Friday 3rd February
With a forecast of 27 degrees and partially cloudy we set off for Mount Gambier, again travelling along a virtually empty dual carriageway. Yesterday I had picked up a leaflet for a tourist attraction called Old Tailem Town Pioneer Village. It was just outside Murray Bridge so it wasn't long before we pulled into the empty car park. Empty of visitor cars but lined up along the edge of the car park were old trucks from a bygone era (1940-50s?). We wandered and wondered for an hour or so around the pioneer village. The owner had bought the individual properties (houses, shops, a church, cinema, dentist, a blacksmiths) from all over Australia saving them from demolition, and transported them here (sometimes in bits and sometimes the whole building on the back of a lorry). As well as the buildings and their contents, there were also vehicles and machinery. Everything was reminiscent of something you would see in an American TV programme like Little House on the Prairie and right through to the 1970s. We were careful to stand in the middle of the rooms of the buildings that were open to the public as some of the really old buildings had the cobwebs to go with them; the spiders hanging in the middle were a little larger than our UK house/garden spiders!
Included in the admission price was a cup of tea at the end of the tour. We sat down to our tea and the owner (Mr Peter Squires) came over and introduced himself. We sat for another hour and talked with him, listening to his life story which included a spell in Wells, London and Africa, where he made his fortune. He then bought a yacht and was given money by Sir John Mills (who he had met while working in Africa) for Long Life Milk (!) for the journey back. 'The Boss', as everyone at Old Tailem Town called him, then gave us some places to look out for on our journey to Melbourne. I couldn't help staring at his old well worn (Crocodile Dundee style) leather hat which had some cobwebs hanging from it (hoping there were no spiders to go with it) when I realised that around the crown of the hat was wrapped a piece of leather that was actually the little ridge of bumps that lie along the top of a crocodile's tail! We left with a smile on our faces and a map marked with the places The Boss thought we ought to see on the way.
Our first stop was at Meningie to pick up some filled baguettes which we ate a few miles down the road at Salt Creek Nature Reserve in the Coorong National Park. The NP is a strip of land and lakes several mile long along the coastline south of Adelaide. Salt Creek was a dry lake that had white mud covering the surface. Information boards said it was only knee deep in water in the winter and although it looks dried up in the summer is still very wet under the white crust.
We continued on, spying an emu in a field before we got to a town called Robe, where we stopped for an ice cream (in Australia 'Walls' ice cream is 'Streets' ice cream!). Then we went on further and turned off to Woakwine Cutting (as recommended by The Boss). This was a deep trench cut by a landowner and 1 employee with limited machinery over 3 years to drain an area of swampland on his property. It is 1km long and around 30 metres deep. It looks like a natural deep V-shaped ravine but when you realise it is manmade it is extremely impressive.
After stopping to take some photos at the pretty beach at Beachport (the first of many beach photos on this holiday…), we arrived at tonight's stop at the Arkana Motor Inn at Mount Gambier.
Saturday 4th February
Another very hot day forecast (and it was!).
Mount Gambier is famous for its bright blue 'Blue Lake' formed in the crater of an extinct volcano. Wikipedia gives the technical reasons for its blueness, but it IS an amazing colour, almost neon blue (and doesn't show up as bright in the photos grrr). It is naturally occurring and is not toxic, because the lake supplies the town with its drinking water. We climbed Mt Gambier on foot, via a very steep single track road, to the Centenary Tower lookout platform to view another crater lake - Valley Lake - and the town of Mt Gambier. Then it was time to hit the road again. Driving in Australia is a very enjoyable pastime (especially as a passenger!), have I mentioned the roads are virtually empty? The different States also each have their own brand of road signs. South Australia State said it as it is with 'Drowsy Drivers Die' and 'Don't Be A… (picture of a cockerel)… The Countryside Needs Careful Drivers' and another one shown in the photo album. As we passed the state line into Victoria State road signs stated 'No Potatoes Beyond This Point' and 'Beware Of Log Trucks' !! Nelson River was our first stop of the day for cold drinks, and then on to Nelson Beach lookout. Signs on the path stated that the beach was unsafe for swimming, no wonder, the waves were huge!
We had hoped to visit the Princess Margaret Rose Caves today, but when we got there it was more than an hour until the next tour. Whilst we weren't on a strict timetable, we did need to get to our next destination with enough time to book in, shower and get something to eat, as we were finding that a lot of places stopped serving food at 8pm. Although we didn't get to see the caves we spotted another 5 emus on the way to Portland. We stopped on the outskirts to take in a view of the city across the bay. Portland is the state capital of Victoria and the oldest and largest city in the state.
Not long after we started back on our journey we passed a road sign warning of Koalas in the area (i.e. be a careful driver). I didn't hold out any hope of seeing one as we hadn't seen any Kangaroos despite the many road signs about them (unless you count the 2 dead ones on the side of the road), or of the Echidnas (google it), or Possums. So we consoled ourselves with a stop and short walk to The Crags lookout point to view the rocky outcrop formations in the sea. Back on the road again to a wonderful place called Port Fairy. This is considered by many to be the start (or end) of The Great Ocean Road. It is an historic town with over 50 listed buildings dating from the 1800s. My favourite town so far.
