Adelaide -> Melbourne (The Grampians and The Great Ocean Road), Victoria
It's a girt big old road that runs beside the sea (so guess what the aussies call it..)
I have to admit, the tour from Alice Springs to Adelaide was so great, and with such a great group of people, that my expectations for the Great Ocean Road were somewhat reserved.. on first impressions, the tour guide did nothing to inflate them.. Brian, an old, bald bloke, get out of the bus and started reading our names off a list without so much as a "hi how are you". Not good!
We set off from the ade and onto the open road. Crossed over the Murray River and drove for two hours to a roadhouse where we stopped for morning coffee. On the way we passed through loads of nice landscape, past a couple little towns, stuff like that, any number of which things could have provided a base for Brian to give us a bit of information about the areas we were passing through, stuff like that.But he drove in silence, and we were left in disbelief that he could be so uninformative.
His information-giving was almost equally lacking for the remainder of the first day. We basically drove quite a bit, over the border into Victoria, to get to the Grampians National Park. I thought Victoria was noticeably different to SA, the landscape seemed flatter and drier and less green (although maybe I was viewing it through significantly "I love SA" tinted glasses. As we got into the Grampians (named by a scottish explorer, McKenzie I think he was called).. the aboriginal name is Geriwerd, which means "profile of moses" although I really couldn't see that, could see their resemblence to their scottish namesake. The road wound round the edges of steep hillsides, with bare rock on one side of the bus and a sheer drop on the other.. hillsides opposite were of lumpy bare rock, with very dry, sparse grass and little trees and bushes clinging to the face.
Our first stop of the trip that was somewhere remotely interesting (rather than a roadhouse, toilet block or picnic area) was McKenzie falls. Unlike the falls in Kakadu, this one was running, even in the drier season, it was big and black and gushing, with some lovely and pleasing rainbows hanging around in the spray.. Still no info from guidey, so I hit him with a barrage of questions and managed to discover at least a couple of things about the area we were in.
We spent the night in a backpackers in Bambrook, in big 8/10bed dorms. It was a nice evening, wtih a meal together then some wine outside.. opposite us were 200m high steep hillsides and amongst the grass at the base of the hills were wallabies, emus and kangaroos. I realise that FINALLY I have been in Aussieland quite a long time when I don't go ape s*** with excitement at the mention of a kanga, and I actually declined to go down and look at them, them no longer being a novelty to me (yay, I am nearly an aussietralian!).
My body, being by now used to 4am starts on tour, got me up at 5.30, which I suspect might actually have been 5am as we had gone forward 30minutes as we passed into victoria. So at least I was GLAD it was only 5.30, which didn't give me tooo long to wait til we left at 7.30.
This morning, we did the Pinaccles Walk, up and over rocks to one of the peaks in the Grampians park. Our route up was moderately taxing, with quite a few steps and strides and big rocks to scramble over.. the first part took us through "the grand canyon" which was interesting and cool, with a lot of big boulders in a big crack between rock walls (how eloquant!) but, obviously, a bit less "grand" than the actually grand counterpart. Towards the top (when we were beginning to wonder if we hadn't taken a wrong turn as it was definitely further than the 0.8km Brian had misinformed us the walk was) we passed through the "Silent Street" which really WAS cool, with us walking up and through a very narrow pass between two walls of rock (spare a thought for the fatties, I imagined people hiking for 30minutes to get up there only to discover that they were denied the final view on account of being too portly to fit through the rock gap.. even I had to turn sideways. I really think perhaps they should have a warning at the start of the walk, or a size guide or something, I'm not being funny, I'm earnest!). I also always see very impressive and inspiring oldies on these walks, so they usually stop to let me past, but I'm short of breath and it's a bit hard-going and I will be thrilled to bits if I'm fit enough at 70 to still be doing walks like this.. I hope I am, it's pretty inspiring to see those fitties.
