The Great Ocean Road 5th - 10th December

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December 21st 2008
Published: January 3rd 2009
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1: Surfers at Bell's Beach 15 secs
The Great Ocean RoadThe Great Ocean RoadThe Great Ocean Road

Part of it anyway

Getting there

After a half-hearted attempt to find work in the Newcastle area proved fruitless, we decided to spend our time on more adventurous ventures so we booked a campervan with the intention of taking 15 days to drive from Sydney to Adelaide and back again. The plan was to take in the Great Ocean Road in one direction and return via the inland road.

We had booked as cheap a camper as we could so good taste went out of the window. We picked up our horrible green and purple vehicle and struggled in the Friday afternoon traffic getting out of Sydney. We had planned on doing the hard miles as quickly as possible, but at 17:00 we had covered barely 210km so decided to call it a night. Along the way our van had been drawing fascinated looks from other drivers probably wondering what had possessed us to take one on - it literally looked like a giant pea. After a while we conditioned ourselves to thinking that they were admiring glances!

Killer Whales of Eden

One of our first stops was at the Killer Whale Museum in Eden, in New South Wales. We
Old TomOld TomOld Tom

Not as young as he used to be.
had been told about Killer Whales working together with humans to hunt Baleen Whales such as Humpbacks (don't worry that has all ended now) and were curious to find out more.

The museum was established in 1931 and is one of the oldest in New South Wales. It told the story of the shore-based whaling industry which existed between 1828 and 1930 and described the unique relationship between the hunters and 3 pods of Killer Whales.

The most helpful Killer Whale was 'Old Tom' who assisted by harassing the prey and driving it towards the surface and to the men who were armed with harpoons and ready to kill and capture. In fact the men could watch from the shore and the Killer Whales would often swim in and alert them to the prey by splashing water outside their homes so that they would follow them. It was often a race between various hunting boats to see who could get there first. As a reward, the killed whales were left to the Killer Whales overnight who would eat the tongue and lips, but leave the rest. The men who would process it would then retrieve the remains of the whale the next day. The carcass was stripped of blubber which was boiled to produce oil. Old Tom died in 1930 which coincided with the end of the industry (shore-based whaling) which by then had become opportunist rather than primary moneymaking.

It would take us another 1.5 days before we were ready to start the Great Ocean Road. We stopped very briefly at places along the way, too briefly to really write about them.

Finally There

Torquay and Warrnambool are recognized as the start/end points of the said road. As we were coming from the east we would be hitting Torquay first, home to fabulous surfing beaches and the Surf Museum of Australia, a highlight that we decided to skip. We ended up staying in a quiet little village called Breamlea where the campsite office doubled as the local post office/general store and fish and chip shop (so I should have said quadrupled). We decided fate had played a part in delivering a fish and chip shop so took advantage of this fact before a stroll on the beach which was hidden by tall dunes. The campsite was very empty and as such there was a pleasant sense of isolation as we watched the swell of the Southern Ocean acquaint itself with the black rocks and golden sand.

Bell's Beach

We passed straight through the town of Torquay in a quest to find the famous surfing venue of Bell's Beach where the international surfing circuit stops in Australia. By this stage, we had not acquired a decent map of the area meaning we had no idea where the beach was so ended up doing a short tour of Torquay's beaches. After Lisa had read the guidebook again we realized that it was outside the town and picked up the B100 (The Great Ocean Road) and headed out. We finally picked up signs to the beach and found ourselves in the car park.

The sea was full of surfers eager to take advantage of the large, but manageable waves. I really wanted to get in and show off my skills, but a lack of board, wetsuit and surfing ability hampered this idea. Five minutes had elapsed since enjoying a hot cup of coffee from a flask in relative solitude before we found ourselves caught up in a tour group so we quickly took some photos and extracted ourselves from the platform.

Going Round the Twist

We passed through the small town of Anglesea and followed signs for Split Point lighthouse at Airey's Inlet. This gave us great views from the headland it was built on and it was a fine, sunny day, although a little cold from a strong southerly breeze. The lighthouse looked smaller than it did in that great T.V. show 'Round the Twist' and the surrounds looked much different, but I suppose the show was made just less than 20 years ago! After completing the designated short circuit tour, we meandered our way to Lorne. Along the way there was a myriad of lookouts for you to stop at so we tried to see as much as possible.

Our first stop in Lorne was the visitor's information centre before heading to Erskine Falls, about 8km inland from the middle of town. We missed our turning and had gone about 5km outside town before realizing our mistake and being able to turn around safely. The falls were reached via a steep descent in the vehicle and the car park was right next to the top lookout
An EchidnaAn EchidnaAn Echidna

A hedgehog on steroids?
which required a walk of about 20m. The bottom-viewing platform was about a 300m descent down some steps - we felt it on the way up! The falls were OK, but I think we have been rather spoiled with the viewed waterfalls so far.

