The Great Ocean Road

Gary & Carolyn’s Epic Australian Adventure (part 2)

In the two and a half years that we’ve traveled this massive, beautiful country, I believe that the Great Ocean Road is one of the most beautiful places that exists here.  It was our first weekend away when we moved here (The Great Ocean Road in 2 Days) and I’ve been itching to do it again.  When Mom picked it out of her travel guide, saying she’d like to see it, I was super excited!  Our friend generously lent us her car for the adventure, I reserved a room in Warrnambool, and we decided that we wanted to make it to the 12 Apostles for sunset.  We had a plan, so we hit the road.

I thought it would be nice if we took a small detour through Geelong, because the waterfront is so pretty. Unfortunately, after two and a half years driving in Australia, the road sign placement still confuses me!  For those of you who are familiar with Geelong, we ended up on Separation Street rather than North Shore Drive.  Trying to suavely play it off, I suggested that we drive past my office, but also managed to mess that one up, as I’ve only ever left the office this way….We did eventually find the office, and the waterfront, but our quick detour through Geelong was actually about an hour long!

At long last, we made it to Torquay and decided to start our journey down the Great Ocean Road with a quick stop at the beach and a much needed large long black!

Our next stop, which came up much faster than I was expecting was Bells Beach.  While we were here, the surf was moving in, they were setting up for the surfing competition that was happening the next week, and I found these amazing shells that had clearly been worn down by the sea over time.

Then we continued along to Urquhart Bluff Beach, of course watching for Kangaroos as we left Bells Beach (we didn’t see any) and in Anglesea (we didn’t see any here either, but we missed the golf course).

By the time we reached Aireys Inlet, I was starting to get concerned that we’d somehow missed the Great Ocean Road sign, maybe while we were on the Bells Beach loop road….but I remembered loving the lighthouse and view at Aireys Inlet.  I also get a kick out of the fact that it’s called Split Point Lighthouse, because it always makes me think of Split Rock Lighthouse, which is my favorite lighthouse.

Fortunately, it turns out we did not miss the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch, it was just much further down the drive than I remembered!  We also made some stops along the side of the road as we drove, you know, to prevent carsickness.  It is quite a windy road.

We arrived at the Twelve Apostles exactly when we planned, despite our earlier detour through Geelong. I was, again, blown away by how breath-takingly beautiful the Twelve Apostles, and all of the Great Ocean Road, are!  Just like the first time down this drive, I kept saying, “We’re in frickin’ Australia!” and “Look at the color of the water!”

After the sun was gone, we hit the pavement and headed for our hotel in Warrnambool.  We stayed at the Best Western Olde Maritime, which was adorable.  Our room was lofted, giving my parents a bit of privacy and separation from me, but still allowing us to chat long after we’d turned the lights out.  Raj in reception was extremely friendly and welcoming, even calling Bojangles to tell them we were hungry and on our way.  I would not recommend the vegetarian pizza with pumpkin and pesto, and I would say that you need more than 1 pizza to feed 3 hungry people.  The waiter misguided us a bit on that one, saying that 1 pizza was probably plenty for the three of us.  I would say that would have been true if we were having it as a starter rather than a main.

Warrnambool, it turns out, is an adorable town and our hotel was so near the beach that we could hear the waves in the morning.  Naturally, we sought out the beach because we all are drawn to water and who wouldn’t want to take a walk on the beach in the morning?

Did you know that they call Logan’s Beach in Warrnambool a WHALE NURSERY?  Between May and October the Southern Right Whales come into Lady Bay to birth and raise their calves; we discovered this by following the signs for the Whale Nursery, thinking it would be some sort of attraction (I know, very American of us…), and then discovered this.  Had I known this 2 years ago, I would have spent {much more} time in Warrnambool in winter!

As we drove from Warrnambool back down the Great Ocean Road towards Melbourne to see the things we’d missed the day prior, we headed through cattle country.  I thought to myself, “I think there is a Warrnambool Vintage Cheddar that Ben and I really like…”  Suddenly, I saw a sign for FREE CHEESE TASTING 500 METERS, so I said, “Free cheese tasting anyone?” just before I slammed on the brakes and pulled into the parking lot of Allansford Cheese World.  Let’s be honest here, it was a rhetorical question.  Who wouldn’t want a free cheese tasting (unless of course you are lactose intolerant)?

