Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Great Ocean Road - A Scenic Wonder

Eastern Arch

This is arguably one of my favourite drives in Australia (though the Illawara Highway south of Sydney comes in a very close second). To date I have driven along the route four times, the first being just after New Years Eve 2000 when I was in Melbourne with a friend and we wanted to take the scenic route back to Adelaide. I had been down here as a child when my Dad took us to Warrnambool for the annual family holiday and had shown us all of the rock formations along the route. It was those rock formations that had stuck in my head ever since, and since I had not seen them since I was child, decided to visit them once again.

I must say that that first experience was something that I had not expected. Okay, we had occasionally been down to Anglesea for daytrips to visit my Auntie and Uncle who had a regular spot at the caravan park, but I had never been on the route between Anglesea and the Twelve Apostles (my Dad, when we left Warrnambool and headed on to Melbourne, decided to take the inland route). So, until that day in early 2000 all I knew about the Great Ocean Road were the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge.

History
Eastern Arch MonumentPersonally I really don't want to repeat everything word for word that you can find on Wikipedia, especially since I am not an encyclopedia (despite people's claims otherwise), however I feel that I should at least give some background. The road itself was conceived near the end of World War One when the government was trying to work out what to do with all of the soldiers that were returning home. Okay, they did suggest that they could put them to work constructing roads through the country, but from what I could see there was really no economic benefit to the Great Ocean Road itself. Either somebody came up with the idea of creating a tourist attraction, or they wanted to give them some 'busy work'. It is not as if the towns on the coast could not be reached by inland routes, and even today you don't get trucks travelling along here (only huge buses full of tourists). Hey, don't get me wrong, there is nothing bad about building a tourist attraction, but I would hardly suggest that there was any real economic benefit beyond charging people a toll to risk their lives travelling between Lorne and Apollo Bay (yep, the road was pretty hairy back then).
Anyway, I will leave it at that, and if you really are interested in its heritage then once again I'll direct you to the Wikipedia entry.

Great Ocean Road Map
I better show you a map of the road
The Road
Well, I could probably say that there are three sections to the road - no actually five, but two of the sections are pretty boring: that between the Bay of Martyrs and Warrnambool (though there is an historic pub on that section), and that between Geelong and Anglesea (though the section between Anglesea and Lorne isn't all that thrilling either). Anyway, ignoring those two 'boring sections' you have what I call the Cliff Drive between Lorne and Apollo Bay, the Jungle Drive between Apollo Bay and Princetown, and then the Attractions between Princetown and Warrnambool (which also includes the historic pub).
The road itself begins on the outskirts of Geelong and when I first drove down here the turn off would take you through to Torquay. They have since moved the turn off a little further along the road so that you can effectively bypass Torquay. That confused me this time because I wanted to travel through Torquay, at least to get a couple of photos and to also have some breakfast. When I did finally work out what had happened I decided to backtrack a little into town.

Torquay Surf Shops
There are no shortages of surfing shops here
Torquay
Torquay is famous for one thing, and one thing only - surfing. I had heard of Bells Beach (thanks to Patrick Swayze in Point Break) but I had never really equated it with Torquay. So that first time I drove into town the number, and size, of the surf shops on the main road literally blew me away. It was like a supermarket - no more like a homemaker centre specialising in surf gear. In a way, Toquay was like a homemaker centre before the homemaker centres started popping up all over the city fringes.
The town itself is a nice town (ignoring the ubiquitous surf shops) and you don't have to worry about the surfers at the main beach - it is a lot quieter and they all tend to congregate on the other side of town where Bells Beach is located. In fact this last time I came here I wanted to go and check Bells Beach out, however I discovered that the Rip Curl Pro is held here every Easter (and has done so since 1960). So, since Bells Beach was closed (well, it wasn't, but you had to pay to get in) we decided to leave it for another day.
Anyway, for those wanting a bit of surfing, here is a video somebody took earlier and posted up on Youtube for everybody to enjoy:

