Victoria 2006 – Part 4. The Great Ocean Road to Cape Otway

Sunday, Nov 26, 2006 at 13:53


We were keen to take advantage of the early morning light on the cliff faces so we were up and on the road very early. Breakfast can wait! Our first stop was at The Grotto where many steps led us down to sea level. From there the view out to sea was framed by a big rock arch. Coastal shrubs were in flower as we continued east past what was left of London Bridge after a section had recently collapsed. At Loch Ard Gorge we spent most of the morning doing the various walks – to view the shipwreck site, Razorback, The Blowhole, Thunder Rock, as well as the gorge itself. There were more steps (thankfully) to take us down into the gorge to the beach below where there are a couple of big caves complete with stalactites hanging down from the roof.

This area is spectacular with high cliffs, rock arches and stacks, bays and promontories, thundering surf and high flung seaspray. The rock varies in colour from white to honey and golden orange, changing as the sun comes out from behind clouds. The cliffs are topped with low green bushes that sometimes spill down over the edges of the cliffs. The sun on the water intensifies the bright blue-green of the ocean, with white highlights as waves break over the rocks, making the whole place vivid with light and colour.

But danger is ever present among this spectacular scenery. The “Loch Ard” was wrecked here in 1878, one of many ships to share that fate on this aptly named shipwreck coast. Only 2 of the 54 passengers and crew survived. These two survivors were a young ship’s apprentice, Tom Pearce, and 18 year old Eva Carmichael, one of a family of eight Irish immigrants. After some time in the water both were eventually washed into the gorge from where Tom, although exhausted and barefooted was able to climb out and seek help from a nearby farmhouse. Only 4 bodies were recovered and these were buried in a cemetery at the top of the cliffs, along with district pioneers.

While we were at the Loch Ard site the wind was very strong and clouds were building up with occasional showers. Leaving there we went on to the Twelve Apostles hoping that threatening rain would not spoil the view.

We were surprised to find a very busy tourist establishment with a huge carpark and big visitor centre catering for many overseas tourists who came in fleets of buses. Not surprising then, to find the site rather regimented with walkways and viewing platforms, and lots of visitors. By the time we got out to the viewing platforms the wind was very strong making it difficult to hold the camera steady, so we did not stay out there for very long.

But despite the weather it was good to see this iconic place – featured on countless calendars, postcards and biscuit tin lids - for ourselves. The 12 apostles are decreasing in number as coastal erosion causes the stacks to crumble and fall, as happened to one of them not long before. The power of wind and water is on full display and on this day under a grey sky there was a sense of drama and even menace in the cliffs and long lines of breakers. It would probably feel quite different on a calm day under a blue sky.

Seeking shelter from the wind we turned inland at Princetown and eventually found a sheltered reserve area where we could spend the night. We were tired and rather footsore from all the steps we had climbed up and down during this memorable day.

There were light showers throughout the night and after again breaking camp early we went back to the GOR as far as the Loch Ard site. There we found a sheltered spot in the carpark to have breakfast. The weather forecast suggested that conditions might improve and we were certainly hoping for better light this morning. Back at the Twelve Apostles at 8.30 it was too early for there to be many tourists about, but the wind was just as strong as yesterday. It was still heavily overcast and there were heavy showers offshore.

Our next stop was some way inland at Melba Gully in the Great Otway NP. Here was a total change of scenery as a delightful rainforest walk took us through dense myrtle beech forest with lots of big tree ferns. Closer inspection revealed masses of smaller ferns, mosses and those little rainforest gems, the delicate filmy ferns. There were creeks with clear water and little cascades, while overhead giant eucalypts rising from massive buttressed trunks stood sentinel.

This southern tip of Victoria receives a high rainfall, enough to support thick eucalyptus forest and pockets of rainforest. So it was an attractive and enjoyable drive as we zigzagged our way on side roads and parts of the main road towards the Cape Otway lighthouse. There we explored some of the walking tracks but decided against going to the lighthouse - not at $12.50 each for a self guided tour!

Nearby Blanket Bay in the Otway NP looked a likely spot for our next camp. On the road in we spoke to a ranger who advised us that although there were designated campsites at this time of the year no fee was charged. Campfires were also permitted. We found a well set out campground with separate sheltered sites for walkers doing the coastal track and for vehicle based campers. We found a good site where a previous occupant had left plenty of firewood. There were only a couple of other vehicles there and a big group of walkers. A walk on the beach revealed giant kelp and a ruggedly beautiful coastline. Then as the evening grew cool we settled in around a welcome fire shared with another camper. We heard koalas somewhere close by.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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