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Day 9

After a quick breakfast we packed the car and left Melbourne for the south west Victorian coast. This involved crossing the river Yarra which we did on the Westgate Bridge. The bridge is a 2.5km suspension bridge which climbs high above the river allowing large ships to pass up the Yarra below it.

The bridge took us out to Geelong, where we joined the coast and stopped at a city beach for a quick break and swapped drivers. From here we drove down to to Point Lonsdale at the port Philip Heads where we had a picnic cup of tea and watched the Spirit of Tasmania leave the bay and a large container ship arrive.

After two cups of tea and Susie’s delicious fruit cake we Left and travelled to the Great Ocean Road over a bridge at the Barwon Heads which reminded me of Studland on a sunny summer day and down through Torquay – where the great ocean road is claimed to start. Torquay is fairly uneventful and mainly filled with surf shops so we drove straight through to Anglesey where we stopped at the general store and picked up lunch. I had a delicious ham and cheese toastie. We sat on the banks of a lagoon and ate our lunch in beautiful sunshine.

After lunch the great ocean road turned into a much more picturesque route with the cliffs getting taller and taller the further that we went, the vegetation becoming greener. After about an hour of stunning views we stopped at Lorne and had tea at the Beach Bath cafe sat out on the beach still with the sun shining. This beach was very busy and felt a little like Poole beaches in summer.

Our final stretch of the day was down to the Kennet River. It involved more dramatic scenery and the road hugging more cliffs, the road cut into the cliff face sometimes very high up. The road wound around the cliffs and then usually carried on up the valleys making the road full of twists and turns and I can quite understand the reputation that it causes travel sickness.

On arrival at the camp site we were told there were loads of Koalas. Sure enough there was a grey lump, balled up and sleeping in the very top of a tree just outside the reception centre. We had a cabin over looking the road and immediately over the other side was the beach. After unpacking the car into our lodge we went in search of more koalas. Unsurprisingly, within a few meters we saw a crowd of campers around a tree. What was incredible was that the koala they were looking at was just at head height and not phased by the small, quiet crowd gathering, even campsite staff were joining. After that incredibly rare occurrence we continued walking around the camp site and then up the Grey River Road which climbed up behind the site. We saw many more Koalas high up in the trees as well as a large variety of bird life including Yellow Robins, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Blue Wrens and rare black Cockatoos. The Koala count reached 15 by the time we returned to the cabin!

For supper I used the camp’s public BBQ to cook sausages which we ate with broccolini, carrots and new potatoes overlooking the beach from our cottage.

After supper Amy and I went for a walk along the beach. It was a beach with golden sand and some bedrock poking out of the beach just at the waterline forming rockpools. With the tide out we were able to find several anemones in little pools of water. Mainly they had eaten and so looked like little red jellies stuck to the side of the rock but some still had their tentacles open looking like minute little kraken. We managed to find a very large green and white anemone which when fully unfurled was around 10cm in diameter. It had several concentric bands of green and white surrounding what looked like quite a scary mouth with slightly yellowing teeth!

Once it fell dark all four of us drove much further up the grey river road (really a dirt track into the forest) than we had walked up earlier to a picnic area. On our way up we spotted a tall looking light grey marsupial who stood up level with our eye-line (us sat in the car) so it must have been a good meter high. Nobody was quite sure whether it was a wallaby or a kangaroo.

We parked at the picnic area 5km above our camp site and walked back along the road, over a small bridge and could see what looked like a large set of led Christmas lights filling the bank. However, they were filled with hundreds of Glow-worms. They were just behind tree ferns so as you walked along they looked like bright little stars twinkling on the deep black background. With no moon, very little light pollution and extensive tree cover above the whole area it was pitch black. With the glow-worms twinkling made it feel as if you were standing in the centre of the universe just looking out at the many stars around.

On the way down I spotted a wallaby sat in long grass by the side of the road. much smaller than the one we saw on the way up. It was very chilled out and didn’t seem to mind us hanging around as it just kept on munching on the grass around it.

