March 24, 2020

Great Ocean Road, Australia

Jul 2019

We love scenic road trips.

Most people rate Route 66 (Chicago to LA in United States) as the best.  We think that is a stretch.  Americans may love its history.  Spectacular scenery?  There are better places.

We think the better ones that we have been to are (in no particular order): 
Pacific coast highway (from San Francisco to LA) in United States
State highway 94 (from Te Anau to Milford Sound) in New Zealand
Ring Road (Reykjavik to Reykjavik around the island) in Iceland

Great Ocean Road in the South Eastern part of Australia joins that list.

GOR is a 243 km stretch of two lane road connecting Torquay with Allansford in Victoria along the coast of the Southern Ocean.  The locals call the first stretch as "Surf coast" (for all the beaches it has) and the second stretch as "Shipwreck coast" (for the hundreds of ships lost in the region in XIX century).

We did the GOR over a period of three days, stopping in every small town along the way, enjoying the beach, taking detours into the interior, and staying in cozy inns along the way as part of our visit to Melbourne (GOR is about an hour and a quarter from Melbourne).

We started from the Torquay end.

Entrance to GOR (about 1 hr 15 min from Melbourne)

Our driver Lee (an immigrant from Cambodia during the Pol Pot days) was a fund of knowledge of the local land and kept his BMW to a stately pace of 50 km per hour on the twin lane road.  The road ran along the coast for a long while.  Nature chose to spruce up the already spectacular beauty a bit.

Great Ocean Road: Anglesea beach

In spite of a very cold weather (it was winter in Australia), and in spite of the day being young and the water being rough, we found youngsters wearing wet suits surfing in the beaches.

Surfer at Winkipop beach

Bells Beach, another surfers' paradise, was empty.  We had all this beauty entirely for ourselves for the one hour we spent dipping our feet in water.

Bells beach

We took a detour inland to Otway Treetop Park.  The park has a boardwalk at tree top level to give a bird's eye-view at canopy level.  And at the center of the park, there is a tower (a tougher climb, really) that gives an even higher view point.

Otway Treetop walk

Otway Treetop walk: View from Tower


When we got back to the coast, it was a change over from Surf coast to Shipwreck coast.  The star attraction is the "Twelve apostles".  The apostles are limestone rocks jutting out of ocean near the coast.  Five of the apostles are lost to erosion.  Seven remain.  Nature has provided a look out point for a better perspective of the apostles.

Twelve Apostles (from Look out point on Coast)

Of course a far better perspective is from a helicopter!

Twelve Apostles:  View from Heli

Twelve Apostles:  The first apostle and the look out point.  View form Heli.

Twelve Apostles:  View from Heli

Slight drizzle, and early minutes of a sunset create magic in the air

We went all the way to Otway light house (close to our starting point a day back) in the one hour heli ride.

Otway Light house.  The facility saved countless lives in XIX century Australia

Our pilot, Isabella, was trained for two years before taking tourists on a heli ride.  She said she has done several hundred trips over the Shipwreck coast while Captains of Ships lost more than three hundred ships trying to navigate the waters just two hundred years ago.  What caused the wrecks?  Powerful wind, powerful surf, and a rocky coast.  If you want to have a feel for the powerful surf, here goes.

A continual assault on Port Campbell beach by the surf

Another detour inland took us to Mt Gambier, a sleepy town up in the hills.  The lime in the rock in the mountain dissolves over time and the rock caves in.  This creates either cave gardens (huge sink holes with vegetation) or lakes (when filled with water).  Mt Gambier has both.

Mt Gambier:  Umpherston Sinkhole

Mt Gambier: Blue Lake

Another detour inland took us to Tower Hill where there is a wildlife reserve.  We were warned that there could be snakes.  Fortunately the trek we chose, an hour and a half long one, had Kangaroos and other wildlife but no snakes!

Tower Hill Reserve:  Trek

Our last stop was at Warrnambool, a small coastal village (with a good Indian restaurant on the Main street).  The village is one of the few spots on the planet where you can stand on a beach and do whale watching.  We went there on an ultra cold sunny afternoon.  Folks told us they saw whales the previous day at 3 pm and there were expectations that a few whales would come around 5 pm.  We were exhausted and the climate quite harsh, we left it for another trip, some other time.

Warrnambool:  Whale watching platform on beach

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