The above picture pretty much sums up what I did last weekend. As some of you may know, one of the most well known Australian landmarks and tourist attractions is located just a few hours outside of Melbourne. The landmark is the Great Ocean Road, a 243-kilometre (151 mile) road that runs along the southern coast of Australia between Torquay and Warnambool, and I had the immense pleasure of traveling it this past weekend.
My traveling buddies this time were 9 other international students; Matt, Olle, Elliot, Spencer, Cody, Beth, Rachael, Meagan, and Bronagh. Between us we represented four different states and three different countries. We had heard from our friends that the trip was absolutely beautiful and relatively easy/cheap to do so we all got together (at the last minute of course) and planned everything out. Since we were trying to book everything just days before and it was Labor Day weekend, we soon found out that we wouldn’t be getting many of our first choices as far as car rentals and campsites went. And of course, nothing ever goes the way it is planned to…
We were scheduled to leave at 10am on Friday morning. Two days before I had finalized our two car rentals through Thrifty and Cody, Elliot, Matt, and I went into the city center at 8:00 to pick them up. It was an early morning but we were all so excited about the trip that we hardly noticed it. Our first deviation from the plan occurred about 30 minutes later when we got to the Thrifty office and discovered that we had only one eligible driver… for two cars. See, I had forgotten that my driver’s license expired when I turned 21 a few weeks back and no one else was 21 or over. So technically, we had NO drivers for the cars but somehow Elliot got away with being a registered driver even though he was 20. So while Elliot, Cody, and Matt left in the first car to start packing I sat in the Thrifty office and waited for Olle to come and drive the second car back to Swinburne. Thankfully I had been given some free breakfast at the train station so the wait wasn’t too bad. Once Olle got there it was a matter of minutes before we were pulling out of the parki- “HOLY SHIT OLLE YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! …… Oh, nevermind. You want to turn left at the next light.” It was SO weird getting into the passenger seat of the car on the left side and I could never quite shake the feeling that we were going to run into whatever curb, rail, mailbox, or post we passed by.
We got off a little later than we thought we would as it took longer for people to gather themselves from their respective classes, naps, and showers than we expected. Pretty much everyone (including me) overpacked for the trip but we managed to get everything into the two cars with room to spare. I ended up in a car with Cody, Olle, Beth, and Bronaugh while the other five crammed into the second car. With our TomToms on and way too much excitement for our own good we set off towards Torquay and the official start of the Great Ocean Road.
It took us a little under an hour and a half until we arrived at Torquay and we stopped in the exact same parking lot as our bus had on the surf trip. We split up to find lunch having no idea that this would be the last time in hours that we would see each other. Subway and McDonald’s in tow, we climbed back into the cars and set off. By the time Cody had pulled out of the parking spot Matt had already disappeared so we just assumed that we would catch up to them at our next destination. Too bad we didn’t have a destination to meet them at. Apparently we drove right past them while they were taking a picture with a sign but no one in our car saw them and just kept cruising past. About an hour later we decided to pull over onto Point Roadknight beach where we walked around and ate lunch. The weather had cleared up wonderfully so we did a bit of exploring along the beach. If anyone is curious as to what a headless seal looks like, the one we saw lying in the rocks might still be there if its something you’re really interested in. The picture of Roadknight beach is below…
