Friday, July 4, 2008

The Great Ocean Road

Great start to our holiday (I know my life is a holiday but this is different!).

We flew into Melbourne yesterday evening and breezed through customs with all our drugs....those being anti-malarial, anti-biotic and anti all sorts of stuff. The plan was to get out of town quickly in our big uly white car we have hired and make tracks towards the northern end of the Great Ocean Road. By 8.30ish Australian we were ready to find somewhere to sleep. For once we played hard, turning down a couple of holiday parks that didn't meet our strict criteria of cheapness and friendliness. We eventually found a great little backpackers in Anglesea.

We woke on New Zealand time and decided to use the opportunity to see a sunrise. Breakfast was fruity bix on a boat ramp gazing out into the Southern Ocean. We couldn't quite work out where the Southern Ocean and the Tasman Sea, and for that matter the Indian all merge, but the Aussies seem convinced this is the Southern Ocean. The local headland is known as “Roadknight Point”, perhaps asking for trouble, but an awesome place. A wedge of gummy rocks stretches out into bay. At its point the rock has been worn down flat and the waves crash in flinging spray on the rock that slides off in a series of miniature rapids and waterfalls.

The Great Ocean Road (GOR) was created as a memorial to the soldiers of the first world war, and perhaps also reading between the lines as a project for the unemployed during the Great Depression, ala Milford Road in New Zealand. We headed off down this labour of love which winds between heath covered headlands and lush valleys with beach settlements backing onto rainforest. We had a brochure from the backpackers advertising the attractions of a guided tour in the region so thought we would try our luck “viewing wild koalas at Kennett River”. Our first attempt saw us assessing the villages constructed wetland designed to protect the local estuarine environment, informative but not really what we were after! So it was with some scepticism we headed up a gravel road signposted “koalas”, surely it wouldn't be that easy. But round the first bend two round bundles of fluff were spotted, live koala! Or were they just stuffed ones planted by enterprising locals, they weren't moving and surely koalas don't just sit there like owls put through a dryer? But further exploration revealed another 20 odd koala in the vicinity and the occasional one moving. Pennys favourite was a little cutie, down low enough that she could take a decent photo.

Moving on we paused for hot drinks in Apollo Bay, a pleasant seaside town with a big flat sand beach and lots of shops. The GOR continued in earnest after this but we decided to take a little diversion, to the beech forest, or at least the town called Beech Forest in the middle of the Otways. We stumbled really across a couple of the local tourist attractions Hopetoun and Triplet falls by following our nose through some groovy dirt roads in the rainforest.

Our diversion saw us at the top of a big plateau above the ocean drained by the Aire River. This catchment has one of the highest rainfalls in Victoria and is quite similar in character to native bush say in the Rotorua area except that instead of podocarps it has massive eucalypts towering above the lower canopy. We followed this river back down to the GOR and watched the vegetation change to the dryer, wind battered coastal scrub. I am reading Tim Flannery's Future Eaters at the moments which discusses at some depth the Australian ecosystem, the challenges faced by it and its uniqueness. The amazing insights he has includes the way the bush here operates not on a seasonal cycle but on a random cycle dictated by the El Nino phenomenon, Australia demonstrates the evolution of an ecosystem in a cycle of drought and deluge, and how resource scarce environments can encourage high levels of biodiversity as species specialise in energy deficient niches. Interesting stuff anyway to think about as we go around this first part of our journey.

Back down at the GOR, PK went for a run from Castle Cove towards Johannas while I strolled around taking photos and stopping myself devouring the left over Subway and peanut butter sandwiches which we ate for lunch when she returned. Endorphins released and hunger satiated we set back off along the GOR towards the series of classic coastal erosion examples epitomised by the Twelve Apostles, the Loch Ard Gorge and the Bay of Martyr's. Somehow from the peace and quiet of early in the day the road quickly became a zoo as the tourist buses centred in on the percieved highlight of the GOR. There really is only so much coastal erosion one can handle, its kind of like crappy biscuits the returns diminish quickly, especially when sugar levels are low :-)

But yeah great day, and looking forward to tomorrow which should see us, mtbing around Warrnambool using the complimentary bikes from our backpackers, exploring the local environment and nearby beaches before striking inland to the mighty Grampian mountains where in the hamlet of Halls Gap we should meet with Zane, Lindyl, Charlie and Scarlett, awesome.

Take care, out there.

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