The Great O.....O....O.......OOOOOcean Road

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Thursday we left for Melbourne and the beginning of the Great Ocean Road (GOR). The Great Ocean Road is a breathtaking 243km stretch of coastline along the Southern Ocean that twists along world-famous beaches, through rainforests, and tiny towns. 

We managed to arrange for a car rental and get a decent deal on plane tickets. I think the plane was around $100 each for a one way fare to Melbourne.  Traveling in Australia is similar to Canada; a plane ticket is the best value for the time spent, bus tickets are similar priced to plane tickets and the distances between cities is equally as far if not farther than in Canada. 

We touched down in the late morning in Geelong, which is a town just outside Melbourne and has air traffic for only a small number of carriers.  When we got to the baggage pick up we got our car set up and then headed out to the GOR.  Sarah did all the driving, I didn't want to do any and since I was better with the map (and afraid of the left) - it worked out all right.  First stop Torquay (Tor-Key).

Torquay is the official start of the GOR so we basically checked out the tourist info office and then looked around the surf museum there.  The museum was interesting, it gave a history of the surfboard, competitions and culture and then moved into recent advancements in technologies that have come about and other Australian cultural links.  Seeing the old wooden plank surfboards and videos of people riding these through 30’ waves was pretty stunning. 

From Torquay we went to Bells Beach which is one of the ASP (Association of Surfing Pros) stops, so it naturally has huge swells during the competition held over Easter each year.  We didn’t go swimming or surfing at Bells because it was really cold.  During the entire time along the GOR we had great views of the Southern Coast of Australia and could also see the huge swells that came in and crashed against the shore – it was gorgeous!  

The beginning of the Great Ocean Road is marked by a memorial arch that is made of timber posts and has statues of the men who worked on the road made of bronze at the side of the arch.  The Road was built by 3000 returned servicemen (or "Diggers") as a war memorial for fellow servicemen who had been killed in the First World War. A lot of the veterans that had returned had difficulty finding jobs, so some parts of the road were started directly after the First World War.  The remaining road sections were completed during the Great Depression as a make-work project.  The road was started in 1919 and finished in 1932 and has a total length of 243km and connects Geelong (close to Melbourne) to Warnambool.  The south coast (Shipwreck Coast) was one of the first attempted landing spots for new settlers of Australia.  However, after multiple shipwrecks due to high cliffs, strong winds, heavy fogs and currents, the colonial ships thereafter made other landings that were safer options for the passengers and cargo, such as Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.  The road now is used mainly for tourism along the coast; direct transportation has been routed more inland to connect Melbourne to Warnambool because the GOR is very windy in some parts and the maximum speed limit is lower than the more direct inland highway.

After Bells Beach we headed to a local Golf Course in Anglesea since we heard they had wild kangaroos jumping around.  Naturally we were intrigued and really excited to see our first kangaroos!  I guess for locals the novelty had worn off and they were a bit of a nuisance now; the equivalent of seeing kangaroos on a golf course in Aus is probably similar to seeing a squirrel or a raccoon in Canada.  So we drove there, saw a bunch on the course hopping around and then we pulled up to the club house and saw more and more.  They are pretty cool, very smooth and fast and they are kind of like humans in their mannerisms.  They stand around looking dumb, ears perked waiting for excitement (which generally doesn’t happen) they take a few hops here and there then they scratch them selves a lot; scratch ears, scratch legs, scratch groin, scratch groin, scratch groin.  We were able to get pretty close to them and we were just awe struck with how graceful and interesting these animals are in their movement.  Their tails are phenomenal at balancing them and acting like a third leg when they are just 'walking’ along.  They are absolutely amazing to watch as they bound along silently.

