The Great Ocean Road
“I’m freezing” I hissed at my sister, trying to avoid being overheard by the throngs of camera-wielding tourists nearby.
“So am I,” she whispered back, and wrapped the towel that had become a makeshift shawl tighter around her shoulders.
Our first experience with the state of Victoria had been a wild one, with hail, thunder, lightning, and buckets of rain as our greeting party. After a wet and chilly 24 hours in Melbourne, we were now nearing the end of Day 1 of our Great Ocean Road trip, gazing out at the famous Twelve Apostles standing like sentinels against a churning grey sea.
We had been optimistic when we packed – it was the middle of summer in Australia after all. Sydney had given us warm humidity and sunny skies, why would Victoria be any different? Because she’s moody, that’s why. They say that in Melbourne you can experience all four seasons in a day. Well, we only got one, and that was winter. And the tank tops and shorts in our backpacks meant that we had nothing to ward off the chill or the drizzle.
We had been enthusiastic when we’d started off, eagerly pulling off the road at every brown sign that mentioned some point of interest: a quick view of Point Roadknight Beach, a nearby lighthouse, a few roadside turnoffs to snap some photos. We stopped for lunch at a bustling Apollo Bay after inching through Lorne, which was jam-packed thanks to a big ocean swim and festival that was taking place. It was after Apollo Bay that the air decided to cool about 10 degrees and the drizzle picked up. After that, we weighed up those brown signs very seriously, debating whether or not it would be worth getting out of our cozy car.
I pulled on my leggings, the only pair of long pants I had with me, and gave Beth a long-sleeved denim shirt that was supposed to be a cute bikini cover, but had quickly become a necessity. We turned off at Great Otway National Park, a place known for it’s wild koalas, and were treated to an up-close and personal mama and baby koala show after about 7 minutes of driving through the thick gum trees. I immediately forgot about the temperature as myself and a dozen other delighted tourists snapped photos and shot video. As we continued on, koalas seemed to be on every limb, a grey-brown lump at the end of the branches. Some were sleeping, some were eating, all were thoroughly unconcerned about the cars pulled off the road and the humans snapping photos of them from below.
As we got closer to the coast in Great Otway, we came across a forest of trees that looked like something out of a Harry Potter movie. Every single branch had been stripped bare, and ghostly pale trunks and branches reached for the sky like damned souls desperate to escape Hades. With the mist and the clouds, it looked like the perfect spot to shoot a horror movie.
About 40 minutes later, we were shivering at the end of the walkway to see the Twelve Apostles. As if the weather knew were nearing the end of the first day’s journey, it had whipped up into a froth of (what felt like) subzero winds that invaded our poor excuses for chilly weather wear. We took our obligatory photos and hurried back to the car, feeling like bad tourists that we hadn’t stayed to soak in the beauty for an appropriately long time, though that would have been difficult with the amount of jostling and shouting that was happening at the crowded viewpoint.
We did an overnight in a co-ed dorm in Port Campbell, which smelled like serious man-breath by morning thanks to the lack of a fan and the amount of men in the room. However, we were heartened by a forecast that included sunshine. After heading 10 minutes south to see the London Bridge, which is a sandstone formation in the sea that looks like (you guessed it), a bridge, we decided it was time to head back to north to catch our evening flight.
As we went north, the clouds slowly dissipated and the mercury started to climb from frigid to bearable. When the sun came out the sea exploded from moody grey into a kaleidoscope of greens and blues, and we started to really understand what all the fuss was about with this drive. We made a few stop offs to catch the things we had missed on the way down, like a hike to an underwhelming waterfall and another so-so lunch at Apollo Bay, but the highlight was a visit to a small animal reserve where we were able to get up close and personal with kangaroos, wallabies, deer, dingoes, and many other animals. The dingoes surprised me both with their friendliness and their overwhelming desire to crawl to the highest point in your body – we were covered in muddy paw prints by the end of our visit with them, but we didn’t mind in the slightest.
After all was said and done, we decided that the stormy weather hadn’t been the worst thing in the world – it was nice to see the rich red sandstone contrasted against a tempestuous sea instead of a serene green one that is always featured in the tourist brochures. But we did learn a valuable lesson for our future travels – never leave home without a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt!
Til next time, xoxoxo