Monday, 21 December 2015

Part 10 - The Great Ocean Road

This stage of my journey was in the form of a road trip from Adelaide, South Australia, into Victoria through the Grampion Mountains to the south coast and on to Melbourne.
It's taken a while to write this post and so, I've not posted this one in sequence with the rest of my Search For Alf. 

I arrived in Adelaide after a short flight from Perth at around 10pm. Rich had picked me up from my Fremantle hotel and we'd managed a quick shop in a local goods market and a short walk round a park before he dropped me at Perth airport.
 I got a cab to my overnight stop - a very basic hostel with clean sheets. Cheap take away pizza and a charity legends v the rest of the world style Aussie rules match on the T.V. helped me to sleep. 
 I woke before dawn and returned my key to reception after eating breakfast with some other residents. As I stood in the dark on the kerb, next to a guy sleeping on a bench wrapped in what I suspected were all the clothes he possessed waiting for my bus, I wondered what sights I would be gifted with on this part of my trip!
 A large white minibus with wide sections of seamless glass along each side pulled up and a short bubbly girl burst from the bus door and introduced herself as Em. I loaded my bags into the box trailer to comments between the two guides of how small my bag was. I explained that since leaving the Gold Coast, I'd survived with this backpack, designed as a day bag for the last month. Luckily I'd had the pleasure of meeting Richard, who had offered to wash all my clothes before I left Fremantle 2 days ago. I climbed the steps and entered the bus greeting everyone with a lively "good morning!"
 To my surprise, I was so happy to be bombarded with a response from the entire occupancy who, as I expected were all considerably younger than me. This did not stop us all getting along and chatting as we drove through the Victoria and South Australian outback. This, for the best part of the first day is what we did. Drive and chat. For HOURS.
The guides had iPods loaded with a huge range of music and introduced me to Australian Hip Hop legends Hilltop Hoods along the way. Breakfast stop in Bordertown which, not surprisingly was on the South Australia/Victoria border and on towards the Grampion Mountains.
 Lunch was prepared and cooked in a picnic area just outside Nhill, Victoria.
All over Australia in most parks and rest stops there are well maintained, clean electric hot plates. All you have to do is wipe the hot plate before you cook and press a big button to turn the power on for a set amount of time. Just press it again when you hear or see the power light go out and you're... cooking. 
Clean the thing up before you leave and hey presto, lunch is done. Quickly and easily.

Our two guides Em and Kaitlin cooked burgers, which we ate, gladly. And once the washing up was done, we were back on the Western Highway for another couple of hours before we finally spotted the mountains on the horizon. Turning off the highway, we eventually got onto some smaller, wilder roads. Through forests of Gum avoiding Emu and Kangaroo we drove deeper into the bush and on, into the mountains.
 As we climbed through the foothills and into the winding mountain roads, the pale green lush Eucalyptus gave way to swages of blackened tree skeletons rising above a carpet of fresh green bush. Em explained this was part of a bush fire in 2014 and that Eucalyptus require very high temperatures to initiate seed development and provide their own kindling by shedding bark and boughs. The low bush at the base of the blackened trucks turned out to be the new Eucalyptus seedlings growing strong.
So fire is the start of new life as well as the familiar images of burned devastation we see from afar.

One of many Kangaroos that hopped across in front of the bus over the four day trip.

 Ascending the high rocky hills we rose into the low cloud and rain began to fall loudly on the roof of the bus. We stopped in a small car park and prepared to walk to the foot of MacKenzie Falls in thick drizzle.
 The first stage was a hard path that swept round in large curves taking us down a few feet before we reached the top of the stairs that snaked down one side of the falls. The view from the very top as we took the first steps down was breathtaking. The people already at the foot of the falls were just specks, so the height of the drop wasn't going to be a problem and although this wasn't the most spectacular cascade and by no means as mind blowing as say High Force in Teesdale or Swallow Falls on the Afon Llugwy in Snowdonia in autumn and I'm sure this would have been more breathtaking with a little more volume but it still made a good photo. I only wish that I hadn't spent so long waiting for a clear shot and didn't explore further downstream. The river cut its way east through the red and orange rock and disappeared in the mist.
I stood and admired the waterfall a little longer entertained by the constant stream of nervous individuals attempting to cross the giant stepping stones spanning the waters leaving the plunge pool at the foot of the waterfall.
 I hopped back across the stones when a gap appeared and began the climb up the steep and now slippery 276 steps back to the crest of the cliff above. I was pleased to find that even after maintaining a constant speed up the steps and only stopping at the top I was not too out of breath and my legs were only burning a little. This cannot be said for all the members of our group!

