Saturday and Sunday, November 5-6, 2011: Great Ocean Road, Australia
Once we had reached the coastline of Australia, we had the chance to slow things down a bit and take “the scenic route” between Warambool on the west end of the Great Ocean Road and Melbourne, the capital of Victoria on the east end. The Great Ocean Road is much like the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) in California, and contains some of the highest concentrations of scenic lookouts on a single stretch of road we’ve ever seen.
Starting on the west end of the coast, the Great Ocean Road extends along the coastline of a stretch of land that looks much like a hlaf circle. The straight road, a direct route from west to east, takes about 3.5 hours, while riding the edge adds an additional 2 hours to the journey. We decided to take the drive over the course of two days and make a stop for the evening in Port Campbell, about an hour into the drive.
As we left Grampians National Park in the late afternoon, we got onto the Great Ocean Road and within minutes, the rectangular brown signs identifying the first of dozens of scenic outlooks and stops began to pop up along the road’s edge. We pulled off to our first stop, The Bay of Islands (apparently they have one here in Australia too!) and as the afternoon sun shone along the coast, amazing rock formations and dramatic coastlines began to almost glow in yellows, oranges, and reds.
The rocks rose nearly 10 stories in the air in some cases, were worn away by wind, rain, waves, and time. Some were smooth as if worked over by decades of wear, while others were jagged, with sharp points. Layers of sediment provided a variety of colors, from browns and reds, to whites and blacks, adding to the contrasts being provided by the sun as the afternoon slowly gave way to evening.
Though some of the scenic stops are little more than a small parking lot on the edge of a cliff, many are intricate combinations of interpretive displays, wooden boardwalks, small parks, and winding paths that slowly work their way to your final viewpoint. We weren’t quite prepared for the quantity of stops and the amount of time to spend at each. As we continued along the Great OCean Road, though we had covered only about 50 miles, we spent nearly three hours exploring the first segment of the road.
We arrived at Port Campbell and to our accommodation for the evening about an hour before sunset. We got checked in, rested for about 30 minutes, and got ready for the main event, sunset at the 12 Apostles. This area is one of the highlights of the Great Ocean Road and the reason for our stop for the night just about a ten minute drive away.
Arriving at the 12 Apostles, we were directed to a parking lot with at least 200 cars and buses. A steady stream of people was working their way towards the extensive set of walkways and outlooks along the jagged coastline at this area to stake a claim to a spot to view the sunset here. Along with a wide array of international visitors, a handful of professional photographers were setting up an array of tripods and professional level cameras to capture the scene. Thankfully, there was ample room for everyone, so over the next 20 minutes, everyone found their spot and more or less settled in to view the upcoming sunset.
The name 12 Apostles comes from a spectacular display of 12 rock formations shooting straight up out of the crashing surf of the ocean against a backdrop of golden sun and carved cliffs and coastline. Time and erosion have taken their toll and today only 7 of the original stone towers are still in place. From a central viewing platform, one can see the 12 Apostles area to the north and another smaller set of similar rocks and coastline to the south. As the sun grew larger and larger on the horizon and the blinding yellow slowly began to turn to oranges, reds, purples, and golds, the camera shutters all began to fire.
The combination of sea, sun, surf, rocks, cliffs, and coastline was certainly memorable. We spent about an hour here and slowly, the crowds began to dissipate, only to be replaced by a new group of people tomorrow. We returned to our hotel, made an excellent dinner and after all of the hiking earlier in the day in the Grampians, collapsed into bed for a full night’s sleep.
The next day, we stopped by the Tourist Information office, grabbed a map and got a slightly better understanding of how many scenic stops we had today and began to make our way down the remainder of the Great Ocean Road. With stops at places like The Grotto, London Bridge, Loch Ard Gorge, Castle Cove, Apollo Bay, and Cape Patton, we were treated to countless numbers of wonderful views, brillant blue skies along long stretches of white sand beaches, and cute little coastal towns full of people enjoying a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Upon reaching the eastern edge of the Great Ocean Road in the city of Geelong, we transitioned back onto the highway and wound our way to Phillip Island, where we’ll spend the next day of the journey experiencing an evening parade with the smallest penguins in the world.