Rock Formation Glancing

Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
Trip End Oct 22, 2004

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004


We said our farewells to Melbourne and headed out of town in a brand new little Toyota campervan, heading south for 80km through Geelong and down to Torquay for the start of the Great Ocean Road.

We checked into Zeally Bay caravan park and headed straight into Torquay's little town centre to fill the van with our usual precious cargo of raw meat and neat alcohol. Back at the park we plugged the van into the national grid and under dark clouds we set off for a walk along the pine-lined seafront up to the surf beach and back, and with rain in the distance we retired to the van to map out our overnight stays for the coming 16 days.

It was a chilly evening as we wrapped ourselves up for a barbeque of pork sausages, lamb rissoles and rump steaks. Did I leave any livestock out there? And once the kilo of meat had digested in our stomachs we zipped together a couple of professional looking Black Wolf sleeping bags for a good night's sleep in our little mobile abattoir. (Sorry Jack)


It was the first of the month and our first day on the Great Ocean Road, a road that's preferably driven under sunny skies but a nice big low pressure system had been clinging to western Victoria for the last week and it wasn't going anywhere. Still, it was now or never as we headed out of Torquay stopping off now and again to stretch our legs on its world famous surf beaches, with Bells Beach having just staged it's international surfing event, the longest running competition in the world.

A short drive along the road and we were passing under the large wooden memorial arch that signalled the 'official start' of the Great Ocean Road and to the side was a plaque with a potted history of the road's beginnings with the story of how it was constructed between 1918 and 1932 as a way of giving over 3,000 returning soldiers from the first world war employment as well as being a lasting memorial to the war dead.

We arrived early afternoon in Lorne, a small scale St Tropez set between Loutit Bay and the Otway Ranges with stylish restaurants, classy boutiques and expensive accommodation. We settled for a twenty dollar caravan park on the outskirts and ambled into town for a fish and chip lunch and a seat on a bench surrounded by gum trees for a look at the numerous surfers who were huddled down one end of the beach near rocks where waves were higher.

The drizzly morning had given way to a few rays of sun by the afternoon, but by early evening the temperature had dropped once more and rain was hammering down, thus postponing tonight's barbie because of a waterlogged pitch.


We woke to another damp, chilly morning and as it was Sunday we popped into the supermarket next door for newspapers, bacon, beans and crumpets, a slice of the old life we used to lead! A small story caught our eye in one of the papers, a car had plummeted 60 metres off a cliff yesterday from the Great Ocean Road at exactly the time and place we had been there . . . I didn't think I cut the bloke up that badly.

Being nice weather for ducks we did our duty by feeding a gaggle with a stale loaf before setting off along the coast for Lavers Hill. We stopped at Johanna Beach for a while to watch the surfers who were conspicuous by their absence as rain sheeted down being helped on its way by a force nine gale.

We stayed in the van and headed on to the salty town of Apollo Bay, self-titled 'Paradise by the Sea', where the skies began to clear giving us the chance to drive up a virtual cliff face to Marriners Lookout where we were rewarded with a panoramic view over the town and beyond. It was a town of crayfish, lobsters and tragic shipwrecks with streets lined with cafÈ latte sipping locals in winter coats.

Beyond Apollo Bay we drove through the Otway National Park and into the barely habited town of Lavers Hill where there was apparently a 3 star caravan park, but on cruising by we gave it a miss as the ablutions block seemed to consist of a hole in the ground.

We headed in land a little to our second choice site of the day as once more the heavens opened. The town of Gellibrand offered a camp site with only a few stars to its credit (being from Londinium we don't usually stay at sites with less than a 4-star rating luvvies), but we were pleasantly surprised at how nice it all looked and were greeted by a lady in an obvious hurry to get back to her TV for the live footy. The fields were decorated with red and grey galahs (parrots) and a TV room sat invitingly by reception, but first on the agenda was an early BBQ while the weather had begun to behave itself once more and a spot of garment deodorization in the laundry. With the wind picking up again we made our way to the TV room for the evening for a RealityTV-fest in front of the box.