A few miles down the road was our stop for the night at the Atwood Motor Inn in Warrnambool. Martin was happy as we had a bath in the bathroom (up until now it had been only showers). Not only was there a bath, it was a huge triangular spa bath…bliss!!
Sunday 5th Feb
(Happy 30th Birthday to Nic Baker…sis-in-law to be. Hope you had a good party last night at The Riverside in Midsomer Norton despite the snow!)
We awoke to a cooler, grey cloudy day which was a surprise after all the sunshine and heat we had been experiencing, but temperature was still up in the late 20s. Today we were actually travelling on the Great Ocean Road itself. It was what this road trip was all about. The road hugs the coast and is 175 miles long and was built by war veterans, providing them with jobs on their return from the frontline. The coast is mainly sandstone which is easily eroded by the sea and wind into bays, arches and island stacks; great tourist attractions! Tourist attractions but not busy or over commercialised (that was a good thing about travelling outside the Australian School Holidays.) Most of the lookouts are wooden boardwalk platforms high on the cliff giving fantastic views either side, up and down the coast and out to sea. We would be driving half of the GOR today and half tomorrow. It wasn't far in terms of miles (not for us anyway), which proved to be a good thing as the lookout stops were plenty and sometimes only minutes apart. We were to find out why most people travel the GOR from East to West instead of West to East as we were doing; the lookouts were all on the other side of the road and having to cross the other lane to get to them was awkward at times because of the winding road. The first lookout was at the Bay of Islands where thick stacks and islands stood in the sea, the tops level with the cliff we were stood on. The wind is so strong it creates waves up to 30m high (you will find me quoting from the plentiful information boards regularly) and it was throwing sand that it had stripped from the cliff into our faces as we stood on the lookout platform. A lovely view, even on a dull day. A mile or so down the coast was the next lookout at the Bay of Martyrs, giving an even better view looking back at the Bay of Islands.
The rain started to fall in big lazy splats as we stopped at Peterborough for more views of high-sided island stacks cut off from the mainland. It started getting heavier as we drove down the road to The Grotto, a pretty cave/arch/pool formation at the bottom of the cliff face. We managed to get back to the car without getting too wet; the warm wind meant everything dried out in between the sporadic showers. The next stop was at London Bridge, a 2 arch structure jutting out from the cliff face. Just like the original, this London Bridge is falling down, as the arch nearest the cliff fell down in 1990 (marooning 2 people on the other arch who had to be rescued by helicopter!).
Lookout number 6 was at The Arch, a small arch (!) at the bottom of the cliff. Looking back down the coast, the cliffs were a bright yellow even though it was cloudy and dull. They must be blinding on a sunny day!
We stopped in Port Campbell for lunch and the weather appeared to be brightening up. The next three lookouts were all accessed from one car park. The rain had stopped and the sun was out again. We walked to the first lookout; Loch Ard Gorge, named after the ship Loch Ard which was wrecked close by in 1878 with only 2 survivors. We looked down on the gorge and a beautiful accessible little beach at the bottom of the cliffs but we were content to view it from above (it had nothing to do with the coachload of screaming teenage Japanese tourists already down on the beach of course…). We then walked to see Thunder Cave and The Razorback (a tall, long thin stack). On the way back to the car park (500m according to the board), it started raining slightly, and then poured heavily for several minutes. We were out in the open on the pathway and by the time we got back to the car we were soaked through! As our suitcases were in the back of the car it was easy enough to dry off and change.
Then it was on to the Main Event… the 12 Apostles, the most photographed sight on the south coast of Australia. Up until now we had only seen a handful of people at some of the lookouts, at others we were on our own. Here there were coaches and cars filling the car park.
There aren't 12 sea stacks (Apostles) any longer, only 7 now I think, and a couple of them can only be seen at low tide but there probably were 12 or even more, at some stage. The sun was shining but the wind was still fiercely blowing sand and spray up along the coast so the view was hazy, but nevertheless still impressive. The 12 Apostles was the first of the lookouts that had any facilities/info centre, so we made use of them. Some public toilets you look round for spiders above or other things on the floor you don't want to step on, but these were very clean considering the coachloads of people using them every day. It wasn't until I left the cubicle that I noticed something above my head on the door frame. A little praying mantis!
Back in the car and we started along a very windy (blowy) and winding (and empty) road travelling steeply upwards through a forested area. Signs on the sharp corners stated 30km/h (18mph) and sometimes that seemed too fast! We then started going back down an equally twisting road back down to sea level giving good views across the countryside on one side and the beach at Castle Cove on the other. Onward to our stop for the night at Apollo Bay, or we would have done if we hadn't rounded a corner and come face to face with a tree down across the road! After an assessment of the situation, Martin was able to 'off road' and edge the hire car around the right hand side of the fallen tree while I directed proceedings. We stopped at the next house and asked if they knew who to report the fallen tree to. The owner said this was not the first time there had been a tree down on this road and would ring the council to remove it. She also said they were waiting for the storm to hit so there may be a few more trees down. Storm? Perhaps it wasn't always as windy as this then.
