Australia > Victoria > The Great Ocean Road


May 2011


Dawn somewhere over South Australia, an hour before landing at Melbourne Tullamarine. It has been a long overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur.

Approaching Melbourne Tullamarine Airport, Runway 16, the AirAsia X A330-300 twists and turns, providing a good view of the Calder Freeway, which takes you all the way to the northwestern corner of Victoria state, 560km away.

A cold wet morning greets us at Melbourne Tullamarine. It’s late autumn here Down Under.

And a familiar sight too.

Just 3hrs after landing at Melbourne, we are already 120km away at Anglesea, on the Great Ocean Road in our rental car. This 240-km scenic road, completed 1932, was built as a living memory to the Victorians who served in the 1st World War (1914-1918).

The beach at Anglesea, and it’s freezing cold thanks to wind chill. They call this part of the Great Ocean Rd, the Surf Coast, because the gale-force winds whip up huge waves, just ideal for surfing.
I never thought I would be seeing people surfing in this extremely cold weather. Yes, I see them all the time in the much warmer Gold Coast up north  in Queensland, but these blokes here must be crazy!

Pressing westwards along the Great Ocean Road, we come to Airey’s Inlet and its delightful Split Point Lighthouse, built 1891, 34m tall. Very useful for ships navigating the treacherous Bass Strait, its light can be seen 33km out at sea. The blue-roof building is the original stables, now a harmless tea-house.

The Split Point Lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet, in full glory on a cold windy day. Built 1891, it was key in the development of colonial Australia by improving sea navigation safety. Locals call it ‘The White Queen’. There’s a spiral staircase right in the middle of the concrete structure.

Now compare the British lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet above with this Dutch one in Anyer (Banten Province, Java), which I visited last January. Almost 76m tall, from same era, but totally different in design and material. In contrast, this steel lighthouse has 18 floors, with a spiral staircase stuck to the wall, connecting any two floors.

Separating the lighthouse from the cliff, a carpet of tall-ish shrub.

Across the Split Point Lighthouse, there’s the Eagle Rock, the start of the many such spectacular formations along the Great Ocean Road.

There are stately houses along the cliff edges — most likely holiday homes of well-heeled people from the big cities. Note the extensive glass walls to maximise the view of the sea and summer sunlight.

Lunchtime finds us in the beautiful town of Lorne, where some people claim to be the real start of the Great Ocean Road. Anyway I spot a fish and chips shop over there. Looks good, especially for a bunch of hungry people on a cold and windy wet day.

What a memorable fish & chips feast — butterfish, flake and thick Aussie chips served on paper!

Even the White Cockatoos across the road are enjoying their lunch.

I must admit Lorne is a pretty little town, even in drab weather like today’s.

A quickie lunch and time to hit the road again, which is now at the edge of the cliff. The weather has deteriorated from bad to worse, and the Bass Strait has gone mental. Where are all the surfers when I want to see them?

Spectacular drive this is, only the guardrails between us and the hundred-metre drop into the raging sea. The wind is so strong, I have to drive slowly. Any faster and I can feel the wind nudging the car to the right on the wet slippery road. Talk about extreme crosswind!

After almost 50km of cliff-hugging from Lorne, the Great Ocean Road goes inland amongst pastures and forests. There’s even a patch of rainforest complete with giant ferns, similar to the rainforests on the western coast of South Island, NZ — not a surprise since many million years ago, NZ and Australia were one landmass in Gondwana.

The road disects the Great Otway National Park, and a brief encounter with the sea at Castle Cove, near Glenaire. Here we stop for another gale-force wind blast, coming from the right.

Castle Cove and below us, the noisy raging sea. This is no more Bass Strait, but the Southern Ocean. Head that way and you’d hit Antarctica, 3000km away. The limestone and strong winds make it impossible for real trees to grow — just hardy shrubs and bushes.

An hour after Castle Cove, we find the jewel in the Great Ocean Road’s crown: The Twelve Apostles at Port Campbell National Park.

They have done up this spot pretty well. There’s a turn-off from the Great Ocean Road, to find a car park facing a modern visitor centre complete with amenities. Only the bitter cold and drizzle (the raindrops are now horizontal again, thanks to the wind) making things a bit difficult.

You can do a chopper ride to fly among the Apostles, but hey, look at that windsock — what did I tell you about the wind? Obviously skillful chopper pilots flying in this dreadful condition, but nope, I wouldn’t fly in one even if I’m paid to do so.

The Great Ocean Road. We are at the Twelve Apostles at Port Campbell. Not a nice day, very strong winds from the Southern Ocean with occasional drizzle.

Typical vegetation on the limestone cliff facing the ferocious Southern Ocean. The gale-force winds and the infertile limestone base are not the best for plants. Salty sea-sprays add to the woe, but these shrubs and tussocks are hardy plants.

Down the main footpath through the bushes and tussocks, the raging Southern Ocean appears right in front of us. There’s a long plank passageway, which is always damp and slippery, due to constant seaspray, at the cliff’s edge. For safety, we are advised to stay on this platform.

And right next to us on the boardwalk, our first Apostle. There are 12 but only 9 are visible from this vantage point. They are called stacks (of limestone), displaying layers of sedimentation which took place more than 20mil years ago. Layer hardness differs which cause uneven erosion, hence the jagged appearance.

And glancing to the right into the late afternoon sun, one of the most awesome sights ever, a collection of stacks. Some 20mil years ago, this part of Australia was under shallow sea water, where sedimentation occurred. Uneven physical and chemical weathering on the layers cause the stacks to have craggy surfaces. They will eventually collapse as erosion eats into them.

Okay, a little geology for the day.

The wall of the cliff shows the sedimentation layers very distinctly, formed 20mil years ago when the whole area was under sea water.

View towards the south — next stop Antarctica, 3000km away.

Up the wooden stairs from the boardwalk, and time to say bye-bye to the Twelve (or whatever is left) Apostles. It’s starting to drizzle again, and I hate these horizontal rains!

We leave the Twelve Apostles and head northwest along the Great Ocean Road, with the coastline littered with stacks, all inside the Port Campbell National Park. Here another formation awaits us.

Hmmm … interesting. A matter of time before this arch crumbles after being pounded by the vicious waves.

Spectacular sight from the lookout, as ominous dark clouds move in from the south.

It gets darker as we stop at another lookout a few kilometres away. A scenery such as this is common place along the coast for this stretch of the Great Ocean Road.

But this stop is bit more interesting since this used to be the famous London Bridge. Alas, the bridge has collapsed, leaving us with an arch … so they just rebrand it as London Arch.

Read all about it here.

It starts raining and is bitterly cold as we race back to the car for the long drive to our night-stop, the South Australian border town of Mount Gambier.





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