After lunch we continued West until we came across signs directed us to the Split Point Lighthouse. An awkward gravel drive and angle parking job later and we were off wandering around the lighthouse grounds. It was very disappointing to discover they wanted $16 just for the opportunity of walking up into the lighthouse but the trails that wound their way around the Point were so beautiful. This was the first spot where we really got a great view all the way along the Road, which was running near parallel to the beach at this point. For almost as far as you could see the beach stretched out to the West of us. It had been a few hours since we last saw the other group and we had presumed them to be way in front of us until they called and said they were actually BEHIND us and would be coming to the lighthouse shortly. While we waited, Olle and I got some smoothies and got our tan on. Suns out guns out, baby. Once the other car had arrived and explored the lighthouse for a bit we all set off together back down the Road. We weren’t in the car very long before we decided to pull over hoping that the Sheok Falls would prove to be beautiful and swim worthy. We were wrong. After we parked the cars and changed into our swimsuits we set off into the park in search of cool, clear pools at the bottom of cascading waterfalls. What we got was water you couldn’t see two inches deep in and slime wherever the water collected before tumbling over more rocks. So much for that swim. The clarity of the water did very little to take away from the beauty of the falls though and I joined in on some manly waterfall climbing before accepting defeat due to slippery rocks and the fact I would be going for a swim in said narsty water if anything went wrong. But I could have gotten higher if I tried… (had to say it, to protect my manliness and all). Once our rock climbing was over we went in search of the cave we had seen on the map at the beginning of the trail. There was a view point along the trail that made the cave seem much further away than it actually was and so, dismayed, some of us turned back to get to the cars while the rest trudged on in search of adventure. From what they told me, my understanding was that the only adventure they had was trying not to eat shit on the slime covered rocks. Doesn’t sound like I missed too much. By this point it was late afternoon and we still had an hour or so drive until we reached Apollo Bay where we would be spending the night. Since we were trying to get a spot at a free campsite we decided it was best to get to the camp early and explore later. When we got to Apollo Bay we quickly discovered that our definition of early was not nearly early enough and that the site was completely booked up. Desperate to find a campsite I walked over to the Information Center (5 minutes after it had closed) where I went down a list of campsites all of which were completely booked except for one and it just so happened to be at the bottom of the list. Walking back I had a strong sense of deja vu from when I had booked the car rentals and wondered just how poorly we had planned this trip. Matt and I drove to the camp to book our two sites and when we got back to town we went into the grocery store to find food for dinner. Armed with sausages, burgers, chips, and alcohol we returned to our sites where we set up the tents before taking over the covered barbeque area in the middle of the camp. Preparation of dinner was fairly uneventful aside from the grease fire I started and everyone had purchase way too much food so we were all stuffed by the time the drinking games started. The weather had taken a turn and become very cloudy with intermittent rain so we all huddled in the middle of the shelter and started banging away at the table, drinks in hand, to various tunes and chants. Since we were obviously the life of the party our group was soon joined by a heavily intoxicated kid from England (I think) who even sober probably wouldn’t have been able to grasp the extremely simple games we were playing. His incompetence and drunkenness made him extremely entertaining though so we continued to make him pay, drink by drink, for attempting to play our game. This may or may not have been the cause for the next sequence of events. After realizing he was hopeless, our English friend returned to his group of travelers where certain words must have been said that resulted in his friend stripping completely naked and then a fight breaking out between the two of them. Nothing ever physical happened but had either of them been worth the time to listen to I could tell you their complete life story. There altercation caused such a raucous that the live-in warden of the camp had to come to the shelter after he received several complaints from the families close by. The countdown to when the cops would be called got all the way past 1 before the two called it quits. Not wanting to see the countdown get down to zero we packed our gear up and returned to our sites. At this point, Matt was beyond himself and would become quite humorous as people got ready for bed. Determined to sleep outside, he drunkenly turned down sleeping in both a car and a tent. The situation only proved to be more funny when it began to rain right when he laid down outside. Several minutes passed before we finally convinced him to sleep in the entry to my tent and we all called it a night.
