Australia’s Great Ocean Road goes south from Melbourne, starting at Torquay (pronounced Tor-key) and goes on for 243 kilometers/150 miles, ending somewhere around Port Fairy or Portland, depending on who you ask. Many people drive it in just a day or two or, worse yet, get on a tourist bus to see a few sights, then return to Melbourne. Our travels have been slow mo’ since the get-go, so we took a leisurely ten days and, guess what? We could have easily spent longer.
We left from Melbourne on a Sunday morning and got to the quaint fishing village of Queenscliff by lunchtime, then moved on past Torquay to Lorne, where we had reservations for a few nights at little resort on the beach. We quickly realized that Lorne is a favorite getaway for well-heeled Melburnians, and it is a hopping place. It’s also a gateway to Great Otway National Park, meaning that lovely trails and waterfalls are only minutes away.
We might have moved on from Lorne sooner, except that we needed to be in a place with reliable internet to be able to watch our LSU Tigers play in the college football championship. John and I are both LSU alumni and John has been a diehard Tigers fan for all of his life. I’ve never been much of a sports fan at all, and yet, watching the teamwork and athletic skill of this team, led by quarterback Joe Burrow, has been lots of fun. Oh, and LSU won against Clemson, 42 to 25, and won the national championship — Go Tigers!
We moved on from the bustle of Lorne to the seclusion of Cape Otway. Our Airbnb booking was adjacent to the national park and was a 30 minute drive from the nearest restaurant or grocery store which are in touristy Apollo Bay. Our rental apartment also had no wi-fi. Fortunately the cell service was good and we were saved from the horror of being without internet by the personal hotspot on my iPhone. We had stopped in Apollo Bay and bought a few groceries on our way, so we were set.
We were rewarded for these minor inconveniences by being in a little piece of paradise – looking out the window we spotted wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, and kookaburras. We also enjoyed the company of our entertaining Airbnb host, Geoff, who lives downstairs from the little apartment we rented. On the chilly morning we were to depart, we put a fire in the fireplace and delayed leaving for as long as possible.
‘The bool’ as it is called by locals, is a lovely coastal town popular with the campervan crowd. We skipped the major tourist attraction in town, the Flagstaff Hill Marine Village, which is sort of a Williamsburg of the Shipwreck Coast and includes, in addition to a little village, an evening multimedia show reenacting a shipwreck. We opted instead for Tower Hill wildlife preserve, a wildlife park built on an old volcanic caldera that has historically been an important place for the Koroitgundidj indigenous people. After years of functioning as a stone quarry, a logging site and, finally, a rubbish dump, the decision was made forty years ago to return Tower Hill to its natural glory which by then, of course, took quite a bit of effort to attempt to replicate what nature had built over the years.
We signed up for a bush walk with an aboriginal guide. The experience began with an explanation and show-and-tell about the ancient aboriginal culture led by our guide, who was kind of a smart-ass in a funny and entertaining way. We went on to take a bush walk where we sampled what the guide called “bush tucker,” or bush food, which included mint, gum, grapes the size of Tic-Tacs, bush “salad” and other natural delicacies. We ended the tour by trying our hand at tossing a boomerang. John was a natural at this. I, on the other hand, would definitely starve if I needed to use boomerang to catch dinner.
Our final GOR destination was quaint Portland. Positioned far enough from both Melbourne and Adelaide to retain its small-town charm, Portland is adjacent to two beautiful capes: Cape Nelson and Cape Bridgewater. The day we arrived, the weather was chilly, rainy, and windy. Fortunately we had booked a little studio apartment on a cliff with a panoramic view of overlooking the South Sea. At certain times of the year, this is a popular whale watching area, but, alas, we saw no whales. The view was still beautiful.
On our second day in town, the weather cleared to beautiful clear skies and we set out on the twenty-minute drive to Cape Bridgewater, an area known for colonies of Australian and New Zealand fur seals, blow holes, and a “petrified forest,” which is actually limestone formations. The seal colonies are the main draw and can be reached by a pricey ride on a little boat or a free hike, the hike taking one hour each way. Most people opt for the boat ride. We chose the hike and were rewarded when we got the end of the cape and looked up to see about a dozen kangaroos, all standing upright and staring intently at us. We were the only people there so were able to take our time, snapping pictures and taking videos of the ‘roos for quite a while. We did see plenty of seals down below on the rocks and in the water but these were, honestly, a letdown after the kangaroo encounter.
Our last Great Ocean Road day was also John’s birthday. A celebration was in order, so we went to Edward’s Waterfront to enjoy a locally-sourced meal of hapuka (fish) and Portland bugs (sort of a crawfish/lobster), served with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, radishes, and and coriander pesto, finished with a dessert of Eton Mess, a concoction of meringue and fruit, topped with spun sugar, and garnished with toasted marshmallows. Happy birthday, John!