Nov 3 – 11 Kingston to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
Kingston to Portland
Parked the campervan in Kingston for the night. The caravan park is right on the water and it is warm and calm. We enjoy sitting outside for dinner.
But ...we should have known that “warm and calm” equates to “millions of bugs”. We left the light on and the door open. By the time we realized our mistake there were thousands (okay, hundreds) of bugs inside. They are a lot like fruit flies – a little bigger, but same mentality. Slow and easy to kill, the species survives on the principle of quantity over quality. I killed and killed and killed ....with my yellow fly swatter (an excellent investment at beginning of trip) with my hands, and with wads of paper towels. I would think that I had them all ...then look up at the light realize there were another dozen buzzing the light.
We had about a dozen conventional mosquitoes in here too ....worked away at those too. Cagey buggers by comparison though.
Fell asleep ....only to waken during the night because the van was being violently rocked by the wind. That carried on all through the night and followed us throughout the next day. Not particularly cold ...but so strong you literally have a hard time staying vertical.
Leaving Kingston we carried on down the coast. In the area of Victor Harbour we ran into a first for us ...a sign warning us of penguins crossing. Apparently they only come out of the water and onto land at night, so we didn’t see any, but you can bet we were watching for them.
We checked into the Beachport Visitors Centre for maps of the coast. The ladies there were very helpful. I asked them what they would do on such a windy day. They giggled, “Go for a coffee.”
We’ve developed a bit of a cappuccino addiction ourselves, so we were all for that but first we followed Beachport’s four km “Tourist Drive” to check out their ocean frontage – very impressive. Even more so because of the high winds. Some of the lookouts were atop cliffs, offering perspective, others were at beach level where the sheer power of those mighty rollers crashing in over the rugged beach heads was overwhelming.
Coming back into town for that coffee we watched a young fellow loading big plastic tubs into a truck. A simple enquiry had him opening the tub to show us the biggest rock lobsters I’ve ever seen. Big and snapping angrily with their nasty claws. He said they’d been bringing them in all morning ..from about 15 km out. I certainly wouldn’t want to be out in those swells but he seemed to take it as a matter of course.
The friendliness of Australians has been extraordinary on this trip. A simple query turns into a conversation ...and thirty minutes later you walk away from a new friend. There is such warmth and interest from everyone you meet.
Carried on from there down the coast ...through Millicent and Mount Gambier and Port Macdonald. Wind howling all the way. In Mount Gambier I was driving – my first turn at the wheel in the middle of a “grown-up town” where there were multiple lanes of traffic feeding into the roundabouts etc. I did okay but was glad to get back out into the country.
In Mount Gambier I took a wrong turn. This had the happy conclusion of landing us at Blue Lake. This is an amazing lake that changes colour from a grey-black to the most magnificent blue ...over a few days in November each year – stays that way until March when it changes back. Has something to do with algae growth, but to me it looked like magic.
Came through the Victoria border and settled in for the night at Portland. Here we checked into the price of a cabin (to get us out of the wind). It was $62 for the grottiest little cabin. Old, worn out, and smelly. That didn’t even include linens or blankets. Seemed too depressing for words.
So we took a camping spot instead for $20. Then I got in the van and
had a total meltdown. I had been sitting in the van all day driving. My
back hurt and I just could not bear the idea of spending the next four
to five hours sitting in the same seat all evening while the wind howled
outside. Again. So I had my little cry.
Portland has an interesting streetscape - virtually every building in that area looked like it was or should be registered as a historical treasure. Even the residential houses were beautifully preserved.
Returned to the caravan park and had another look around. The camper’s kitchen was outdoors and hopeless in this wind, but the laundry room had possibilities. I found a broom and swept the floor. Then I laid down my yoga mat and spent the next hour stretching this cramped up old body. Pure heaven. If it weren't for my worn out, achey old ankle, I felt like I could dance. Pure joy in those muscles.
Warrnambool and Great Ocean Road
When we awoke it was calm and quiet. At the Visitors Centre they printed out a weather forecast for us – Friday, Saturday, and first part of Sunday would be sunny. After that, a return to rain. We decided we’d best take the cue and head directly for the Great Ocean Road.
Warrnambool is the official beginning of the route. We made a stop here at the Flagstaff Hill Museum. There is a cannon out front that comes off the boat that a good friend’s grandfather was shipwrecked on. If not for the ship landing on the rocks, the family would not have been founded in Australia. So we had to see that.
The whole stretch of coastline here is called the “Shipwreck Coast” because more than 160 ships have gone down on the treacherous rocks between Warrnambool and Cape Otway. In the museum they depict how difficult it was for the captains of these sail-powered vessels to navigate. Impossible really, when clouds obscured their ability to calculate positions or the powerful winds blew them too close to shore.
