Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Great Ocean Road (Australia: Victoria: Great Ocean Road: 16-18 July 2007, Written 18 July 2007)

Monday morning – Sue and I went to take the dogs for a walk in the crisp morning breeze. Had some grapefruit fresh off the tree then there wasn't time for much else before going back into town to meet Susan. We arrived right on time at 9.30am and the handover was completed.

Susan and I went through the ever-changing weather heading south towards Melbourne. We passed through the Macedon Ranges, mountains set behind rolling green hilly farmland, with leaves changing color and falling to the ground. We passed through several “Avenues of Honor”, rows of deciduous trees shedding their leaves, which had originally been planted in memoriam for the soldiers who had fought for Australia in past wars.

We arrived in Geelong, where Susan and the other Wallaces had been to boarding school, so we made a quick visit to the Victorian school by the sea, and I marveled at how different our lives had been growing up, and we had somehow managed to cross paths. We stopped by a shopping mall and had delicious kebabs, stopped off at a supermarket to pick up supplies for the next few days and off we went. It was a gorgeous afternoon so we stopped at Torquay, home to the famed Bells Beach where surfing competitions are held because the waves rolling in are oh-so-perfect and dauntingly high. Despite the sunlight the harsh wind made it stingingly cold and we didn’t spend too long.

We then drove through Aireys Inlet, where Susan’s aunt has a holiday home by the beach that she was kindly letting us stay in. We went to the lighthouse which sticks out on a piece of land that juts out from the coast, and continued on a bit further to the Great Ocean Road sign. We then headed back to Aireys, went down to the beach for twilight, cooked dinner and had an early night.

The Great Ocean Road is a must-see for most visitors to Australia. It technically starts just before Lorne and continues to Peterborough. This several hundred kilometer stretch of road was built between 1919 and 1932 in order to provide jobs for soldiers who had returned from overseas and found no work to come home to. This was the government’s way of keeping them busy. The road varies in distance from the ocean; at times you are hugging the cliff, and precariously winding along the coastline, and at other times, between Apollo Bay and Port Campbell, you go several miles inland and drive through farmland, then rainforest, then eucalypt forest; all alternating so quickly you can’t believe that there can be this many gradations of vegetation within such a short span of time and space.

Tuesday morning we headed off before 7am; it was still dark. It was also freezing and pouring rain. We drove past Lorne and really couldn't see much, then we decided that since we had all day on Wednesday maybe it made more sense to go back home, wait to see what the weather did, then start again in the afternoon. We got back home before 9 and slept til 11. We had a quick lunch and off we went. I’ve been told before that Melbourne can have 4 seasons in one day, and although I’ve spent time in other cities that do the same, like San Francisco, I didn’t really know what to expect. Well, now I know that it’s true, as it was bright sunshine, next minute hail, next minute rain, to clouds, to sun – all within 10 minutes. The whole day was a cycle of this, but it made things extremely photogenic so neither of us minded. We made several stops at lookouts, and of course got to the Twelve Apostles. There are now only 9 left, as 3 of them have fallen over, but they are still quite impressive. They are rocks that stand just off the coastline, and rise up like free-standing cliffs, withstanding the giant waves that come crashing in against them. It was hailing when we were there but the giant stormy seas were magnificent, and more than enough to inspire awe for how perfect and powerful nature is.

We decided to continue on further, and got all the way to the Bay of Islands, near Peterborough. Similar in some ways to the Twelve Apostles, this bay has more than a dozen small islands just offshore, and again the nasty weather provided dramatic waves and light. Just after that, the weather got better so we got some shots of the rocks from the other side in sunlight, and laughed as we discussed how we got better photos in the rain. We were driving back and decided to make a quick stop at the Twelve Apostles, just as impressive, rain or shine. We got back after dark and had an early night.

Today we had an early start and decided to spend the day going a bit slower, taking the time to look around and doing some of the fantastic walks in the area. We got down to Maits Rest, just past Apollo Bay. This 30 minute walk goes through ancient rainforest and is breathtaking; dozens of ferns amidst giant gum trees, fungi growing everywhere, birds fluttering about…not what you normally expect near the beach. We then decided to head to Cape Otway as it looked really beautiful on the map; we arrived and discovered we would have to pay entry fees to even get near the lighthouse so we decided against it and went to the Great Ocean Walk instead. We didn’t head too far, just up the hill to get a nice view over the lighthouse and headed back.

We were going back towards Apollo Bay to get lunch and decided to stop in at Maits Rest again and walk the loop the other way to get a different view. It was much sunnier the second time through as well and it didn't feel like a waste at all. The forest has so many details and so many hidden twists and turns and corners that it is constantly changing.

We arrived in Apollo Bay and were searching for the best, decently priced, fresh fish and chips we could find. I hadn’t had any fish and chips since arriving in Australia and what better place to try it than the Great Ocean Road? We found a Seafood Café that had several elderly people in it that looked like locals – excuse the un-PC-ness but they looked too old to be tourists, especially because they were along – and that usually means it’s well-priced and tasty. We headed in.

What we got was delicious. A piece of barramundi and a piece of flake, one beer-battered and the other crumbed, and some chips. Totally exceeded my expectations of fish and chips and I was tempted for more, but resisted. Ahh.

We were debating what to do with the afternoon so stopped in at the info center – the info centers along the Great Ocean Road are wonderful, with loads of maps and free information on walks, beach, tours, accommodation, etc – and decided to head to Beech Forest to check out some walks. On the way up from Skenes Creek, where you turn off the Great Ocean Road, we stopped by Marriners Lookout. A steep climb through private property lead you to astounding views of Apollo Bay and Cape Patton. These two inlets right next to each other, with layer after layer of wave rolling in are brilliantly picturesque, with views following the rugged outline of the continent.

We continued on, turning on to the unsealed road towards Beech Forest, meandering through rainforest with a high canopy and enormous ferns growing from the ground. We passed by the Otway Fly, where you can go on a walkway through the trees, and continued onto Triplet Falls. This one hour walk was gorgeous, again through the rainforest and leading to a set of 3 waterfalls gushing down with a plethora of water due to the high rainfall recently. Susan was great at spotting small details and she found some tiny tiny blue mushrooms which I’d never seen before.

We decided to head home after that, and went all the way back to Aireys. That was just a few hours ago and now I’m exhausted and happy and miss living by the ocean and am very excited that over the next several months I’ll be spending plenty of time near a coast.

I’m headed into Melbourne tomorrow which is exciting, it will actually be the first time I spend time in an Australian city as I didn’t get out in Brisbane and I haven’t been to Melbourne yet as I went straight up to Deniliquin when I flew in. 2 weeks of the Oz trip finished; feels like a lot longer and lot shorter at the same time. It always does.

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