Take it Easy: Melbourne to Port Fairy

Sunday 9th March
The couple next to me on the flight were both quite elderly and had sat in the wrong seat but were very friendly and were interested in where I had been. Eventually they asked why I was going to Geelong and I explained I wasn’t, I was going to Melbourne however I immediately realised I’d booked a flight to the wrong Melbourne airport. As we landed I realised Melbourne Avlon is tiny compared to Melbourne Tullamarine however this had the advantage that I was out quicker. The disadvantage was I was in Geelong not Melbourne.

Luckily there was a bus shuttle to Melbourne but it was an hours drive and after I arrived at Southern Cross station I had to walk to the hostel. I had arranged to meet Finja and Marianne at 21.00 so I had plenty of time to do laundry, cook some food and to meet Jenny and dad in the Treasury Gardens to look for possums. It was a bit surreal to see them outside the hotel and as we sat on a bench it became apparent just how much there was to catch up on.

We eventually moved to a different area and almost immediately I saw my first possum. It was funny how they ‘stood up’ like kangaroos but walked on all fours like large rats though it appears my rat/mice phobia doesn’t extend to Australian fauna. After watching them for a while I left to meet the girls for a final drink before we went our separate ways and we’d have to wish each other “Gute  Reise”

Marianne, Finja and her friend met me in Federation Square and we made our way to the Yarra River to see a firework display. It was very crowded and we weren’t sure what side of the bank to stand on, or where on the side we chose would have the best view. The fireworks were nice but ended quicker than I expected and whilst the display took place so both sides of the river had a good view the more spectacular display seemed to be behind us.

After leaving the fireworks we made our way to Fitzroy with Marianne leading the way because and despite my legitimate excuses I had effectively got us both lost in Coober Pedy only a week earlier. It was a long walk, and as it was dark and late on a Sunday everywhere seemed to be closed except for two pubs neither of which were suitable for a quiet drink. Instead we went to Coles, brought some non alcoholic drinks and snacks and sat on a park bench. We saw more possums before walking all the way back through town to our hostels and I had to say “Auf Wiedersehen”

Monday 10th February
I walked along Flinders Street with my backpack which took slightly longer than I expected but eventually met Jenny and dad outside their hotel before finding their hire car. We then set off on our trip to Adelaide and the first notable place we passed was somewhat cruelly my hostel.

It was labor day so the roads to the beaches were fairly busy and Torquay in particular appeared to be a popular destination. Our first proper stop was therefore at the Great Ocean Road Memorial Sign which was unsurprisingly busy. We carried on to Lorne where we stopped to have lunch and visited the tourist information office to determine where within the Otway National Park we’d explore.

We started off with a short drive and then a short walk to the upper and lower lookouts at the Erskin waterfalls. The car park was very busy and it appeared this was another water source locals had fled to and some were swimming in the pool of the waterfall. My dad and Jenny felt they were arcadian, reminiscent of the scenes painted by romantic painters. I thought they were nice and definitely worth visiting but I was preoccupied because I was more excited about our next stop at Lake Elizabeth where i would have one final chance at trying to see Platypus.

During the drive to Lake Elizabeth we had a bit of a drive along unsealed roads with very few signs and were reliant on a map that did not show all the roads. It was therefore hardly surprising that we eventually took a wrong road but thankfully the GPS on my phone was working and we were eventually able to correct ourselves. This meant we lost at least half an hour so we had much less time to explore the lake than hoped for.

I had a good feeling when we started the walk but it was much longer than I expected and we past a number of families coming back on the way. The weather was clear when we got to the bottom but the lake was green not clear which would make sightings harder. I looked but other than ducks I could see nothing. Platypus only spend 17 of 24 hours a day outside their nests and of that time most is spent under water. We needed luck and time, but didn’t have the latter. I walked around the edge for a closer look and whilst I thought I saw something that wasn’t a duck I’m probably just trying to delude myself and I have to accept the Platypus is the one that got away.

Disappointed I made my way reluctantly back to the car where we drove back along the coast to Kennett River. This was where I had seen koalas on my G Adventures tour and I was fairly confident we would see them again. This is because there are a lot of Manna Gums which are their favourite type of eucalyptus tree. We were lucky and saw 4 koalas including a couple that were becoming active as it had gone 17.00 one of which was on a low branch.

