Great Ocean Road: Walk in the Woods

Trip Start Jan 21, 2012
Trip End Mar 16, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hotel Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
What I did
Koala Cove
Maits Rest Rainforest Trail
Shipwreck Coast

Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Monday, March 5, 2012

On our way to the beautiful Ocean Road, that follows the coast west from Melbourne, we saw a few interesting places that I've grouped below because they are inland:

Westgate Bridge: We drove over the 2.5 km-long Westgate bridge a vital link between central Melbourne and the western suburbs across the Yarra River. It has a bloody history: a section collapsed in 1970 killing 35 and an average of one person every 3 weeks committed suicide by jumping from the bridge until a ($20m) barrier was constructed in 2008! After passing the Vegemite factory, we drove for an hour thru flat, uninteresting countryside (the Brisbane Range could be seen off in the distance). Apparently, it’s located near the casino and our tour guide speculated that people would lose all their money and decide to end it all.

Geelong: This town has gone through several incarnations - - whaling port, world’s largest wool port, and rival to Melbourne as the entry to the goldfields. Prince Charles went to school at Geelong Grammar School (I heard it’s the most expensive school in Australia; $1.5m for 5 years!). Ford Motor Co established a base here in 1922 and built large tracts of little houses that still stand where employees lived at no cost. Ford Falcons were produced here for years and years.

Bawron River:  12 pairs of rabbits were released near here in 1859 (Thos Austin missed hunting them in his native England). The population exploded; within 10 years, 2 million were being shot or trapped annually with no noticeable effect on the population, the fastest spread of any mammal every recorded. These rabbits may have spread out of control, while those brought by the First Fleet did not, because they were a mix of wild and domestic and the hybrid was particularly prolific, hardy, and adaptable. Their effect on the economy and ecology of Australia has been devastating because they eat everything in sight. They have been the most significant cause of disappearance of native species and widespread erosion. Australians have fought back by trapping, shooting, poisoning, and infecting them with diseases, plowing, blasting, and fumigating their warrens, importing ferrets and foxes to hunt them and building hundreds of miles of rabbit-proof fence to control their spread. 

Shipwreck Coast: The Great Ocean Road swung inland along the "Shipwreck Coast"  where SIX HUNDRED ships have gone down, more than in any other country in the British Commonwealth.  This is a result of changeable currents and sudden gales.  I believe that it is also the area where the Tasmain and Southern Seas meet. A memorial was erected to some of the locals who went out in boats to “save” the victims of the SS Godfrey wreck (instead of stealing whatever they could find, their boat founded and all of them died). I it. A memorial (in which all names are misspelled or wrong) to a bunch of wanna-be pirates who swamped their own boat and died without any loot.

Koala Cove Café: We stopped near the Kennett River where there are brilliantly colored lorikeets and parrots who will sit on your hand or shoulder (if you have bird seed to feed them) and a few koalas sitting sleepily in the trees. It seems these animals just hang out there, so many tourists stop there. Like any tourist, I was as thrilled to see these koalas “in the wild” as I had been to see the family of kangaroos that we saw grazing in a field at the edge of a forest. Check! These iconic Australian marsupials live in coastal and inland woodlands of southern and eastern Australia. Koalas are nocturnal animals that spend 3 out of 5 of their waking hours eating up to half a kilo of eucalyptus leaves a day. Although extremely cute, Koalas have the smallest relative brain size of any mammal; their brains are so small they don’t even fill their skull cavities. Koalas spend most of their lives in trees (except to mate) and don’t drink water (although they are good swimmers). Less than 100,000 koalas are remain in the wild, significantly fewer than the millions there were a century ago. There are stiff penalties for harming a koala, breeding programs, and efforts to cure the diseases they are getting.  On the other hand, their fellow marsupial, the kangaroo, has flourished; it is estimated that there are 2-300% more of them now than there were when Cpt Cook sailed into Botany Bay. In fact, they are becoming a problem in some places and are being “culled” (euphemism for killed)

Maits Rest Rainforest Trail:  We followed a boardwalk through the beautiful rainforest in the otways.  The temperate rainforest fills a cool gully in the Otway Ranges to the north of the coast. It is filled with enormous ferns, huge trees and trickling streams. The topmost layer is the Mountain Ash, a form of Eucalypt that can grow up to 300 feet tall. Beneath that are smaller trees and bushes, such as Hazels, Currants, Currants, and Accacias. Below them are ferns, grasses and then mosses and fungi. Different animals (that we didn’t see) inhabit each layer: birds of prey, possums, smaller birds (magpies and cockatoos), wallabees, platypus, anticynas (a rat-like creature that is under threat of extinction because the male gets so worked up during mating that they often die of heart failure), and insects. Everyone had to have their pictures taken in the hollowed out areas at the base of the larger trees.

Ayre Valley: We drove through a broad, open valley back toward the coast. I had been a huge lake that was drained by two Scots. Ahead we got our first glimpse of the Southern Ocean.  The next landmass beyond is Antarctica, 1000 miles away.  
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