Slightly dramatic perhaps but the trip was great, it was through the state of Victoria, and it was by road. So fairly accurate.
When we first started planning this little JWalking fiasco there were a few definitive things that we both really wanted to do such as dive on the Barrier Reef, walk in the Alps, and see Sydney Opera House. Also on our list was to drive the Great Ocean Road along the south coast of Australia, often listed as one of the best journeys in the world. So we squeezed it into the plan and that’s why we hired a car last week.
Back to my friends at Thrifty car rental and immediately the Thrifty Girl was on my case asking how the week’s Airbnb had gone in the strangers house. If she had looked more carefully she would have seen Carolyn and David dropping us off and seen the big hugs and kisses exchanged as we said goodbye. So it went ok I guess. So well in fact that we are planning to meet up again in New Zealand just before Christmas! Exciting eh?
I obviously made such a big impressions with Thrifty Girl that we were upgraded to a brand new Mitsubishi ASX (if that means anything to you). As far as I was concerned it was big and red and new and looked cool. Brilliant. So the plan was to do a big anti-clockwise circular trip to the North West of Melbourne, down to the coast, then back along the ocean road. Five days driving and a different place to stay each night.
The least said about taking the motorway through Melbourne the better. It’s just a huge city with the normal traffic chaos so we made it through slowly but surely before hitting the quieter more scenic roads on our way to Bendigo. We’d booked a visit to the old Gold Mine in Bendigo so headed straight there. We hadn’t really expected much but it was absolutely fantastic. Central Deborah Gold Mine was one of the original gold mines from the 1930s where over a ton of gold was extracted. The whole mine has been maintained extremely well but it was our guide who brought the whole visit to life. He was an Austrian old time ex-miner complete with character beard and braces, and his enthusiasm and infectious attitude made the whole experience just magical. With fashionable safety helmets we spent a terrific afternoon deep underground with George the Austrian Miner and didn’t want the visit to end.
On to a walk around the majestic looking town of Bendigo, which was just so impressive with original old buildings everywhere and beautiful gardens. I think its the most historic town we’ve seen in Australia to be honest. Spent the night staying with the lovely Liz in a lovely quirky artists house on the edge of town (another Airbnb success).
So strange to be only staying a single night with someone in their home, it’s the first time we’ve done that so far on our little trip. It did feel like we were in and out too quickly and we would have loved to have gotten to know Liz a lot more but plans are plans aren’t they? So on to Halls Gap in the Grampian Mountains.
I’m not a big fan of driving of most of you will know but as we made our way through the towns of Maryborough and Ararat and entered the Grampians I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Jo’s expert navigation made the whole weeks drive so easy. Halls Gap is in the middle of the Grampian National Park so we parked up and set off on a long walk into the main valley and around the Botanical Gardens. It was a little misty and started to rain a bit but that just made it so much better as we didn’t see anyone at all and walked deep into the valley all on our own. It was perfect.
It had been a long day as we set off for our overnight stay at the fabulously named Coorabin Motor Inn a few miles away, unfortunately we couldn’t find an Airbnb close to the national park. There I was just happily driving along when I suddenly got a ‘STOP. Kangaroos’ shouted in my ear! Threw the car off the road as Jo launched herself from the passenger seat and set off after her down the side road. Struggled to keep up too as her little legs seemed to have developed some sort of Roo-Power of their own! She was right though. Kangaroos. Not just one or two either. Loads of them! There were at least one hundred and fifty of them just grazing in a couple of fields. Amazing. We stood for ages watching them and taking a few photos, could have stayed all night though. We were just so pleased that we saw them in the wild in their natural habitat.
The longest drive of the week was from Halls Gap down to the coast at Port Campbell. My navigator advised it could be a 3 to 4 hour mission if we made it through safely. No worries. The first hour south through the Grampians was fabulous as the scenery was so impressive and we just kept stopping to admire view after amazing view. Oh, and we also got stopped a couple of times by kangaroos crossing the road very slowly! Hopping out. Stopping to look at us. Obviously thinking ‘What are you two staring at’. then hopping slowly off. Very surreal.
A brief stop for pies and coffee at Clarkes Pie shop in Mortlake, great pies. Then on to Port Campbell to stay at the Summer’s Rest Units as once again we struggled to get an Airbnb. Strange place Port Campbell, we couldn’t really figure out what the issue was but it just seemed a little bit of an odd place. Fabulous beach though.
The Great Ocean Road runs all the way from Allansford in the west to Torquay in the east (not Devon). It’s a bit debatable as to exactly where it starts and finishes but its around 150 miles long and winds its way along the rugged southern coast of Victoria. We started from Port Campbell and our first major stop was at Loch Ard Gorge. Jo loved it here as the place had a real story to it.
