Monday, 27 February 2012

Torquay to Melbourne

This is the final entry on the blog for the road trip as the car has to be returned to the place where we started back in Melbourne. To make the most of the day we left Torquay early to take a quick detour to Bells Beach, which is a famous surfing beach where the final showdown in Point Break was filmed. Admittedly, I've never seen the film (although Lizzie is vowing to make me watch it soon...), but I was in awe of the sea as some really powerful waves crashed metres in front of us. We had to abandon the beach visit fairly quickly though as we were being bitten by blood sucking flies!

Bells Beach is the mecca of surfing, this was just one of many surfers!

A surfer getting ready to take on the ocean

Pressing on, the next stop en route to Melbourne was Geelong (or 'Geh-long' as it's pronounced) which was a 20 minute drive from Torquay. Although, we only had an hour to spare we were able to check out the revamped waterfront at Corio Bay and some of the unique buildings on Moorabool St.

The distinctive T&G Building in Geelong
The T&G Assurance Building in Warnambool

Although, no longer called the T&G building, this iconic Art Deco masterpiece is in the heart of Napier
The T&G Mutual Life Assurance Society was an insurance company that operated in Australia and New Zealand in a number of iconic Art Deco buildings. Although the company no longer exists the name still lives on in several cities including in Waarnambool, and Napier in New Zealand, which we visited on our original trip.

Down by the waterfront there are a number of brightly colour bollards (111 in total) which capture the character of Geelong's inhabitants, past and present. These range from the lifeguard team, to some fishermen and even the town band. The Baywalk Bollards were created by local artist, Jan Mitchell, who transformed old timber pier pylons into this colourful piece of public art. The most recent bollard is a tribute to Jan Mitchell herself as she died in 2008.

Lizzie as part of the lifesaving team

Volunteer Rifle Band represents Geelong’s first band
concerts in 1861

The Geelong Baths Swimming Club with yours truly

World War II couple
1940s Tram Conductress

Scallop fishermen and woman
Yacht Club lady

Mrs de Carteret
Fireman representing the Volunteer Fire Brigade

The final leg back to Melbourne was far less interesting (apart from trying to navigate our way round the city centre) but it concluded our 1254 km or 779 mile trip!

It was a sad day saying goodbye to the trusty Ford Focus

To cap off a fantastic week on the road, we quickly dropped into the State Victoria Library to check out the Ned Kelly exhibition, which included his death mask and the most complete version of his infamous armour from Ned's capture at Glenrowan. Normally these items are on display at Old Melbourne Gaol so I'd imagine you'd be quite gutted if you paid the entrance fee at the gaol to find out you they're free to view temporarily at the library!

What I was also impressed by at the library was the octagonal La Trobe Reading Room. This was the largest reinforced-concrete dome in the world when it was completed in 1913. Since 1959, copper sheets were installed over the skylights as sheets of glass had reportedly fallen onto the library users below. However, with the wonders of modern technology the dome has been restored to it's original state and the reading room can be flooded with natural daylight once again.

We're staying in a different (more central hostel) for our last two days in Melbourne and just around from the corner are the Carlton Gardens where the UNESCO World Heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building can be found. Built for the 1880 International Exhibition, the building is one of the world's oldest remaining exhibition pavilions.

The Royal Exhibition Building was designed by the architect Joseph Reed, who also designed the State Library of Victoria

After taking advantage of the $5 pizza offer at the Blue Moon Bar next to our hostel (it was actually a nicely made fresh pizza, nothing out of the microwave!), we went for an evening stroll on Yarra promenade down by the Southbank where we eventually finished up at Federation Square for a free Cornetto ice cream to round off the day.

View of the city skyline from the Southbank

The Travellers sculpture, Sandridge Bridge

Melbourne skyline with the Southbank Pedestrian Bridge

Clock tower of Flinders Street station under the bridge arch

Flinders Street station is the oldest station in Australia

Alas this draws to a close to our adventure around Victoria and Melbourne, and brings us onto the main part of our trip - New Zealand.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Apollo Bay to Torquay

Today is more a day to catch up on the things that we missed on the drive from East to West, however, for the first time on the trip the weather wasn't up to much as it looked quite moody and rained steadily for most of the afternoon. The original plan was that we would take a short drive out to Mariners Falls. However, the news from the tourist information was the main road to the falls would be closed until 5pm for repairs and this scotched any ideas of checking out the natural beauty of the region.

It's not Mariners Falls, but here's a shot of the main beach at Apollo Bay

After taking a quick look round the charming Apollo Bay (not that there was much to see apart from the main beach and a local parade of shops), we set out for lunch in Lorne. En route we made a brief stop to look at Carisbrook Falls. The rolling hills around the area fold dramatically to provide a stunning backdrop for the waterfalls. It was quite an easy walk to the lookout and its only a short 15 minute walk there and back.

Carisbrook Falls are one of the highest falls in the Otway Ranges

When we arrived in Lorne we managed to walk down to the Erskine River at the point where the river meets the beach, before it absolutely chucked it down with rain. Retreating to the nearby caf├ęs on Mountjoy Parade we got a bite to eat while the rain eased off.

