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Trip Report The GREAT Ocean Road -- a Songdoc Trip Report

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And it IS the "GREAT" Ocean Road. WOW.

Left behind 13 consecutive days of pouring rain in NZ to greet bright blue skies in Melbourne. We’d pre-booked Hotel Grand Chancellor on wotif.com for (insert) including breakfast. I was concerned about negative reviews on tripadvisor—but it was fine. Not as polished as the Grand Chancellor in Christchurch—but it was well located in the CBD; the bed and shower were good; the breakfast was excellent; and I was happy.

We arrived early evening and strolled in nearby Chinatown. We decided to be “adventurous” and try a “pork floss & seawood bun” displayed in a bakery window. It was the most revolting thing I have ever put in my mouth—and as the minutes passed the aftertaste got exponentially worse until I wanted to heave. DP took a bite and pronounced it, “Not that bad.” But after the second bite the full, nauseating flavor kicked in—intensely salty and fishy. Don’t know if the culprit was the pork floss or the seaweed. I suspect I don’t want to know what pork floss is—but it tasted like something that had been used to clean pigs’ teeth. Ugghhh.

We spent the next day on an extensive walking tour with an acquaintance who lives in Melbourne. I think we walked over every inch of the city. We enjoyed the juxtaposition of the beautiful old architecture with cutting edge modern sculptures and buildings. The old train station was gorgeous. Also took the free hop-on-hop-off bus for an overview. We hopped off at the Queen Victoria Market which has probably been operating since Victoria was a girl. The market was massive; a vibrant mix of colorful produce; meats, fish, and flea market shlock.

We gawked at the Star Casino. Wow. The chandeliers and fountains were quite impressive. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at a café with outdoor seating next to the casino along the riverfront. The views and people-watching were terrific. The area reminded me a bit of Sydney’s Darling Harbour and we enjoyed strolling along the river with the beautiful city views on the other side. With only one day in Melbourne we didn’t visit the museums or theaters—but were impressed with the cultural offerings.

Dinner was back in Chinatown for an exceptionally good, inexpensive meal. The next morning we had a short walk to pick up our EuropCar rental in the CBD then headed off for the Great Ocean Road. The Melbourne CBD traffic was heavy and I was a bit nervous driving the newly acquired rental but after about fifteen tense minutes our GPS got us out of the city and onto a freeway.

A stop at the Melbourne tourist information center had yielded a very helpful brochure with a list of the highlights along the GOR. About 90 minutes later we reached the first recommended stop: Bells Beach. From the car park we strolled a path that wound atop the cliffs, snapping pix and marveling at what seemed to be endless coastline below. It was bright and sunny and in the mid-60s (F). After soggy NZ we were in heaven as we watched the surfers in that beautiful blue water. Lunch was delicious sandwiches at Bells Bakery, a nearby outdoor café. Then we were back on the GOR.

My car soon learned to automatically pull into every turnout marked “scenic lookout” and I made great progress toward catching up to the photo quota that I’d fallen so far behind on as a result of the NZ rain. The drive to Lorne should take two-and-a-half hours—without stops. It took us more than seven! That should give you an idea how many lovely beaches we walked on and photographed—and how many scenic lookouts we pulled into. Point Addis and the lighthouse at Split Point were among our favorites.

We’d booked an apartment at the Lorne Cumberland resort for approximately $110 US and it was by far the nicest vacation rental unit I’ve ever been in. It was an enormous one-bedroom and the balcony featured a partial ocean view. After three weeks of restaurants we were happy to stop at a market and pick up salads and meat pies to take back to the apartment.

En route to Lorne we took the well marked, quick detour to the Anglesea golf course, a well known hangout for kangaroos. We pulled into the car park and scanned the greens but saw only golfers. Disappointed, I was about to turn back when I spotted a ‘roo in the distance. I parked at the clubhouse and looked closer—and checked out some different areas—and we were soon treated to hordes of kangaroos, mostly lazing in the late afternoon sun. My first kangaroos in the wild!!! I was ecstatic—although it felt a wee bit like cheating as we’d gone where I knew they congregate—and they were mostly tagged.