At Flagstaff they’ve also recreated a maritime village as it would have looked at the turn of the century. They have done an impressive job. We enjoyed poking around in these buildings – blacksmith, chandlers, dressmakers, surgery, watchmaker, etc. There is a big steam ship you can board and look at as well as a church, lighthouse etc. Very nicely done. The buildings themselves are re-creations, but they’ve outfitted them with all the gear people inherit, then donate to museums. The “rigging” shed was just full of the bits and pieces you’d need to rig a sailing ship.
Started down the Great Ocean Road and were immediately awed by the spectacular scenery. Rugged limestone outcroppings battered by the sea into fantastical shapes, spectacular colours in the striations. A mist gathers around them as the day wears down to a close. As I write this I am sitting at Martyrs Bay outside Peterborough, waiting for sunset. A mist is gathering over the rocks, melting the sandstone into the sea. The ocean itself is quietening, settling for the night.
Tomorrow promises to be another perfect day ....and so we hope. But if not, we have had today.
Great Ocean Road
Up at sunrise to catch the first light. There are many lookouts on this road ...London Bridge, The Arches, The Grotto, Loch Ord Gorge ...and so on. Every few km there is another sign enticing you to turn off. They are all absolutely spectacular. Fantastical limestone formations towering over the ocean, appearing to be indomitable, but of course, totally vulnerable to the pounding surf and the relentless wind.
Most are accessible with very short walks of just a few hundred metres.
Steve spent a lot of time at the Loch Ord Gorge. This is where the Loch Ord, a large ship went down, losing all crew and passengers except two eighteen year olds – a young woman and the young crew member who rescued her. Steve went down to the beach where they struggled onto land ...and into the cave where they rested and revived.
There were so many shipwrecks on this coast. It is amazing, actually that these captains (many of them in their twenties with crew in their teens), navigated as many ships into the port at Melbourne as the safe window they had to pass through was so narrow and the rest of the coast so treacherous. Navigation was a very inexact science in those days and if clouds obscured the sun and stars there was virtually nothing to navigate by.
My favourite “lookout” would be The Razorback ...which looked to me like a long, tall ship. The surging waves working away at the bottom, the wind at the top, forming craggy spires and tunnelling out openings.
The Twelve Apostles is the big whoop on this road. There is a big “lookout” building with restrooms ...finally. There is a carpark and a pedestrian tunnel and boardwalks and lookouts. They really have done a nice job of making it possible for people of all abilities to see these wonders. There was even a sign saying that a wheelchair was available on loan.
Carried on and took the road to the Cape Otway Lighthouse. The lighthouse was $11.50 to visit and it was too late in the day ...but the cool thing were all the koalas up in the trees. We must have seen 20 of them. Some of them were quite active too ...eating, moving around, fighting with each other, yawning, scratching themselves, etc. They are easy to spot once you get the hang of it – just look up in the crook of the branches for a big cushy grey bum.
Great Ocean Road to Geelong
Driving this east end of the road is a bit of an anticlimax. The sheer cliffs and magnificent limestone formations are long gone. The road hugs the coast, lush rolling hills on one side, wide sandy beaches the other. Sometimes the road moves into forests ...always beautiful – trees arching overhead, foliage knitting together into a solid canopy of feathered green. The road twists and turns and narrows precipitously around hairpin corners. We cannot believe the speed limits. The limit is usually 100 – we are not breaking 60 most of the time!
We reach the end of the Great Ocean Road in Geelong and settle in for a few nights then head up to Melbourne to spend a night with our friends, Lise, George and sons. It sure is nice to have friends on the road ...sleeping in a real bed and eating dinner across a table from each other! And doing so with people other than each other is a real treat. Steve and I get along really well but on a long trip we are in each other’s constant company so it’s interesting to hear some other opinions and open that window on someone else’s life for a change.
Today we headed up to Maldon to check out gold country and stay with new friends Mick and Barb. These are some internet friends ...never laid eyes on them till we drove up their driveway. Steve is still thinking I am going to get us sold into white slavery with these online relationships, but Mick is a police officer and Barb is a nurse ...seem like okay sorts.
During the night Steve got up ...then woke me up because he could not open the door. I tried. To no avail. The inner bolting mechanism on the door was stripped. No matter what we did, we were trapped. We fell back into bed giggling like school girls. All his predictions about white slavery were obviously coming true.
In the morning I hovered, ear pressed to the door, waiting for some sign of life on the other side. Nothing. Eventually their son, Patrick, walked by. I pounded on the door ....telling him we were locked in . He tried the door.“It seems you are right.” Quite the understatement.
Mick arrived and tried to open the door. No go. Finally ended up with Mick passing tools through the small window opening to Steve who pried the bolts off the hinges and got us out that way. We sure had a good laugh about that.
Mick spent the day chauffeuring us around the Castlemaine – Maldon area. It’s gold country, having been the site of the richest shallow alluvial goldfield the world had ever seen. The gold was located in the top 20 feet of soil and was relatively easy for the average person to extract so this set off a huge gold rush in the 1850s.