After days of stormy weather we woke to a warm sunny day . . . but not for long I wager and set off up a country lane to the Great Ocean Road's newest spectacle. The Otway Fly.

No, we weren't going to the local flicks for the latest horror movie, this was a treetop walk through the Otway Ranges. At 600 metres long and 25 metres above the ground it's the highest and longest of its kind in the world.

We headed along a gently rising steel walkway above a forest floor that progressively fell away beneath our feet until we were wandering through the canopies of beech, myrtle and ash trees. Halfway around was a spiral staircase which led to a 48 metre high lookout which swayed from any sudden movements from childish tourists (me included). After half an hour some steps led us to a deep gully for a walk through ferns and bubbling creeks. It was a nice scary but safe experience and really well put together, which is what you need when you hate heights.

Westward Ho we travelled taking in views at Gable Point and stopping for a life-threatening walk along Wreck Beach, so called because of the number of ships that had been wrecked along this 3km of coastline (as if you needed telling) and pride of rusty place belonged to two anchors that were embedded in the beach along the shoreline that once belonged to The Marie Gabrielle and The Fiji sunk some 120 years ago. We descended 366 steps and found we were the only the ones on the beach, and as we trudged along headlong into the face of a deafening 300mph wind we couldn't have fell flat on our faces if we tried (pretty much like Pamela Anderson).

We made it to the first anchor before turning around to see a fast approaching tide that was looking to cut us off from safety. We picked up the pace along a beach that resembled quicksand and finally made it back to the base of the steps, and as we got to the top of step number 366, shaken and stirred, we made a vow to retell the amazing story of our 'Escape from Wreck Beach' in an amateur-dramatically over-the-top fashion on our return, even if, truth be told, it was just a quick walk along a beach in high winds.

The shoreline is called 'The Shipwreck Coast', so named because captains had to steer their ships between the mainland and King Island through rough seas that we were now privy to. It was known as 'threading the eye of the needle' and hundreds of vessels failed to negotiate this 100km wide channel into Melbourne ending up on the seabed.

Just along the road was arguably what makes the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles. A whole bunch of rock stacks protruding from the sea, a stone's throw from the mainland, formed over the last 20 million years with the help of the Southern Ocean and a relentless wind wearing away at the soft limestone. A promontory juts out into the sea serving as a viewing platform for the paparazzi-imitating tourists who would all go home today with blurred shots as a mini-hurricane battered the cliffs and our digital equipment.

The only weather condition we were missing today was rain and thankfully it was still to make an appearance as we headed for some more rock formations and the scene of a sad tale of a shipwreck, the Loch Ard Gorge. Let me give you the gist: 125 years ago, towering cliffs, blue-green sea, a steep sandy beach, a fog, a ship; I think you've got the gist.

All 54 perished apart from two. Crewman Tom Pearce made it ashore and then heard faint cries from the surf. It was Eva Carmichael, a young passenger, so Tom swam back in and battled for an hour to bring her ashore, before climbing out of the gorge to get help. Tom and Eva spent months together recuperating and you'd have thought that as a perfect end to the story, destiny would had thrown them together for a life of wedded bliss? Nope, they went their own ways and never saw each other again. I imagine Tom thought that's gratitude for you, but then again he was no oil painting. Bad sad or what?

After a quick visit to a rock formation called London Bridge which funnily enough had fallen down with a couple of tourists still on it (both were safe before you start thinking I'm even eviler than I already am), we arrived in Port Campbell, a sleepy fishing village with a natural harbour. I could describe every town along this coast as a sleepy fishing village, but that'd be unfair as we're in the low season now and the weather was keeping everyone inside. Blimey, Gary being fair, what is the world coming to?

