Way Back When: Great Ocean Road

Tuesday 21st January
Having failed to make it to Southern Cross to say goodbye to Victoria and Jess properly before they got their bus I returned to the hotel to pick up my own bags before making my way to the Nomads Hostel I had stayed at after my trip around Tasmania.

I saw my room mate Hugo and we briefly sat on the roof terrace if it can really be described as that. It was a bit sad to be back in a hostel, after being in a hotel apartment with such good company though at the same time it was good to know I was about to meet some new people and really a hostel is just meant to be practical and somewhere to sleep.

At 19:00 we had a pre departure meeting and we briefly introduced ourselves and then headed to the hostel bar to have a few drinks and some takeaway pizza. I wanted to watch the tennis between Novak Djakovic and Stanislav “Stan” Wawrinka. Eventually having spoken to everyone I moved to the sofa area for the final area where Phyllis who was also watching the match joined me. We both wanted “Stan” to win and the match was unbelievably close with both players breaking each others service games in consecutive attempts. Eventually “Stan” was successful however it was now around midnight and our departure time was 6.30.

Just as we were about to leave a fight kicked off in the bar which resembled a wrestling match. A number of punches were thrown and to be honest it was almost impossible to tell what had caused it or who was actually fighting who. With no bouncers the hostel staff were not prepared to get involved. The fight then moved outside to the reception area though I don’t know what the final outcome was because we were able to leave at this stage.

Wednesday 22nd January
We were told that due to the recent bush fires we wouldn’t be going to the Grampians and whilst this was disappointing first and foremost my thoughts are with those who have been directly affected and lost their livelihoods. I’d seen a newspaper article from the locals the day before saying as this is the peak season they need the tour companies to return as soon as possible or else the impact of the fires will be even greater.

Our guide Brett had been unable to buy breakfast supplies prior to departure so we brought them en-route to Bell’s Beach where the plan was to have breakfast. The beach itself was very pretty but as it was still early in the morning it was a lot colder and more windy than the conditions appeared from the comfort of the mini bus. Bell’s Beach is regarded as one of the world’s best surf beaches and is meant to be the beach portrayed during the film ‘Point Break’.

After leaving Bell’s Beach we had to introduce ourselves including an answer to the question “Are you a folder or a scruncher?”. For the record I am a folder. It wasn’t long after this that there was a sigh to marking the start of the Great Ocean Road. The road had been built following the first world war by returning soldiers and had helped with employment during the Great Depression. It was also possible from the Eastern View beach to see the lighthouse that was used in ‘Round the Twist’.

The road twisted round the coast rising up and down and it quickly became evident just what an achievement completing it was. I had been told that the Great Ocean Road would probably be my best opportunity to see native Koala’s in the wild and we stopped off at the Kennett River where a number have their habitats in the eucalypts trees. We were lucky enough to see two that were not to far high in the tree tops and whilst I have seen them closer in conservation it is always special to see animals in their natural environment.

We stopped at Apollo Bay to get some lunch before we continued along the Great Ocean Road to go on a temperate rain forest walk around the Great Otway National Park. The walk itself was quite short but the trees were huge and the moss which grows on them has apparently been around since life started coming out of the ocean.

Our final stop of the day before arriving in Port Campbell was to arguably the most famous rock formation along the route, the Twelve Apostles. There are actually only around 6 of these stacks but they are certainly very impressive. There was an option to do a helicopter ride but the coastal walk gave various different perspectives and views and as the weather was absolutely perfect there didn’t seem a need to pay $200 for a 15 minute flight.

We arrived in Port Campbell in the early afternoon and we all went down to the beach and a few of us had a swim in the sea. The waves were a lot bigger than they looked from the beach and despite it being a hot day the sea was surprisingly cold. Once we were out of the water it didn’t take long to dry and so Hugo, Ben, Sam and I then headed to the liquor store to get some beers.

In the evening we headed out to get some food before going to a local pub that was showing Andy Murray vs Roger Federer. Murray was already two sets down and in trouble as Federer appeared to be at the same level he was against Tsonga. When Federer was serving to win the match Murray dug in to not only break back but to take the resulting tie break but Federer always appeared the more comfortable of the two. It looked like the 4th set was going a tie break before Murray found himself 0-40 on his own serve. He tried to salvage it but the damage was done and Federer broke. He didn’t make the same mistake as in the 3rd set and successfully served out the match. I congratulated Ria saying I hoped both “Stan” and Federer won both their respective semi finals to make it an all Swiss final.

Thursday 23rd January
Our first stop of the morning was to London Bridge a rock arch formation that partly fell down in 1990. I had read about this rock formation in my Bill Bryson book and the story surrounding its collapse is worth repeating. It had previously been possible to walk out to the headland and a couple had crossed to the far side shortly before the 1st arch, after years of being smashed and eroded by the sea crashed down. The couple were unharmed and were rescued by helicopter but during subsequent newspaper articles it later emerged they had both allegedly been having an affair which became very much public knowledge. The break looked completely clean and despite it being a nice day the waves still looked quite aggressive. Eventually the pressure on the remaining arch will be to much and that will also crash in to the sea.