Saturday was a good day. The storm had left the morning overcast for when we broke camp and headed into town for a market Elliot had seen ads for. It was small and we got there a bit too early so it wasn’t long before we were back on the road. We did have the forethought to book our campsite in advance to avoid what we went through the night before but this would actually turn out to be a bad idea (of course) but I will explain that later. We set off immediately to a location known as Cape Otway, which is the site of a historical lighthouse along a point where the Road cuts inland. It was about 20 minutes out of our way but we were rewarded with koala sightings out the wazoo. One minute we were driving through pastures and the next there are about ten furry gray basketballs sitting in the trees above us. Welcome to Australia. Our wild koala fix satisfied, we continued on to the lighthouse where we were once again disappointed to find that there was a charge to gain access. This time it wasn’t just for the lighthouse though it was for the entire grounds so we took the Great Ocean Walk path for a few minutes to the lighthouse cemetery and back before leaving. Bit anticlimactic but what can ya do? Before we left we decided that we would look for lunch at two towns, Glenaire and Laver’s Hill, along the Road before going to Shipwreck Beach. Little did we know that Glenaire would turn out to be no more than a shoddy restaurant and pasture and that Laver’s Hill would up Glenaire by throwing in a gas station. If you blinked you would never have known you had gone through a ‘town’ in the first place. The cars got split up during this stretch of the Road and it wasn’t until we were both practically stranded that we would meet up again. In order to get to Shipwreck Beach, we turned off of the Road onto a dirt drive that led us up into the forest. As we went down this drive the forest gave way to smaller vegetation as we got closer to the coast. The drive also became very rough and split at several different points, some very well marked and others not marked at all. By complete chance both of the cars made the exact same turns at these splits. As we rounded a corner we were greeted by the second car parked in the middle of the drive with everyone standing outside and around the vehicle. Very confused, we pulled up and saw what the rest of our group was staring at. Just ahead of the cars was a 15 meter stretch that was nearly impassable. Pot holes almost a foot deep and ditches up to your knee had been formed in the dirt and proved to be a jigsaw of a puzzle to get the cars across. We did it though and were happily on our way until *forehead smack* we came across another section of road. This time there was fresh mud added to the equation and try as we might there was nothing we could do to get the cars over. Besides, we had already spent almost an hour trying to get to Shipwreck Beach and it was quickly becoming a disillusioned venture. Although we were done with Shipwreck Beach, Shipwreck Beach was not done with us. Somewhere between turning off of the Road and turning around to make our way back the other car managed to lock their front left brake (or at least we think thats what it was) and this caused one of the most annoying sounds I have ever heard. If nails on a chalkboard and William Hung had a baby, locked brakes would be their demon spawn. From inside our car with the windows up, A/C on, and music playing we could clearly hear the brake as the second car did its best to find and solve the problem. This went on for a good half hour before we decided to just get back to the start of the drive as quickly as possible where there was more space to investigate the issue. Shortly after, Matt decided to take matters into his own hands and apparently accelerated the car fast enough that it dislodged the brake. Don’t ask me how, but it worked. Despite the sound being gone, we still jacked the car up to make sure no damage had been done. When we were confident that the car was drivable we set back out onto the Road. Since we were pretty far behind where we thought we would be at this point we just decided to get to the main attraction of the Road as quickly as we could. It was such a cool feeling to watch the signs for the Twelve Apostles as we approached and that first glimpse we got from the Road was so exciting. We drove to the main building first where we walked under the Road and out onto the viewing platform. The weather had improved astronomically and so when we looked out onto the Apostles it was like a postcard. In the afternoon sun the formations were absolutely breathtaking. Despite all the awkward Asian tourists throwing up peace signs everywhere it was still a stunning experience.
After we looked at the western Apostles we backtracked to the stairs that would take us down to the beach in front of the two eastern-most Apostles. This was by far the best part of the trip. The sand was fantastic, the sun was bright, and there was nothing but beautiful beach and ocean as far as you could see. It was humbling to be on the beach, which
was a narrow sliver situated between the sheer rock cliffs and tumultuous ocean. The waves were so much fun though! I never quite got used to how cold the water was because the current was so incredibly strong. When the water was receding back into the ocean it was almost impossible to walk out of the water. Kinda freaky, but really cool at the same time. We all took a long, romantic walk down the beach holding pinkys and staring longingly into eachother’s eyes. Haha, no we didn’t. We did walk along the beach though and came quite close to the two Apostles and of course we all managed to take as many touristy photos as humanly possible.
To all you CREW and CISV members out there, you would be so happy to know that multiple games of ninja were played on the beach before we returned to the cars. Because you always have time for ninja.The Apostles were only a short drive away from Port Cambell, where we would be staying the night, so we hopped back into the cars and headed West. When we got to Port Cambell we did a quick scan of the grocery store before going to the camp where we had reserved two sits. This is when we realized that shopping around may have been a better option. We thought that the sites would be $100 together but were $100 a piece and when we got them they weren’t even next to each other. Sigh. But it was a place to sleep so we set the tents up and made our way back into town to find dinner. Some of us sprang for fish and chips while others of us decided to give the barbeque another go. This barbeque was not nearly as successful as the night before though. There was no seating around it this time and the damn thing shut off every 10 minutes or so and it had to wait 10-12 minutes before it would turn back on. I’m all about Smokey the Bear but damn that was annoying. Of course it took us 15 minutes to realize we had to wait 10 minutes before we turned it back on so what should have been a 20 minute dinner ended up being an hour long process complete with marshmellows, Cody showing us a ‘special’ way to do the Cupid Shuffle, and of course, beer. YAY BEER! With nowhere to go and the night getting cool, the group migrated into my tent where we commenced a game of never-have-I-ever. I would tell you about it, but what happens in the tent stays in the tent. People were pretty tired though so we dropped pretty quickly.