After breakfast in our apartment we loaded up the car, wishing we could spend an additional night in Lorne. It had an old-time sweetness and charm to it. Before getting back on the GOR we followed the advice of our brochure and visited Erskine Falls. En route a kangaroo hopped out of the bush quite close to our car. Now this was a REAL wild kangaroo spotting and I was a happy camper!

Erskine Falls was GORGEOUS. The lookout is easy to access—but we decided to descend what seemed like a thousand steps to get a better look—at the base of the falls. The views were well worth the effort. The area surrounding the bottom of the falls was like a primeval tropical rainforest with massive ferns and palm trees. My camera was very happy—but my legs were not, because while we were admiring the beautiful falls, the ascent back up mysteriously became far steeper—with at least a thousand more steps than when we’d gone down! (Well, that’s how it felt.) This was a highlight among highlights!

Next stop: Teddy’s Lookout for famous views down onto the GOR. We saw lots of signs for the lookout—but no lookout. We parked and walked through the bush in search of wildlife (and the lookout). Low and behold … could it be? No… YES! I spotted a koala high up in a tree. Well, it wasn’t an entire koala—just a round gray butt—but nonetheless, it was a koala in the wild and I’ve got lots of butt shots to prove it. I might not have found the lookout—but I found something better! Then DP spotted a kookaburra only a few feet away. It posed as if it were a professional model and I took lots of photos. We congratulated ourselves on our wildlife spotting—and on being so fortunate to have lost Teddy’s Lookout.

Back at the car we drove about fifty feet looking for a place to turn around—and suddenly … there it was: Teddy’s Lookout! There were beautiful views from the cliffs looking down on the road winding along the coast. I had a hard time believing the people who told me, “It’ll get even prettier ahead.”

Cape Patton was one of the prettiest lookout points. Our next stop for the night would be Port Campbell. It was another perfect weather day and the scenery indeed just kept getting better. Lunch was at Wye River—a picnic overlooking the beach. Sandwiches and a spinach feta roll from the Wye River General Store were as tasty as the views.

We pulled off to follow the signs to Kennett River in hopes of spotting koalas but didn’t have high expectations. Of course, I’d already found a koala butt, and once you’ve seen one …

Immediately after taking the turnoff we saw a tour bus parked on a residential street so we parked to join its passengers who were photographing trees that were teeming with two different types of gorgeous parrots. The parrots were landing on people’s arms—but they were not the star attraction. An adorable koala was resting quite low in the tree—and at just the perfect angle for full, fuzzy-faced photographs. There was no need to continue to Kennett River because we couldn’t possibly get much closer or get better koala photos. I was practically delirious with excitement.

There were countless parrots outside the little store and café at the corner where we’d turned off the GOR and we stopped for a look. A bright red beauty landed on DP’s head and I got a terrific picture. Continuing toward Port Campbell the scenery never stopped putting on a show. We drove right past the Gibson Steps, but luckily, when I noticed the tour buses I backed up. WOW. Gorgeous views of an exquisite beach. I didn’t realize it at the time—but I was seeing two of the famous Twelve Apostles. It was one of my favorite stops.

We’d hoped to arrive at the Twelve Apostles at sunset—for the best light—and the penguin parade. Instead, it was a couple of hours before sundown when we pulled into the visitor’s center. Sadly, the light was terrible for photographs—but there were still some beautiful views back toward the Gibson Steps. We continued on to the other iconic formations and the light was much more cooperative. The area was exceptionally beautiful—far beyond expectations. I’d hoped to return to the 12 Apostles before sundown—but we spent so much time gawking at and photographing the other nearby formations that we were too late. We decided to return at sunrise.

It was dark by the time we pulled into the Best Western motel, a basic, old motel with kitchenette. It was cheap and fine. Port Campbell is tiny. There are no upscale hotels—and not many restaurants to choose from—and most of them were closed. (It was a winter weekday.)