Summit of MacKenzie Falls

MacKenzie Falls

MacKenzie Falls

 On our way to our first nights accommodation we did stop at a what would have been an awesome lookout deeper in the mountains, but the view was again obscured by low cloud.
Brambuk Backpackers Hostel was nestled in the woods on the lower foothills of Mount Durwil (Mount William) and it was dark when we arrived. We unloaded all necessary gear from the trailer and took it all inside. As we did so I could hear a rustling in the darkness and once we'd placed all our bags in the communal living space I crept back out of the door and peered into the dark and as my eyes adjusted to the moonlight I spotted a young wallaby happily mowing the grass at the base of a large gum tree. I watched for a few minutes before checking out my room. The little beast didn't seem to be bothered by my creeping around him.
 Shortly following our evening meal, I retired to my room and slept soundly until I was woken by my alarm at dawn. I dozily packed and ate breakfast with the group and heard talk of the coming day of hiking, cultural enlightenment and then a long drive to the coast for views of some spectacular cliffs and rock formations at dusk.

 The Hike, would lead us to Pinnacle Lookout. The sun splashed yellow light across the forest covered hills, cliffs and mountain tops all around us as we climbed the mellow path that led us through the tree cover and up through deep ravines and across great sheets of rock that paved huge areas surrounded by scrubby bush and alpine flora. As I stared across the range as the mountains rose up in front of me I could imagine this landscape under a great ocean. The rocks and cliffs around me looked so similar to footage you see of reefs in the ocean. At some time, many millions of years ago, this may well have been the case.
The tea tree and other plants with oils in the leaves created a great aroma as I crushed a few in my hand and ascended to the summit and Pinnacle lookout.

Below Pinnacle looking west

From Pinnacle looking south. The summit of Mount Durwil (Mount William) is obscured by cloud in the distance

Lake Bellfield from Pinnacle looking south.

From Pinnacle looking north

From Pinnacle looking east

Mount Durwil on the right

Pinnacle Lookout itself. No idea who he is.

From Pinnacle looking west

Kaitlin & Em #1

Kaitlin & Em #2

From Pinnacle looking north

From Pinnacle looking north (wide)

Another shot of Mount Durwil

From Pinnacle looking west

From Pinnacle looking east

 The views from the very top were as promised, a mind-blowing sight. Miles of mountains arcing round behind us from Mount Dryden in the north to Mount Durwil in the south. The foothills to the east rolling out in front of you into flat plains towards Ballarat. All bathed in the hazy early morning light.
We descended too soon for my liking. I could have sat there all day and night but the ocean called.

 Brambuk National Park & Cultural Centre was in fact right opposite the hostel we stayed in the night before. Nestled in a wooded valley, the modern, but not unsightly complex of buildings housed historical exhibits and a coffee bar and souvenir shop. Photography was not permitted within any of the centre's buildings.
Unlike many in Australia which are run by the government, this cultural centre is run by a local aboriginal group who educate visitors in there history, art, bush crafts and music. The main history exhibit I found particularly disturbing, but also enlightening. The frank presentation of the facts and historical documents made the whole thing fittingly awkward for a european to take in. I found myself feeling embraced to be there reading what my ancestors felt fit to inflict on other human beings. The section about the Stolen Generation was unbearably similar in parts to the Nazi led holocaust during the 30s and 40s in Europe.
I did however witness a heartwarming scene of a young lad teaching his parents about the aboriginal history he'd learned at school as they walked round. I understand that education in Australian history that goes back further than the beginning of white occupation is being taught more in schools but talking to adult Aussies on my travels, it's obvious this wasn't the case in even recent years passed.
 When I left, I wondered across the grassy clearing between me and the exit in a depressed daze thinking of the horrific acts of barbarism performed on an innocent people and how the establishment continues to refuse to admit many of the atrocities even happened and play down the ongoing oppression of native Australians. The sight of a number of kangaroos bouncing around and the sound of the kookaburras and parrots in the trees certainly raised my spirits and after getting a couple of closeups of kangaroos I grabbed a coffee and drowsily stepped back onto the bus to complete our journey to the coast with my reaction to the past couple of hours still pounding at my conscience.

