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The Great Ocean Road (Victoria, Australia)

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The Great Ocean Road stretches the entire length of the coast and was built after WWI

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    • More +
      13.10.2010 11:52
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      scenic drive in Oz

      The Great Ocean Road is a scenic drive along the southern coast of the Australian state Victoria. Technically, the term Great Ocean Road applies to the 150 mile (240km) stretch between Torquay and Warrnambool but as many people drive from Melbourne and often beyond Warrnambool to Nelson or even all the way to Adelaide, the whole of the coastal stretch is often loosely described as The Great Ocean Road.

      The highway was built by veterans of the Great War (1919 -1932) and it's considered to be a war memorial of sorts, remembering the dead of the World War I.

      Not many people who complete the drive come here thinking of the war casualties, though, as the Great Ocean Road is first and foremost a beautiful, scenic drive; a tourist attraction in itself, with many holiday resorts strung along its cord, and numerous stunning views of various rocks-cliffs-sand-surf combinations.

      The Road itself is easy to drive in normal conditions, though it has several steep and winding sections, not hard in themselves, but requiring reasonable speed and some caution, especially if driving a larger/taller vehicle (like a camper van).

      It's easily possible to drive the whole way from Melbourne to Warrnambool in half a day, but there is so many picturesque stops on the way, and most of them require a little walk, that it is much better to allocate a whole day to the drive - and of course it's perfectly possible to stop for longer in numerous places on the way.

      **

      Theoretically speaking, we have three (or two and a half, really) days to "do" the Great Ocean Road: we are doing a relocation of a motor home, and we are picking it up on Saturday morning in Melbourne to deliver it in Adelaide by three pm on Monday.

      "Morning" is a relative term, though, and by the time the vehicle is actually ready for us (we are getting it for 5 bucks a day, so we can't really complain) and we are on our way, it's well past mid-day. Driving this Thing feels like driving a gigantic wardrobe on wheels, with the stuff inside rattling and rolling, and (at least at the beginning) constant fear that it needs more space that there is on the road. It's big, by far the biggest thing I (or even DH) have ever driven. It's longer than a long-bed Transit van, and certainly wider. The upshot is, of course, the amount of space inside: this is not a camper van, but truly a motor home, with a double bed at the back, another double bed in the high top; toilet and shower room, fridge, microwave, cooker (possibly with an oven, though I can't quite now recall) and four extra seats in addition to the two in the front (driver and, let's say, navigator).

      We set off gingerly, and of course manage to get lost within the first fifteen minutes trying to drive out of Melbourne. Getting lost is perhaps not quite right: we take a wrong turning and realise immediately, so not quite get lost, but get off track which requires quite a bit of doubling back. Eventually we are on the way, though, driving towards the ocean, though all we initially see is rather industrial coastline of Port Philips Bay.

      We stop at Geelong for lunch - or rather early tea, as it's getting on for four. Fish and chips, it has to be, as we are in a town that in this wintery time has an air of a British working-class seaside resort, a slightly cleaner Blackpool minus the Pleasure Beach. We want to get going, so apart from the food, we limit ourselves to a quick stroll along the seafront promenade, graced by rather charming Baywalk Bollards - painted wooden sculptures by a local artist Jan Mitchell, reflecting, apparently, local identities (and thus we have Bathers and Immigrants for example). The children have a quick run around the piers and jetties and off we go towards the ocean.

      By the time we reach Torquay the dusk is falling, and we pass Anglesea (where only a quirk of spelling saves us from feeling even more disconcerted than we are with all those Brit-place-names) in deep, purple-blue twilight. This stretch of the road is unpopulated and with dunes on one and bush on the other side, it feels wild in the falling darkness. We pull over at the parking space to the side of the road and make it over the dunes (it's not really wild: there is a boardwalk across the dunes, and an information board letting us know that we are at The Gulch (Gap), warning that the beach is unpatrolled and camping not allowed. But the beach is empty, and before we even see anything, we can hear it: the deep, rumbling roar of the ocean pounding the shore. We have been in Australia for something like six weeks now, but this is the first real surf beach we see here, and what a time and place it is to have this first glimpse. The Great Southern Ocean, like a huge grey animal growling at our feet, glistening silvery in the moonlight.

      It's windy and late, and we go back to the vehicle (I tend to think of it as The Thing, but children are besides themselves with excitement at the prospect of sleeping on the upper bunk). We contemplate roadside camping for a while, but decide to find a caravan park after all, and one is found soon in the village of Lorne, few miles down the road.

      The next day we wake up to a sunny, blustery day and we set off early to make the best of it.

      The road between Lorne and Apollo Bay is lovely indeed: truly ocean-side, it hugs the hillside on our right in tight bends, with low sandy cliffs (or high dunes, depending on how you look at it), covered with silvery tussocks of tufty grass) and beaches pounded with the huge, beautiful surf to the left.