We claimed a site overlooking the estuary and walked into town for some more deceased cattle to throw on the barbie, once more braving the sub-zero conditions for alfresco cooking. The weather won't ever stop us from having barbeques, this is the Great Ocean Road and it was built for these types of activities and a mild case of frostbite WILL NOT STOP US, do you hear? WILL NOT STOP US. If we do get frostbite on our fingers and toes then we'll just lop 'em off and add them to the grill. I repeat, THE WEATHER WILL NOT STOP US . . .

. . . sorry about that but I just get so emotional about barbies.


It absolutely honked down last night.

And most of the morning.

A fine way to start our last day of our once in a lifetime trip along the Great Ocean Road, and after a soggy trip to a drafty ablutions block a round of bacon sarnies was called for.

We were heading for the last, and biggest, town on the road, Warrnambool, and we pretty much bombed it, so to speak. It was a sad day when we couldn't wait to get off the Great Ocean Road and head inland for sunnier climes.

As we reached Warrnambool the weather began to brighten funnily enough, but on we went picking up the Princes Highway once more for a 30km drive to the town of Port Fairy, a name that conjured images of quaint little sweet shops and rosy faced Captain Birdseyes, but ending up being a (you guessed it) sleepy fishing village. We had fish 'n chips at a local chippy where cod wasn't on the menu so I settled for a Butterfish while Soph went for the Flake which she ate in an (imaginary) overflowing bathtub and was probably the crumbliest, flakiest fish in the world which tasted like fish never tasted before.

We arrived back in Warrnambool and checked into the Ocean Beach Caravan Park where Soph went for a bracing walk and I continued writing my memoirs.

Just before 8pm we headed into town and Warrnambool's main crowd-puller. Flagstaff Hill is a four-hectare, 19th century harbour village, with life-size stores that can be wandered around during the day but we had come to see 'Shipwrecked', its multi-million dollar, multi-media, multi-re-enacted story of the voyage of the Loch Ard with our old mates Tom and Eva starring.

We waited for a quarter of an hour in a reception area and were suddenly greeted with a young man in full sailor's gear ringing a bell and requesting, in a dubious English accent with undertones of Gaelic-Punjab, that we all come through to the boarding area. There we stood on wooden ramps watching an introduction to the saga projected onto a pair of sails before being ushered through a doorway out into Flagstaff Hill village where we boarded a little tractor-pulled train that would take us to the harbour setting where the sound and light show would take place.

After a slow descent into the make believe town we took our seats facing a life-like harbour which began to illuminate and come alive with the sound of people going about their business and drunken frivolities behind closed doors, with a narration of the background to the whole Loch Ard journey from Gravesend to it's intended destination of Melbourne.

Suddenly a 30 foot high, semi-circular water fountain shot into the air from the centre of the harbour, and being flat and fan shaped a digital projection appeared on the water as clear as a cinema screen and began telling the story of the Loch Ard's final moments above sea-level, with good-looking young Aussie actors taking the part of Tom and Eva and other main characters including the captain and the dozy boy up in the crows nest who failed to see the 70 metre high cliffs.

The whole watery extravaganza lasted three-quarters of an hour and was pretty efficient in taking you back a century and a half into the shoes of the Loch Ard's passengers, especially when the ship went down and our seats began to judder. The only things to survive the wreck intact was our two leading lights as you already know and a one and a half metre tall porcelain peacock which is the museum's star exhibit, with the fan of water on which the drama was projected signifying the peacock's tail.

After all that excitement we headed into town for a calming burger at Maccas and a first taste of a McOz burger, albeit lust a plain hamburger with a slice of beetroot. How exotic.

We were to leave behind The Great Ocean Road and a trail of shipwrecks, rock formations and rainforest. Our four-day tour had been full of views, walks and winding roads played out under largely grey skies. We imagine this route is a whole lot more spectacular during the summer months but the flip side is that the drive was a lot more challenging and we experienced it when the sea was at its most savage thus giving us an insight into why there were so many shipwrecks.

Tomorrow we'd head north-east back towards Melbourne and the gold rush towns of Central Victoria and hopefully some golden rays of sun. Until the next time . . .

Kylie & Jason
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