The roof of the main exhibitions building. A low fire was smouldering in the hearth as I opened the front door.  

Pinnacle Lookout from Brambuk Cultural Centre
More rocky outcrops visible from Brambuk Cultural Centre
 We drove and drove for hours across flat open fields reminiscent in many ways to the north Norfolk landscape. Apart from the expanse. You can cross Norfolk in a couple of hours. It took about four to just reach our lunch stop. 
Lunch was taken within the natural bowl of Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve with a number of Emu and later on, a Koala.

 The Tower Hill Reserve, enclosed in a 1km crater is part of a large dormant volcanic range and was declared Victoria's first National Park in 1892. Magnificent scenery and getting up close and personal with emus and taunting the big stupid birds made for a fun but very quick hour and it wasn't long before we back on the bus, trundling towards Warrnambool and joining the Great Ocean Road just east of Allansford.

 The distant glimpses of spray clouds and yellow cliffs tantalised us for what seemed like hours as the road zigzagged across the plains a few kilometres inland before the road finally began to hug the coast along high cliffs and windswept bays from Nirranda South.
 The south coast of Australia is the most devastatingly beautiful pieces of coastline I've  experienced to date. This is in no small part due to the impression the Southern Ocean has upon the limestone jutting into its blue. The constant bombardment of the waves has over the millennia carved out cliffs like gigantic crooked teeth as far as the eye can see. The ocean had as it always does, an emotional effect on me. My part in conversations reduced dramatically as I began to stare out of the windows of the bus across the land and seascapes revealing themselves at every turn of the wheel.
 We came upon our first cliff top stop as the sun was hanging low in the sky and with our final stop of the day, the Twelve Apostles to be at dusk, our time here was short. But with so much to point my camera at, it didn't take long to capture a lifetime of images to remember it by.
 Bay of Islands was shortly followed by Tower Bridge. An arch of rock detached from the coast by a small channel of water. The name is now becoming pretty irrelevant as  a second arch that made the rock look a little less vaguely like a bridge was swallowed by the sea although, the single arch in the massive island of rock with driving white waves crashing through every other second certainly impressed me. The visible and audible power of the Southern Ocean as it hammered the rocks and cliffs left me mesmerised. Staring at the waves as they rose, curled and crashed and the strong wind picked off the top of every wave and blew it back out to sea like long locks of wet, flowing white hair, giving each wave a different character for a few short seconds before it smashed, like safety glass on the rocks.

Bay of Islands looking south

London Bridge

 Next was The Razorback. A slim, tall spur of rock standing precariously in the white swell.
The starlings were barely able to hang on to the tip of the rock as the wind whistled around the cliffs. The waves crashed high up the sides of Razorback and Island Arch even more violently than at the last stop.
 The sun was now so low that we rushed to the Twelve Apostles visitors centre hoping not to miss sunset and disembarked into the car park. Em told us to take it all in and take as long as you want as it was the last stop of the day. I took this literally and returned as my bus mates were resorting to using an aerosol air horn, attempting to coax me away from the cliffs. Needless to say, this was not the first or last time I wore the Hat Of Shame in punishment of my lateness. I paid well for this trip and I was going to see as much as I could before it ended. The car park was moonlit by the time I boarded the bus and we departed for our digs for the night.

