One great thing about befriending and staying in contact with people as you travel down Australia’s east coast is that you can arrange to meet up and do things together later on. Like Victoria’s Great Ocean Road for example, as it invariably needs a car, and sharing the cost of renting one is a lot more preferable than getting it on your own. Also, it gives you a chance to actually look at the scenery around you rather than concentrate solely on the road the whole time. The road itself is full of twists and turns, and it’s not uncommon to see a road sign for 80 or even 100kmph, with one behind it warning you of a sharp corner and recommending another speed less than half of the one you’ve just been told.
I had arranged to meet Lisa in Melbourne bright and early (we were both taking night buses to get there), and after breakfast and a chance to wake up properly (night buses are rubbish to sleep on), went scouring car rental offices. Although I had checked and planned ahead online, I failed to actually book one (in part due to our differing schedules and travel plans) as I had underestimated just how quickly they would run out on nice Summer days just a week before Christmas. Ringing an office further into the CBD than Southern Cross Station resulted in success however, and after trawling our backpacks through the city centre for half an hour and catching our breath back in the rather long queue, we were on our way.
Being English I’m obviously more used to driving on the left (of the road, righthand side of the car), but as I live in the country Lisa was more used to driving in busy city centres, and fortunately didn’t mind taking the first turn to drive. To her credit, for someone who had never driven on the opposite side of the road (and car) she did very well through both the city and the freeways, and didn’t need the constant reminders along the Great Road itself. I also can’t thank her enough for leaving it until the last day before sharing her driving horror stories.
After a quick break and swapping front seats, the first destination on our agenda was Torquay, small coastal town and start of the Great Ocean Road. We loaded ourselves up with maps, leaflets, and brochures, worked out a basic plan for our two days, and set off. Although there would be stops we would decide along the way, the first was one which had been on my agenda since before arriving in Australia: Split Point Lighthouse.
The Twelve Apostles might be the iconic image of the Road, but having featured heavily in the TV series Round The Twist, Split Point Lighthouse was an iconic image for anyone who had their childhood in the nineties. Apart from Canadians apparently, as Lisa had never heard of it before. Or maybe I’m just older than I realise? Either way, she found my descriptions rather amusing.
We hadn’t booked accommodation ahead of us, but luckily finding a room for the night was substantially easier than finding a car. In fact the only reason we had to phone more than one hostel was the rather large price tag attached to the first. Our luck in Apollo Bay soon ran out however, as our first choice of walk at Shelly Beach proved to be unfindable, and our second got rained on. Rain which was joined by cold winds, and I learnt the valuable lesson that just because you are visiting Australia in the summer, you still need to come prepared for the worst. Luckily the hostel had hot showers, and the most snuggly beds either of us had slept in.
It’s well worth mentioning the history of the road, as it was commissioned to give employment to those returning to Australia from World War One, and as such is the biggest war memorial ever built. This is something highlighted by the memorial arch, which is actually the fourth to have been built. The road’s origins were also emphasised to us by a Wicked camper van driving under the arch with the ironic slogan of “Cheer up, the worst is still to come” emblazoned on the back of it.
Considering this post is about a road trip, I might as well also explain about Wicked Campers. They are a hire company which have either cars graced with quotes from the likes of Andy Warhol to Homer Simpson, or camper vans completely decked out with graffiti and a slogan on the back. Another we saw on the road was “Don’t drink and drive. Drop mushrooms & fight dragons.”
The second day started with a short walk round Maits Rest, followed by a hike to Triplet Falls. After going down an unsealed track however, it is only thanks to some other cars also searching for the falls that we headed in the right direction. We didn’t follow the group of teenage girls who decided to scramble down for a closer view of the falls, and continued along the track, and the Ocean Road, which soon left the ocean and went through farmland.
When it did catch up with the ocean again, it did so just past Princeton at the Twelve Apostles themselves. There are several places to view the Apostles, including Gibson Steps with its full car park where we couldn’t find a space, and the visitor centre which is where we got our first proper view of them. We walked down to the viewing areas where you can see, and pose in front of, several of the Apostles which are located on both sides. Although impressive, it is difficult to tell exactly how big they are with only the waves and cliffs to offer a sense of scale. They in fact reach a height of up to 45 metres, but as one of them proved by collapsing in 2005, size isn’t everything, and erosion from the waves is still taking its toll.
It is also here where it became apparent from just how far away people come to drive the Great Ocean Road, as we heard a number of different accents, which mainly came from the general tourist crowd rather than backpackers we had been used to down the east coast. It’s no wonder there are so many signs reminding drivers to drive on the left.
After the Apostles we moved on to the Arch, London Bridge, and the Grotto, three more impressive rock structures carved into the coastline by millenia of waves, as well as the Loch Ard Gorge; a small beach area sheltered from the destructive waves which sank the ship the gorge was named after, but with a great view of them between the rocks.
Soon though it was time to head back the way we came, and once more go our separate ways. For Lisa this was Tasmania, for me a few days in Melbourne before catching up with some old friends.