The waves are nowhere near that big at Bells Beach

The Boring Bit
Split Point LighthouseSo, after you leave Torquay you then travel along what I consider the boring bit because, well, it is actually quite boring. It is just like your everyday country road (except for all of the tourists making the journey to the less boring bits). Okay, it does get a little better after you pass through Anglesea (where there is a caravan park, a pub, an estuary for watersports, and the holiday makers that always come down here for a holiday), but it still is a little boring. Okay, there is a really cool lighthouse at Airey's Inlet (and you can even go on tours), and there are some houses that are probably worth more than the average minimum wage worker would ever make in their life time, but that is about it. Okay, there is also the Eastern Arch (which is the photo that I have used with the title of the post) which used to be the toll gate where the government attempted to recoup the costs of the road from unsuspecting tourists, but as I have suggested, that is pretty much about it. The road doesn't really get all that interesting until you pass through Lorne.

Great Ocean Road Beach House
Probably spends most of the year empty

Lorne
Well, before you hit the interesting part of the road, you first must pass through Lorne, and that can be a real challenge during the busy season. As I mentioned, I have been down here four times, and two of those times have been during the high season, meaning that the traffic literally slows to a crawl. Oh, and you can't take a short cut by hitting the side streets because they are all dead-ends - so no easy way out there either. Anyway, Lorne seems to be one of those towns that serves the higher end of the community. Walking along the foreshore the town seems to drip with class. There is also a really trendy element to it as well, with classy shorefront cafes and shops selling stuff that would only appeal to those who wish to be an individualistic conformist. Look, Lorne isn't actually a bad place, and I must say that they had a pretty impressive playground for the children, but it also seems that staying here for any period of time can be a bit of a drain upon your wallet - at least during the high season.

Lorne Playground
It makes me not want to grow up
Cliff Drive
After you managed to escape the monumental traffic jam that happens to be Lorne you then enter one of the more thrilling parts of the trek along the Great Ocean Road - the section that I refer to as the Cliff Drive. The reason that I refer to it as such is because the road runs along the side of the cliffs - some parts are quite high up while other parts are much closer to the shore. Anyway, while I took a bunch of photos along this route, I realised that a Youtube video would be much, much better, so here is the video that I uploaded earlier:

 
I'm not actually driving that close to the edge

Oh, and before you tell me off for driving and using my mobile phone at the same time, I assure you that the person who is holding the camera is my friend sitting in the passenger seat.

Anyway, this long, narrow, and very windy road is probably my favourite part of the journey, simply because I just love driving along long, narrow, and windy roads, especially if the view is quite scenic, as it is along here. There are also quite a number of spots where you can simply stop the car and get out and simply take in the view, which is what I generally always do when I am driving along this road. In fact it was after that first time in early 2000 that gave me that attachment to this route back to Adelaide, and it is why, when I had the opportunity, that I would travel along here. The first two times that I drove down here we actually managed to do so without taking a break, but then again I had others in the car so we could share the driving. The other times were either by myself, or I was simply not going all the way to Adelaide.

Another thing that I saw here were the waves crashing against the rocks, and I thought that it would make a very good relaxation video, so here is one of them that I took.


 I'm not sure if relaxation videos are supposed to have them crashing against rocks

The Jungle Drive
The cliff drive comes to an end at 'Sunny Apollo Bay'. Mind you, the reason that I have that in quotes is because the last time I was in Apollo Bay it was anything but sunny. Still it was a pleasant town where I spent the night once - though since it was the off season it was fairly quiet. Being somewhat further from Lorne, and also after the more tretcherous part of the road, the town has a more homely seaside feel to it. However, this time I didn't stay all that long - I just took a couple of photos and continued driving.
This is where the road heads inland and passes through a temperate rainforest. This quite surprised me because I only ever expected rainforests to be found in the tropics and subtropics - however here is one that seems to defy the odds.
Just a little way out of Apollo Bay you come to a lookout which is the closest that I could come to a pastoral setting (though I sure there are plenty of other places that could carry that name). Anyway, here is a panoramic shot that I took with my camera:

