(Great) Ocean’s twelve

Saturday 18th October 2014.   Day 40

The challenge today is to traverse that Great Ocean Road and arrive in good time to check in to tonight’s accommodation. There is potentially so much to see that we must be really disciplined in our choice of sights. Research has suggested at least twenty worthwhile stops, without those we have missed off the list, to be fitted in plus four hours driving time. Eric would have to rein in his innate desire to see absolutely everything in full detail, a real tent of his resolve and common sense.

This meant that we had to be away by 8.00am at the latest to give us a potential seven hours of viewing time. This we managed to do reasonably easily and as we had refuelled the evening before we could head straight out on the chosen route.

Our first visit was to Tower Hill, a drive through nature reserve with a lake in the crater of an ash cone. This was not on our list but had been recommended by the garage owner in Hamilton and proved to be an outstanding place to go for wildlife. Early in the morning, with us as effectively the first visitors, the wildlife was prolific. Wallabies, kangaroos, emus and even an echidna favoured us with close views and there were a wide variety of birds, including cygnets and ducklings. The profusion of wild flowers again reminded us that this is Spring here. We could have spent hours there but the necessity to keep moving sent us back to the main road.

The next stop was in the eastern outskirts of Warrambool where the Logan beach whale nursery offered the chance to observe the Right whale, usually until the end of October. Flush with our wildlife viewing successes of the early morning fresh in our memory we strode confidently to the viewing platform overlooking the beach, replete with an army of surfers, and gazed towards the middle distance, expecting to see numerous whales or fins or tails or even spouts. Imagine our disappointment when there was absolutely nothing to see, save the surfers hanging around waiting for their perfect wave. Disconsolately we returned to the car and pressed on, passing fields full of lambs and calves.

Coastal scenery now came to the fore with the horizontal bedded calcified sands being subject to the forces of wave erosion, leading to cliff, cave, bay and headland formation, and the headlands disintegrating in arches, stacks and stumps. We stopped at the Bay of Islands and Martyrs Bay and enjoyed the dramatic rock scenery, with the yellows, oranges and reds of the cliffs contrasting with the azure blue of the sea and the varied greens of the bush vegetation. The addition of plunging waves and myriad sea birds added to the grandeur of the scene.

In Port Campbell we stopped for elevenses at the beach café, where they knew how to charge. However the victuals were much enjoyed. The next coastal sights were provided by Loch Ard Gorge, the site of the eponymous shipwreck from which there were only two survivors who were washed into this geo, and the iconic 12 Apostles, sadly reduced by erosion to only 9. The viewing arrangements were superbly well organised. These sights were rapidly followed by London Bridge, an impressive arch which also is a mere shadow of its former glory as originally there were two arches, before the landward one collapsed.

From here we drove over Lavers Hill, a forested area with steep hills and tortuous bends. Dropping down the other side we passed Glenside beach before driving to Cape Otway. On this section of road we stopped watch some koalas, much more active than those on Kangaroo Island, one of them with a cub. At the cape we visited the lighthouse precinct. This lighthouse was built in 1848 and played a vital role in ensuring safe navigation along this treacherous coast. It was possible to climb to the top to enjoy excellent views of the coastline. Within the precinct were the shortlived telegraph station, built for the cable link to Tasmania, the accommodation for the lighthouse keeper, a second world war radar station and an aboriginal culture centre, which we did not have time to visit. A final attraction was a very camera confident koala, who sat on a low branch and definitely posed for each person’s photographs.

A late lunch of fish and chips in Apollo Bay followed. The choice of fish proved interesting as there was no sign of cod nor haddock on the menu. The choice of flake and barramundi proved more than adequate substitutes. Apollo Bay is a typical seaside settlement, with a marina, decent sandy beach and tourist shops and services.

The road now ran right next to the sea, cut into the steep coastal slopes as a post First World War project. It ran through a number of river valleys such as Skenes creek and the Kenneth and Wye rivers, each with a sandy beach at its mouth. Lorne was another seaside town, then we reached the memorial arch of wood, commemorating the road’s construction just before Airy Inlet. Other settlements followed such as Anglesea and Torquay and we also stopped at Bell’s beach, the most famous surfers beach. Again from the viewing platform we observed the fraternity, sitting on their boards waiting for the big one, with occasional waves being judged to be rideable. The coast here is quite different in character, with softer lines, less dramatic cliffs and more extensive beeches.

From Torquay we headed for Geelong, driving through the town before joining the M1 motorway which brought us to Werribee. As we drove towards the hotel the sunset’s rays lit the distant Melbourne skyline a vivid red. Quality Suites D’Olive, were indeed extensive and superior suites. Joyce declared this her best 24 hours of the trip so far, starting with the birds last night in Port Fairy. We continue to have Spring weather with cold nights, Joyce started the day with four layers, plus hat, gloves and scarf. Today remained cloudy and warmed up slowly, her hat and gloves were removed by 11.00, coat by 1.00, fleece by 2.00 and she finally got down to her T shirt by 3.00 when it reached 21 C ; however, this was only for 30 mins as a cool breeze blew in.

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