I don't think that there's much danger of a fire today.

The next stop of the return journey was to revisit Kennet River to see if we would have better luck with the koala spotting. With a better understanding of where to look, we walked from the very bottom of Grey River Road, instead of starting 4km up the road (as recommended the trail guide). With our eyes focused high into the trees, sure enough before long we were spotting the grey furry marsupials, left, right and centre!

Sleeping koala hanging out in the gums!

We were even fortunate enough second-time round to be greeted by the presence of another echidna, and luckily this one was much closer and around for longer, as it was going about it's business only about 5 meters away from us! Upon reflection I'll have to reassess my impressions of the koala walk, especially after the echidna spotting, although I still feel the guide for the walk is misleading and needs to be rewritten so it's clearer where you should start the walk.

The echidna is one of the Earth’s oldest surviving species!

With the Great Ocean Road snaking spectacularly around the cliff-side from the Wye River onwards, we realised that we hadn't seen an important part of the local scenery - any surfers on the iconic breaks! Wye River is a small town neslted discretely in the steep hillsides with just a few holiday homes, but we were there to check out the glorious golden sand beach and the surfers catching the waves.

A little further along the road is the site of a historic shipwreck (one of many on the Great Ocean Road) where in 1891, the W. B. Godfrey was wrecked. At low tide wreckage from the ship, including the capstan winch, anchor and the iron frame (at very low tide) are clearly visible straight out to sea from the site of The Lonely Grave.

View from 'The Lonely Grave' near Godfrey Creek

Although there were no casualties from the actual wreck, several men died while trying to salvage the ship. A monument was built for the men 30 years later, when workers constructing the Great Ocean Road stumbled upon the graves.

As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, there was an interesting lighthouse at Aireys Inlet called Split Point Lighthouse. This would be the last place to stop off before Torquay, however this was a bit more interesting than the Cape Otway Lightstation (partly because it was free to look at) as it was the lighthouse from the Australian TV series "Round the Twist"! There were also a couple of decent lookouts to take pictures of Eagle Rock, Table Rock and the surrounding cliffs, and to get some moody shots of the coast as the rain swept in.

Split Point Lighthouse or the "White Queen" as it's known locally

Eagle Rock and the cliffs along the coast

Rain moving quickly inland and obscuring the horizon

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Port Campbell to Apollo Bay

Leaving our room at the militant Port Campbell Hostel was one of the most surreal experiences we've ever had when checking out of a hostel. After being taken back a little by all the rules we had to follow, I half joked that there was a notice saying that an alarm would sound 15 minutes before our check out time! Then at 9.50am a tannoy announcement came on (seriously what kind of hostel has a tannoy?) to "kindly" remind us that in order to receive our $10 key deposit we must leave the hostel within 10 minutes. Feeling quite cheesed off by this we left fairly swiftly -  it's not like we were paying customers, oh wait yes we were...

The plan for the day was to combine the Otway Fly with a trip to the Cape Otway Lightstation and if possible squeeze in a walk to Triplet Falls inbetween. Driving to the Otway Fly took just over an hour, and we paid to go around the steel treetop walk which enables visitors to walk 25 metres above the forest floor. The whole walk included a bush walking track that took us just over an hour and we climbed our way to the top of the spiral tower to give us a face to face view of the tallest parts of the forest canopy at 47 metres! 

View up the spiral tower
Looking down the walkway from the tower

There was also cantilever platform to walk out to, which has been designed to hold 28 tonnes or 14 elephants, however the "gentle" swaying action didn't feel very reassuring in the wind! The best joke of the day was on a signboard which said "When's a leaf not a leaf? When it's a phyllode!". It's not really a joke because it's not funny but more of an interesting fact as phyllodes are essentially leaf-like structures.

Phyllodes are no laughing matter!

The platypus we spotted at Young's Creek!

Having spent a decent part of the day at the Otway Fly we decided not to bother with the nearby Triplet Falls to give us as much time as possible to make the most of Cape Otway Lightstation as it was another hour's drive. Unfortunately this wasn't the wisest of decisions as the lighthouse was a serious disapppointment, especially as the admission cost is quite high (luckily we'd paid for a special combined ticket with the Otway Fly which made it cheaper). According to their leaflet it's billed as being the "highlight of the Great Ocean Road", however the grounds looked seriously run down with a number of the buildings closed off or feeling a bit neglected. The World War II Radar Bunker was closed off, as was the Head Lightkeeper's House and there was a token Aboriginal culture site, which a bit confusing and didn't tell you much about what was on display. Although, the state of Victoria seems more tolerant in acknowledging the indigenous cultures that existed before European settlement, sometimes it feels that the things which are highlighted are often just lip-service and don't give you much useful knowledge unlike when we visited Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne on King St. It seems a shame that more progress hasn't been made to integrate Aboriginal culture into mainstream society apart from where it offers some sort of commercial interest... 

