The Great Ocean Road

Trip Start Jun 17, 2007
Trip End Sep 16, 2007

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

And so the last leg of our great campervanning adventure had descended upon us, 2 days on the Great Ocean Road from Warrnambool up to Melbourne.

This leg didn't begin as such, but rather was a continuation of the hellish drumming of rain on the roof, and the wicked whistling of the wind, pummeling the van, that had characterised our last few days on the road. Not optimistic as to whether the Great Ocean Road was great enough to flourish under these English-esque weather conditions, but ever-curious to find out, we set off down the infamous road.

First stop before Peterborough was the Bay of Islands. I was ridiculously wrapped up like a comedy terrorist - red and black stripey socks up to my knee, boardies, red jacket with my hood up, and green scarf covering my face in an attempt to ward off the cold, trying to piece together all my clothes to accumulate some warmth. Close by was the Bay of Martyrs, which presented a similar image, of rock formations popping up in the sea, being gradually eroded away by the stormy waves.

Bay of Islands Bay of Martyrs Bay of Islands

The Grotto was up next, a rockpool beneath an archway, hollowed out due to erosion.

Gangster at the Grotto Grotto

The next stop, The London Bridge, was another archway, this time a large one all out at sea. There was an amusing tale accompanying this site; the first arch joining it to the mainland collapsed in 1990, stranding a couple that had walked over it on the limestone rock now known as the London Bridge, and seperate from the mainland. After being rescued they fled from the media as they were conducting an extra-marital affair!

London Bridge London Bridge Beach

Up the road was The Arch, an equally impressive archway feature, but with a less inventive name and story behind it.

The Arch The Arch

Beyond Port Campbell was Loch Ard Gorge. This site offered an array of walks to various sights of interest, of which the first one we embarked upon took us to a lookout from which we could see the site where the Loch Ard vessel, coming from England to Melbourne, and thus on the home straight, ran into trouble - you could see why, observing the storm-battered caverns it was trying to avoid, and the height and incessant pummeling ferocity of the waves - and sunk, leaving bodies to wash up in and around in Gorge, killing all but 2 people on board.

Loch Ard Loch Ard Loch Ard

We went down into the Gorge itself, for a closer inspection, and wonderfully tucked away, we found some fascinating cave formations, featuring a mass of colours due the different rock layers gathered there.

Loch Ard Caves Loch Ard Caves

From the beach, you could see close up the how easily the rock was being eroded by the persistant strength of sea. The scenery was ethereal, looking down from the platform above, and almost timeless... I wondered what it must have looked like millions of years ago, minus the erosion that had now eaten most of the cliffs away.

Loch Ard Gorge

Further along the walk we reached the cemetary, filled with graves and tributes, although only 4 bodies were ever recovered. Winding up the coastal path, the Blowhole was next, where apparently many of the bodies ended up. It was a crater-esque hole, filled with swirling water, reminding me of a wave machine, fed by a small tunnel of water leading out to the sea, under a limestone archway, apparently being perpetually eroded by the water flowing through it.

Loch Ard Blowhole

Indeed, the next site, the Thunder Cave, offered an opportunity to see into the future of the Blowhole as it were, and the damage such erosion will eventually cause. This cave once boasted an archway similar to that of the Blowhole, with a tunnel of water leading out into the sea, until the entire archway eroded and collapsed into the sea, leaving a gorge-esque entry way into a cavernous section of cliff, now known as the Thunder Cave. Infact, you could see in the waters, frothy gatherings of eroded limestone, floating aimlessly below where they once stood, bubbling in their chemical reactions with the water.

Thunder Cave Thunder Cave

Just up the way was Broken Head, a headland offering panoramic views of the powerful waves below, eating away at the cliffs. We followed the trail down to Sherwood River, and from there, clamoured across the rocks to a vantage point almost parallel to the crashing waves, optimising their ferocity to the naked eye. The sun briefly dazzled down, glistening pristinely over the bright blue waters - colours that remained, regardless of the weather above, much to our fascination.

Broken Head View Sherwood River View

The last walk was a curious "geology" walk, in which we admired the layered colours of the cliff walls, imaginatively named the Lace Curtains for their coloured vertical stripes, and then the astounding formation known as the Razorback, with its hard niggly bits protruding in polka-dot fashion, the softer areas having long since been eroded. The might of the waves is supposedly such that these formations are eroding at such a rate that will dramatically alter the landscape over the course of a few years, anf could cause the crumbling of the cliffs at any moment. An eerie thought whilst walking over them...

Lace Curtains Razorback

The worst sign-post of the lot was at the 12 Apostles, the most famous stop on the road - we drove straight past! The car-park was packed to the rafters with Japanese tourists, it was crazy. I can imagine at sunrise or sunset it'd be amazing to see the apostles, but as it was I didn't think they were overly impressive compared to the other stopoffs on the GOR... certainly not warranting extra acclaim anyway. I think it's more a case of the other stuff being underrated as opposed to the apostles being overrated as they were still pretty damn good though!

12 Apostles 12 Apostles

We then descended down Gibsons Steps, winding tight down the cliff face to another vaguely orange beach, offering a different angle from which to see the sights of the road. From this point on, the coastline began to change, somewhat dramatically. The light limestone cliffs were replaced with more rocky, rugged, and greener cliffs, lapped by gentler waves. The Great Ocean Road then renounced its name for a short distance, woving its way inland on a tricky mountainous patch through the Otway Ranges... the campervan was distinctly unimpressed with all the hills, to say the least!

Gibsons Steps Beach La Playa

We passed through Apollo Bay, and into Surf Coast Shire (best name ever, surely!), a place where Melbourne folk come to holiday - it was rather downcast and desolate today anyway. And over more treacherous road I drove, changing gear by the second almost, dragging the van around countless bends, drowning out its moaning with Lionel on the stereo. Despite the gloom and whatnot, the water still appeared mercurial, resplendent as we entered Lorne.

Turning left up a harrowingly steep road, the van voiced its displeasure above Lionel, but none the less we made it up to Teddy's lookout point as dark was closing in, and it offered an "interpretative" classic aerial view over the highway we had approached on, as it tightly hugged the coastal rocks.

Teddys Lookout

Our last full day on the road, and a mighty impressive one at that. We spent our last night camped up by the beach, and were greeted with somewhat more promising weather when awoken by the soothing waves the next morning.

*220 km driven* - 8k mark! 8019.5 km so far...yikes!

We didn't wanna get up however, and acknowledge that that was our last sleep in the van :( We tidied the van and packed our belongings, ready for our imminent seperation, and headed back up the steep cliffside road to Erskine Falls - one of Victoria's premier waterfall destinations apparently! It was rich in water, unlike the other Aussie falls we'd seen, surrounded by lush greenery, and featured water pounding straight down a sheer cliff face, creating a daunting picture, due to its meer size, especially when viewed from the bottom.

Erskine Falls Erskine Falls

Too cold for a dip, we returned to the van and commenced the last stretch of the Great Ocean Road, stopping in Torquay for a bit of a wander. Nothing much caught our eye though, in the self-proclaimed surf capital of the world as there was no surf! And a distinct lack of surf shops! Maybe we were just looking in the wrong place...

We refilled our gas canister in Geelong, and then cruised up the motorway to Melbourne, stopping at a petrol station to refuel and clean up the exterior.

Sad times!
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