That night we pulled into Lorne, which is a pretty dead town, especially in the winter, so nothing was really happening there.  We did manage to see one more view of the coastline though - we drove up a hill in Lorne and got a photo from Teddy’s Lookout over the ocean and setting sun.  Sarah and I were trying to be very cheap - since heading over to Australia we were floored by the hostel prices of $20 each per night (very different from what we were used to). We wanted to save some cash, therefore we didn’t stay in a hostel that night.  Our rental car was a Toyota Yaris hatch back which is a compact car and is not very long, but, we thought we could fold the seats flat and then lay out in the car which would be very economical.  We pulled into a parking lot near a beach and then slept there for the night.  Sleeping in the Yaris only lasted one night, the following night we stayed in a hostel, small cars and tall people sleeping in the trunk do not bode well.  But, we did save $40 that night, so it was a good deal.  Further into our Australian journey we rented a camping van which was more inclined for sleeping.

The next day we woke up, prepared a breakfast from our car and then brushed our teeth in a public bathroom next to the "car park" that we slept in.  We headed off to a place that was said to have wild koalas in the trees.  After about 30 minutes of driving we stopped at a little coffee shop, parked and then walked around.  The koalas are harder to spot than the kangaroos since they are very lethargic, generally high up and they don’t move a lot.  When looking up into a Eucalyptus tree, all that is seen is a round furry ball usually where 2 branches meet.  Their bums are whitish fur which is different from the rest of their body which is greyish.  This helps them blend in to the surroundings; if a predator were to look up in the tree, the white bum of the koala would resemble a cloud.  One little guy was pretty active and would stand up from his perch, stretch and then grab some Eucalyptus leaves, then shove them into his mouth, really cute.  We were lucky that day - there were lots of koalas to been seen as well as some kookaburras (a laughing bird) which, until I was about 12, thought that it was a mythical creature like a unicorn or a dragon or a liger.  I had never actually seen the bird but had always heard of them in the Kookaburra song (Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree…).  So it was really interesting to see a Kookaburra for the first time and then hear the chirp/laugh that the bird makes.  While looking up Kookaburras on the internet I noticed that it is related to the Canadian Belted Kingfisher (bird on the old $5 CDN).

Driving on we stopped at Erskine falls, where we did a short hike to the waterfall and then back into the car on to Cape Otway Lightstation.  This was a total waste of time, we drove down a 20km road to the lighthouse because we heard it was sooooo great.  When we got there they wanted $20 each for admission to the lighthouse grounds.  Go f-*%# yourself, I am not paying $40 bucks to see a lighthouse, before making this decision we had asked people coming out of the lighthouse if it was worth it and they mentioned to take it or leave it.  What really bothered us was that the only place you could see the coast from this location was inside the lighthouse area, the rest was covered with thick bush and fences, they were making us pay to look at the shore line, which as I recall had been free since the start of the road.  So naturally we left the lighthouse and drove to the final and best known attraction of the road, the Twelve Apostles. 

The Twelve Apostles are a collection of natural limestone stacks standing just off shore of the GOR.  There original name was Sow and Piglets, but they changed the name in the 50’s to the more dramatic Twelve Apostles – even though there was only 9 left at that time and only 8 remain today…??  Either way, these giant limestone pinnacles date back 10-20 million years and still stand up to 70 meters tall.  They are remnants of the limestone cliffs along the Southern shore.  The sea and wind eroded the shore, forming caves that eventually created arches.  When the arches collapsed, limestone towers remained.  The towers that stand today are of varying heights and thicknesses and are still being shaped by the wind and sea.  A number have fallen over entirely as waves continually erode their bases. A 50-metre tall Apostle collapsed on July 3, 2005, leaving only eight standing today.  There are also other limestone formations that we did see: London Arch/Bridge, Loch and Gorge, the Blowhole (very cool!) and Gibson’s Steps.  All of these formations are quite unique, as their names imply.  The boardwalk around the 12 Apostles has great views of the formations, shear cliffs and strong ocean currents.  It was incredibly windy and cold that day so we parked, walked very quickly to the vantage points took our pictures and left.  They are beautiful but after a while there are only so many rock formations that a person can look at. 