A ship called the ‘Loch Ard’ was a clipper from England that ran aground after a 3 month voyage on nearby Muttonbird Island. Only two of the 54 passengers and crew survived, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael. Fifteen year old Tom was washed ashore in the gorge but heard 17 year old Evas screams and swam back to rescue her. They sheltered in the gorge caves before Tom scaled the cliff wall and found help. He was proclaimed a hero and the gorge named after the ship. Two of the huge rocks standing in the entry to the gorge are now called Tom and Eva in their memory. Nice story isn’t it?
Just on from there is the big star of the Ocean Road. The Twelve Apostles is the biggest tourist draw on the whole drive and welcomes thousands and thousands of them every year. The Apostles are a line of huge sandstone rocks standing just off the coast that look unbelievably spectacular. A photographers dream. Breathtaking.
Our favourite part of the Apostles story though isn’t very well known. Apparently the rocks were originally known as the ‘Sow and Piglets‘ but that wasn’t considered grand enough for the tourist board so they renamed it in 1922 to the Apostles, which evolved into the Twelve Apostles a little later. There were only ever 9 rocks so not sure where the twelve came into it though, only 8 now.
The Ocean Road twists and turns through so many villages and incredible lookouts that its impossible to go through them all. We saw the Razorback, Cape Otway Lighthouse, Apollo Bay, and so much more before stopping for the night in Lorne at an amazing Airbnb owned by the lovely Kerry. A little wooden house, hidden behind huge trees down a four storey staircase, on the edge of the town. So private and tucked away and just so ‘us’. We both said that if we ever settle down again this is exactly what we need to live in.
Whoops, nearly forgot the bears ……………. We took a detour down a twisty turny country type backroad on the advice of Jo’s friend Shelagh. She wasn’t at all popular with me when we got surrounded by 500 cows though as we edged inch by inch past their dribbling mooing faces on the way down to Cape Otway. Plus, our little walk on the cape turned into a fly-swatting irritation so all was not well in our big red car. However. On the way back up I had another ear-shattering bellow in my sensitive little ears ‘STOP! Bears!’. She was right again of course.
In the trees above us were four or five Koalas enjoying a bit of a nap and some lunch. Once again it was so good to see them in their natural environment and not in some dreadful petting zoo.
Last day of the epic drive and after meeting Kerry in the morning, she’d been away all night, we set off for the last part of the Ocean Road. Now the history of this road is that it was built in the 1920’s by returning soldiers from the Great War as a memorial to those that were lost. Started in 1919 it took 3000 servicemen three years to complete the first section. They were paid just over 10 shillings a week (52p) and lived in tents along the construction site. The aim was to charge tolls to drivers to repay the investment made to build the road. Progress was unbelievably slow as each foot of solid rock had to be broken by pick and shovel. But it opened in 1922 and the final stage was completed ten years later, an epic project. Over the following years the road was widened and improved and today is a two lane carriageway.
Jo and I were slightly disappointed that there were not more memorials along the road but the main Memorial Arch is just past Aireys Inlet and is dedicated to all of the men that worked on the road. We obviously stopped for a couple of photos and the obligatory reading of the plaque but were astounded at the behaviour of the busloads of other tourists visiting at the same time. They weren’t interested in what the road stood for or what the history was, didn’t even look at the information stands, all they wanted was selfies in front of the arch and ridiculously posed photos of each other. Quite sad.
Most excitingly, we stopped at another lookout just to …….. look out and found ourselves in the midst of another huge coach party of ‘tourists’. As I politely shoved my way through I noticed that one of the wooden beams edging the lookout had been knocked off. I mentioned it to the friendly coach driver and together we lifted the beam, repositioned it, fixed it back to its stand, and basically ‘fixed the Ocean Road’! What a hero eh?
Lunch at the strangely named town of Torquay followed by a steady drive to the Queenscliff ferry. This was to take us back to the Mornington Peninsula on the other side of Port Phillip Bay, where our journey had begun five days previously. It wasn’t a cruise however much the navigator kept insisting it was, just an hour long ferry crossing. Good fun although a little windy, exactly what Jo tells everyone about me!
So another Airbnb which we’ll go into next time and the end of a classic adventure. Both if us loved every minute and can’t wait for the next one. Hope I didn’t waffle on too much, could have written so much more, and apologies for the heap of photos. It really was just one of those experiences where it couldn’t all be described in words.
9.11 – 13.11.2015