While putting up at my mother’s place in Melbourne last year, I decided to sign up for a day tour of the Great Ocean Road. This was my third visit to the scenic coastline. I still remember my second tour of the same road many years ago. That was the time we took our 2-year-old daughter, C, on her first overseas trip.
I had made sure that C slept most of the time during our flight so that the journey would not seem so long. When the pilot announced that we would be touching down at Tullamarine Airport in 90 minutes, the both of us felt relieved that the long flight had turned out better than expected. C had woken up by then and was trying to make friends with the little boy seated directly behind us. By and by, our attention turned to the airline stewardess who was running up and down the aisle and seemed rather flustered. Guess what? The little boy behind us had thrown up in the plane! The stewardess was doing her best to clean up the mess and reassure the embarrassed parents that everything was going to be alright. As the stench of vomit began to fill our nostrils, I started to feel queasy and turned to my husband for a sick bag. Unfortunately, he had his eyes closed while clutching a sick bag! I managed to find another one for myself and took deep gulps while doing mental workouts for the retching feeling to go away. Seconds later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my husband gesturing to me that C looked like she was about to throw up! I had to act fast and quickly shoved my bag in front of her. Methinks the stewardess should have thanked me for saving her from cleaning up another mess. As for me, all that frantic gulping, swallowing and mind control actually worked!
The moment we got in the coach for the Great Ocean Road tour, I knew we had made a big mistake. Barely an hour into the journey, C started to show signs of nausea. Viewing stops in the itinerary were spent inside the Visitor Centre or in the cold outdoors, desperately trying to get C to recover sufficiently so that we could continue the next leg of our journey. What was supposed to have been an enjoyable day out on the Great Ocean Road turned out to be a nightmare. It was a huge relief when we finally made it back to Melbourne in the late evening!
This time, I was determined to make the most of the tour. So on a very cold and wet morning in August 2015, my sister, two nephews and I boarded the train to Flinders Street Station and waited outside St Paul’s Cathedral for the coach that would take us on the Reverse Great Ocean Road Tour!
Our first stop for morning tea was at Colac Park. The town is built next to the huge Lake Colac and sits on the doorstep to the Great Otway National Park. While we were helping ourselves to coffee and biscuits, I noticed that my 14-year old nephew was unusually quiet and asked him if anything was wrong. He told me that the memory card in his camera was full and that he didn’t have an extra one. Oh no! I hadn’t anticipated this! How could he have used up 8GB of memory within a few days of buying the camera?
I asked our Tour Guide/Driver if we could make a quick stop in Colac town to buy an SD card. She said “no” as we were on a very tight itinerary and it would be unfair to keep the other passengers waiting. What a crappy excuse! I would have been able to accept it if she had said that it was too early in the morning for the shops to be opened! Seeing my nephew so dejected, I allowed him to use my SD card from my cellphone – but not before issuing a veiled threat that there would be hell to pay if he lost any data or stored images. This act of kindness cheered him up immediately and he was soon back to his usual cheerful self. I was waiting for him to shed tears of gratitude but that moment never came!
London Bridge is an impressive rock formation, offering sweeping views of the great Southern Ocean. During my first visit many years back, London Bridge was a double-span archway and tunnel which allowed me to walk right across to the furthest end of the cliff. In 1990, I read the news that the arch closest to the shore had collapsed, becoming a bridge without a middle. It’s good to know that I was one of those lucky ones who managed to make it all the way across before London Bridge fell down!
Loch Ard Gorge
If you are looking to find a spot on the Great Ocean Road that has it all, then Loch Ard Gorge wins hands down! Where else can you find rugged natural beauty, towering limestone cliffs, offshore stacks, mysterious blowholes and friendly nature trails to explore? Oh yes! Let’s not forget the stories of shipwreck and survival!
There’s no better place to leave behind life’s daily trivia than the dramatic and wind-swept coastline where the iconic Twelve Apostles sit. I first saw the golden cliffs and crumbling pillars from a helicopter during my first tour of the Great Ocean Road. At that time, nine apostles were still visible. My second time here is not worth mentioning as I only got as far as the Visitor Centre!
This third time, however, I was determined to see something – anything, so I made my way under a tunnel leading out to an extensive walkway complete with viewing platforms.
Powerful waves and wind of the Southern Ocean pound the rugged, windswept coastline, carving them into caves, then arches, and eventually battering them down into columns that rise up to 45 metres high! They used to be connected to the cliffs of the mainland some 20 million years ago. The stacks continue to be eroded at a rate of roughly 2 centimetres a year. Over the years, some have given up the battle against nature and today, only seven stacks remain.
Long ago, the Twelve Apostles was known as “The Sow and Piglets”. However, I’m sure you’ll agree that the name “Twelve Apostles” lends more credence and dignity to this weather-beaten magnificent landscape.
It’s an invigorating, end-of-the-earth feeling to watch this dramatic coastline being whipped by howling winds and foaming seas. No photograph or video can accurately capture the ocean’s raw power and the emotion it brings out, unless you’re standing there yourself.
Wild Koalas and Birdlife at Kennet River
Native animals and wildlife are certainly not shy in the Kennett River area, located half way between the seaside towns of Apollo Bay and Lorne. In fact, the wildlife appear to coexist with the residents there. How refreshing it must be to look outside everyday and spot a koala or kookaburra in the trees!
A popular stop to see koalas, king parrots, rosellas and kookaburra is the Grey River Road. This dirt road winds up amongst some beautiful eucalyptus trees with wild koalas feeling right at home in their natural habitat. There are wild birds and cockatoos in the trees near the parking area. They are so used to humans gawking at them that they are no longer camera-shy – like this kookaburra below!
Memorial Arch marks the gateway to the Great Ocean Road. The arch is a tribute to the 3,000 returned soldiers from WWI who built the road between 1919 and 1932.
The 243-kilometre stretch of road itself was built as a memorial for all those who had lost their lives in WWI. It extends from Torquay to Allansford and is the longest war memorial in the world.
Next to Memorial Arch is a sculpture of two returned soldiers working on the Great Ocean Road. The sculpture was built to honour the men who used only pickaxes and shovels to clear the way and smoothen the road. The difficult and dangerous nature of the work resulted in a high level of turnover and a number of deaths.
To give an idea of what life was like back then, bush camps were set up at the site, with a piano, gramophone, playing cards, games, newspapers and magazines for recreation and relaxation. Accommodation was in individual tents, with a communal dining marquee and a kitchen. The soldiers were paid 10 shillings and sixpence ($1.05) for an eight-hour day and worked a half-day on Saturdays. Meals were not provided, and food costs came up to 10 shillings week. Due to the distances involved, few soldiers were able to go home to their families during their rest days, so swimming, fishing and hunting became popular weekend pastimes.
The Great Ocean Road is dotted with many surf spots, attracting surfing professionals from around the world.
Torquay, at the beginning of the Great Ocean Road, is the birthplace of surf culture. The leading surf brands of Rip Curl and Quiksliver were established here more than 30 years ago and are now global market leaders in clothing and equipment for surf, snow and adventure sports. The internationally renowned Bells Beach is home to the famous annual Rip Curl Pro event.
We stopped at Torquay for a hearty Bubba’s Pizza dinner, spread across a barbecue bench next to the beach. There was a full moon that evening and its light across the darkened sky signalled the end of an enjoyable and satisfying day on the Great Ocean Road!