Otway Ranges Panorama
I think the photo is supposed to curve around.
This lookout is just outside of Apollo Bay, though as you travel further inland this is what you discover:

Cape Otway Jungle DriveCape Otway Jungle Drive


Cape Otway Jungle DriveCape Otway Jungle Drive
Maybe a video would have been better than simply taking a heap of photos

Further north they do have an attraction called 'The Otway Fly Tree Top Adventures' but since it was quite out of our way we weren't able to check it out. However there was something that we could visit: the jungle walk. Here you can pull over into a car park and then go for a round trip through the heart of the jungle. Mind you, they don't particularly like you leaving the path, which makes it a little difficult since there aren't any toilets here either, but I guess you are just going to have to hold on to it. Anyway, words probably can't describe this walk, so instead here are a couple of photos that I took (if they can do it justice):

Cape Otway Jungle WalkCape Otway Jungle


Cape Otway Jungle Walk
Unlike a tropical rainforest, the temperature is bearable


I probably should point out that if you are planning on taking this trip, make sure that there is enough petrol in your tank because there aren't any petrol stations in this jungle, and your Telstra mobile phone won't work - actually, come to think of it I did post a Facebook status update while wandering through here so ignore what I just said.

Otway Junction Bistro
Not exactly what I imagined a bistro to look like

Laver's Hill
When you emerge from the jungle, or forest, or whatever you want to call it (some people, and signs, call it a jungle, others call it a forest - such as the sign at Laver's Hill which proclaims that this is where the forest meets the sea), you come to this small collection of buildings known as Laver's Hill. In a way it is like one of those places where you simply want to escape to from the modern world because, even though they do have mobile phone reception, it simply seems as if time has pretty much stood still. It is like the forest (or jungle) works to keep progress at bay - and in some places that is not necessarily a bad thing. Mind you, for what is in effect a handful of buildings, I am surprised that there are two pubs. Well, one if you don't call the old rustic building connected to the motel which carries the name bistro, which I must say I found quite odd because it really didn't look like a bistro. Mind you, since pretty much all of the suburban pubs have bistros I have come to expect little from the term, but then again this is a really nice, and old, building in the middle of a pastoral setting, which honestly, is not some place I would expect to find a bistro (at least in the suburban pub use of the term).

Two of the Apostles
Two of the Seven remaining Apostles

The Attractions
A short while after you leave Laver's Hill you come to Princetown and just beyond there the land begins to flatten out. Not so much that you have rolling plains drifting down to a beach, but rather rolling plains ending in a sharp drop of some fifty or so meters (I don't know exactly how far, but it looks pretty high) to the beach. It is along here where there are a number of attractions that have formed over time due to the waves crashing against the shore.

By far the most popular, and well known, site along this section are the Twelve Apostles. Well, actually seven of them, though through some imagination you could probably work out where the other five are located (I try that every time I come here, though I only manage to get eight of them, and that is including the two that have fallen down - one of them in my lifetime).

I did try to get a panoramic shot of all of them, but due to the amount of people swarming around the sight, and the fact that they are at a 180 degree angle, it was just not possible, so here is a photo of the others.

The Other Apostles
It would look even better in the middle of a storm
This place is certainly the highlight for many of the tourists, and in fact when we came here they even had people directing the cars. They also offer 15 minute helicopter rides (for $145.00 per person), though I doubt they fly too low (considering what would happen if one of the helicopters were to crash).

Loch Ard Gorge Panorama
These panorama shots do turn out a little odd

Loch Ard Gorge
Sure, the Twelve Apostles may be the star attraction along this stretch of the road, but there are quite a number of stops that I believe are much, much better - such as Loch Ard Gorge.