Immediately after we drove back towards Lorne and followed signs for Teddy's lookout. This was at the end of a road so was easy to get to. The lookout was fantastic and well worth the detour, overlooking the bay we had reached when we made our mistake and drove outside Lorne. Turquoise waters, imposing cliffs and the windy road made for a photo that summed up the week.

Due to overpriced campsites once again, we decided to push on from Lorne and find a cheaper site for the night. We stopped a little further along the road towards Apollo Bay at a place called Skenes Creek where we camped right next to the beach. Apart from a few light clouds, the day had been sunny so we decided to walk the 20m to the beach and enjoy a fantastic sunset with a cuppa. We had a surprise visit from a sea lion who decided to sun himself in the last rays of the day not more then 10m from where we were sitting. We had a restful night’s sleep aided by the rhythm of the ocean's waves as they rolled onto the beach.

Apollo Bay and Cape Otway

Given the awesome sunset we had been treated to the previous night, we were very surprised to awake to a grey morning and the impending threat of rain. After breakfast we got straight on the road and headed to a place called Mariner's Lookout which overlooks Apollo Bay. This coincided with a brief break in the cloud which enabled us to enjoy the view. We managed to get back into the van and drive to Apollo Bay before the rain started. It got really heavy on our way to the lighthouse on Cape Otway. This was the first lighthouse/station built on the mainland in 1848, really out of necessity. Cape Otway is the most southerly point on the Australian mainland and looks out onto a treacherous stretch of water called the Bass Strait.

We had to pay $14.50 each to enter the 'heritage' site. It turned out to be rather expensive as the only things of real interest were the lighthouse itself and an old telegraph station. There was a Second World War radar station, but it was so dilapidated it was hardly worth publicizing. The rain had really set in by now and was seriously impairing our views from the headland. The mist and gloomy conditions were conducive to producing a spooky atmosphere especially when you thought of all the shipwrecks that had occurred in the Bass Strait, known as the eye of the needle to earlier mariners. The bearded light station volunteer (who had worked in them before automation) told us that the light workings had been manufactured in Smethick and that the old factory was still visible from the M5.

The 12 Apostles

The afternoon saw us arrive at the lookout for the 12 Apostles. Obviously fed up with tourists clambering around the headland, the authorities have built an impressive boardwalk that hugs the headland which gives the public a variety of places to view these spectacular rock formations (limestone outcrops of rock that have been eroded away to stacks by the fearsome currents of the Southern Ocean). We could only see 8 due to some recent collapsing, but it still looked beautiful. We saw them on a clear, sunny day meaning blue sky and clear water which was in stark contrast to our experience at Cape Otway. The only drawback was the huge mass of tourists trying to get as many photos as possible before their appointed time back on their buses.

We continued onwards to Port Campbell, stopping at other famous rock formations along the way, one of which was called Loch Ard, named after Victoria's biggest shipwreck in terms of loss of life. Out of 55 people on board the ship there were only 2 survivors. The place it went down is perilous in strong seas and windy conditions, but absolutely beautiful on days such as that afternoon. The boat had dropped anchor to try and stabilize itself in the strong weather, but the anchor could not hold it and it drifted onto the rocks. The area was covered in arches carved out by the sea, destined to become stacks similar to those we had just left behind and overhanging limestone cliffs, blow holes and picturesque bays. Loch Ard was well worth stopping at and that's what most people did. Not until around 16:00 when most of the tour companies had gone did it start to feel quiet. We camped the night in Port Campbell so we could go back to the 12 Apostles site for sunset. It was very cold in the strong southerly wind, but well worth the trip back.

The Road to Warrnambool

As soon as we left Port Campbell, we dived into every sign posted nook and cranny on the way to Portland. These included various features of erosion - The Arch, London Bridge albeit fallen down and the Grotto. We finally stopped in Warrnambool where we paid a visit to the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.

There were plenty of exhibits that dealt with the multitude of shipwrecks that have occurred off the Shipwreck Coast over the last 170 years! There was also a replica village from the period 1840-1850, which in a similar style to the Black Country Museum in Dudley featured volunteers playing the part of villagers from the time. I liked being able to visit the various shops and read about what was expected from the staff (no pubs for the teachers and boat outfitters were expected to work on Sundays when military ships came in).

We pushed on to Portland where we found another beach front campsite. When I saw people running around outside with cameras I had to find out what was going on and was glad I did as we got to see another beautiful sunset over Portland and our last of the Great Ocean Road. We were both very pleased we managed to get to see this part of Australia. Although the unpredictable weather reminded us of home, it was very beautiful and I would encourage anyone who visits Oz to take a similar trip down here.

Additional photos below
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