The Magnificent Great Ocean Road Part I

Trip Start Nov 29, 2012
Trip End May 10, 2015

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Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Saturday, March 16, 2013

Before I left for Australia, my mother and I had numerous conversations about my trip including discussing the chances of me being savaged by dingos, bitten by funnel web spiders lurking under the loo or munched by crocodiles. But one of the more sensible things we talked about were the things I was most looking forward to doing in Australia. And for me, one in particular was to have the opportunity to drive The Great Ocean Road a fantastic 243km (151 miles) stretch of road hugging the Southern Australia coastline.

I had been planning to go much sooner but eventually, I decided this weekend would be the time to hit the road. In preparation, I had Felicity serviced, it wasn't good news, the exceedingly rude mechanic took great pleasure in basically issuing her a death certificate with a catalogue of problems. Undetered, I was adamant I would go anyway and told him that I would drive her until she died a sorry death, probably on the hard shoulder in the middle of nowhere.

The Great Ocean Road was built as a war memorial for those who died in World War I by soliders who returned from battle desperate for work and to try and adjust again to life outside the forces. The road was completed in 1932 and took 13 years to build and has been listed as one of the best drives in the world. I got my driving licence less than a year ago but was looking forward to the challenge of taking on the road which from photos looked like a racetrack on a par with Monaco with hairpin bends and sharp corners cut into the rock with the ocean only metres away. Although one choose can take a bus tour, I seriously didn't fancy being stuck with a bunch of eejits with their Ipads for hours on end on a long, windy road with the token spewer at the back.

So after giving Felicity a stern pep talk along the lines of if she died I would be severely unimpressed, on Saturday morning we hit the road. Our mission, to reach our first stop of the night, Apollo Bay, a 200km stint away. Melbourne has recently been in the midst of a heatwave but this had broken a couple of days before and it was much cooler. I doubt I could have driven in 37 degree heat but it really was rather chilly. By the time I reached Torquay, it was cloudy, grey and drizzly, very much like home but I was making good time and all was well.

My first stop was Bell's Beach around 8:30am, one of the most renowned beaches on the Surf Coast. Despite the grey skies and distinct chill in the air, the carpark was full! I looked out into the ocean and saw the biggest waves I had ever seen and when they crashed on the shore it sounded like thunder. I then noticed little black dots which at first I thought were seals. On closer inspection, I then realised they were actually surfers, in black wet suits. I was absolutely astonished that anyone would take such a risk, it looked absolutely terrifying. I walked down to the beach and spoke to a couple of these crazy surfers and asked them if it was scary. I got a resounding yes! The things people do for kicks...seriously!

I then headed off to my next stop, the little town of Anglesea which was a very small, quaint, fishing village. I walked down to the beach which looked beautiful in the early morning light and bumped into an elderly local. Seeing as I hadn't had the foresight to actually bring a map I asked him what he would recommend tourists like me to see in Anglesea. 'Oh, you should go and see the kangaroos at the golf course' he replied cheerily. 'Pardon?' I said, completely bewildered. 'Kangaroos?!' 'Oh yes, they love it there.' I looked at him warily, trying to work out if he was having me on. 'See for yourself.' And with that he walked off. Despite myself, I was curious and decided to go and see these alleged kangaroos for myself.

I walked back to Felicity, put the key in to start her when all of a sudden, the key snapped in the ignition. I'm not even joking. I was absolutely horrified. The car however did still start which was a saving grace and by some miracle I had brought the spare key but still, the worry was there. Obviously Felicity had tuned out when I'd warned her not to break down on me. There wasn't a garage anywhere in sight but I was determined to still drive her, even with one and a half car keys. A little scared, I drove to the golf course very cautiously and arrived to be greeted by a bunch of very posh golfers in tartan slacks...and KANGAROOS! The man wasn't deranged after all! It was brilliant! They were just sunbathing at the 19th hole, happy as anything. I even saw a mother with two babies, it was the strangest thing. I asked a couple of golfers why the kangaroos liked it so much there. Because they like grass was reply I got. Not exactly profound but there you go. The golfers just carted around them as if they were just an obstacle. I couldn't help but laugh.

