Driving the Great Ocean Road (GOR) was such an incredible experience full of beautiful sights, winding roads, wildlife and, of course, delicious food! Mini history lesson (groan): the GOR was constructed by soldiers of WWI to commemorate their fallen comrades and was completed in 1932; it stretches for 243 km (151 miles) and offers amazing views of the Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean and Bass Strait (for simplicity sake let’s just refer to the body of water as ‘ocean’). Thanks Wikipedia!
We hit the road fairly early in the morning after being first in line to pick up our rental. We were anticipating (and I was slightly nervous about) our first experience driving on the *wrong* side of the street. Add in that we were headed to teeny weeny roads that meandered up and down cliffs that plunged down into the freezing ocean…well, let’s just say I was sad to not have access to Valium. I was crossing my fingers for a tiny smart car – since I was convinced it was the only size car that could safely maneuver the treacherous GOR – instead we received a free upgrade to a Camry, which might has well been a Cadillac by comparison. Adam did his best to convince me that the GOR was not made solely for smart cars…I just buckled up, located the nearest “oh sh*t” handle, and tried to keep my front-backseat driving to a minimum. I probably was not as successful at that last part as Adam would have liked…what was it I said about old habits…?
After utilizing Adam’s impeccable sense of direction as we realized some roads in the city center were closed to traffic we made it onto the highway heading south…ish to the B100 aka GOR. Before long we hit the coast line and started stopping at every single scenic outlook we came upon. Some we took photos at (ok, well, most of them), and a few we just stared and stared out onto the ocean watching the waves and marveling at the jagged coastline.
We had only two stops planned for the day: Lorne and Otway Light Station. However, once we spotted a lone lighthouse on a far away cliff and felt the urge to investigate, we knew we were in for far more stops than that! The far away light house happened to be Split Point and had a lovely little café right next to it. We enjoyed a cuppa and scone with fresh jam and cream and walked along some of the pathways on the cliff’s edge underneath the light house.
We made a much quicker stop in Lorne after seeing how much time our little side stops and scenic outlooks were taking and heading on up to the Otway Light Station. Entering this teeny little hidden driveway straight off the B100 you are immediately in a dense forest of eucalyptus trees and some seriously thick underbrush…basically my idea of an Australian rainforest. I am on Koala Lookout duty and Adam is on “keep the car out of the ditch” duty. I’m so happy to say that we were both wildly successful.
The stretch of around 15 km of forest land leading up to the Light Station is a koala paradise, we spotted close to 50 koalas way up high in the trees, swaying in the intense winds, somehow staying put while sound asleep. We caught sight of one active koala as he was making his way up a tree trunk and leapt to the adjacent tree. I was practically useless to the world; wringing my hands, jumping up and down and making odd chirping noises due to my excitement of seeing these animals in the wild. Thankfully Adam kept his head about him and got some great photos and even a video.
By now it was past time for us to have actually been at the light station – we carefully drove the rest of the way up to it and went to the very point where two bodies of water clash: the Bass Strait and Southern Ocean (also known as the Indian Ocean depending on which map you’re viewing). It was here that we experienced the strongest winds known to mankind…*insert fart joke here*…and now let’s return to our previous level of maturity, thanks. *Ahem* You step outside the top of the lighthouse to see the view and are shoved back against the wall, we tried to make the loop around the outside and, literally, could not move a step further than half way because the wind prevented it (well, I’m sure a healthy dose of fear was in the mix too…). I couldn’t hear anything other than my hysterical laughter as this incredible force attempted to steal my hair, coat and camera. It was quite literally a breathtaking experience to be confronted with such a powerful force of nature.
Back to the road we continued on towards Port Campbell and the 12 Apostles – huge towers of rock in the ocean created by erosion from constant battering of wind and ocean. We made it with plenty of time to spare so we decided to wait for sunset. It was a very cold and windy wait, but the sight of these natural formations and the intense waves with the backdrop of a setting sun made it all worthwhile.
We warmed up back at our little b&b – the Port Campbell Guesthouse – with a welcome fire and met some of the other folks staying there. Dinner was had at Room Six with friends from Melbourne who were also touring the GOR that weekend. If you ever find yourself in Port Campbell, I highly recommend having dinner here – the burger was delicious, so well seasoned and absolutely huge. Adam had the fish and chips and we both nibbled off of each other’s plates (though the burger definitely won that fight). Afterwards we headed over to *the* pub where they happened to have a two man band playing for the whole night.
All in all this was a pretty amazing day 1 of our trip, especially considering that said band played Men at Works “Down Under” as their finale…which means we were surrounded by Aussies, in Australia, singing what should be known as the Australian Anthem. Amazing.
Day 2 did a good job trying to top Day 1. We started out with a great home cooked breakfast at our b&b and hit the road to hike the Loch ard Gorge – another set of cliffs, limestone arches and killer waves (quite literally as the area is named for one of the many ships which wrecked on the coast). The weather was a bit more seasonal today which meant lots of rain and wind. We discovered that a large storm front had moved up from Antarctica (Antarctica!!!) and was the cause of the much higher than usual waves and surf. The Gorge was a great place to view this as the waves would continuously crash over the cliff edge and then soak whoever was nearby (i.e. us).
Because we had to get our rental back prior to 5 PM we decided to head home after thoroughly hiking, and getting soaked by, the Loch Ard Gorge. We made minimal side stops this time but were still enjoying the amazing views of the countryside once the upper end of the B100 leaves the coastline steering you towards the A1. We made it back to Melbourne in time and had a blast reviewing all of the photos that were taken over the weekend. This felt like a very special trip when considering that the erosive forces of the sea will eventually completely change the coastline again and again. Who knows how many Apostles will be left (they are already down to 8 ) and what new formations will be born.
I’m thinking this is a definite “do” for anyone who finds themselves in Australia.