After politely wandering through the gift shop, cheese shop and reviewing the cafe menu, we made a beeline for the cheese tasting.  We were allowed to taste 6 cheeses, each better than the last, and then decided to take an entire wheel of the Warrnambool Club Cheddar with us.  It was absolutely the favorite of all 3 of us.  Despite all of our adventures while Mom & Dad were here, we made it nearly half way through this kilogram wheel of cheese before they left; Ben and I finished it off within a week of them leaving.  It was a cheese not to be wasted, and to be shared in extreme moderation with my gleeful pups.

Once we hit the coast, we found ourselves at the Bay of Islands, where I again found myself exclaiming, “Look at the color of the water!”

“What’s the Grotto?” I asked not too long after leaving the Bay of Islands.  Since none of us were certain, I naturally pulled in to find out.  For the curious geology nerds like myself, it’s a natural formation that occurs when the sinkholes in the limestone meet up with the eroding cliff.  The water inside of the Grotto was eerily still against the crashing waves of the Southern Ocean in the background.

Perhaps from the same parking lot as the Grotto, but maybe from the parking lot of Loch Ard Gorge, we followed a hiking path to Thunder Cave, which once upon a time had an arch over it that has collapsed from erosion.  Approximately another kilometer down this path was something called the Blowhole, but we decided that we were not prepared to add 2km to our current hike and did not go down there.  While I’ve not posted a photo here, because they did not turnout well enough, the view from Thunder Cave to the Blowhole was beautiful.

(Yes, we made all the terrible jokes you’re thinking right now, and yes, Ben made them again when we returned from our 2 day road trip down the Great Ocean Road….)

The next stop along our tour of the Great Ocean Road was Loch Ard Gorge, which is named for a ship that wrecked against the rocks at this site leaving only 2 survivors that were stranded on the beach below the cliffs.  Today there are stairs that you utilize to access the beach, which also gives you perspective on how overwhelming it would be to wash ashore here.

Remember that childhood song that went “London Bridge is falling down…” Well, in 1990 the first arch of the London Bridge formation did finally give way to the battering wind and waves of the Southern Ocean, collapsing into the water.  No one was injured, but two people were stranded on the remaining arch and had to be rescued by helicopter.  Despite how terrifying that would be, all I can think is how beautiful it would have been to be able to lookout from the London Bridge back at the southern coast of Australia, and how awesome it would have been to witness this incredible act of nature.

Our last stop before the road took us back inland to Otway National Forest, was the Arch.  The wind was high and the seas were rough that day, making for spectacular viewing of waves crashing through the arch.

Bathrooms are few and far between along the Great Ocean Road, so we did make a pit stop at the 12 Apostles to use the facilities, and were distracted for a time by the helicopters.  Approximately every 15 minutes, a helicopter would land, unload, reload and take-off again within about 2 minutes.  It was so windy that day, that has they turned toward the coast line the downdraft would cause them to dip dramatically towards the ground.

From here we decided to head straight for Cape Otway to see the koalas.  As I prepared to make my righthand turn down the road to the Cape Otway Lighthouse, or the Koala Viewing Road, as I like to call it, there ware lots of cars pulled over and people in the road at the entrance, so I said, “What are these idiots doing? This seems unsafe…” and then I shouted, “OH MY GOD THERE IS A KOALA CROSSING THE ROAD!!!!” (I only remember shouting this once, but believe my Dad when he says I shouted it about 6 times.)  Do you see him climbing over the guardrail? My Mom was able to get an incredible picture of this koala looking straight into her camera as he climbed the tree after crossing the road.  He’s so cute I can hardly handle it!

W made several stops along this road to see a koala high up in a tree, and at one point there were 3 koalas near each other fairly low down, so we got out of the car to have a look.  Several minutes later, I turned around and saw that we’d left the doors wide open on the car in our koala viewing frenzy.  At least now I know where my childlike excitement comes from.

Not surprisingly, we returned to the city quite late that night, starving.  My incredible husband had made pizza crusts and prepared all of the ingredients for us.  Homemade pizzas were just 10 minutes away!

If you find yourselves in Australia, the Great Ocean Road is not to be missed!

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