Sunday morning was a cool one. I woke up and immediately went to take the hottest shower I could before taking down the tent and packing everything into the car. Our destination was Warnambool, which is where the Great Ocean Road ends. We had no idea what was between us and the city when we set out and were quickly separated. We stopped together at the Bay of Islands but ended up losing each other when we backtracked to go see London Bridge and Murname Bay. By that time we were practically in Warnambool and we pulled over at Logan’s Beach where there is whale watching in the winter. Even though there were no whales the beach was really cool to see with almost completely white sand. We managed to ahold of the other car while we were there and they told us they were a little ways behind us at a place called Cheese World so, in an effort to get the group back together, we hopped back in the car to see what there was to see at Cheese World. When we got there and called them to see where they were we were a bit miffed to discover that all we had done was switch places and that the other car was now at Logan’s Beach. Tired of driving and hungry, we just decided to stay at Cheese World where we grabbed some food, looked at lots of cheese, and did a cheese tasting before going into Warnambool. We got there before the other car and waited at the Information Center for about 40 minutes before they arrived from the beach. Since our timing was basically completely off, we decided that our car would go to the beach while the other car went and got gas/food. We found our way to the Flagstaff Hill Surf Beach where we ran around for an hour or so. Cody and I attempted to body surf but had very little luck and we all helped to bury Olle and give him some nice sand boobs and seaweed pubes.
Classy, I know. After we washed the sand off we met up with the second car at Macker’s (McDonald’s in Australian) where we met our drunken English buddy from two nights ago. Of all the places along the Great Ocean Road, we ended up in the exact same restaurant as the intoxicated English ginger and his naked friend. Small, small world. After a good laugh and fifty cent (G-G-G-UNIT!) ice cream cones we climbed back into the cars for the second to last time to head back to Melbourne. See the one thing about our plan that managed to stay relatively intact was our idea to take our time going West along the Road and then to do the drive back to Melbourne in one long haul. We decided that it would be better to take the expressway back so we waved goodbye to the Great Ocean Road and took A1 back West. A bit of confusion took place about an hour in when our TomTom told us to go one way but the second car went another. We made a pit stop at a gas station to switch drivers, eat some snacks, and relieve ourselves before clambering into the car one.final.time. I was the driver for this final leg and when we lost the second car (ironically because they chose to follow the GPS this time) the race was on. Yes, Mom, I drove safely and under the speed limit the entire time. We managed to meet up with them as we were going into Melbourne but were once again split when we took a tunnel to the Eastern suburbs and they exited into the city. We arrived a few minutes before they did and then we all unpacked the cars, found our belongings that had been strewn about backseats and trunks all weekend, and headed back to our apartments. Elliot and I parked the cars in the grocery store lot right by our building and agreed on 9am to take the cars back into the city.
Monday morning was uneventful, thank God. We had no trouble finding a gas station to top the cars off and the drop off at Thrifty was quick and painless.
Well, that is the Great Ocean Road for ya. I apologize if it seems like there is a lot of bitching in this post because that in no way suggests the feeling I have about the trip. There were some frustrating parts, yes, but you can’t always plan for anything and life wouldn’t be exciting if it didn’t throw you a curveball or two every now and again. The trip was a really great experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I think I got pretty good at driving on the other side of the road, too! The group was made out of some really great people and I know that we all will find some other road trip to go on together before we leave Australia. But next time, we will plan more than three days ahead of time 😛
Sorry for the delay in posts as of late. I got caught up in Lost, travel plans, and attempting to be productive so I don’t have to write papers at the last second. More to come very soon! Love and miss you all very much!