City life is comfortable, but we did not move to the other side of the world to dwell in another concrete jungle. We spent a while in Melbourne, one of the most livable cities in the world, yet a more adventurous approach to the journey was calling. Time to hit the road had come, and we picked a very special one to move on.
The Great Ocean Road is a scenic drive along the southern coast of the Australian state of Victoria, stretching from the town of Torquay, a hundred kilometers far from Melbourne, to Allansford. It is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world, and it was built by returning soldiers, as a permanent memorial to those who died while fighting in the First World War. Therefore, it can also be considered the largest world’s war memorial. Winding through stunning beaches, steep cliffs and lush swathes of rainforest, it genuinely recalls the landscape of a Conrad’s or Hemingway’s book. The breeze coming from the Southern Ocean is cool and pristine, and looking at the horizon you come to understand that there’s nothing more southern than Antartica in front of your eyes. Which makes you feel like in a quite remote corner of the Earth.
Before leaving Melbourne, we bought an old Mazda 626. We quit our jobs and left our rooms on rent, acquired some camping equipment, and last but not least, we went to pick our mother up at the airport. At the age of 68, she decided to fly all the way from Italy to join us in this two-week drive.
3, 2, 1. Ready to go.
Since we had already visited Torquay, we headed directly towards a much more exclusive place: Bells Beach. With its waves perfectly crafted in a magnificent bay, it is considered one of the world’s surf meccas. It is not a case that the famous Australian brand Rip Curl organizes here the renowned international surf contest Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, this edition, the 56th, taking place on April 12-24, 2017.
Now, there’s to be said that the Great Ocean Road has become, through the years, a massive tourism industry. Although the nature and the landscapes are perfectly conserved and managed, the average accommodation and food along the way are quite expensive. The gorgeous towns became resort for wealthy owners, and the lifestyle tends to be leaning much more to “exclusive” than “budget”. Nevertheless, if you just want to camp out and enjoy the wilderness at its fullest, alternative and quite smart solutions can be easily found through WikiCamps Australia, a brilliant app which is well worth all the $7 it costs.
This way, instead of finding our first overpriced accommodation in Anglesea, we ended up camping at the Whinbury Hill Equestrian Centre, a lovely spot just a few kilometers inland. Plunged in the Victorian countryside, it well served as a base to explore the surrounding points of interest, such as the several wineries scattered in the area and the beautiful Erskine Waterfalls, surrounded by a verdant rainforest rich in both wildlife and flora which especially our mother fell in love with.
The direct and constant contact with the Earth is the trademark of this route, and camping out is not only cheaper than any other solution, but by far the most authentic way of enjoying the majestic Australian open spaces.
Moreover, Parks Victoria should be praised for the smart way of managing its abundant natural resources. Abusive camping is forbidden, with a $303 fine applying, but there is plenty of campgrounds, many of them free of any charge. Where fees incur, you can easily book your spot online on the Parks Victoria website.
Among the others, is well worth mentioning the Allenvale Mill campsite, set right on the outskirts of Lorne, the second major town on the way. Here we spent two nights, pitching our tent right in the middle of the forest. The facilities are essentials, but the sounds and colors of nature just overwhelming. We fell asleep on the notes played by an orchestra of birds and koalas, and woke up with kangaroos grazing right in front of our tent. Simply breathtaking.
Lorne would probably like to be the most high-end spot along the way, with several boutiques and restaurants which tourists and second-property owners splash their money out with. We rather focused, though, on enjoying a beautiful sunset at Teddy’s Lookout, and swimming at the scenic beach which we noticed right below the aforementioned panoramic spot.
Although the wild way of life is quite aesthetic, after four nights out the pleasure of a hot shower and a proper bed is equally appealing. Thankfully, there was a perfect location on the way to meet our needs: the Seacroft Estate. Nestled right along the Great Ocean Road in between Lorne and Apollo Bay, it was the best solution to restore our energies and cook some food in a proper kitchen, while enjoying a full view of the Southern Ocean.
Laying just a stones’s throw away, the awe-inspiring Great Otway National Park was waiting for us in all its majesty. Stretching from the Otway Ranges to the relevant coastline, it represents the habitat of a rich biodiversity, a sample of which can be admired at the Maits Rest Rainforest Trail, a 800mt loop in one of the most ancient rainforest on the planet.
Apollo Bay is a much quieter town than Lorne, relying on fishing and, only lately, on the stream of tourism generated by the Great Ocean Road. Every year, during the Southern winter, these shores host many different species of migrating whales, including Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and Killer Whales (the “Orcas”), which come here to breed, enjoying warmer waters, before heading off to feed in sub-Antarctic waters.
Past Cape Otway, we entered the coastline called “The Shipwreck Coast“, where over 500 vessels are thought to be sunk, until eventually reaching the main attraction of the Great Ocean Road: the Twelve Apostles. This is actually only one of the many limestone formations in the surroundings, all contributing to the beauty, yet hellish reputation, of this shoreline. Huge waves and a salty wind relentlessly hit this littoral, but this did not prevent us from having a close look. Every beach is a beach, and we love to live each and every the way we like: beach umbrella and football.
Port Campbell is the closest city to these stunning rocky formations, and it is usually identified with them. The surroundings, though, are well worth exploring too. Especially if you bump into a bad weather day, you can definitely indulge yourself with the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail, which we combined with some fishing at the Bullen Merri Lake. This time, we found a cheap, comfortable and green refuge at the Port Campbell Recreation Reserve Camping, located right in the middle of the town.
On the very last day of the trip, we explored the last stretch of the Great Ocean Road, visiting one of the most surprising spots we found en route, the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. This astounding hill of volcanic origin is completely surrounded by water, except for the narrow strip of land which lets visitors in and out, and it is home of a manifold ecosystem, ranging from kangaroos, koalas and emus to every sort of bird and plant. Of the many walks which take you exploring this piece of Eden, we chose the one taking atop the hill, where a delightful sunset left our eyes brimmed with beauty.
Our last stop was the lovely hamlet of Port Fairy. Our last dance with the Southern Ocean was staged on the idyllic Griffitts Island, were a lonely penguin and a couple of huge stingrays greeted us, before our departure towards other enchanting destinations throughout the endless, wild Australian land.