Our First Time Away in Six Months

The virus restrictions in Victoria have been further lifted to allow us to move about freely within the state. Masks are now only required indoors and pubs and restaurants are allowed to seat many more customers. It has been 24 days since our last community transmission of the virus and right now, the state is virus free – no new cases and no active cases anywhere. In just four days, we will have passed double the length of time for the virus to incubate and we can then say that the virus has died out in Victoria.

Our original bookings for a road trip along the Great Ocean Road were cancelled at the start of our second lockdown, five months ago but we have recovered them to go away now that we are free to travel again. We are into our fifth day away from home and feel very relaxed about being able to be somewhere else other than around home. We have stayed three days in the little seaside town of Apollo Bay and two days a little further around the coast at Warrnambool.

I think of the Great Ocean Road as having three parts. The section closest to Melbourne is one of a winding road around a rugged coats,. The middle section travels through the Otway Mountain Range with its lush temperate rain forest. The third, most western section along the flat coastal plain is where you can see rugged sea stacks, gorges and high vertical cliffs.

On our first day away from home, we drove along the eastern section of the Great Ocean Road where the road clings to the hillside, crosses over ridges  and follows along cliff tops. It is one of the great ocean drives in the world; built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 as a way of providing jobs during he Great Depression. It was later dedicated to soldiers killed during World War I. The road is therefore the world’s largest war memorial. Most of the way from Lorne to Apollo Bay provides stunning seascapes with views of isolated beaches and rocky outcrops.

Apollo Bay is one of our favourite holiday places. It is a vibrant town with a unique combination of forest and beach environments. Our visit coincided with just the second weekend on which Melbournians, such as us, could visit the town and the welcome mat was well and truly out. These little towns have been starved of tourist’s contributions to their economies over the entire period of our lockdown. Large number of fellow weekend visitors, this weekend, have somewhat made up for this with the town so busy that it was difficult to find a carpark in the Main Street.

Inhabited by aborigines for hundreds of years, this area was frequented by sealers and whalers in the mid 1800s. The bay was named by a Captain Loutit in 1845 when he sheltered his vessel, the Apollo from a storm. The first European settlers were timber cutters who established sawmills in the 1850s. The township was surveyed in 1853. In the 1860s, farming land was made available and a post office opened in 1873. A school was opened in 1880. 

We’ve had three days in Apollo Bay. We spent our first day driving through the temperate rainforests of the Otway Ranges behind the town. This area has the highest annual rainfall of anywhere in Victoria. We drove along Turton’s track, a narrow mountain road edged  with succulent tree ferns and tall Mountain Ash trees that competed with each other for light. On one blind corner we passed, of all things, a Highway Patrol car. I have no idea why the police would be patrolling such a remote road but we managed to miss him and he managed to miss us.

Deep in the forest is a stand of Californian Redwoods. This plantation was planted as an experiment by the Victorian Forest Commission in an attempt to identify the most productive types of timber for this region. The trees were planted on the banks of the Ayre River (a mere trickle of a stream) in 1936. They were initially slow to establish but have thrived and grown to a height of over 60 metres. Measurements in 2004 show the trees have the potential to reach as tall as their Californian counterparts if they are left undisturbed from bushfire, pests and disease, or trampling by tourism. The site has become a popular tourist destination in the Great Otway National Park and has also been classified as a site of Biological and Cultural Significance.

We next made a stop in the old timber town of Beech Forest for a coffee. It was once the terminus of two narrow gauge railway lines that operated to transport timber and produce (mainly potatoes) from this area. The Beech Forest to Crowes line operated from 1902 to 1962. In the early 1900’s this was truly a ‘frontier town’ as this photo from the local historical association shows.

Between Beech Forest and the town of Lavers Hill, back on the Great Ocean Road, we drove past some of the locations where the train would have stopped for loading timber or picking up goods. Stations like Ferguson, Buchanan and Weeaproinah are now just locations with the old station signs by the road. I feel quite melancholic as I pass through these areas as that history has all but disappeared, yet it was so important in opening up the economy of this state. If I could turn back time and be a fly on the wall at any time in our history, the early 1900’s would be the time at which I would love to be an observer.

Near the town of Lavers Hill (in the middle of the forested third of the Great Ocean Road) is a beautiful fern gully named Melba Gully.  A short boardwalk follows a stream and takes you through the beautiful rain forest.

On our last day in Port Fairy, we drove up a winding road to an area where a track to Sailors Falls begins.  I knew that this track had been closed for some time and hoped that it may have reopened but no such luck – the track has been permanently closed due to the danger of falling trees. We drove back to a beautiful little picnic spot called Paradise where the Barham River flows through a very scenic valley.