      In Apollo Bay the road veers inland, to cross the Otway Peninsula, a good vacation country, and apparently great for walking - but we have no time for even medium detours on narrow roads (especially in The Thing) and thus we go on, through a stretch of green and pleasant, pastoral land that looks very much like rural British Isles, with rolling hills and livestock in the fields: only when the road crosses the woodland, we are instantly reminded we are in Australia by the pale, silky bark and silvery, shimmery leaves of the gum trees.

      Past Otway the lay of the land changes, and so does the shoreline: the low, duney coast with a road built into the hillside gives way to precipitous limestone cliffs, off-shore islets, sea stacks, sink-holes, caves and arches. This is the Port Campbell National Park, the Picturesque of the Picturesques, with the holy grail of the Twelve Apostles (renamed thus from the Sow and the Piglets despite there ever having been only nine), visited by two million people every year by car, tour bus and helicopter.

      Before The Apostles come the Gibson Steps, though, leading, quite logically, to the Gibson Beach. And despite your author being coastal-vista jaded and tourist-marketing disillusioned, the Gibson Beach is proves to be rather wonderful, a perfect, wind-swept, fine-sanded beach surrounded by sheer cliffs, the waves still here, and in the distance, a tall, golden sea-stack, a sentinel wearing down gracefully under the onslaught of the water and wind.

      The Twelve Apostles are very pretty too, and look quite like the pictures would make you expect them to look: not disappointing, and still quite a view, of course, but not that hugely better than the preceding one at Gibson's Beach or the following ones at London Bridge or the Arch. This is where all the tours come, though, and thus there has been a lot of effort put into building infrastructure, one suspects as much to protect the fragile cliff-top ecosystems as to provide public access. The latter is all from boardwalks and platforms with railings, and although the views are good, and at least now in the winter it's quite possible to see the rocks without getting a Japanese (or any other) tourist in the field of view for at least few minutes, it's a very busy place with all the disadvantages of very busy places.

      Beyond the Apostles there are several other lookouts giving access to similar limestone formations in the sea. The Arch is rather good, and so is the London Bridge, called that due to its uncanny similarity to the UK namesake. Nomen omen, though, in this case, and the London Bridge has now fallen down, having lost one of its spans. It has been officially renamed London Arch, but anybody familiar with the old song will know that makes the OLD name even more apt! We sing London Bridge (or at least two verses of it) on the viewing platform, to great amusement of onlookers, and move on. As usual, the time is getting short with all these stops, and we need to get going if we are to have any chance of delivering The Thing on time.

      Last stop in the Port Campbell National Park is The Loch Ard Gorge, maybe a little bit less pretty but interesting as another example of the erosive action of wind and water. The gorge (a sea inlet, really) is marked by tragedy, as a lot of locations on this stretch known as Shipwreck Coast. The inlet was named after the clipper Loch Ard, which ran aground here in 1878 . Only two of the fifty one souls on board have survived the wreck.

      We refrain from stopping for a while, although can't resist another lovely stretch called Bay of Islands just past Peterborough, glittering in the lowering sun.

      From then on it's an easier (as less scenic) stretch to Warrnambool, where we have a go at whale spotting from a platform on Logan's Beach: Warrnambool is on a migration route of the Southern Rights, and they can be frequently spotted around here in the winter. We don't have much time, though, and in the half an hours or so all we see is a few surfers trying to catch Logan's shore breaks.

      The Great Ocean Road journey is technically finished, but we planned to overnight in Kingston SE, so we have a lot of driving in The Thing still to do today: and most of it will be in the dark.

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      • More +
        11.10.2010 07:56
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        A nice drive

        The Great Ocean Road
        The Aussie are very good at selling their tourist attractions and in my humble view they do an excellent sales pitch on the 'Great Ocean Road in Victoria. It is a nice drive with some lovely scenery but it is no greater than many other coastal drives that I have done. Examples of these lovely drives include, Scotland up to Arisaig, California scenic Highway One and my favourite was Chapman's Peak the drive from Noordhoek to Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
        Having said that it is one of THE things you MUST DO while down in the southern part of Australia and I think I am unusual in my view as people do rave about this drive as being quite spectacular. The Great Ocean Road follows the coastline of Victoria's south-west and travels 243 kilometres from Torquay, just south of Geelong, to Allansford, just east of Warrnambool, We travelled the entire route from the gate at Torquay through to Warrnambool where we stayed for the night.

        The road winds along cliff tops, up to some breathtaking headlands and then down onto the edge of beaches, across river estuaries and through lush rainforests offering panoramic views of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean at every turn.
        We left Melbourne at 7.15 for our trip on the Great Ocean road and we stopped to take a photo of a gate in memory of those who built the road. I think what is nice is that the road was built as a useful memorial to those who died in WWI by returned soldiers from this war.. It was a fairly amazing engineering feat and served the purpose of linking these coastal towns which prior to this relied heavily on the Ocean for contact with the outside world. Before this road a trip from Lorne to Geelong was long and arduous using a rough road to the railway at Winchelsea.