So we reached the top and were rewarded with panoramic views over valleys and ridges and flat, silvery lakes (don't get none of THEM in the outback, bringing back memories of hot, dry, fly-infested salt-lakes..I really appreciate green and verdantness (verdance?)) and some terrific photo opportunities pereched on high and precarious ledges. We sat at the top and drank in the view before heading back down. We'd been back at the bus for 15minutes and it had reached teh appointed leaving time with no sign of Brian when some hikers just down from the top informed us that we would be waiting for a while, one of the girls in our group had fallen and twisted her ankle and couldn't stand on it. Having just DONE the walk/climb up to the peak and back again, we knew the difficulty of walking it with even 2good legs, we also knew the impossibility of getting her down from there so it was no surprise to discover, when the mountain rescue people arrived, that the helicopter had been scrambled. A team of rescuers set off in a 4wd up some sort of track, but it was so steep and rocky that they couldn't get RIGHT to the top where she was, and they thought the helicopter would get there first anyway.
The outcome was basically that we sat and waited by the bus for a total of 2hours for the drama to unfold! In the end, she was airlifted out on a stretcher, up into a heli and taken to Ballarat hospital.. I often wondered how tricky it must be to help an injured person at the top of a mountain and today we got to find out! It was cool, too, that where she fell, where the heli winched her up from, we were able to see a bit of the helicopter action (although small and far away).
Having lost two hours of the day, some people wanted to miss out the scheduled visit to the cultural centre at Brambrook, which I caused a couple of mutterings by flat out refusing to do. Brian had hardly told us anything about the national park, and I CARE about that stuff! I want to know why it's important and the stuff behind it and whatnot! And very interesting it was too.
We then left the Grampians behind and headed south, out towards the coast and the start of the Great Ocean Road wheeeee! The coastal communities in southern Victoria used to be of sealers, and linked only by boat, so they got fed up with that and decided to build a road linking them, which became the GOR. It was wonderful to see the sea again, in late afternoon sun, I opened the window of the bus and hung my head out like a dog, breathing in the fresh salty air, it smelt fantastic!
We caught glimpses of the famous stacks out to sea as we drove, then got to see the first up close as we stopped at a formation known as london bridge (supposedly because a bit of it fell down in 2006, but it seems to have been called london bridge since before that even happened, so not really sure about that! It was really cool though. The entire coastline of this section of the road was the stuff that GCSE geography lessons are made of.. textbook examples of cliff erosion -> cracks -> caves -> tunnels -> bridges -> collapse -> stacks -> collapse -> wave-cut-platform -> gone.. not quite sure why my brain has retained so well all that information, but it came gushing back out into my consciousness again as soon as I set eyes on the landscape.
We watched sunset over the Twelve Apostles and got bitten to w***y then shacked up in another dorm/house type setup.. our guide, genius as always, covered the bbq in sausages, THEN remembered about us veggies so I had to do the veggie catering, with burgers under the grill and onions fried on the hob.
The next morning we visited a few sites along the coast, including Loch Ard Gorge. site of the shipwreck of the Loch Ard. Then down to the apostles again and I chose to take a 7mintues helicopter flight over them. At $70 it wasn't cheap, but a helicopter ride is on my "100 things to do before i die" list so I couldn't refuse! It was great, doesn't really feel like flying, more like just hanging in the air. It was without a doubt the BEST way to see the coastline, could see all the stacks etc laid out, how they relate to each other and the impressiveness of seeing how many there were, whereas from the ground you can only ever see a few at a taime, because they block each other from view and are spread over quite a long stretch of coast. It was over too soon! It was a cute and yellow little helicopter and was good fun, but I realised that little planes are where my heart lies.. my life is starting to shape up before my eyes, what with my heart belonging to South Australia, small planes, cider and thai food.. now to reconcile them, any suggestions?!
We drove the rest of the GOR heading east and could see why people rave about it. It was just stunning and breathtaking. The road wound around the side of hills, alongside cliffs down to the ocean and then beautiful golden beaches. Although undeniably brass-monkeys (I dipped my toe in, they tried to encourage us to swim but I pointed out that I did NOT leave england to come and swim in 12C sea in aussieland!), it was a gorgeous aquamarine colour and sparkly and looked very inviting.
Our last stop before melb was Torquay, home of many of the surf brands and with a load of discou for us tont, warehouse and factory outlet stores for us to peruse, then on into the big smoke of Melbourne. I'm looking forward to this city, it looks a lot like london and with signs for areas like "Docklands", could be forgiven for making that mistake. Into Victoria now, I have just one state and one state capital left to go!