Saturday, April 10, 2010

Great Ocean Road

I had a friend visiting from the United States and decided it was the perfect opportunity to tour the Great Ocean Road. Since I live in the CBD and don't have a car I had to come up with a way to get there. I had two options 1) Pay for a tour that would drive us around, stopping at all the spots they thought were interesting 2) Hire a car and try my hand at driving in a foreign country for the first time... on the other side of the road....on a very winding road (with lots of beautiful scenery to distract me). Although I normally prefer being able to plan my own outings and spend as much time as I like or stop wherever I want, I opted to go with a tour company, A Tour With A Difference (which I highly recommend- small group, great guide, lots of good stops).

Our first stop was just outside the town of Torquay, Victoria's surfing capital. Torquay itself is a great little town where you could easily spend the whole weekend. There are awesome surf beaches as well as protected beaches, perfect for the family. If you're into surfwear, this is the places for shopping. Every major surf label has a retail store here.
One of the calmer beaches, at Torquay

Cape Otway Lighthouse was our next stop along the way. The lighthouse was the second lighthouse built on the Australian mainland (built in 1848). You can take a tour of the lighthouse at 11am, 2pm, or 3pm, or it's open for self-guided tours from 9am-4:45pm (entrance fees apply). 
Just down the path from the lighthouse you will, of course, find the views the Great Ocean Road is famous for.

Another seaside resort town, Lorne is a popular holiday location along Loutit Bay. Lorne boasts a 2km of protected beach, perfect for families. Near Lorne there are 5 waterfalls to visit, getting to the falls range from easy 1/2 km walks to 8 km hikes.

Another next must-see destination is the small hamlet of Kennett River. This is one place that you are almost guaranteed to see some adorable koalas in the wild. With the forests of local gum trees the koalas have a plentiful food source here. On our tour we pulled just off the main road and were able to see two or three koalas snoozing high up in the trees. I have been told that if you head further up the road you can see lots  more (30-40). 

We also stopped at the Cape Patton Lookout, but I won't bore you with another beautiful coastal photo. :)

Don't miss the Great Ocean Road sign for a photo-op:

To change things up a bit after all the coastal views, we headed inland to the Cape Otway National Park. We took the Mait's Rest Rainforest Trail through the beautiful untouched rainforest. According to our tour guide Mait's Rest is named after one of the original settlers who explored this region and typically stopped to rest and camp at this location. I was really surprised how much cooler the temperature became as we moved into the rainforest. The path is very easy and only takes about 30 minutes.

If you'd like to check out an amazing beach and get a sneak peak of the Apostles, head to Gibsons Steps, where you can take 86 steps down the cliff face to the beach. You can see one of the Apostles and if the tide is low enough you can continue around the corner of the cliffs and see another. It a beautiful view from sea level that you won't get at the 12 Apostles Park.

It's on to the highlight of the trip, the 12 Apostles, which was just as beautiful as expected.
The Twelve Apostles have been created by constant erosion of the limestone cliffs of the mainland that began 10–20 million years ago. The stormy Southern Ocean and blasting winds gradually eroded the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs. The caves eventually became arches and when they collapsed rock stacks up to 45 metres high were left isolated from the shore.
Here you have lots of options, there are accommodations if you'd like to stay the night, helicopter rides for a different point of view, or you can just take a walk out along the pathway to enjoy the scenery.

Not far down the road, and completely worth a stop is Loch Ard Gorge. This location is famous not only for its beauty, but also for the story that accompanies the beach.

The Loch Ard departed England on 2 March 1878, bound for Melbourne, carrying a crew of 17 men and 37 passengers. On 1 June, the ship was approaching Melbourne and expecting to sight land when it encountered heavy fog. Unable to see the Cape Otway lighthouse, the captain was unaware how close he was running to the coast. The fog lifted around 4am, revealing breakers and cliff faces. Captain Gibbs quickly ordered sail to be set to come about and get clear of the coast, but they were unable to do so in time, and ran aground on a reef. The masts and rigging came crashing down, killing some people on deck and preventing the lifeboats from being launched effectively. The ship sank within 10 or 15 minutes of striking the reef.
The only two survivors of the wreck were 18 year olds, Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce. They came ashore at what is now known as Loch Ard Gorge and sheltered there before seeking assistance.

The final stop on our journey was that of the London Bridge. This formation used to be connected to the mainland and visitors were allowed to walk out across the two arches until the arch closest to the shoreline unexpectedly collapsed in 1990, leaving two tourists stranded on the remaining arch. Luckily nobody was injured and the stranded tourists were rescued by helicopter.

A beautiful day, beautiful scenery, lots to see and do. You could easily spend a whole week exploring the Great Ocean Road staying in the seaside towns along the way, or do it like I did, in one long day.

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