We finally arrived in Apollo Bay and after checking in we headed back in to town to find some food. Dad and I opted for fish and chips at the ‘Blue bird cafe’ which had a nice collection of pictures of the township in its early days. After going to the IGA to buy some beers as we were due to do a lot of walking and would need some kind of reward. That evening I got chatting to two of my room mates, a father and son ironically from Watford, who were over for the Grand Prix, something I had hoped to see but which hadn’t fitted with my dates

Tuesday 11th February
Dad said the 9.15 start to the Cape Otway Lighthouse was early. I think we now have different definitions of this word because as I said by 9.30 in the Olga’s I’d already seen a sunrise and completed a 6km walk. The early starts I’ve endured have opened my eyes to what can be achieved before i even start work and at the very least I’ll do a gym session. Kelly, Tim, Anthony and Sue you can hold me to that!

Arriving at the Cape Otway National Park Lighthouse. We started off at the Telegraph Station where there was information on its use, the first of which was to communicate with Tasmania via an under water cable which failed after 2 years. There was also a display on dinosaur fossils that had been found in the area and one of the guides decided to take us on a personal tour of some of the key exhibits whilst providing quite a bit of information.

We had been told the estimated time for the entire complex was an hour yet we had spent nearly that long at the Telegraph Station. This was partly because having seen and started chatting to those in my room the guide had decided to join in and a conversation on Watford FC had gradually turned in to the average rainfall in Victoria.

We made our way to and up to the lighthouse where again a guide was providing lots of information whilst also trying his best to tell people to climb down the ladder backwards. His audience was continually changing but he didn’t appear to repeat any information and it was unclear if he ever would so I went outside to take in the nice views before going back down.

We continued our way around the site and reached the Aboriginal culture display. The guide seemed to be particularly emotional when he voiced his thoughts on various topics but that made the encounter all the more interesting. It was interesting to know that prior to European settlement there had been 30 main languages across Victoria alone so whilst Australia is now one country, there was a time when it was split like Europe. The guide also told us that a new constitution will be put before the Australian population within 2 years and whilst he didn’t think it would go far enough it’ll be interesting to see how things develop.

Leaving the lighthouse we drove to Aire River Bridge where we had decided to do a walk from the dunes up to a lookout with views of the escarpment. On the way up we saw two snakes which looked to be copperhead snakes which doubled the number I have encountered however apart from a few birds we didn’t see any other wildlife of note. I don’t think I’ve become blase to the Australian scenery but I’ve probably become slightly spoilt with my adventures in the past month. The view of the river mouth was nice, but I didn’t think it was spectacular though that may have been because it was overcast. We saw more koalas back at the carpark and one of the locals spent some time chatting to us.

We had already done a lot of exploring of the Great Otway National Park though I still suggested we stop off at Maits Rest where I had done a short 30 minutes walk a month before through a rainforest. We saw different types of trees including the Myrtle Beech tree however whilst it had just stopped raining it hadn’t encouraged any of the unique wildlife out.

We returned back to Apollo Bay where I finally decided to eat some Barramundi as I felt that was the only animal available in Australia I’d not tried. I convinced dad to try Kangaroo steak and I don’t think he was disappointed though Jenny couldn’t bare the thought of eating poor Skippy.

Wednesday 12th February
After checking out of the hostel we started our journey along the Great Ocean Road towards Port Fairy. I had already seen some of the limestone rock formations but I was looking forward to seeing some of those I had missed and I had produced a bit of an itinerary for the day for us.

Our first stop was to The Twelve Apostles which is arguably the most well known of the formations and closest to Melbourne certainly the most visited. There are not actually 12 stacks and they only gained the title in the 1960s apparently to generate tourism. It seems to have worked because when we arrived the carpark was already filling up though it was less busy than when I’d last visited. Unfortunately it was slightly cloudy which maybe didn’t make the Twelve Apostles look as majestic as they were when I first saw them and it was cold meaning I wished I’d put a jumper but it was still nice to wonder round the site again.

Our second stop was to Loch Are Gorge which is named after a boat that sunk in route to Melbourne with only one day of the 3 month voyage remaining. The site was much bigger than I expected because for some reason I assumed it would only be a lookout overlooking the area where the boat had sunk. Whilst this was one of the routes there were another two including one to see the ‘Razorback’ formation which due to its unique shape was particularly spectacular. We ended up spending a lot of time at the site as we also walked to Thunder Cave and Mutton Bird Island though didn’t see the Rufus Bristlebird which apparently nests there.

