Oceans of Scenic Views

Monday, September 15, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 13:  Melbourne to Apollo Bay
Departing from Melbourne's central business district on Monday morning, we wanted to get an early start, so we left the hotel just before 7 a.m.  Though we dreaded the prospect, we had to execute one hook turn before leaving town.  Like so many things people seek to avoid, the anticipation was far worse than the actual event.

Heading southwest on the M1, we were driving on the world's longest national highway.  Much of Australia's inland area is very arid, with almost 20% being named deserts, so it comes as no surprise that 85% of the population lives within 30 miles of the coast.  The location of the M1 reflects this as it circumnavigates the country near the shore.  Seven of the nine state and territorial capitals and most other large population centers are strung along this highway.

We strayed from the M1 in Geelong, turning onto B100, which would become the Great Ocean Road (pictured above) a few miles south in Torquay.  This famous scenic route was conceived by highway engineer William Calder, who sought to connect isolated coastal towns, while providing meaningful labor for military veterans coming home from World War I.  Work began in 1919, and the final section was completed in 1932.  More than 3,000 returned servicemen worked on the project, which was dedicated as a war memorial to their comrades who died in the conflict.

From its onset in Torquay, the road meanders west along the coast of the Southern Ocean, hugging rocky cliffs, winding through seaside villages, and traipsing through rain forests.  Missing the Torquay visitor center, we stopped for information in Lorne (pop. 967) , which turned out to be a stroke of luck because we learned there about some of the walks and waterfalls within a few miles of the town.  With a long way yet to go, we opted to limit our exploration to Teddy's Lookout and Erskine Falls.  At Teddy's we followed a short walkway to a viewing platform where we found sweeping views of the Great Ocean Road and the surf sweeping into the mouth of the St. George River.

View from Teddy's Lookout
Just a few miles away, we saw Erskine Falls plunging 100 feet into the lush ferns and other undergrowth in the Erskine River Valley below.  Well traveled walkways led from the car park to a viewing platform, continuing to the bottom of the falls in the valley floor.  Back on the road after these very worthwhile detours, we continued to enjoy the coastal scenery until we reached the little settlement of Kennett River, renowned as one of the best places in Australia to spot koalas in the wild.

As we turned onto the unpaved Grey River Road, we began searching the forest of eucalypts for those little bundles of fur.  At first, we weren't having any luck as we scanned the canopy of the massive trees 80 to 100 feet tall.  Finally, when we stopped along the quiet lane to eat our picnic lunch, Ken spotted one koala, way up near the top of a tree.  That gave us an idea of what to look for, and eventually we detected a total of eleven.

Pushing the limits of my little camera's zoom to check out this koala 
From the koalas, it was only another fifteen miles along the Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay (pop. 1,095), where we would layover for tonight.  After stopping and checking in, we continued west from Apollo Bay, seeking the Twelve Apostles. Not those apostles.  These are a collection of limestone seastacks off the coast near Port Campbell.

Gibson Steps
Before arriving at the apostles, we stopped a couple of miles east at Gibson Steps, a stairway leading down to a long stretch of beach.  Legend has it that steps were originally carved into the cliff here by natives and later a settler named Hugh Gibson took on their maintenance.  At beach level we had a close-up look at the ocean and its powerful surf.  Here we also saw the first seastacks of the day, a pair known locally as Gog and Magog.

Gog and Magog from the top of the steps
All these limestone stacks used to be part of the cliffs along the coast until the ocean's constant pounding created enough erosion to isolate them from the shore.  Today there are eight prominent stacks in the Twelve Apostles group, and apparently there never were twelve.  Locally, the formations were originally known as the Sow and Piglets, a moniker which some tourism official insisted on replacing with something a little more dignified.

Twelve Apostles (some of them, anyway)
The Twelve Apostles are the star attraction of the Great Ocean Road and were drawing quite a crowd when we arrived.  However, the facilities built to support tourists making the pilgrimage to these majestic sentinels spread out the crowd effectively.  The visitor center is located on the opposite side of the highway, and a tunnel leads to the viewpoints for the apostles.  Extensive walkways and viewing platforms spread out the mobs so thoroughly that you don't feel crowded.

Loch Ard Gorge
Just past the apostles, we stopped at Loch Ard Gorge.  Not only is it an intriguing formation, a tragic story is attached.  In the spring of 1878, the Loch Ard, a 263-ft. three-masted sailing vessel set off from England on a 90-day voyage to Melbourne.  In addition to a considerable load of cargo, the ship carried 17 crew and 37 passengers.  Within a few hours of sighting land in Australia, when their journey was all but over, the Loch Ard blundered into heavy fog and ran aground on a reef just off the coast here.  Masts and rigging crashed down on the deck, killing many and preventing others from escaping.  Within 15 minutes, the ship had sunk.  Only two lived to tell this story— a 15-year-old passenger named Eva, and her rescuer, an 18-year-old crew member named Tom.  They came ashore in this cove, now known as Loch Ard Gorge, and were rescued by locals.

After Loch Ard, we turned back east to Apollo Bay for the night.  Tomorrow we will return to Melbourne in preparation for our Australian exit on Wednesday.

Road Noise

Bathroom Heat. 
 Though the decor looked a bit like a relic from the 1970s, our wonderful little apartment in Apollo Bay included an exciting luxury feature that has been painfully lacking in the newer, pricier apartments where we've been staying in the cities—heat in the bathroom.  (It even had electric blanket on the bed!)  Without exception, the one-bedroom apartments we booked in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Hobart each had one source of heat.  Thumbing their noses at basic physics, builders mounted these heating units on the ceiling in the living room.  Evening temperatures have been dipping into the low 40s, and the heat stuck on the ceiling two rooms away does not make its way into the bathroom.  For the record, the kind management at Hotel Collins in Hobart actually kept electric space heaters at the reception desk and lent us one.
Road Signs:  Australian road signs do not mince words when trying to get messages across to distracted or impaired drivers.  Here are some we've seen:  
  • If you drink then drive, you're a bloody idiot.  
  • Only a little bit over?  You bloody idiot!  
  • Don't fool yourself.  Speed kills. 
  • Wake up to yourself.  Fatigue kills. 
  • Drive n text.  U B next
Freebies at Mickey D's:  An enthusiastic fan of good value (and free is always good value), Ken has been buying me Diet Cokes at McDonald's recently—ever since he discovered that customers over age 65 get a free cup of coffee with a purchase of A$3.00 or more (and a DC costs $3.20).  It's a win-win for both of us.

Daily Stats
  • Started in Melbourne, ended in Apollo Bay 
  • Mileage -  255   (Trip total: 11,547)
  • Weather - 44° to 54°, overcast to rainy
  • Lane drift reminder signs (stay in left lane):  94
  • Koalas in the wild - 11
  • Kangaroos in the wild - 0
  • Cars with bicycle racks - 253
  • Curves in the road - 87
    MONDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER, 2014
      View from the beach at Gibson Steps