The area is rich with the ruins of this era, equipment and buildings are still easy to see. New technology is making it likely that some of the old pits will be re-opened and the gold extraction will begin in the area again.
In the meantime, Maldon is taking very good care of its historical buildings. As it turns out, Mick informed us, this can be quite a pain for the locals wanting to renovate their "heritage” homes.
The town’s main street is a fascinating walk through history, at the same time it is very much a place of the present. This is where locals stop in to shop, as we did, buying pies for lunch, curried chicken for dinner, and wine for later. It’s also a town with a head up for the tourist dollar. There are some very interesting shops selling the handicrafts of locals. The area boasts hundreds of practising artists and it shows in the high quality of the goods on offer.
But where there is room for artists there is also room for eccentrics and that would have to be the quiet fellow making outdoor Christmas decorations. Like the life-sized plywood Santa sleighs and reindeer that people put on their lawns or rooftops. His workshop was also full of hundreds of cement Christmas dwarves. Further exploration led one into his garden. Here he’d created a walk through a “zoo” of sorts. In one area he had his African scene, with gorillas and lions and zebras. In another area he had an ocean tableau with sea lions. In the “pound” were cements dogs of all breeds and sizes. In the aviary, birds.
My favourite would be his cement renditions of Steve’s favourite stumpy tailed lizard. It would have been an instant sale and under the Christmas tree for Steve ...if it didn’t weigh at least 20 pounds. Now I’m wishing I’d bought it anyway. We could always have left it in our friend’s garden.
Thanks to Mick, Barb and family we had a small peek into the life of Maldon. Superficial, of course, but exceedingly more intimate than we’d ever get driving through at 100 k/p/h. Thanks.
Oh, and thanks to TJ, their daughter’s pup. While we were cleaning the van for the onward trip, TJ pranced around making a general puppy-style nuisance of himself. At some point Steve realized that TJ had managed to snag “something” he was happily gnawing away at. But every time Steve approached, TJ bounced away.
Eventually TJ got careless and Steve pounced, discovering that the pup had absconded with ”George,” the kangaroo skull tied to the back bumper. This is the skull I had banished from the van because Steve put it into a bag, wet. The skull started to rot, there was a terrible smell ...and Steve tied it to the back bumper to air out.
It’s not there anymore.
The day dawns fresh and blue ...and 5 degrees – very cold.
We are traveling down to Ringwood, outside of Melbourne for our van “check-up”. We’ll catch the ferry to Tasmania tonight.
Mick has plotted us a back roads route that will keep us out of rush hour traffic. The route is exceedingly scenic ....lush rolling hills, eucalypt forests, lots of sheep and cattle.
We rented the campervan off of Calypso, a company that gave me the best quote over the internet. One always wonders about these kinds of arrangements, but Calypso has treated us very well. This little Toyota campervan has now carried us over 15,000 trouble-free km. It cheerfully starts every morning and never complains.There was that glitch right at the beginning with the brakes but that was a case of Calypso being let down by a subcontractor in Darwin. They came through and paid for them to be fixed instantly.
Here at their head office in Ringwood they look the van over and put on a new set of tires and do a wheel alignment. They also fix the tricky fridge door and tighten up some bug screens. An hour later we are on our way. Nice people to deal with.
From there we head off to meet Joy, another Lonely Planet connection. She gives us a great lunch, then she and husband Ian provide the grand tour of Melbourne. Lovely people and an enjoyable afternoon looking around Melbourne.
The time passed so quickly, we beetle off to the ferry. The literature with the tickets says they don’t do check-in till 7:30 but when we arrive at 7 they are already loading and we are waved into the line. We are not prepared.
Steve had to empty out all the gasoline from his spare can and refill it with water. So he did that, getting gasoline all over his hands. He now stinks. Meanwhile, I was making sandwiches in the back because we hadn’t eaten any dinner. Steve is now required to move the van forward every two minutes so it’s lurching forward unpredictably ...the juice bottles we’d just bought ended up bouncing out the door and onto the ferry dock, never to be retrieved. It was all a bit of what one of our sons would term a “shitshow.”
On the ferry we find our “business class” seats. These are large lazy boy type seats, except the leg rest does not go up very far so the knees are hyper-extended. After an hour of two of sleep you learn just how painful this can be.
We have been booked into interior seats ...so now I am trapped, men at both ends of the aisle and no way out. I fell asleep right off the bat and Steve disappeared. I have a vague recollection of him saying he was going to look for a seat where there were less people, and I should have followed but I didn’t and here I am, trapped. It is very difficult for me to get out with my gamey leg ...and how I am going to do it past the humongous man who has taken the seat beside me, I don’t know. There are people snoring everywhere. Sounds like out-of-control steam trains and I didn’t bring my earplugs. I have this urge to go around smacking people in the head ...but I am trapped. And someone’s feet smell.
It is going to be a VERY long night.
Tasmania cannot come fast enough for me.