After my foiled detour to look at rock art in the Grampians, I arrived at Port Fairy around lunch time, and as I had been driving for more than three hours, I decided to stop for lunch and a coffee. I had a bit of mission filling up with petrol, as for some reason the pump would not work, and someone had to come out and help me. This was a bit of a waste of time and rather embarrassing. My lunch at Rachael’s Cafe was a delicious pumpkin couscous burger (highly recommended if you ever find yourself in Port Fairy), but it did take quite a while especially since I had spent so long getting petrol, so I decided I had no time to explore the town and should set off for Apollo Bay along the Great Ocean Road. I programmed the GPS and set off. It was still pouring with rain. After a while it became apparent that the GPS was steering me inland, away from the Great Ocean Road. I turned left towards the sea, ignoring its imperious demands for me to make a U-turn as soon as possible. After a while it reprogrammed itself and I made the mistake of listening to it, only to realise that once again it was taking me inland, this time along a gravel road. As it was bucketing down with rain and intermittently foggy, I decided to give up on the Ocean Road to try to make it to Apollo Bay before dark. Having entirely missed the Great Ocean Road, I descended towards Apollo Bay on a road that was narrow, steep, winding, and slick with rain. To add further difficulty, it was occasionally so foggy I could barely see the road. It was one of the longest and most stressful hours of my life before I finally emerged onto the coast. The road was so winding I felt nauseous even though I had been driving. It got dark just as I arrived in Apollo Bay, making it hard for me to find the Apollo Bay Guesthouse, where I was staying. When I eventually found it, the owners took ten minutes to answer the door, by which time I was consulting my guidebook for local hotels and feeling slightly hysterical. However, they made up for this initial lapse by feeding me some cheese and crackers so I would not have to go out again in the rain, along with a much needed gin and tonic.
The next day my hosts lent me some gloves and a warm jacket so I could explore the coast I had missed the day before. The first part of the drive was challenging as it was very winding and the rain was very heavy at times, but once back at the coast (the road goes inland for a bit) it brightened up a little. The bad weather meant there were not many people at the famous Twelve Apostles, especially since it was too early for the day trippers to have made it from Melbourne, so I played about with my neutral density filter after taking a few normal shots, in between strong gusts of wind and rain showers. Periodically the sun would come out and illuminate what is a really striking coastline. There are not twelve apostles, and probably never were. The number does change, as some of the stacks have collapsed. These formations were originally called the Sow and Piglets, before someone decided the Apostles sounded a bit more upmarket (and everyone knows Apostles come in twelves). It was so breezy here that a small waterfall was flowing back up the cliff. With my hood on to protect my ears and wearing my borrowed coat, I was not too cold. I spent almost an hour there, occasionally hunkering down to avoid a shower, before carrying on to Loch Ard Gorge.
The Loch Ard was a ship which sank with the loss of all but two people. The ship’s apprentice was washed into the gorge. He heard cries for help and found a girl clinging to a broken piece of mast. After he brought her to shore (she could not swim) and revived her with some brandy, he climbed out of the gorge and got help. Climbing from the gorge must have been a challenge before the stairs which now helpfully take you down to the beach and back were installed. Although towards the back of the beach the cliffs are no more than a couple of storeys high, they are sheer and crumbling. He was given a medal for his efforts.
There is also a nice walk past Thunder Cave where the water rushes in to a hole in the cliff, competing with the water pouring back out, along a path to a beach featuring a limestone stack which is almost rectangular. It was beautiful but wild. I did not wander onto the rocks as I was afraid of rogue waves in the strong winds. I noticed others were not as cautious, wandering right out towards the sea which was thumping into the rocks, neatly illustrating how it carves the limestone. It was sunny until I headed back towards the car, when it began to rain a bit, so I gave the Loch Ard cemetery a miss (not many of the unfortunate victims of the Loch Ard were recovered) and headed further along the coast.