Our next stop was the Bay of Martyrs, previously named Massacre
Bay where a number of Aboriginals were herded off the cliffs and killed by the European settlers. The site has been renamed to reflect that the Aboriginals were the first settlers of the land and from a modern perspective the killings were totally unjust and those killed should be regarded as martyrs.

We briefly stopped at a bay (Logans beach?) which is a good lookout for Southern Right Whales that migrate up the coast but this was the wrong time of year. Blue whales can also be sighted at this time of year on the horizon and whilst the weather was perfectly clear we didn’t see any signs of them despite looking for spray on the horizon.

Our lunch stop was at the Tower Hill National Park an area of extinct volcanoes. It is also home to emus and almost as soon as we parked the bus we saw these large birds patrolling the area trying to intimidate innocent day trippers. Hugo, Sam, Ben and I decided to have our lunch on top of the hill and whilst the final section felt like we were walking up vertically the view of the national park below was worth it.

We arrived in Mount Grambier where I was spending another night in a fairly recently closed gaol. Before checking in we stopped at the Blue Lake. As the name suggests the water was blue, but it was a particularly perfect blue, a deep dark blue that was the shade a child might use if they were drawing a picture of a lake. It basically looked like someone had poured blue paint in to the lake. The lake is only this colour a few months a year, so we were lucky to see it like that and not the normal grey colour. Scientists are still unsure exactly what causes the change but the water is pure and provides the town with its supply.

Throughout the journey we had to play 5 songs each. My slightly cheesy selection was: ‘Which song sums you up/how you feel’ “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi because, well it’s my life and I’m doing what I want. ‘A song that reminds you of your childhood’ “3 Lions on a shirt” by the Lightning Seeds because it combines my love of britpop style music and football (soccer). ‘A guilty pleasure’, I could have chosen one of many but instead I went for what I decided was the most cheesy “Stay Another Day” by East 17 which I cut off before the end. Next was my party song/a song i enjoy dancing to and eventually I opted for “Mr Brightside” by the Killers. Finally my funeral song which was “Imagine” by John Lennon. Whilst i acknowledged it was a bit cliché it seemed to sum up how I’d want people to feel and remember me. All in all I think the playlist went down well, especially 3 Lions which no doubt brought back happy memories for some of the Germans from my generation on the coach as they ultimately won Euro 96.

We arrived at the gaol and unlike when I stayed at the one in Christchurch where only one wing had survived this appeared to be totally whole however it was a different style and was was only single level. Hugo, Sam, Ben and I were staying in the old kitchen rather than a cell but when we were taken on a guided tour of the grounds we saw the interiors of an the old cell and it actually looked very luxurious.

After the tour a number of us made use of the free WiFi and drank some free beers that had been left behind by a previous group whilst we waited for our guide Brett to tell us the BBQ he had prepared was ready. I don’t think I shall ever get tired of having BBQs over here, the weather just makes them the the right way to spend an evening and this one didn’t disappoint.

After the BBQ I helped J, Katie?? and Fran?? to wash up before heading in to town to find an ATM. This ended up being a much more difficult task than i expected because i had been led to believe there was a machine by the service station. There may well be but in the dark it didn’t present itself to me so I ended up walking to the main shopping area. By the time I got back to the hostel the bar was just being closed so all in all the mission had failed. Most of the group were playing ‘Ring of Fire’ or ‘Kings’ depending on which country you’re from. I’d only been gone about 40 minutes but this game always causes drunkenness to escalate quickly and it was hilarious to watch them finish.

Friday 24th January
As we had not been able to go to the Grampians it meant we didn’t have a long journey ahead so we were allowed bit of a lie in and a day of relative “R and R”. Brett had still found us a couple of things that we would be able to do in the area including a walk around a lake and a lake that is popular with locals to jump in to from cliffs and ledges of different heights.

Despite the promise of a lie in the other G Adventures group that were also staying at the hostel hadn’t read the script and managed to burn their toast setting off the fire alarm in the process. Initially before knowing all this Sam Hugo Ben and I had thought it was a mobile alarm belonging to another guy that was meant to have been in our room but I soon realised it wasn’t so i went to investigate whilst the others tried to sleep through it. I saw some of the girls who told me what had happened and once I had returned back to bed I must have slowly got used to the dreadful noise and gone back to sleep.

The walk was only about 5km and whilst it was quite strenuous and steep in places, especially on the approach to the Centenary Tower it was never going to take the two hours that the sign had advised. There used to be a series of lakes which like the Blue Lake had formed in old volcanic craters though Brown Lake had dried up and the only lake still visible was Crater lake.

Hugo runs half Marathons so when we were probably about a 1/4 of the way around Brett set him the challenge of running round and catching us before we reached the mini bus. At various stages when there were gaps in the scenery we looked to see where Hugo was. As we approached the 3/4 mark Brett said he had seen him coming down the slope just past the point the challenge had been set so it was going to be a tight finish. We kept the same pace to make it fair and just as we could see the car park sign we heard a scream of excitement from the girls at the back as they had been caught. Whilst Brett started sprinting as Hugo came round the corner he knew it was all over.