The section of the coast is known as the Shipwreck Coast namely because lots of ships (18 I believe) met their fate here while attempting to reach Melbourne, and looking at the ruggedness of the cliffs I am not at all surprised. Anyway, if you have never heard of the Loch Ard, by the time you have visited this location you will have, since it is one of the most famous shipwrecks that occurred here. The ship struck a reef in the area on 1st June 1878 and all but two of the passengers and crew were killed. The two survivors, a cabin boy and one of the passengers, came ashore in this gorge. A cemetery commemorating those who lost their lives is also nearby.

Loch Ard GorgeLoch Ard Gorge
Could they be the missing Apostles?

While the cloud of a tragic loss of life at sea hangs over this area, all I can say is that this is probably one of the best beaches that I have ever visited. Okay, there are probably better ones in more tropical climes, but as a beach this is still pretty cool. I even remember coming down here as a kid one summer and going for a swim, as well as clambering over the rocks and exploring the cave. Actually, this time I clambered over the rocks and explored the cave, which goes really deep into the cliff. Mind you, you better be careful that the tide doesn't come in because you might find yourself trapped.

Loch Ard Gorge BeachLoch Ard Gorge Beach
You could film an episode of survivor down here

London Bridge and the Bay of Islands
Since it was starting to get late, we unfortunately had to skip a number of the other attractions, such as the Grotto (which is really, really cool). However, we did stop off for a short time at London Bridge. Mind you, it doesn't really look much like a bridge any more because, well, like London Bridge, it fell down. Actually, the last couple of times I came here I would take a photo and upload it to Facebook with some smart comment pertaining to such.

London Bridge
It still sort of looks like a bridge
I still remember when I came down here as a kid and we walked out over the bridge. Even at that time I wondered what would happen if it fell down while we were still out there. In fact, on 15th January 1990, two poor unsuspecting tourists discovered just that when the span connecting the mainland collapsed. They were eventually rescued by helicopter, and the site now has the dubious connection to its namesake.

Original London Bridge
And once again Wikipedia has delivered the goods
A little further on is the Bay of Martyrs (also called the Bay of Islands, but the Bay of Martyrs sounds so much better). I'm not really sure why they called this place the Bay of Martyrs, but I am sure that I read somewhere that it had something to do with the number of shipwrecks along the coast. Mind you, that sounds a little odd, considering people dying due to their ship sinking would hardly be called a martyr.

Bay of Martyrs
It looks even better at sunset.
Boggy Creek Pub
So, the road now turns inland where it eventually meets up with the main highway between Warrnambool and Melbourne. However, before you reach the turn off you will see a sign pointing to 'The Historic Boggy Creek Pub'. Well, anybody who knows me would know that I would never turn down a visit to a pub, especially an historic pub, so I switched on the blinkers and drove down the country road.


Boggy Creek Pub
Certainly a popular tourist attraction
The pub that I discovered was actually your typical, ordinary, country pub - not that there is anything really all that typical or ordinary about country pubs. However, this was certainly full of all of the local characters, as well as a couple of tourists take looked decidedly out of place (as did we city folk). Mind you, it was still quite a nice place, and is certainly located in some really tranquil surroundings, so it is definitely a good place to stop over on a long road-trip.

So, there we go, the Great Ocean Road, or at least a part of it. Unfortunately there is probably way too much to see on a simple day's journey, and there are a number of places that I reluctantly skipped, if only to take a photo of the Boggy Creek Pub while there was still some daylight. Maybe another time in a couple of years I will come down here and stop by at some of the other places along the route, and then share my further adventures with the world.


Creative Commons License
The Great Ocean Road - A Scenic Wonder by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

Great Ocean Road Map source: Gryllida use permitted under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported
Split Point Lighthouse source: Mike Lehman, Mike Switzerland use permitted under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported 
London Bridgh source: Philipist use permitted under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported


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