Further along is the Arch, which is as its name implies an arch of limestone. I had another play with my neutral density filter before heading on to London Bridge. This formation used to have a second span connecting it to the mainland. In 1990 it collapsed, leaving two tourists stranded on the new island from where they had to be rescued by helicopter. I bet they had to change their trousers after that experience. Now they encourage people to stay away from the edge of the cliffs.
i had another excellent cafe lunch, this time at Karoa at Port Campbell to warm up for the drive back. Amazing sweet potato chips.
On the way back I went to look for koalas on the drive down to the Cape Ottway lighthouse, but just passed a few cows on the road. The drive back was less scary than the drive out, as it had largely stopped raining.
The next day I said goodbye to my hosts and headed towards Melbourne. I stopped at Cumberland Falls and hiked about ten minutes up a steep path to look at the falls. They are pretty enough, tumbling down the hillside, but I rather liked the mossy trees I passed on the short hike. Back in my car, I drove slowly along the edge of the sea. I noticed two things. One was that there were lots of signs saying 80 kilometres per hour, often right in front of a sign warning you to take the next curve at 45, and the other was that after every pull out there was a sign saying drive on the left in Australia!
The views were very pretty, with lots of pristine beaches and rocky cliffs. I pressed on to Kennett River, where there are lots of koalas. Once there, a sharp left turn took me onto a dirt road which winds slowly up the hillside. I drove along, scanning for koalas but could see none, so I stopped, got out and began to walk up the road. I immediately saw three of the little marsupials, clinging to trees. One was munching away on some leaves. It began to rain again so I headed back to the car, where another car pulled up and asked how many I had seen. An Aussie family of three, they were delighted to tell me they had seen seven without leaving the car! So competitive! Of course, they had two non-drivers to do the spotting. They refused to lend me their child to help me look, but did helpfully point to all the ones they saw as they drove ahead of me. In the end I saw about nine or ten, although some were just furry backs huddled high in a tree. Most of them were curled into tight little balls, sleeping their way through the cool morning showers. Only one paid me any attention, peering down at me through the leaves. After a couple of kilometres, the trees changed and there are many beautiful tree ferns, but no more koalas. As it was raining pretty steadily, I turned around and headed back down the hill. Had it not been raining, I would have walked a kilometre or so along the road, and am sure would have seen many more koalas.
At the bottom of the road I could see a lot of people blocking the road and looking into the trees. I parked and walked back, and as I did so the sun came out. There was a koala high in the tree, but all the people were feeding parrots who suddenly appeared and were perching on the arms, shoulders and heads of the tourists whilst ducks pecked around their feet. A group of Japanese girls shrieked loudly every time a bird landed on them. I am not sure why they were encouraging them as they were so afraid of the birds which were very tame. The tour guides obviously instigate the feeding, which is a little sad to see, but it was lovely to see all the beautiful birds.
I left Kennett River and kept going to the town of Lorne. I was going to stop for a coffee, but having admired the town, and its pretty beachfront park, I decided to keep going as it had begun to rain again.
I stopped at the town of Aireys Inlet where I hiked up to the lighthouse and to the cliff edge to admire the view. A sign said whales could often be seen from the point, but none were passing that day. I admired the inlet on the way down, and photographed a galah that was eating the grass next to my car, before heading on to Anglesea.
I decided to grab a sandwich to have a picnic lunch at Anglesea, but ended up eating in my car in the car park as it was raining again! The rest of the trip into Melbourne was uneventful. I passed through the surfing town of Torquay without stopping as the beach was not appealing in the rain, and I thought about stopping for a coffee in Geelong, but it is a big and rather busy town, so I simply headed into Melbourne to locate my friend’s house, where I would be staying, in daylight.
All this talk of rain might sound a bit negative, but on the positive side there were loads of signs by the side of the road saying the risk of fire was low. Always a silver lining! It would have been much more crowded had the weather been better. The biggest downside at this time of year is the shortness of the days, I did a lot of rushing trying to see things before it got dark, when really I had to be patient waiting for the gaps in the weather. As you can see from the pictures, there was plenty of sunshine between all the showers.