We got to the Beachfront Motel at Apollo Bay in time to see a rainbow in the sky over the beach. We ate at a restaurant a few hundred yards down the road at a beachfront restaurant where I tried Kangaroo steak for the first time. It is very healthy with almost zero fat content, a milder taste than beef and a slightly looser texture. Very nice.
We got back to the Motel just before the storm hit with torrential rain and high winds for most of the night.
Monday 6th Feb
Apart from a few puddles on the ground, the next day it was clear and dry. We walked on the beach and had fabulous poached eggs on sourdough toast at a beachfront café before we left Apollo Bay. We both agreed we could have spent another few days there.
Today we were heading for Torquay!! Our first stop was another recommendation from The Boss at Tailem; Maits Rest. This was a rainforest walk just off the main road. It was a 40 minute loop path on a boardwalk through giant Tree ferns and other enormous trees with twisted roots and hollow trunks. It was amazing! (Rainforest = moisture+heat=needn't have bothered to straightened my hair that morning then!!). Carisbrook Falls was next; a 10 minute uphill walk from the road to see the waterfall. We had thought after all the rain the previous night it would have been more spectacular than it was, but it was a pleasant walk up through the trees. Perhaps it was almost non-existent yesterday!
Cape Patton (named after General Patton) was the next lookout and gave far reaching views up the coast we had driven down, with huge waves rolling in across the ocean.
We then pulled into a layby having passed some large houses on the hillside above the road. Martin wondered why they had been built there and whether they had a decent view of the sea. We crossed the road to a small picnic area with a toilet. We couldn't see the beach from the picnic area and walked down a short path to get to it. Well, we stayed there for at least an hour, what a beautiful place! The rocks were unreal and there were patches of colourful shells and bits of lobster tails (which were turquoise, blue and purple underneath) here and there along the tide line. There were no signs telling us the name of the beach, but the freshwater river running down to it was called Grey River, so it was probably Grey River Beach (as we had passed many beaches named after the rivers running down to them. We will look it up one day). There were signs telling you not to remove any shells from the beach though, otherwise I would have had pocketsful.
We stopped for lunch at Wye River, and then drove onto Aireys Inlet and walked to the Split Point Lighthouse for more wonderful views of the coastline. Our last stop of the day was at Bells Beach where the world's longest running surf competition is held. There were lots of surfers in the sea already and more arrived (straight from work ?) as we stayed and watched them for a while. Then it was on to Torquay a mile or so further down the road and the Surf City motel for the night, and another huge corner spa bath! (For those of you who don't know, Martin comes from Torquay in Devon, so we HAD to stop in Torquay, Australia!)
Tuesday 7th February
We drove around Torquay the next morning before we moved on. There were a couple of nice beaches; Zeally Bay and Half Moon Bay (or Back Beach) where Surf Competitions are also held if the pictures in Zeallys restaurant attached to the motel were anything to go by. There were surfers already up and in the sea at 9am. The Esplanade was obviously THE place to live, with huge individually designed houses overlooking the sea. Leaving Torquay heading for Geelong we passed a retail centre full of only large surf shops and a Surfing Museum. The two biggest shops were Quiksilver and Ripcurl; Torquay (Aus) is the home of these 2 famous surfwear names.
We skirted around the outside of Geelong, which is considered to be the start (or end) of the Great Ocean Road, and went onto Melbourne Airport to catch our next flight to Sydney. We drove on the M1 freeway to Melbourne at 100km/h which is only 62mph. Speed limits are much slower than in the UK and each state appeared to have their own limits so it was best to keep to them. Speeding fines are extremely high, so no-one speeds. Around half an hour from the airport we had a text from Martin's son Sam (who we were staying with in Sydney) to say the Qantas website was showing our fight as cancelled. Eek! (Well, I say 'eek!' but Martin says 'It is what it is and we won't know any more until we get there. Don't panic.' He is right of course, but I still say 'eek!'). As it turned out there are several flights a day from Melbourne to Sydney and we were on one 40 minutes after our scheduled flight. Going through security I was selected for the 'Random Explosives Test' where they scan you and your carry-on luggage for traces of explosives. Of course I was negative. But I had also been selected randomly for this test at Perth Airport too, how random is that!
We arrived on time but no sign of Sam. After a few phone calls it transpired that he was waiting at the wrong terminal not realising the domestic flights came into more than one terminal at Sydney.
Back to Sam & Laurie's flat in Paddington, a suburb of Sydney, where we had a delicious BBQ (including Kangaroo) and champagne to celebrate our arrival. Martin celebrated with John Smith's Bitter though. Sam had searched Sydney for it and managed to find some. Australia (and New Zealand) don't have bitter so Martin had been making do with Pale Ale where it was available.
More about our stay with Sam and Laurie next time.