The Great Ocean Road

animals, Melbourne, national parks

Thanks for indulging yesterday’s little rant about our airline service. Once we finally got on an airplane, our trip sailed forth like a dream, nary another glitch to be had.

I’d been inspired to take this trip by my friend and fellow blogger, Madame Garcia, who traveled the Great Ocean Road a couple of years ago. I based most of my planning on her careful notes and saved maps and brochures. And, once we hit the road, the printed out copy of her blog was my best guide for the first two days. (We were following in your footsteps, Mrs. Garcia and company, so thanks for that!)

It is only a short drive from Melbourne’s Avalon Airport before you hit the Great Ocean Road, and once on it, it’s mile after mile of breathtaking (and, I use that word literally, as around nearly every turn, I’d say, “whoa!” or, usually, something a bit less family friendly) ocean scenery.

Our first morning stop was Erskine Falls in the Great Otway National Park. The brochure said we’d have a 30 minute hike to the base of the falls, but it ended up only being about a 10 minute walk. Because it had rained that morning, it was rather the swampy walk along the stairway, but the rainforest setting and the graceful falls were worth a little mud on our shoes. Hey, we were driving a rental car, anyway …

Just a few minutes away, was in the adorable little town of Lorne. I was not expecting much from Lorne, as I’m usually wary of “adorable little towns,” which often have something of an inauthentic-trying-too-hard-Stepford quality about them. But, Lorne was genuinely lovely.  We started by taking a walk over a striking pedestrian bridge for a view of the ocean on one side and the river on the other. Then, we wandered into town for a great lunch of fish burgers.

After lunch, we only had one thing on our minds. 
We powered on to Kennett River, where both our predecessor and our brochure promised koalas in abundance. When we pulled up at a convenience store with this in front, we knew we were in the right place:
We were directed up a dirt road for koala sightings. Just a few steps in, we saw a tree with a herd of people around it ooh-ing and also aah-ing. We thought we’d found our koala with incredible ease, but what they were really looking at were a herd of rosellas, some eating birdseed from tourist hands. There were adorable…

… but they were no koalas.

Hiking up the road, we craned our necks, looking towards the tops of every eucalyptus tree in sight. 
We saw a rainbow …
… but no koalas.
We walked further up the hill. No koalas. We saw an ant nest in the tree, but no …

… no …wait … that … is … a … koala!

Once the koala spotting started, we couldn’t miss. The further up the road we went, the more koalas we spotted. Turns out, I’m an ace koala spotter.

Eventually, satisfied with our visual koala haul and facing sunset, we headed out of Kennett River and on to Apollo Bay, pleased with ourselves, as if we’d willed the koalas to appear overhead with our sheer desire to see them.
Just outside of Apollo Bay, we stopped to commune with the sunset, which was casting postcard quality pink-orange rays over the water.
Our hotel room at Apollo Bay turned out to be shockingly run-down. The best I can say about it is that we did not see any actual roaches. But, after our Tiger saga and operating on just a couple hours of sleep, we could hardly bring ourselves to care. We made a feeble attempt at watching TV, as is our routine in hotels (we don’t have a TV at home, so in hotel rooms, we feed ourselves a steady diet of local news and crime dramas to remind ourselves of why we don’t need one), but were asleep by 7p.m. 
Greatly refreshed the next day, we headed out of Apollo Bay and were soon greeted with a strange scene. In the middle of the road, there was a confused koala trying to get to the other side (why did the koala cross the road?). Its efforts were greatly hindered by a pack of Japanese tourists who were petting it and taking photos, while making peace signs. Each had to have his/her turn, and were non-plussed by the onlookers who warned them that it was, in fact, a wild animal and perhaps they should be at least a bit careful. Every time it tried to take a few steps in any direction, it got more confused by people blocking its path for better photos. Admittedly, we took a few shots, but sense got the better of us as we realized that we were doing nothing to help the situation, and got back in our cars to carry on. On our way past, we saw that a woman who seemed to know what she was doing had picked the poor creature up,  and was replacing it safely back amongst the trees.
Further satisfied with our abilities to conjure koalas, we were back on the road, and decided to turn our attentions to viewing massive rock formations jutting out of the sea.
Passing up a few other potential stopping points along the way, we went straight for the First Family of the Great Ocean Road – The Twelve Apostles. I’d seen pictures of these limestone formations, which are slowly eroding, due to their precarious position in the midst of a literal ocean of salt water and pelting waves, and everyone I know who’d seen them said that photos can’t do them justice.
Everyone was right. Still, throngs of tourists, including ourselves, gave it our best attempt. There’s little more to say about their massive grandeur or the enthralling coloration that pops out like a neon sign against the muted sky and water. 
Like so many before me, here’s my failed attempt:

Following the Twelve Apostles, we drove on, stopping for a picnic lunch in Port Campbell. We sat by a jetty with dramatic views, made more so by a storm that was blowing in and whipping up quite a fury of waves.
Then, we were on to the sculptural London Bridge, hollowed out by centuries of erosion. The sky had cleared a good deal by this time, so we got to enjoy the contrast of the limestone against the blue sky.
Two minutes up the road was The Grotto, a great spot because taking the chance on climbing down a great number of stairs paid off with a hidden surprise view that I loved…

By the time that we were approaching what we saw on the map as The Bay of Islands, I was overwhelmed and suggested we skip the stop. But, when we saw rock formations possibly even larger than the Twelve Apostles jutting out from the sea, we had to stop. 
I decided that the Bay of Islands is even better than the Twelve Apostles, and that they need to employ a better PR agent to ramp up their profile.

Now converted to the idea that magical views were awaiting at every potential turnoff, we stopped again one minute up the road at a boat launching site. We were not wrong in our guess, as we were rewarded with our favorite photographic site of the trip. Bushland, still burned out from last year’s fires, was contrasted by the new growth in vivid Fall colors. All this, a picture frame for the Bay of Islands:
Now making terrible time to get to our next stop in Portland, still a fair drive away, we were basically done with suggested stops on the map, so we counseled ourselves and declared us done with stops for photo ops for the day.
Except for that quick stop at one last beach …

 … and seeing a black swan on the side of the road …

… oh, and this seriously cool wind farm …

…. that was it. Really. We were out of daylight.

That night, tucked away in our hotel watching – for some inexplicable reason – Queensland news, and preparing to drift off to sleep, I told Partner-in-Crime that I felt overwhelmed by the visual stimulus of the day. My mind was racing like a film reel with all we’d seen – more amazing and varied sites concentrated into a short geographic area than one sees in most places.

At this point, we’d reached the end of the Great Ocean Road, and were on our way into South Australia the next day. More road trip adventures to come.

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