But I wasn't laughing for long.

Due to the broken key scenario, I realised I was locked out of my car! One call to the RAC, a man that kept calling me Susan and a crowbar to the driver's door later, I was back on the road and heading for my next destination, Aireys Inlet. For those of you who watched Round the Twist as a kid (remember that show? it was really odd!) Aireys Inlet is home to the lighthouse which featured in it! Bit of old school TV memorabillia for you right there!

On the road again, I hit another little seaside town called Lorne. I stopped at a little place called The River Tea House for lunch which was lovely. After a quick trip to Tourist Information and finally getting my hands on a map, I went for a drive in the sticks to a place called Teddy's Lookout. It offered fantastic views of the Great Ocean Road and surrounding rainforest. I decided to go for a bushwalk and was merrily walking down a path when I heard a rustling sound. Terrified, I made a swift around turn and did a runner back to my car.

Ray Mears, eat your heart out!

I then went for a 10km jaunt to a place called Erskine Falls, a lovely little waterfall amongst the rainforest. It was raining and as I decended 80m down some steps, there was this lovely smell of wet leaves. The silence was so peaceful, I even went for a little walk along the river until I saw a sign warning me that 'Only experienced Bushwalkers should proceed beyond this point.' Perhaps not.

Afterwards, I had a meander down to Lorne Pier which was impressive, albeit a bit cold. I was standing at the end, looking out into the expanse of the ocean when a fisherman turned to me and said 'There's rain a'coming over the hills, I would make a run for it if I were you.' I turned and literally saw a band of rainclouds heading towards us. I turned and fled down the pier, the rain chasing me as I did so. It was sublime, I got soaked but I didn't care, it reminded me of the monsoon rains in Kuala Lumpur but I was only caught in it for around 30 seconds this time, thankfully!

The drive to Apollo Bay was difficult due to frequent heavy showers, the low cloud obscuring the cliffs. The waves were driving against into the shore at an alarming rate, I'd never seen anything like it. It was difficult driving but I loved it, the only word I can think to describe it was exhilarating. Until you actually drive the road, photos and books don't even begin to do it justice.

I arrived in Apollo Bay around 4pm and decided to drive to Cape Otway around half an hour away. The drive itself was incredible through the Cape Otway National Park home of the rainforest, a little damp but fantastic. As I drove down the road to the Cape Otway lighthouse, I saw people standing outside their cars, peering up at the trees. Curious, I stopped and joined them and saw that they were full of koalas, HUNDREDS of them! There was one in particular that was super cute, eating leaves less than a couple of metres above a bunch of spectators with their cameras.

By the time I reached the lighthouse, there was a strong gusty wind and spitting rain. It wasn't just the weather that put me off though, the price to go in the lighthouse was obscene and I refused to pay it. Even though I had told myself beforehand that I wouldn't be too scruplous with money and enjoy myself, I objected to paying 15 to look at a lighthouse. Seriously.

I headed back to Apollo Bay to check in to my accomodation for the night, the YHA Eco Hostel. I can say without doubt it is by far the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in. The place was run by a lovely couple called Gilbert and Gay Brooks and had wood powered stoves and a rooftop deck. It was so warm and cosy, I spent the evening curled up on the sofa in front of a log fire chatting to a lovely Canadian chap called Michael about his recent trip to Mongolia. There were a lot of older people there with their children and it was a really nice atmosphere.

Exhausted, after a quick meal, I headed for bed, only to be woken up in the middle of the night by a girl in the bunk above me who when she snored sounded like a phone vibrating...very odd! I considered recommending her to go and see a doctor about it but thought better of it and drifted back to sleep...
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