Day 10

The next morning we went to see our friendly koala which had sat so low in the tree only to find he had left and moved to another tree overnight. After breakfast and some gentle cleaning up we checked out and left to continue our journey along the great ocean road.

Our first port of call was Cape Patton where we were treated to a view from a turn off on the road which at that point was cut into the cliffs and looked out along the coast to Apollo Bay. The road up until this point was maintcut into the cliffs and wound into and around valleys that cut inland occasionally. In one of these valleys we stopped and walked a short way to a lookout point from which you could see the Carisbrook Falls. The largest waterfall in the Otway Ranges.

When we arrived into Apollo Bay we had a a tea stop in cafe 153 on the sea front. I also had a very sweet millionaires shortbread. Walking out around the bay and into the harbour wall we were able to look down and saw two large rays, as the bay had very clear blue water their dark outlines were very clear against the white sandy sea floor.

After leaving Apollo Bay we had quite a drive and left the coast and headed inland past Cape Otway and on to Maits Rest (Ngatanwarr in the Aboriginal language) This was an ancient temperate rainforest which was only a small part of what used to be – millions of years ago – a forest covering much of Australia. Some of the trees were enormous and one fallen tree was significantly wider than I am tall. There were a number of mountain ash (tree fact for the day – mountain ash are the tallest flowering plants in the world).

There were a large number of trees with holes underneath looking like they had been caught midstep clambering through the forest. Sometimes there were only two or three thin looking roots holding up these vast trees. The cause of this became apparent when you saw trees growing on top of a rotting fallen stump, sending its roots down the sides of the old tree which then completely decomposed leaving a void under the new tree in the space once occupied by the old fallen one. Tree ferns often grew out of fallen trees too.

We had lunch about half an hour after in Lavers Hill (not a town really but a junction where three or four cafes had sprung up to service passing tourists) these passing tourists stopped in a cafe which had recently changed hands and had been an excellent stop for Susie in the past. The new owners were very laid back. So much so that when we asked what soup of the day was they didn’t know and then said it will take some time. I asked for a tuna mayo sandwich without salad. 20 minutes later it arrived, filled full with salad. (At this point mum, you should be very impressed as I ate it all!!!) Despite being fairly unpromising with the new owners we all found our food quite pleasant – even with salad!

At Lavers Hill we turned left and the road returned to the coastline to start the final section past the Twelve Apostles. Our first sighting was at Castle Cove where a new species of dinosaur was discovered a few years ago (a chicken like creature named Leaellynasaura.) From this point only one of the limestone stacks was visible but its sandy colour and banding was already impressive especially as it towered very high above the sea.

The next stop was the official Twelve apostles visitors centre. This was filled with hundreds of visitors some taking helicopters from the helipad from which around 4 helicopters took off every ten minutes. These frequent fliers shattered the peace and quiet of the area and rather than feeling remote it felt like a city centre.

Even so, after walking down to the lookout point the views rivalled anything I’ve seen so far on this trip. The path crossed over to the top of what will become the next stack; this gave views out to both sides of the stack. Looking out at 6 or 7 of the stacks as they stuck out from the coast was an amazing site and nearly made you forget about the thousand other tourists around you; until one pushed you aside or bumped into you and made you fear for the camera you were holding!

Our next port of call was at Loch Ard Gorge, the site of one of the most famous ship wrecks along the Australian coastline. The boat the Loch Ard hit rocks whilst in poor weather sinking with almost all those on board. Only two of the passengers survived. They found themselves in the depths of a gorge which one of them climbed out of and had to walk to find civilization – neither feat would have been easy in that area of the world. Against all odds, they survived.

The Gorge was our final stopping point on the Great Ocean Road and after a short drive we found ourselves in Port Campbell where we finished the tea supplies on the side of the harbour before starting the long drive back to Melbourne.

We stopped for supper in Colac and found most places were closed but found a fish and chip shop – Captain George’s – and had Australian fish and chips (shark fillet!) Quite delicious!

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