We spent the rest of the day exploring this middle section of the Great Ocean Road. We drove down the road to the Cape Otway Lighthouse but there were too many people around for us to be comfortable. We backtracked to a little beach at Blanket Bay and found a nice picnic area there for lunch. This was where I once started a three day walk along the Great Ocean Track that goes all the way around the coast to Pot Campbell.

Further along the road is Johanna Beach. It is not very photogenic – just a long sandy beach on the Southern Ocean.

My first walk along the Great Ocean Walk started here when I walked with my friend Bob. We started just before the track was officially opened and there was no infrastructure to prove water along the way. Fortunately, we had checked this out with the National Parks Service, so we dropped off a ten-litre container of water at each of the spots where we planned to camp overnight. Our second problem was that we were actually walking the wrong way. The track was designed to walk from East to West, but we were traveling back to front. As a result, all the directional  signs were telling us about where we had come from and not where we were going. 

Our biggest obstacle was to find a way to cross the Ayre River at its mouth. An aboriginal group had burned down the wooden bridge in a land rights protest and we had to somehow cross the 80 metre wide river. We decided to carry a blow-up boat so that if the worst came to worst, we could swim across the river and tow our packs in the boat behind us. Fortunately, the National Parks Service had just rebuilt one narrow beam across the river, so we crawled across it, towing our packs in the boat behind us.  Those were the days!

Our drive to our second destination, Warrnambool took us through the entire forested section of the Great Ocean Road. For over 70 km, there was hardly one straight section of road. On reaching  the western section of the trip, we came across some of the iconic sights that this road presented.

We stopped in Port Campbell for our lunch of salad rolls which we ate at one of the picnic tables on the foreshore. We were immediately surrounded by about seventy seagulls who clearly missed people during the lock down and wanted a feed of our left-overs. Fortunately, a family came to a nearby table with their lunch of fish and chips. That was obviously the seagulls preferred diet so they immediately left us alone and invaded that poor family with aggressive food seeking behaviour. 

As the countryside flattened out, we came across some of the stand-out sights of the Great Ocean Road:

The Twelve Apostles – once there were really twelve of these limestone sea stacks along this section of the coast but a few have eroded away and now there ere only eight of them left.

Loch Ard Gorge – back in 1878, a large clipper ship engraved with the name Loch Ard beached on nearby Muttonbird Island after a tumultuous journey from England. Before they even realised it, the ship was in shallow waters, colliding with a rock reef and running aground. Unfortunately, only two of the fifty-four passengers survived, one of whom was a nineteen-year-old sailor apprentice named Tom Pearce, and the other a nineteen-year-old Irish girl called Eva Carmichael, who was travelling with her family. Tom was the first to wash ashore at the sandy beach in this gorge. He bravely headed out into the waters and rescued Eva, with the two calling for help from the locals. The two soon became famous around Victoria, with Tom being welcomed as a hero. After about three months, Eva decided to return back to Europe where she went one to marry an aristocrat. Tom remained a sailor and returned to England where he died at the age of 49,

London Bridge – London Arch (formerly London Bridge) is an offshore natural arch which was formed by a gradual process of erosion, and until 1990 formed a complete double-span natural bridge. The span closer to the shoreline collapsed unexpectedly on 15 January 1990, leaving two tourists stranded on the outer span. They had two be rescued by police helicopter. Prior to the collapse, the arch was known as London Bridge because of its similarity to its namesake.

That night, when we reached Warrnambool,bool,  we had a wonderful time catching up with my old friend Peter Fry over dinner. We both served in Vietnam and we have been good mates ever since.

Today, we drove around to the nearby fishing village of Port Fairy. Many of the town’s beautiful early buildings remain from its days when it was a port for sealers and whalers back in the 1800s. A lot of these buildings can be seen in the town’s commercial centre..

The only exception to these beautiful buildings is the local police station which was clearly designed by an architect in the government’s department of public works.

Port Fairy is home to Victoria’s oldest licensed hotel, the Caledonian Inn, which dates back to 1844.

The main focal point of Port Fairy is the Moyne River as it approaches the coast. The Fishermans Wharf area along the river is lined with boats and fishing craft, and good views of river activity can be enjoyed from the footbridge over the Moyne. Another good viewing spot is from the historic fortifications at Battery Hill which is located at the southern end of Griffiths Street. Views can be enjoyed over the Moyne River and to the ocean.

Tomorrow, we return home. Just which route we will choose depends our mood in the morning.

Bruce

Bruce is a keen traveller and photographer. This web site describes his travel and family interests

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