A spectacular view across Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean

One couple wanting to catch a glimpse of the lighthouse had a wasted journey as they but didn't want to pay the entrance fee ($17 per person), but I didn't really blame them as I felt it didn't offer good value for money. We kinda wished we stuck with a walk round Triplet Falls and I wouldn't really recommended the lighthouse as a must see attraction, which is a real shame considering it's historical significance in Victoria. According to a leaflet I read it's the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia (built in 1848) and was involved in the first telegraph cable laid between Tasmania and mainland Australia in 1859.

Nice lighthouse, shame about the rest

The only redeeming part of the Great Otway Lightstation experience was the sheer number of koalas hanging out in the eucalyptus trees on the road down to the lighthouse! It was easily the best place to see them in the greatest numbers on the Great Ocean Road, a far better place than the Kennet River Koala Walk.

Who has Lizzie spotted...?

... not another koala!
The final leg of journey was down to Apollo Bay where we finished the day with some well earned fish and chips. Exploring Apollo Bay was for another day...

Monday, 20 February 2012

Port Campbell to Warnnambool (and back again)

With a population of approx. 400 people there is literally nothing in Port Campbell apart from a two petrol stations, a pub, a couple of restaurants and a food shop, so we decided to start the day off by revisiting a few sites along the most photographed stretch of the Great Ocean Road.

Starting off at the Gibson Steps, we walked down to Gibson Beach as this is the only place along the stretch of Port Campbell National Park where the beach is accessible to the public. From here we could see two of the Twelve Apostles at sea level and walk along the beach where the tide would allow us. Strong currents and undertows make this a dangerous area if you get stranded by high tides, so you have to be a bit careful about how far you walk. The Gibson Steps were originally cut into the cliffs by hand by local landowner Hugh Gibson in the 19th Century but have been replaced more recently with concrete steps.

Gibson Beach looking east

This photo doesn't give a sense of scale, but these rocks are huge!

Jumping back into the car we drove approx 0.1km down the road (according the road sign) back to the Twelve Apostles to reshoot a couple of the eroded cliffs while the sun was in a better position and then drove a little further onto Loch Ard Gorge.

The Twelve Apostles at their best

This is the site of a famous ship wreck, the Lord Ard, on what is considered a notoriously treacherous stretch of coast (as demonstrated by the number of shipwrecks - over 80 in a span of 40 years). There were only two survivors of the wreck, Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce (who resecued Eva). Maybe this could explain the Carmichael St connection from earlier? The gorge itself was impressive and it was easy to see how the Loch Ard ran into trouble off Muttonbird Island with strong waves crashing against the rocks, but the water within the bay looking so inviting and serene.

The archway by Muttonbird Island

The entrance into Loch Ard Gorge

The two rocks used to be an arch but are now know as "Tom" and "Eva"

Continuing west along the Great Ocean Road we passed some more limestone formations including the Grotto and London Bridge, named after its British counterpart for once being a double span arch. However, London Bridge had quite literally fallen down as one of the arches collapsed under its own weight on 15th January 1990 where the sea has continually eroded it. Apparently no one was hurt, but two people were left stranded on other arch and had to be rescued by helicopter. It is expected that the second arch will eventually do the same to form structures similar to the Twelve Apostles.

London Bridge

Looking down into the Grotto

The plan for the day was to drive over to Warnnambool and check out the Tower Hill Reserve. The drive took about an hour and we passed through the last town on the Great Ocean Road, Nullawarre - although it's so remote there's nothing to see there. Warnnambool is the first major town after the Great Ocean Road.

The Tower Hill Reserve is an extinct volcano 15km west of Warnnambool, which is believed to have erupted about 30,000 years ago. In the late 1950s Tower Hill underwent a re-vegetation project to restore the environment to the state it had been before European settlers moved into the area. Today it's one of a few places where you can spot wild emus, kangaroos and koalas all in the same place.

View into the reserve from Koroit lookout

View of the Tower Hill volcano

Arriving in the reserve, we settled down for lunch with some emus nearby in the picnic area but before long someone pointed out that there was a (unusually active) koala walking on ground to move to another tree. Whilst watching this rare behaviour an emu sneaked up on Lizzie and ate one of her sandwiches! There wasn't much she could do about it but she was quite upset as she was really enjoying her sarnies.

Before we started our walk round the Lava Tongue Boardwalk we saw our first huntsmen spider of Australia on one of the trees where I was taking pictures of koalas. I think we've been generally lucky not to see one up until this point, however, it did make me feel a little uncomfortable (being a bit of an arachnophobe) but I was glad to see it outside and not in a confined space.

The koala...

...and the Huntsmen Spider, apparently they get bigger than this!

Never turn your back on an emu, they're crafty pickpockets

To finish off the day we drove all the way back to the Twelve Apostles for a third time (via stop-offs at the Bay of Islands and The Arch), to get a shot of the limestone formations during the golden hour before and after sunset.

The Bay of Islands is a well kept secret

The Arch

The Twelve Apostles bathed in the light of a glorious sunset

High tide at Gibsons Beach