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Published: February 7th 2013
Great Ocean Road
I start the day at 7:30; not early enough to see the tops of the 12 Apostles bathed in morning glow, but early enough to mostly own the road. The landscape is beautiful, backlit and glowing. There are fleeting views of the ocean past the hills. It is at this time that I feel that cycling on the Great Ocean Road is truly the best way to experience it. The terrain slowly evolves, giving you time to savor the beauty. Birds flit and tweet to the background drone of the surf. All of this without the din of a motor.
I savor the ride, expansive views of the coast, the strength in my legs. I stop at tourist spots: Loch Ard Gorge, 12 Apostles, and Gibson's steps, steps that lead down to the beach. These formations are beautiful, majestic. There is beautiful erosion and the surf is striking. After Princetown the road moves away from the coast and into the hills. An alternative road in the Lonely Planet is mentioned, but the Old Ocean Road is a rippled gravel road, and after a hundred meters of slow jostling progress, I return to the smoothly paved Great Ocean Road. The sun
is pounding and the elevation change is larger, and the power I felt in my legs evaporates. I feel the progress is slow, and I take many water breaks. I take a lunch break at a gate to the field. The cows who were initially off to the side down the hill realize I'm there and cluster by the gate to look at me. I guess the feeling is mutual.
After an exhilarating downhill back to water level at the Gellibrand River, the road steeply climbs and winds through forestland. Progress is slow and difficult. A breeze or the dappled shade from the trees are like miracles. The few downhills are double-edged; while it feels great to have some speed and the wind on my skin, it just means more climbing later.
Close to Lavers Hill, the reason why I wanted to camp in the area, is Melba Gully. At night one can see the glow worms in this little segment of national park. This part of the Great Otway forest is one of the wettest parts of Victoria, which is why these insects have been able to adapt from the damp conditions in caves to the forest.
But I had no idea where in the forest they might be residing, and so I wanted to see Melba Gully by day, and scope out the path I might have to walk to get back to the park at night.
So when the sign for the Melba Gully turnoff finally materializes before me, I know that I'm near the end of the day's journey. I make the turn, and the road promptly dips downhill for several kilometers - ugh. The park has a sweet path, past a recently fallen giant tree, with many a tree fern and towering trees. The handouts say the glow worms can be found in the first section of the path, and I still have no idea where I should be looking. I also don't relish walking an hour up and down steep hills to see the worms - the idea of cycling on the winding forest road at night does not seem safe or enjoyable. I walk my heavy laden bike up the hill back to the main road, and cycle towards Lavers Hill, noting the width of the shoulder that I would likely be walking that night.
Lavers Hill is a
small town, but the tavern and caravan park has all one might need: a bar, restaurant, and general store. Since the camp grounds are undergoing renovation they charge me very little, especially compared to the AUS$50+ most places charge. I buy fruit and juice for the next day, and then inquire about transport to see the glow worms in Melba Gully. Kate suggests I walk further into town to a new coffeeshop which is also the town's visitors centre. There I am given an even better alternative. One of the proprietors of the coffeeshop has glow worms on his property which is in town, and while he cannot give me a tour himself that evening, he suggests Fred, who is sitting at the table out front, could do the honors. We agree to meet at 8 pm at the tavern. Pleased as punch I return to the tavern. There I meet the only other cycle tourists I meet on this trip, a couple who are doing the same trip but only inverted, from Geelong to Warnambool; lucky for me we should meet at the halfway point.
The walk to see the glow worms is even better than Melba Gully.
The owner, Joe, has a collection of animals, a guard sheep with a name like Rufus and a trio of young alpacas, including a female with big eyes and long lashes straight out of Disney. Fred is a great guide, as he works in outdoor education, and he only happens to be visiting for the week. He tells us stories about the glow worms, and the trees, and the animals. As we wait for dusk to pass we rest next to a pond which the owner says has a platypus; the burrow had been discovered, but not the animal. As we admire the calm mirrorlike pond and the beautiful scene reflected, suddenly the plane surface is broken and we can see an animal swimming. The platypus!
Dark comes later and less so than expected since it is a full moon. This way we are able to pick out our path even without flashlights, and the glow worms still shine for us. They live in the soil banks, and we can see the pinpricks of light like distant glowing stars. Amazing.
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