We did also walk to the head near where the boat had sunk but even this exceeded my expectations. The small bay with dominant cliffs either side was breathtaking especially as the waves were particularly aggressive. Hearing the waves whilst reading the display boards made me think just how horrifying it would have been for those on board as they must have known they had little hope of survival. As it was two survived both in equally miraculous circumstances though despite press opinions of the day no romance occurred between the two.

Our next lookout after a brief lunch stop at Port Campbell was London Bridge. This had been particularly memorable during my previous visit due to the story associated with its partial collapse in 1990. Whilst it had got warmer and it didn’t feel particularly windy the sea still looked very rough. London Bridge, now an arch was taking a real battering and it looked like a crack was forming which one day will result in it being a stack like the Apostles. Dad and Jenny still hasn’t been fortunate enough to see a sea eagle though as we were leaving we saw a Peregrine Falcon flying overhead.

Initially we had driven past ‘The Arch’ without stopping and whilst we knew what it would be I was still intrigued to see it so we decided to drive back to it. Whilst like London Bridge it was an arch (as we’d expected) the view was arguably more spectacular because it was possible to get a different perspective of the formation.

After leaving the arch we drove the short distance to the interestingly named ‘The Grotto’. I really had no idea what to expect though thought perhaps it would be a type of cave. It wasn’t, it was a sinkhole. The lookout had a path leading down to its base which allowed us to get closer than we had to the other formations and meant it was easier to appreciate the forces of nature.

The drive to the Bay of Martyrs (previously Massacre Bay) just outside Peterborough wasn’t much further along the coast. We tried to do a walk to learn about the local aboriginal community but it wasn’t well directed and we ended up at one of the look outs we’d decided to miss. I was surprised that there wasn’t any signage at the carpark about how the Bay got its name and whilst I accept it is a sensitive subject I don’t feel the event should be ignored in a perceived attempt to re-write history. The walk and lookouts provided a lovely view towards the ‘Bay of Islands’ though again we didn’t see any of the Rufus Bristle Birds that live in the area.

We had now visited most of the formations along the stretch of coast and each had been stunning in their own right. After leaving the Bay of Martyrs we continued along the coast towards Port Fairy before turning off for the Tower Hill State Game Reserve. It was after 17.00 when we arrived and we hoped that the wildlife would start to make itself more obvious to us. My last visit had been a lunch stop and whilst I’d had time to climb to the top of the steep lookout I was looking forward to exploring the area in more detail.

The area was formed by a volcano more than 25,000 years ago and was declared a National Park in 1961 and since this date native wildlife has returned to the area. We had already seen an emu in the picnic area by the time we started doing a walk around the wetlands though it seemed quite overgrown with vegetation. Dad and I saw a Eastern Grey Kangaroo which unfortunately hopped away before I could get a picture or before Jenny had caught us up. A while later we heard rustling in the overgrown reeds and all of a sudden an Emu came out though it quickly headed back in for cover.

Carrying on across the boardwalk we saw a swamp wallaby amongst the reeds that didn’t seem to be mind us being nearby and was more than happy to have its photograph taken. We returned back to the start and commenced our final walk which was appropriately called “Journey to the last Volcano” as it would take us to the craters ridge. We saw a bird dive down to the path not to far from us and when it flew back up it appeared to have a snake hanging from its beak which it took to a tree.

During the walk I heard some rustling and to my surprise and excitement saw an Echidna rummaging around in the undergrowth. Unlike some animals its reaction wasn’t to run away but to stay still and to look like a ball though eventually it brought its nose back out. I had hoped I’d see one again as I hadn’t really appreciated how significant they were when I’d seen one on the way to Melbourne from Tasmania back in early December. The Echidna is unique like the Platypus as both are the only mammals that are egg laying. As we continued to the car I saw a mother and baby koala in the tree which was nice because whilst I’ve been lucky to see a lot of koalas this was the first baby I’d seen.

We arrived in Port Fairy and arrived at the YHA which is apparently the oldest hostel in Australia and located in a building dating back to 1844. My dorm was quite small and not really suitable for 4 people but I’m complaining as it was very nice to spend a night there and the lady at reception was particularly helpful and friendly. Despite having an early night (it was before 21.30) both people in my room were already in bed as were those in the room next door by the time I went up after dinner. Due to the design of the corridor the hall light would have lit up both rooms so I had to use my torch. Luckily I had already packed my bag with everything I needed for the following day so kept any disturbance to a minimum.


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