After a whole two nights in Melbourne, and having already booked our flights back to Sydney, Tracy and I decide to make the most of our time in Victoria – as we don’t know when exactly we’ll be back – and head out on the road again… this time, quite literally. Yes, folks, it’s time for The Great Ocean Road Trip, 2011. Four days of coastal cruising in – according to the weather forecast at least – beautiful weather. Excited is an understatement! After a lot of faffing to book a rental car, a morning mini hike up to the hire place from our hostel (I swear the weight of our packs has doubled), and a two-minute-long ‘how to drive an automatic’ lesson, the two of us manage to get ourselves out of Melbourne (no tears shed here) and on to the freeway heading for the coast.
First stop, Geelong. And what a stop! I’m not being sarcastic; this coastal city about an hour away from Melbourne brings out the stupid-factor in both of us – in the best way of course. There’s a bollard trail along the seafront that captures our snap-happy enthusiasm and general willingness to make total fools of ourselves in public. When I say bollard trail, I need to clarify that it’s not a set of concrete traffic bollards, but oversized bowling-pin-like statues in various painted guises, from lifeguards to sailors, dubious-looking women to driving legends. After an hour running around our new playground, like a pair of kids on a sugar high, the parking limit’s up and we figure we should really get on to the famous road itself… just as soon as we’ve had a brief stop about ten minutes down the road in Torquay (MUCH better than the British version) to pick up food, of course, which we eat surrounded by highly aggressive, beady-eyed gulls and with a view of a pretty surf beach in front of us. Good start, we think. And we’re not wrong.
After driving under the wooden barrier that demarcates the starting point of the Great Ocean Road, also known as the B100, we’re officially on our road trip. Sunnies and radio on? Check. Questionable DJs? Check. Insanely windy roads? Check. Stunning, but STUNNING scenery? Hell yes, CHECK! With no real plan or restraints on our time, as we have booked no accommodation for the next few days, we can go at whatever pace we want. Which, let’s be honest, on the first day of the crazy roads when rally-driver mode hasn’t yet kicked in, is slow. But what’s the point of rushing when there’s so much to see and do? For example, driving round a golf-course car park on the lookout for kangaroos, taking numerous jumping photos in front of Split Point lighthouse, the location that Round The Twist – TV show of our youth – was filmed, and wandering along an almost empty beach trying to leave perfect footprints in the sand. By the end of the day, we’re shattered from all the sea air and happy to hit our first hostel in Apollo Bay. In fact, so happy to hit it that (after having an argument with the man in the local fish and chip shop about being overcharged, getting lost in the dark on our way back to our accommodation, and the phone running out of battery when we call for directions) we’re pretty much in our bunks at the late, late hour of….half-past eight. Our old-married-couple status is practically sealed.
The next day, after breakfast (and seven years off the road), Tracy takes the wheel. Her driving is fine, but the girl is not comfortable – and nor are any of the drivers behind us, who don’t appreciate the maximum speed of 40k/hr. I imagine it’s like driving behind a tractor. In fairness, the roads aren’t exactly friendly if you’re not a confident driver and I think she does a good job. If nothing else, the slow pace means I get the opportunity to spot my first bit of Aussie wildlife – a koala hanging off a tree! I get a tad overexcited, but I’m still holding out for my kangaroo sighting. Apparently, this is the current test of when I have truly experienced Australia! After driving all the way down a seriously curvy road, we decide the lighthouse at the end of it is not actually something we want to go to visit – the steep entry fee puts us off – so we hop back in the car (with me at the wheel again) and begin our day of stop-start driving, along the most photographed section of the Great Ocean Road: the journey between The Twelve Apostles and Warrnambool.
Arriving at the Twelve Apostles, we realise the Lonely Planet hasn’t lied – the info centre and viewing platforms are a little like an oversubscribed attraction. There are so many people it takes away from the visual a bit so, if it’s possible to be a little underwhelmed by a bunch of massive rocks, we were. The highlight of the encounter was probably when we asked a Japanese couple with some serious photographic equipment to take our photo. They didn’t really speak much English, but were pulling and pushing and ordering us to stand in a VERY specific way, and then arguing with each other about the best angle for the photo. The outcome isn’t that stunning, but it does amuse me to look at it!
From this point we carried on driving and got caught in a little caravan of sightseers, who we kept meeting at each viewing point. It all ended up getting a little bit competitive – in a friendly way, of course. And I think all the older travellers took to us as they were amused by our photo-posing efforts – backward bends at the beautiful Arch (before running away from the tourists who wandered into view to witness our collapse onto the decking), table-top and crab pose at London Bridge and general stupidity elsewhere. In fact, the smaller rock formations were by far our favourites – they were more striking and peaceful than the Apostles (the peaceful bit only lasting until we rocked up, though).
By the time we’d finished our endless afternoon of wandering down sandy scrub-surrounded paths, and up and down wooden staircases to numerous viewing points, we were ready to find a place to stop and stay for the night. So we drove to Warrnambool, the end of the official Great Ocean Road – and stayed just about long enough for a coffee pit stop before turning around and heading back to Port Campbell as the sun set around us, with the radio still blaring – in between fuzzing up. A MUCH nicer little town to rest our heads before day three began… and a good resting point for this story, too. Next instalment coming right up.