We settled for takeaway from the fish and chips shop attached to the gas station. They were both being run by one woman—and I hoped they used different oil. She said there would be a short wait while she made fresh batter. This should have been a giveaway as to how fresh the food would be. I ordered Australian prawns and scallops and I’ve never had any seafood that was even close to being that good. DP loved his fish & chips, as well.

The next morning was foggy so there was no need to rush out at sunrise as planned. This was serious fog. Grrr … It was still early and DP convinced me to return to the 12 Apostles. It was only a ten minute drive at most—but it seemed futile, as the fog completely obscured the coast. But wait … is that a little patch of sunshine?

The 12 Apostles seemed to be rising out of the mist while clouds and fog rolled and swirled behind them. I could barely believe how beautiful and mystical it was. I got some terrific photos—but nothing that fully captured what we were treated to that morning.

I’d expected the GOR to be treacherous but with the exception of a few curves it was an easy drive that far exceeded all expectations. It wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as many of the roads I’ve driven in Ireland—or the Pacific Coast Highway in California. The Great Ocean Road is a nature lover’s and photographer’s paradise that shouldn’t be missed.

We’d seen some amazing coastal scenery and now it was time to head to the mountains. Next stop: Hall’s Gap in the Grampians—estimated to be a four hour drive—but we were learning that if there were scenic lookouts or places to hike, we’d have to double our estimates . The fog made driving a bit tense and our GPS took us on a route that had my stomach clenching.

We drove at least an hour on a “2-lane” road that was barely large enough for one car. It was reminiscent of Ireland’s worse country lanes—but in Ireland I wouldn’t have been going 110 km/hours (around 70 MPH). When that road ended I was relieved to say the least. I hadn’t killed anything—including us.

We stopped to do about a thirty minute walk on the Piccaninny trail and got some great shots of a wallaby. The scenery was quite different from anything we’d seen up to this point. More like brush—with lots of “kangaroo tail” plants. Beautiful!

We continued on to the Grampians where we stayed at the Kookaburra Motel. It was a cute, inexpensive, little basic motel run by a sweet, older couple. I fear I traumatized them when I insisted that DP and I would prefer one queen bed—but they were friendly and it wasn’t a problem once they grasped the situation. Our patio overlooked a field where kangaroos grazed and hopped by. Cockatoos did a little dance, begging for food—and I was in bliss. The views of the mountains were so beautiful and I was feeling profoundly grateful as we ate our breakfast looking at that scenery.

We drove to all the “must-see” lookout points in the Grampians. The Boroka Lookout was breathtaking. The Balconies was also beautiful. We enjoyed a walk to MacKenzie Falls—pretty, but it couldn’t compare with Erskine Falls that we’d seen a few days earlier. But it’s a beautiful area for nature lovers.

The following day was cool and cloudy and we hiked several hours. The scenery was unique and unearthly and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We figured that after that intense hike we’d earned a treat—so we had a delicious pizza and shared a massive Greek salad at the Black Panther restaurant.

Our wonderful holiday was coming to an end and we’d be flying out of Melbourne to Sydney. It rained off and on during the drive back to Melbourne and the last hour was a nonstop, blinding, torrential downpour. I’m not including Sydney in my report because it was just a brief stop to see friends and enjoy my favorite Yum Cha at East Ocean in Chinatown. We’d done our sightseeing in Sydney during our previous two trips.

I have to add that a highlight of every trip to OZ is my visit to see my adorable adopted wombat at the Walkabout Wildlife Animal Sanctuary in Calga—less than an hour from Sydney. I got to do some serious koala cuddling, lots of kangaroo and dingo petting. Except for a few brief showers in Sydney, we made up for our miserable weather in NZ and had a truly memorably holiday that exceeded all expectations.

Here’s a link to the photos:
http://www.kodakgallery.com/gallery/creativeapps/slideShow/Main.jsp?albumId=517055564506&ownerId=51951334106

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