'The Great Ocean Road is a long, twisty highway that hugs the coast from Melbourne towards Adelaide. Originally, Tyler and I thought we'd rent a car and take a leisurely drive down the road, stopping in the picturesque towns, taking in the views on our own, finding a quaint B & B to stay at overnight. Once we arrived in Australia though, we decided against this for one major reason:
Neither of us felt really comfortable trying to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. Even as a passenger, I was often taken by surprise when Barry would make a turn or get in the right lane to pass. Plus there are roundabouts everywhere!
So, we ended up booking a day trip that departed from downtown Melbourne at 7:15am. Our bus was small, with pretty comfy seats, and there were maybe a dozen others, some British, a few Germans, and one other Canadian. A brilliant yellow sunrise outlined the buildings as we drove out of Melbourne heading for Geelong. It took about an hour or so to get to the start of the Great Ocean Road.
One great thing about taking a tour, besides not having to navigate or worry about driving, was that the driver told us about each little town we passed through, and about the road itself. The original section was built after the first world war, to give jobs to returning soldiers, and took about 30 years to complete. The views of the countryside and coastline were just stunning, and we made several stops to take photos. The road itself was windy and full of turns, and the ocean was literally just feet away down a short drop.
There was one passenger from Thailand who we nicknamed "tripod" because he would get out at every stop, run off and place his tripod and camera, then stand in front of it and pose for his timer, 5 times in succession. Sometimes he'd cross his arms, or give two thumbs up, and he even brought his sunglasses to pose with (it was an overcast day). Then he'd load all his photos onto his laptop and charge his camera's battery until the next stop.
Our first stop was Bell\'s beach, home of the longest running surf competition. We all hopped out and had tea and biscuits, used the toilet, and watched Tripod snap a few dozen shots of himself. Our driver mentioned that on a nice day in that town, you'd often go to get a coffee, and the shop would be closed, with a sign saying something like "Nice weather - gone surfing." Our second stop was at a lighthouse that was in some children's show (a few of our fellow passengers from the UK got really excited and were singing the theme song while we checked it out). We also saw a house on a pole - the owner was tired of having to rebuild his house after a bush fire passed through (Australia's coming out of 14 years of drought and fires are pretty common in this area).
Back on the bus, we passed through more little towns, each with their own stories, including Angelsea, Lorne, and Appllo Bay. We stopped at Kennett River for a bathroom break, and the trees were alive with red and green birds. Tyler stretched his arm out and a green bird flew down to say hello.
Next, we took a quick walk through a cool climate rainforest. The trees were massive and dripping with green moss and red peat. There were also fat palm trees with fern-looking leaves, branches crossing and tangling every which way. Tyler and I got stuck behind the guy taking self-portraits, and after I asked him how many times his camera timer flashed (did you take 5 pictures?) he said, "haha, ok."
On the way to the Otway lighthouse, the road veered away from the edge of the ocean for awhile. It was like a fairy tale forest leading to the wicked witches - gnarled eucalyptus trees reaching like boney fingers up towards the sky and out over the road - except for one thing:
Koalas! We spotted them (mostly sleeping) in the trees above, and stopped the bus to say hi to this lively one. Apparently the eucalyptus leaves that they eat are pretty toxic, and its a long, complicated process to break them down for energy, so the koalas spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping.
We had lunch at the lighthouse and climbed up for a fantastic view. It's just too bad that it was a chilly, overcast day, but you could almost imagine ships fumbling through the powerful winds in bad weather and losing their way towards the rocks. This is also called the Shipwreck coast since they've had over 700 shipwrecks (the lighthouses helped reduce the number, but the wind stirs up very suddenly still).
Finally, we got to Port Campbell, where we got out for our first view of the Twelve Apostles. They are magnificent rock formations made of sand stone, and each year the ocean wears them away, millimeter by millimeter. To get a good look, we got off the bus and walked through a tunnel under the road, then followed a boardwalk out over the ocean.
Next, we stopped at another viewing spot for the Apostles, where you could walk right down to the beach and check out the rock walls from below. Tyler and I both liked this place the best - from the beach, as far as the eye could see there were gorges of sandy rock stretching up to the sky, waves crashing and rolling in, caves and black rock shining with water. We could have stayed there all day.
There were 2 other tracks to walk out over the ocean to see other rock formations - the salt and pepper shakers, the razorback, and some unnamed ones (all renamed the Twelve Apostles to appeal to tourists like us!) At one of the lookout points, we even caught a glimpse of our friend with his tripod across the ocean!
Our final stop was the Gibson steps. You climb down a series of rock steps built into the side of the cliff for more amazing views from beach level. The tide was running in pretty high, foamy and freezing, and it was a gorgeous last stop to top off the day. The air was so fresh and clean.
It was a great last day in the Melbourne area. If you are ever in this part of the world, I'd recommend the Great Ocean Road trip - it was an amazing drive with spectacular views. I'm writing this on the plane now, heading to the Whitsunday islands, for a few days of sun, snorkelling, and relaxation!