5th and 6th November
Yet again we found ourselves in a car rental, laden with too many bags and dripping from the sudden down pour that had covered Melbourne. Hertz was a tad more expensive than we were used to and to save on the monies a little more we opted for no GPS again, having assumed that we had mastered map reading in Tasmania.
After a slightly scary exit from Melbourne, Australian drivers are far more terrifying than Brits, we were on the open road heading towards the Warrmabool at the western end of the Great Ocean Road.
Building of the Great Ocean Road started in 1918 by returning soldiers. Today it stands as one of the longest war memorials in the world. Veterans were given work immediately on return from the Great War but also channeled their grief into building the road between 1918 and 1932. It was back-breaking work with no heavy machinery to help – only picks, shovels and horse-drawn cart and was at times perilous, with several workers killed on the job; the final sections along steep coastal mountains being the most difficult to work on.
There are at least 7 stops of interest along the route. The total time to drive from Melbourne to Warrnambool is 5 and a half hours. Many will compete this over the course of a few days but we had a tighter schedule that meant we needed to be back in two days. This can be done. It’s a lot of driving but better to see it than not.
The road runs along the coast, weaving it’s way around cliff faces and estuaries. It offers stunning views over the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
Our first stop was the war memorial arch and statue. The arch celebrates the road, every car will pass beneath it’s imposing height. It symbolises the sacrifice made by thousands during the First World War and during the construction of the road. The statue depicts two men working on the road. The current Memorial Arch is the fourth to be erected, as fire, storm and redevelopment of the road removed the previous three.
The coast itself has seen it’s fair share of tragedy. Renowned as being one of the worst areas in the Southern Hemisphere for destructive currents and rocks hidden by crashing waves, shipwrecks litter the coastline. You can still spot parts of the old boats, an anchor poking out here and a part of bow jetting out there. A single grave stands at the side of the road at the sight of one of these wrecks. In three separate boating accidents five men drowned during salvage operations from the barquentine ‘Chittoo’.
During the construction of the Great Ocean Road in the 1920s, workers discovered an old grave, marked by a badly weather-beaten cross. This is not the original grave but a monument to preserve the memory of those buried.
We moved on, stopping here and there to admire the views. Our next stop was in the small town of Lorne and sat on the beach and ate our lunch, blessed with beautiful weather.
As time was pressing on and we wanted to reach Warrnambool before dark we rushed on over to Otway National Park. Here the road takes a dramatic turn inland; leaving the sea behind as the scenery becomes dense forest. Popular things to do here are walks and camping but we were here to see one thing, the oldest surviving officially built light station on the Australian mainland. Unfortunately for us it was closed so we were unable to admire this beauty. But, on our drive back to the coast we were blessed with the sight of wild koalas sleeping in the trees. The cuddly bears looked so cute resting in the branches. But the three of us were always aware of the distinct sounds of grunting coming from the shrubbery around us. ‘Wild boars! It must be’. So upon Abi’s orders we shut the windows and left the doors open (not sure what shutting the windows would achieve) and stayed close to the car in case of a needed quick getaway. Thankfully this didn’t happen and we would later find out that the noises were in fact the sounds of the male mating calls coming from the koalas…
The next destination, via Apollo Bay, was Port Campbell renowned for it’s limestone rock formations, such as the great tourist attraction, The Twelve Apostles.
The great natural limestone structures dominate the skyline. We arrived just in time for a hazy sunset and it was stunning. Catch them at this moment.
Darkness had fallen by the time we reached Warrnambool. It was time for dinner, which proved difficult as everywhere seemed to shut at 8, and bed.
The Great Ocean Road should really been done over the course of a few days, to fully appreciate it’s beauty.
We returned via the Princes Highway which cuts inland and reduces the time by a couple of hours. We managed it all fine, the girls driving as my terribly infected ankle prevented me from doing anything!
We were fine until we reached Melbourne where our previously highly thought of sense of direction failed us and we were stuck in tense traffic entering the city the wrong way. After an hour of Tori trying to drive what should have taken ten minutes we finally dropped off the car and headed to find our fourth member, Alice who was patiently waiting at the hostel.
Welcome to Oz Alice. Naturally it started with a night out at the backpacker bar!