cologne that everyone else on the bus can actually taste it when you walk by”) and the playing of Beach Boys’ music of any kind.
This last policy breach was made by the tour operators themselves, who seemed to think that the facilitation of an enjoyable group tour could only come about by blasting the entire busload of people with cheesy, outdated music.
Not only was this not appreciated on my part, I felt it was not even very nice.
After all, one should not be on a group tour in Australia heading to the Great Ocean Road of Australia, one of the most scenic destinations in Australia, while listening to the Beach Boys croon, “I wish they all could be California girls.” I mean, how do you think this makes poor Australia feel? Not to mention all the girls of Australia!
After leaving Melbourne, our tour bus stopped at a number of scenic spots along the way to The Great Ocean Road, including one of Australia’s most famous surfing beaches, Bells Beach, the seaside town of Lorne and the popular beach resort of Apollo Bay.
The intent of these stops, I’m sure, was to charm us with the gorgeous beaches and quaint towns located along Victoria’s Coast. But we only had about ten minutes allotted for each location, and our bus driver had made it abundantly clear that we were not to be late to the bus. I was pretty sure he had been joking when he told us he would leave us should we be late for our pickup times, but I wasn’t about to find out if this was actually a joke or a good-natured Australian threat.
Needless to say, it’s quite difficult to be charmed when you’re galloping down wooden steps as fast as possible to get to the beach to snap a few pictures before running back up the wooden steps to get to the bus on time.
It’s even more difficult to feel charmed when you’re doing this with a couple thousand Asian tourists, another thousand or so Australians on holiday, and an Italian family of eight.
It’s damn near impossible to be charmed when you’re doing all this with a full bladder as there is absolutely no time to stop at one of the public restrooms along the way.
Given all the early morning bus chit-chat, the strict time constraints and my incredibly full bladder, I was really not enjoying myself for the better half of the morning.
I didn’t start to perk up until we arrived at the Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks towering in the middle of the ocean. They used to be called The Sow and Piglets until it was decided this name was not capable of attracting billions of tourists each year. There are actually only eight or nine limestone stacks in the water — this all depends on who you ask. But I guess “Eight or Nine (Depending On Who You Ask) Apostles” does not have a good ring to it.
The Twelve Apostles definitely made for an impressive sight from land, but an even more impressive sight from the air. In addition to booking my two group tours, I had also booked a helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles.
Like my many Internet purchases of the past (those two days of group tours or any pair of pants purchased on the L.L. Bean website), this seemed like a good idea at the time. Unlike my many Internet purchases of the past (including said pairs of pants), this did, in fact, turn out to be a good idea… a really good idea.
Of course, it didn’t seem like such a good idea when the pilot was strapping me into the front seat of the helicopter. As he was shutting the door, he took the time to point out the lever that I could use to open the door “in case of emergency.”
Opening the door seemed easy enough, but what I was supposed to do with myself after opening the door wasn’t exactly apparent. There didn’t appear to be any life jackets or parachutes or magic fairy wings on-board. If an emergency did happen and I was able to open the door using the emergency lever, was I supposed to fling myself out of the open door and into the sea hundreds of meters below or was I just supposed to sit there and enjoy the breeze?
Who was to know?
Luckily no emergencies were encountered on-board, unless you can count the three heart attacks I’m pretty sure I suffered while the helicopter was in the air.
But they were good heart attacks — good “omigod-I’m-going-to-plummet-to-my-death-but-check-out-that-amazing-view” kind of heart attacks. And if you’re going to have a heart attack, I suppose flying around in a helicopter above some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen is the way to do it.
After my helicopter ride, I boarded the mini-bus in much better spirits. In fact, I actually smiled a few times. I even started chatting with other people on the bus. I’d hazard to say I was cheerful for the rest of the trip, which included two more stops at popular lookout locations along the Road as well as a quick dinner break.
By the time we arrived in Melbourne at nine o’clock at night, I was no longer regretting my decision to book the tours. I was even looking forward to my tour the following day. I was just sincerely hoping the tour would not involve Beach Boys’ music of any kind.
Are you a group tour kind of person? What’s the best/worst group tour you’ve ever been on?