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Australia: Bendigo, Blue Mountains, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula, Sydney
Great Ocean Road, Australia: Turquoise of an Experience
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
It's a 550 kms of dream run. That best describes travelling along turquoise waters of the Southern Ocean. A must do for folks who can spare a day when in Melbourne.
My flight was to leave Melbourne at midnight. Instead of requesting for a late check-out from the hotel, I decided to check-out rather early and opt for a day tour that would best utilize the time I had on hand.
There are many tour companies in Melbourne that offer a range of day trips. I opted to go with Gray Line since I had some good experiences in the past with them. Sure enough, this time round was no exception either. Kerrie, Gray Lines' Sales Supervisor suggested I opt for the Great Ocean Drive tour. The tour would depart from Melbourne at 8 AM and return at about 8 PM… well in time for me to catch the flight back home. I was to be in the safe hands of David, our bus driver for the day who also doubled up as fantastic tour guide. His narrations as we drove forward were apt for the journey on hand. A good guy and fun to travel with… certainly worth $143 which was the cost of the tour.
I was picked up from my hotel at 7:40 AM and was brought to a central departing point. At the stroke of 8, our bus left the Gray Line terminal at Federation Square. Within minutes we were on the highway crossing over the famous West Gate Bridge that offers a good view of Melbourne City. The destination was The Twelve Apostles and Lochard Gorge. And the journey was through the serpentine road, running parallel to the ocean taking us through settlements of historical significance. Probably, whoever made the statement "sometimes the journey is as good as the destination itself" must have taken this drive!
As we left Melbourne behind, we witnessed the vast expanse of land that well invited factories and automobile dealership. I was intrigued to see brand new cars parked in fields nicely sheltered by black cloth. At first, I thought that the cloth was just to protect the cars from the harsh sun. I was later informed that the covering saved the cars from bird droppings. Millions have been saved in doing the paint job. I wonder, if these days, the quality of the paint is poor or the Australian birds have become more lethal.
As we moved along we could briefly see the Port Philip Bay and the mouth of River Yarra. By the way, there are day tours to Port Philip Bay essentially to see thousands of penguins in march (as in parade, not month). The Avalon airport is also situated on this road. The airport was built more for handling cargo than passengers. But now, to ease the congestion at Tullamarine airport, Melbourne, more and more flights are opting Avalon as base. However, this airport is pretty far and I wonder if there would be reliable public transport.
Soon we crossed Geelong. With a population of 130,000 it's the 2nd largest city of Victoria. The Port of Geelong competes with Melbourne for business. During the Gold Rush era in the mid nineteenth century, maps were forged showing the Geelong Port as being Melbourne to lure captains to dock at Geelong! A 'friendly competition' between Melbourne and Geelong remains to date. The Ford motor company has its factory at Geelong; Prince Charles has had some of his early education at Geelong Grammar; The Geelong Advertiser published since 1842 ranks amongst the country's first newspapers; Finest Merino wool is produced in Geelong; The Corio Bay is in Geelong.
From Geelong we moved towards Torquay. From where begins great views of the ocean. Torquay has a surfing mindset. Everything in this town revolves around surfing. And it's here that two lads started to make things for the surfers. Their company was called RipCurl. Now a multi-million dollar enterprise with HQ at Torquay. The Bells Beach, a pilgrimage for the surfers, is host to annual surfing competition that happens around Easter.
Our first tea stop was at Anglesea a small holiday town settled on the river bank. David the Driver brewed up some good tea the Billy Bush way. Lamington and crackers with Vegemite made for good accompaniments. Talking of tea, good to know that when eucalyptus leaves (commonly known as gum) are brewed with the tea leaves, the bitterness of the brew is taken away. No wonder David made a stop to pick some gum leaves from a roadside tree. After having spent about 30 minutes on the banks we moved forward.
After a while, we crossed Aires another happy little holiday town on the coast. Unfortunately, the happiness of this town was reduced to shambles when a mountain fire razed down most of the township in early 2009. Many lives were lost. When I was there I could see homes being rebuilt and the life limping back to normal.
Our next brief stop was at the Memorial Archway in Lorne. It's here that the construction of the Great Ocean Road began - to gainfully employ the returning servicemen from the World War I. Prior to the road being built; steamers would run along the coast. After crossing the Memorial Archway, we reached the shore town of Lorne. Interestingly, the town has a funny race called 'reef to bar'. People jumped in the ocean from the reef and swam to the shore to hit the bar. What started as a local pastime is now an annual ritual attracting over 4000 participants! Well, anything that's got to do with alcohol certainly attracts the Oz.
Our next stop would be at Apollo Bay for lunch. As we moved along, I always had an eye on the passing beauty. I recommend taking a seat on the left side of the bus. I wouldn't talk much about the beauty of the ocean since the pictures herein would do the talking. Apollo Bay was established as a fishermen's colony. Once, whaling was the prime business. Today, it's a highly popular tourist destination. Whilst walking down the streets, the real estate prices displayed in some broker's stores did tell much. Anything that looked good was over half a million dollars. While most of the other passengers were enjoying their lunch, I preferred grabbing a sandwich in one of the many restaurants and walking the scenic bay. An hour just flew by.
As soon as we left Apollo Bay, the scene changed. We climbed up a mountain and then drove through valleys surrounded by forests and meadows. The area was one of the prime producers of commercial lumber. The produce was exported to the Commonwealth countries - most of it to India to lay the sleepers for the tracks for the Indian Railway.
At about 2 in the afternoon we were on the edge of a cliff that was called the Gibsons Steps. 91 steps down was the beach and here we saw the first Apostle - essentially the mighty rocks that stand alone. A few minutes' drive from here brings you to the parking lot of the 12 Apostles.
Tourists have an option to take a helicopter ride that lasts for about 8 minutes. The chopper takes you up 1500 feet and offers an excellent view of the 12 Apostles below, the ocean and the dramatic formation of the cliffs. The trip costs only $70 (I am using the term 'only' especially because helicopter rides of similar timelines costs much more and the helicopter company, named 12 Apostles, takes only 3 passengers thus offering a window seat to all) and definitely has my recommendation. I took the ride. And enjoyed it thoroughly.
After landing, I walked to the 12 Apostles National Park. There are 3 routes in the park. One would need at least 3 to 4 hours to thoroughly enjoy all the routes, However, since I had 30 minutes on hand I quickly walked through a part of all the 3 routes (didn't go down the cliff though as I had already done the Gibsons Steps) making brief stops to take pictures and soak in the geological wonder.
Well, off the 12 Apostles only 8 now remain. 4 have given way to the vagaries of weather. One of them came down as recent as 2005.
From the 12 Apostles we drove towards Port Campbell which would be our last stop to grab a snack. Port Campbell has a cute little beach. After spending 30 minutes in this small town, we commenced our return journey to Melbourne via Colac. We left the Great Ocean road and snaked through pastures that were home to countless sheep and cattle. For those who didn't doze off, enjoyed the view of rolling hills, grazing sheep & cattle, and the evening glow of the setting sun. Truly picturesque.
I was dropped at the Southern Cross Station exactly at 8 PM. I took a Skybus to the airport and crashed in the lounge soon after checking in. In about 30 hours I will be home.
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