Classic Coast Tour: Day 1
Trip Start Nov 13, 2006
71Trip End May 13, 2007
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The first day involved getting picked up at 13.30 from outside the Victoria Arts Centre and making our way from there to Apollo Bay. We dutifully got to the pick-up point a good twenty minutes early and waited for the bus to arrive, as did the other 5 people who had booked on our tour (Toni from Melbourne and her boyfriend Chris from the Isle of Arran, Manuela from Germany (I think), and Sylvia and her son Laurent from Belgium). Our patience lasted until 14.00, when we decided to call the tour operator to find out whether the bus was going to turn up at all or whether the driver had decided to not bother today after too much festive cheer the previous day. I was told that the bus would be there "soon". A further half an hour later, we decided that the definition of "soon" was being stretched a tad too far so called again. This time we were told that the technical problem with the bus (which we took as meaning that the driver hadn't got out of bed) had taken longer to fix than expected and the bus was at least 45 minutes away. Not quite sure why they said "soon" to us earlier as the bus wouldn't have gone any further away in that time so it was at least 45 minutes away when I first called. I told the rest of the group and we were all considering wandering off to find some food or a drink but struggling with what to do with the bags when two chaps walked up from the train station carrying large bags - this was our driver (Ben) and his cousin (Mike, from Germany). Ben explained that he was taking over from the incoming driver and would be our guide for the tour - I was slightly confused here at how we had ever been expected to leave on time if the outgoing guide didn't turn up until an hour after we were supposed to leave. I was also getting concerned that the bus may not make it all the way if it was having mechanical problems. Ben and Mike offered to keep an eye on the bags if we wanted to go and get some food or drink, so off we headed to a nearby bar with Toni and Chris to get a drink and watch the cricket.
Finally, the bus turned up two hours late, with the driver emerging clutching a broken piece of belting as proof of the mechanical problem (I take my previous musings about too much festive cheer back). We all eagerly boarded the bus, which was decked out with Christmas decorations and even had its own Christmas tree at the back, and then set off for our first destination along the Great Ocean Road - Bell's Beach.
Bell's Beach hosts an annual surfing competition (although the number of surfers today was limited due to the cold weather). We walked along the coast, venturing briefly down to the beach for a short time, and along the way saw an echidna digging for food. All of us gathered round the small spiky animal to take pictures of it burrowing away and then went back to the bus, where the guide told us a few tales of sharks in the water and then we set off for Apollo Bay via Lorne, a small seaside resort. Along the way, we spotted a kangaroo by the side of the road (cue everyone jumping up to try to get a look) and wondered at the scenery passing by the winding coastal road. The houses along the Great Ocean Road, unsurprisingly, all have large windows facing out to the sea to take in the view and are elevated as much as possible to give an unhindered view - one that we saw even had a sort of observation room on a column, separated from the rest of the house by a closed walkway. The weather was a bit blustery and raining which meant that we saw the dangerous side of the Road rather than the perfect sunny view (but did mean that photo opportunities were limited), although we did see a number of sandy bays and beaches which suggested that the scenery would be magnificent if the weather were clearer.
As for the the Great Ocean Road itself, our guide explained that it had been built over 14 years by more than 3000 soldiers returning from the First World War, who had struggled to find other work in Australia given the slow economy, and was funded by land sales, toll gates and public donations. The construction workers had to blast bits of cliff face out to allow them to build the road and progress was slow - you can still see the exposed cliff face as you drive along the road which gives you some idea of the enormous task faced by the workers.
Eventually, we arrived at Apollo Bay where we were dropped off at our hostel (a private house owned by the tour company which holds up to around 25 people - our group of 5 therefore had lots of room to ourselves (Toni and Chris were paying more and staying in a nearby motel)) and later met up at a local cafe which offered tour groups run by our company a discount on food. We ordered a large pizza between the two of us and managed to finish it all off, much to the surprise of the guide, then it was back to the hostel to play a couple of games of pool and then to sleep, ready for a 7.50am (!) pick-up the following morning.