We briefly went to the town to get some supplies before we returned to the hostel for some lunch. After our quick pit stop we headed back out to a different lake where I would have the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do but been a bit nervous of doing, jumping off a cliff in to the water below. Whilst there was a sign saying no jumping we had been assured by locals it was fairly safe because again the lake was in an old crater so the water was very deep so there were no hidden rocks just beneath the surface. A group of locals were already there and performing a number of different jumps but I was quite happy just doing a standard jump. Even though the drop wasn’t far at all, and despite doing sky dives, canyon swings and a bungee this activity gave me a surprisingly big adrenaline rush despite the fall probably lasting less than a second.

A few of the others went to the highest point to jump but this meant leaping a bit further out due to the angle of the cliff and not only did I not want to take any chances I was happy enough to jump from the lower level. The water of the lake, despite having an algae that could potentially cause a skin irritation was the best place to be because there were millions of flies on the shore. Whilst I had developed a good technique of killing them by clapping just in front of my face when they were on my nose the survivors were relentless. At one point my foot resembled that of a corpse there were so many that had set up camp. Flies in Australia are particularly annoying and persistent and once they have vomited to mark their spot there is no chance of peace.

We returned back to the hostel where Sam Ben and I chilled out watching the cricket between England and Australia whilst playing some pool. Despite once considering myself half decent having played with and mostly lost to some very good players at uni who were part of the local league team that was before I broke my arm back in 2009. Since then I’ve not had much game time with the exception of the fairly recent double games in New Zealand and the shockingly long game in Noosa. How I was undefeated so far on my travels remained a mystery.

My main objective was not to be 7 balled and I was quite pleased with my break because it separated everything giving plenty of options though I did sink the white in the process. Luckily I got a quick pot which settled the nerves I always have and something seemed to click. My old eye seemed to be back; in the previous games I knew what I wanted to do but had totally failed in the execution though I was still fairly surprised when i sunk the black to win.

After joining other members of the group in the WiFi area the owner soon came over to let off steam. Due to a misunderstanding the room with a big sign saying laundry wasn’t actually to be used by the public and various members of the group had used it because as I’ve said before laundry is the main thing that gets done on the chill out days. Normally chill out days don’t exist on the tours and groups would not normally spend so long at the old gaol so this has probably not been an issue in the past. It had been a slow paced day and after eating dinner and playing some cards which coincided with Nadal making Federer look average and wrapping up a quick victory in the tennis pretty much everyone went to bed.

Saturday 25th January
Despite a good and fairly long nights sleep (relative to the previous nights) I struggled to wake up after my alarm. Eventually I went to have a shower and seeing no sign of life outside the breakfast area went back to the room to finish packing. I lulled myself in to the belief we had more time than we did and it was only after I went to the WiFi area and saw Brett carrying a blue box that I realised breakfast had actually already ended.

Ahead lay a long travel day from Mount Gambier to Adelaide. Our first was to a service station where I got an ice blaster coffee that I’ve discovered I like and a breakfast pie. The second and third stops were in small towns. The 3rd, Tailem Bend seemed heavily train themed with an old loco in the park for children to play on, a small railway museum in the station (i wouldn’t drive out of the way to visit it) and every sign with the towns name had a picture of a train beside it. It also appeared that one of the weekly trains was a cause for celebration as there was a flyer for ‘train spotters’ advertising the time it would pass through.

We were meant to have stopped at the Coorong National Park which is apparently particularly stunning due to its lagoons and dune systems. When we left Mount Gambier we were told we were going there and it was only when we got to the final stop we were told this was being skipped so we could get to Adelaide sooner and visit the beach to relax. I don’t know how the others felt, but personally I felt this was a bit disappointing because as a result of reasons beyond our control we’d already missed out on walking in the Grampians and spent the whole of the previous afternoon relaxing. Whilst it was nice to go in the sea especially as it was a lovely weather the day felt slightly wasted due to the long distance travelled and it had needed something more interesting to break up the long drive.

The evening plan was for those of us leaving to meet up with the others for a final group dinner and to meet the new people that would be taking our places. I made my way to Rundle Mall, the street where i believed the others were staying but couldn’t see their hotel. Luckily there was free WiFi in the centre and after putting a message on Facebook Line and Katharina responded I was able to find it.

It was great to meet up one final time and although it had only been 4 whole days it was surprising how quickly the ice had broken though Brett our tour guide had certainly helped with this. I’ve been on a number of tours but it felt particularly hard saying goodbye. Maybe that was partly because I knew they would all be carrying on together where as I would have to start the whole introduction process again in a few days time. Safe travels to you all and I’m sure you’ll have an awesome time in Alice Springs and Darwin. Perhaps our paths will cross again in Australia but if not let me know if you have any plans to come over to London.

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