Saturday, January 24, 2009

Great Ocean Road

Ok, I'm including almost all of the Southern Victoria coast line under the title Great Ocean Road, even though I recognize that the GOR doesn't actually start at the Victoria - South Australia border.

I crossed the border early afternoon. I stopped at the information centre to get all new brochures and sat down to plan my next few days. (by this time it is day 2.5 of my 5 day road trip). And then I headed down the road again, curious as to where my travels would take me.

And guess where they took me? Cheese World! yes that's right, there is a Cheese World. I kinda felt like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's family vacation, but I couldn't resist. And it is a good thing, because I arrived just in time for the afternoon tasting. While their vintage cheddar is very good, it really isn't that old (20 months, not exactly 11 years) but what really impressed me was the flavoured cheddars - sundried tomatoe, garlic and herb, chili among many other. After tasting them all and realizing I couldn't travel with multiple blocks, I chose the chili cheddar and a small bottle of merlot for later.

I then headed down the coast to Cape Bridgewater. I got there and headed to the blowhole viewing area. Now, blowholes are pretty cool. They are little caverns in which air gets trapped when a large waves comes. As the wave keeps coming the air gets squished and the pressure goes up until it explodes and the water shoots out of the cavern. As I was standing there watching the water, one of the ladies on the platform told me that there was a blue whale out at sea. And sure enough you could see it blowing the water out of its blowhole. I believe there was probably at least two of them out there. I spent quite a while watching them. The world really is an amazing place.

The other thing I saw at this stop was the petrified forest. Yes that's right, the Basilisk came by this part of the world and petrified all the trees. ok, for real - the way the water has dripped through the limestone and other rocks/soils has created geological structures that look like rock tree trunks. It is pretty interesting.

The next morning I decided to visit the wildlife reserve before hitting the true Great Ocean Road. I pulled into Tower Hill pretty early (I was the first person there, I love places that don't close their gates). And I saw another kangaroo eating on the side of the road. I have been here before, in 2002. But I decided to spend more time and do more of the trails. I walked 3 of the 4 trails. The only reason I didn't walk the fourth was because there were two emus - one sitting beside the trail and the other standing beside it clearly telling me not to pass. I'm not sure if the papa was sitting on eggs or not, but I decided not to push the issue... they are big birds. But I did get to walk around the marsh land and see lots of birds, including the Superb blue wren. It has a blue head, just like the name. I also walked around the crater that used to be a volcano. The rock here is much different than what I saw on the limestone coast. When I was on that trail I saw two kangaroos eating - one big and one littler. They just stopped and stared at me for a while. Then I saw more emus, all having their breakfast. On the third walk I saw a remarkable lizard, about the length of my forearm. I called it the pine cone lizard because its skin reminded me of pinecones. I later found out (at the Melbourne museum) that is is actually called the stumpy tail lizard, genus Tachydosaurus.

When I had seen all the animals I headed to the Great Ocean Road and back to the coast. And wow, what a coast. Words cannot describe it. It is like kilometers and kilometers of flowerpot type formations (though the tide doesn't go out far enough to walk on the ocean floor). This is one of those parts of the world that just make you stop and stare in awe. This whole coast line was under water around 20 million years ago and all the calcium carbonate animals died and sank to the bottom. The water then retreated and the rock left was limestone. The ocean and rain have slowly been wearing it away, resulting in the amazing formations visible now. This was the part of Australia I really wanted to see again when I knew I was coming back. So I wandered between formations, being amazed and taking pictures.

Eventually I came to Port Campbell and looked down the hill and saw all the people at the beach swimming and playing. At that point I was quite hot, so I decided to join. I went swimming in the Southern Ocean and played in the waves. When I was refreshed I continued on to more of the amazing coast line.

Loch Ard Gorge was one place I remembered in particular because I knew there were more trails to walk down than we had time for when I travelled here last time. So I took the time to walk them all. Loch Ard Gorge is named for the boat that was shipwrecked here in 1856 and 52 of the 54 people onboard died. So this time I visited the graveyard, and other formations including Thunder cave and Mutton bird Island. I was looking out over Razorback when I met John from the Netherlands. We chatted for a while and then went to watch all the mutton birds come back to their island from the sea for the night. While there weren't 50 000 as expected it was still pretty cool to see so many birds circling the island at sunset. The night ended with a couple of beers at the local pub.

The next day I woke up and walked down to the Twelve Apostles (yet another rock formation, but this one is probably the most famous). It used to be called Sow and piglets, but the name was changed some time ago. In the early morning sun, they were very beautiful. I ate my breakfast as I gazed out over them.

I then decided to tackle yet another habitat - the temperate rainforest. I went to another national park and did a couple of hikes through the temperate rainforest with all the fern trees and huge huge other trees. They were so green and lush compared to other parts of the country. At the end of each hike was a beautiful waterfall, each special in their own way. It was a wonderful morning.

The battery on my camera was dying, so I had been carefully saving pictures as I really wanted one of a koala. So I left the rainforest and headed towards where
I had been told koalas could be found. I drove all the way down to the lighthouse without seeing a single one, but then I turned around to go back towards the highway and sure enough on the way out I saw one way up in a tree sleeping. So I pulled over and took a picture and woke him up. So I took another picture and then let him go back to sleep. Having acquired my koala picture, I was less conservative with the remaining battery juice.

I spent the afternoon driving along the windy road. Much different than the way the road had been at the beginning of my trip. It was a really fun drive with fantastic views. The coast line changed so that there were no more shear cliffs, but the trees went right down to the ocean. I spent some time reading on a beach enjoying the end of the sunshine. As dusk fell I walked along a village boardwalk through the mangroves and then ended the night with a private cheese and wine party before bed. It was a great end to my road trip.

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