        So in a tribute to those who died in the Great War this road was built and in November 1932, the route was officially opened by the Lieutenant Governor, Sir William Irvine. Apparently....
        "It was a sight to see with a procession of 40 cars and schoolchildren lining parts of the route."
        We stopped for coffee and a very tasty cinnamon and apple bun at Lorne before we continued on along the road. On the way we saw koalas in trees from the road and we got very excited but unfortunately and my husband's fury we could not stop and get out to take photos. We love seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and really would have liked a chance to enjoy them but it was not to be.

        Lorne itself is a pretty seaside town. Over 100 years ago the Victorian government declared Lorne an area of 'special significance and natural beauty'. It has a sheltered 2-kilometre beach which is safe for swimming and is bordered by grass lawns, gum trees and picnic and barbecue areas. It was nice to sit and watch the few other people pass by and enjoy the fresh sea breezes.

        The stretch of the road from Melbourne to Apollo Bay is about 180km and took over 3 hours to drive but we had stopped for coffee in Lorne for about 45minutes. Up till Apollo Bay the road was right along the coast which was mainly beaches and fairly flat. Appolo Bay was another small seaside town located at the foothills of the Otways and in the very heart of the Great Ocean Road region. The main industry locally apart from tourism is fishing and you can enjoy good seafood at the local cafes and restaurants.There was a small market on the sea front and I bought some homemade lavender foot cream from one stall.

        Onwards on the road and we stopped for the Twelve Apostles which are giant rock stacks that rise abruptly from the Southern Ocean. These rock stacks are the central feature of the rugged Port Campbell National Park. These rock formations were previously known as the sow and piglets which I think would be a better name considering that we counted several times but I think at least two of the apostles had decided not to join the Last supper as we could not see twelve. These are limestone stacks formed by erosion similar to the chalk stacks known as The Needles off the Isle of White. These rock stacks are quite huge at 45 metres high and are a spectacular sight despite the fact that there are NOT twelve of them.

        The next site we thought was another misnomer as London Bridge had indeed fallen down. Maybe they named it after the son! The London Bridge rock formation was a natural archway and tunnel but as erosion by the ocean continued it collapsed in 1990 and became a bridge without middle. I can't imagine the terror of the two tourists who were stranded by the collapse. Have been petrified hearing the fall of rock and then watching the rock between you and the main land fall into the sea.

        A little further on and we came to the shipwreck coast and we stopped to look down and into the spectacular Loch Ard Gorge named after its most famous ship wreck. This was a really lovely cove a bit like a small fjord where there had been several shipwrecks. One ship, the Loch Ard was lost in1878 while sailing from England to Melbourne.

        The story goes that the Loch Ard was caught in continuous fogs that left her captain mistakenly thinking he was some 50 miles out from the treacherous rocks .The ship was instead dangerously close to land and despite efforts to save the 1700-tonne ship she was dashed on to rocks.

        Only two people from the 54 passengers and crew survived. A cabin boy called Tom Pearce helped save a young woman Eva Carmichael; they were washed on wreckage into this cove. After they spent the night in a cave the young cabin boy climbed the gorge's cliffs and eventually found help. The young lady apparently took another ship and went back to England. I think I would have stayed safely in Australia after that experience but she lost her family in the wreck. I thought this was rather a sad story and had it been a film the young rich girl would have married the cabin boy who rescued her!

        This was a lovely scenic drive but I think it is sold well. I do appreciate that it was built as a tribute to those who died in the First World War and built by soldiers who survived this ordeal. The State War Council provided funds to assist in the repatriation and re-employment of returned soldiers on roads in sparsely populated areas. The Survey work began in August, 1918, and then thousands of returned soldiers began the back-breaking work as there was no heavy machinery to help, they used only picks, shovels and horse-drawn carts. I think the story behind the road is a great tribute to those who died and those who returned from the war and then built this road. It humbles you when you hear feats like this and this is what makes this road special in my view. The views and landscapes are lovely but it is the fact that the road was built in this way that I am impressed with.

        We arrived in Warrnambool for a nights stay. This is the perfect place to see the as you can sit on the Logans Beach Whale Viewing Platform and watch when it is the right season which is anytime between June and September. Unfortunately we were there in January so no whale to see for us. This town was Victoria's largest port in the 1880's but is now a nice holiday resort and smaller port. There were a number of interesting things to see in the are but we arrived quite late and left early so didn't have a long time to explore.

        The thing I found most interesting was that the Aussie song "Waltzing Matilda"story began at the Warrnambool Races way back in 1894. A lady called Christina Macpherson heard the band play the traditional Scottish tune, Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigie-Lea. She then played this tune to Andrew B. (Banjo) Paterson at Dagworth Station in Queensland in 1895.He was inspired by the tune and wrote the words we now know and Waltzing Matilda, was born. I love interesting stories like this about places so that made my day when i heard that story.

        Thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed my experiences of the Great Ocean Road drive in Victoria. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.

        © Catsholiday

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