Thursday, February 16, 2006 - The Great Ocean Road

For once it wasn't too hard getting up at 5:00 a.m., since time had little meaning for us at this point. After a "brekkie" of toast and coffee, Dean drove us to the Lilydale Metlink station, where with the help of a couple of kindly Aussies Tom secured tickets, and we caught the 6:04 train into Melbourne to Flinders Station. The ride took about an hour. Then we walked just a short way to meet up with our Autopia tour group at 7:45.

The Great Ocean Road is one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world. Since we didn't have wheels, we hooked up with a tour. Tom selected Autopia because they use smallish buses, only 22 seats. We hate traveling with a horde. Ben and Libby were our guides today. This is a long day and a long tour, approximately 14 hours and 580 kilometers (360 miles), but it must be done!

Construction of the Great Ocean Road began post World War I in 1918 as a jobs program to give returning soldiers and the unemployed work. Over 3,000 men worked on the road, finishing in 1932. The road is also a memorial for those soldiers who didn't return. The GOR runs along the southeastern coast of Australia in the state of Victoria between the cities of Geelong and Warrnambool. Victoria is a beautiful state. It occupies only three percent of Australia's land mass but boasts one third of its national parks.

The tour headed west out of Melbourne, and we soon passed through Geelong, the second largest city in Victoria, about the size of Knoxville. Then we drove through Torquay Township, "Surfing Capital of the World," and turned off on a side ride towards Bell's Beach, our first stop. As soon as we made the turn, we saw kangaroos!

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'Roo from afar

Bell's Beach is a big surfer beach and was featured in the 1991 movie "Point Break" starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, although the Bell's Beach scenes in the movie were actually filmed near Portland, Oregon. In any event, we got out and had a look while Ben and Libby set out morning tea. "Tea" in this instance did refer to tea, or coffee or if you preferred, and also biscuits (cookies).

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Bell's Beach

There were quite a few surfers in the water but not much wave action. It was a nice seascape, though. More interesting were the 'roos we could see in the distance. It was a very overcast morning which we hoped mightily would burn off later in the day.

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Small surf

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Toilet block at Bell's Beach

At Eastern View we stopped at the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch for the requisite photo. The Arch was built to commemorate the servicemen who built the road. In the early years of the road, a toll was paid here.

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Jana and Tom in Australia!

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Along the Great Ocean Road

Then to Kennet River, home to the koala's favorite eucalyptus, or "gum," trees. We took a walk around and looked for the marsupials in the wild. Koala spotting is easy. They sleep 19 hours a day (much like Spike and Carlos), so you just look in the crooks of the trees for fuzzy brown basketballs. We saw heaps of 'em. Koalas look cuddly, but they're vicious little fighters with fierce claws. They have three fingers and two thumbs on each paw, so they can really tear you to pieces!

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Check out the claws!

The koala's diet consists solely of eucalyptus leaves. Gee, those leaves must be delicious! Too bad they're toxic to you and me. In fact, the leaves are also toxic to baby koalas, so their parents have to slowly harden the babies' stomachs to the diet. The adults do this by initially feeding the babies a partially digested eucalyptus soup consisting of koala poo. Lovely. As we left Kennet River, the sun came out, and it turned into a brilliant day!

We stopped for lunch at "Naughtygals" in sunny Apollo Bay. The bay is part of the Bass Strait, the passageway between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. We waded into the cold water, 18-19 degrees Celsius (about 65 Fahrenheit). That's much colder than it sounds, I promise.

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Apollo Bay

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Tom fights dehydration

From Apollo Bay we left the coast and went inland a bit to Maits Rest Rainforest, part of Otway National Park, where we took a nice walk through a 50-million-year-old temperate rainforest of giant ferns, dense shrubbery, and towering myrtle beech trees.

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Maits Rest

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"Uncommonly good"

After the walk, we returned to the coast at the famous Twelve Apostles, part of Port Campbell National Park. The coastline here is composed of sedimentary limestone. As the water eats away at the coast, pillars of rock are sometimes left sticking out of the sea. At one time there were 18 "apostles," at which time the formations were called Sow and Piglets. Now they're down to just eight apostles, number nine having only recently crumbled into the sea. They just don't make apostles like they used to.

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South coast from the helicopter

For AU$60 apiece Tom and I took an outstanding ten-minute helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles and up the coast over Loch Ard and The Arch. It was brilliant! If you get a chance, do it! It's a four-person chopper, including the pilot, so everyone has a widow seat.

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"Twelve" Apostles

When the helicopter landed, we walked over to the pedestrian viewing area for the Twelve Apostles and took a few additional photographs, but the light was all wrong for photos, and you couldn't see all eight formations at once. We should have walked over before the chopper ride, when we weren't so jaded!

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Two of the Apostles

Next we stopped at Loch Ard Gorge, at 3801.38790' south, the low point of our Australian adventure. Loch Ard Gorge is a narrow inlet with gnarly waves pushing their way through. Here we waded in the Great Southern Ocean, hopefully proving its existence to any remaining doubters. The water is cold here, 15-16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit), but it seemed colder, probably because I knew there was nothing between us and Antarctica but the sea. Two small caves are located in Loch Ard Gorge, carved into the limestone by strong winds and violent seas.

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Unexpectedly splashed, Loch Ard

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Cave at Loch Ard

The last sight of the tour used to be a double-arched formation called London Bridge, until in 1990 part of the formation collapsed, leaving a couple of nervous tourists stranded on the remaining portion. Bystanders on the mainland rushed to nearby Port Campbell to report the couple's dilemma, but the police refused to believe that "London Bridge has fallen down." After much convincing, the police finally sent a helicopter to investigate some two and a half hours later, and they rescued the hapless tourists. Unfortunately for the couple, the news choppers had responded sooner, and this is how the loving couple's spouses learned of their affair! This formation is now called simply The Arch.

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The Arch

5:45 p.m. The bus turned away from the ocean and back toward Melbourne taking the most direct route possible. We stopped for fast food in the forgettable little town of Colac. There was a dearth of choices, and Tom and I reluctantly wound up at McDonald's. It's astonishing how McDonald's food tastes exactly the same everywhere.

9:50 p.m. Back at Flinders Station, we caught the Metlink back to Lilydale. There was a crazy lady on the train yelling at invisible people about how welfare wasn't good enough to her. We were at first relieved that we had to change trains midway, but Ms. Crazy unfortunately changed to our same train, same carriage. On the new train, her shouting increased, and was returned by a crazy man at the other end of the carriage. Oh, great. They know each other. Security arrived almost immediately, and they kept the guy corralled, so we only had to keep an eye out on her. Thankfully, both crazy folks got out one stop ahead of us. I didn't want to be at the station with both of them, with security still safely entrenched on the train.

11:15 p.m. We arrived in Lilydale and met Dean at his work. Despite our faint protests, Dean still managed to keep us up until 4:00 a.m. drinking a bottle of Jim Beam we'd brought from the U.S. We moved the party to the garage in a feeble attempt to not disturb Catherine. It was great fun! Dean showered us with gifts, including iconic Australian bluey jackets and license plates from various Australian states. We didn't have room in our luggage for everything, so we took the blueys with us and left the license plates for Dean to mail. Please don't forget, Dean!

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Can we go to sleep now?

 

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