One story that was on a readable placard by the London Arch formation was about 2 people that walked out on the Arch.  In 1990, the London Arch was attached to the mainland but the part connecting the mainland fell to the ocean leaving the 2 tourists that had walked out on to the Arch stranded.  A news crew picked up the report and sent a helicopter to get interviews with the stranded people.  The news crew circled the stranded tourists and asked for an interview in return for saving them and flying them back.  The tourists denied the request, and the chopper then left the people until emergency people rescued them.  It turned out later that the man and woman tourist were having an affair on their spouses, and that the man had called in sick to his employer that day, which is why they denied the interview.  Naturally the man and woman tourist’s spouses left them and the man was fired from his job. 

That night we stayed in Port Campbell, had wicked Fish and Chips and then crashed at a local hostel.  The following day, we headed back to the 12 Apostles for a final photo and then drove back to Melbourne to get a flight the next day to Ayer’s Rock. 

We checked in at a seedy hostel in Melbourne – it made South American hostels look first class (at least they were clean!) - and then headed for a pub.  The pub we picked was called Pug Mahones (Irish -  Pog Mahone for “Kiss My Arse”).  We went in, sat down, and then went to the bar to get a drink.  After I got the drinks, I went back to the bar to pay for the 2 pints, I pulled out a $50 (that is all the bank machines give there) to pay and this dirty guy standing next to me who had dreadlocks and no shoes asks me to buy him a Corona.  So I thought he was cut off and wanted me to order him the beer, but he would pay for the beer.  So I said “OK, how much is a Corona” and he replies ‘$5 dollars”, so then I ask him “Well do you have $5 dollars to give me to pay for it?” and he replies “No”.  Then I ask him the same question “Do you have $5 dollars to give me to pay for it?” and he replies with the same answer.  At this point the bartender takes the $50 off my hands, turns around and leaves to get me change, as he is at the register the dirty bum yells at him “And 2 Coronas.”  I tell the bum (he’s our age) that I am not buying those for him as I bring back my change, he gets really irate confronts us at our table.  He asks me for $20 dollars, since he has seen I have a $50, so I tell him “No I am not giving you $20 dollars”, to which he says “Obviously you can afford to give me $20 dollars” so I basically tell him to piss off and in leaving he tells me “Well you should have told me you weren’t going to buy me the drink in the first place” and then I yell after him that he should not have expect me to buy him a drink (Corona’s were actually $8 or $9 each!). 

At the end of this fiasco, the bartender comes over and asks if I knew him and asks to pay for the drinks, I tell him the story and he says “Ok, well that guy is not allowed in here again, he did that last week too.  So here are the two Coronas for free.”  Sarah and I drank them and then Sarah wanted to leave immediately with a big group of people that were leaving together - she was freaked out by the crazy guy and this pub was at the end of a dark, long narrow alley.  We went back to the hostel and got ready to head out the next morning.  It was a disappointing experience of Melbourne as I’m sure it is a really wicked place to be – we’ll have to give it another go on our next visit to the North Island.    

The next morning we were up early to catch our flight for Uluru (aka Ayer’s Rock).  It was interesting to note that you can’t just get a coffee in Australia.  They don’t have drip coffee anywhere – not even old reliable McDonald’s!!  If you want a coffee – as of course we did before our flight – you need to order an espresso type coffee.  You can get flat black (black), flat white (black with milk), or whatever else you can conjure up and they all cost the same price, like $4!! Crickey!!! While you can look at this as a good incentive to drink cappuccinos instead of regular coffee, we saw it as a good incentive to buy a $1.50 Diet Pepsi instead and ditch our coffee drinking habit.  I was sad to not have access to cheap and delicious instant Nescafe like we did in South America, or café con leches, but speaking English was kinda nice too so a fair tradeoff was made. 

The GOR was definitely a highlight so far for us – stunning views, our first kangaroos and koalas, and a mini-road trip.  We were liking Australia a lot and were excited for more!! 
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