In these three images of the Twelve Apostles the sea looks almost flat. It wasn't, it was raging! 
To get as much from the fading sunlight as possible, I opened the shutter for about 30 seconds on each frame. These shots were taken in virtual darkness so the use of this technique not only allows you to see the view, but also gives the pictures an eerie quality.   

 Princetown is a small, one street town a couple of kilometres along the coast from our last stop. We relaxed for an hour in our rooms before meeting at the pub/ pizzeria/ local shop and ate pizza and drank beer late into the night. I took my last drink, a lovely cold Coopers on the front step of my room, staring into the night listening to the relentless roar of the ocean savagely beating the cliffs as it has done for millions of years before. Sleep took me soon after and sound sleep was broken only by my alarm once again.
I had a wonder around before breakfast in the early daylight. This was indeed a one street town. A second shop and a small number of bungalows were all that made up this short cul-de-sac.
 Leaving early, we drove up and down through the wooded slopes of the Great Otway National Park and stopped at the Maits Rest Rainforest Walk. We spent an hour or so exploring the hollow trees and age old ferns growing along the path. This area is home to the tallest species of Eucalyptus regnans in Australia (known as mountain ash, swamp gum, or stringy gum), with some specimens recorded to have reached 90 metres within three hundred years.
 We left the cool, damp microclimate of the rainforest and headed back to the coast for our final stops before plunging back into the chaos of city life.
We stopped for lunch in Apollo Bay next to the skate park. There wasn't anything worth looking at there, so I ate bbq'd leftovers and salad before we rejoined the road.

 Kennet River is to be found in a small inlet on the coast where the river meets the ocean. The high cliffs give way to a sandy cove and a small car park and caravan park are nestled at the base of the cliffs. A small path leads up the cliffside through thick bush.
This spot, we were assured, was to be a dead cert for parrots and maybe the odd koala and to help in luring the birds from their purchase, Em & Kaitlin had brought a huge bag of seed.

 Lorikeets and Crimson Rosellas swooped from the branches as the seed was handed out. Landing on heads, shoulders, hands and all around as the seed fell to the ground.
Some were not as comfortable with the number of birds as others and found it a little Hitchcocky. I however, loved every moment. 
 As a couple of large coaches of other tourists arrived I thought it best to take a walk up the path leading up the cliffs away from the gathering crowd and to my amazement, I spotted a very stoned koala curled up asleep in the lower branches of a very small gum tree at the edge of the path, no more than a foot above my head. 

 As the crowd of tourists began to follow me up the path a little I departed and climbed yet further only to find a second koala, doing exactly the same thing in another tree. And then a third! By this time, my followers had turned back to the coaches so I took some time with the sleepy drop bears before turning on my heels back down the path.
 As I did so, I spotted a blue flash to my left and stopped in mid step. I scanned around and sure enough, not far from me was a Blue Fairy Wren.
I'd seen a picture of one back in Perth and wondered if I would spot one. Such vivid blue markings on the head, back and tail.

Superb Fairy Wren #3

 The Great Ocean Road is permanent memorial to those who died while fighting in the First World War. Carved in rock, it winds around the rugged southern coast. Built by returned servicemen it was a huge engineering feat ending decades of isolation for Lorne and other coastal communities. The Great Ocean Road Memorial Sign at Eastern View is more of a singular memorial remembering around 3000 men who worked on building the road and a few that died doing so. We stopped here briefly for group photos.   

 Split Point Lighthouse was described as being one of the filming locations for cult Australian children's TV show Round The Twist. And I can report, it does indeed look like the lighthouse from the show. We walked up to this undeniably picturesque spot, chatted about the T.V. show a bit, took some photos and walked back to the car park. The sighting of what I think was a Black Shouldered Kite on my walk down beat the lighthouse by a mile!  

Split Point Lighthouse

Black Shouldered Kite?

 The last few stops were a little rushed, but Bells Beach was a highlight. Looking down on the beach that was used in the final scenes of Point Break watching the hardcore attempt to surf the small swell was a great distraction from the reality that, tonight I would be sleeping in the 24 hour city noise of Melbourne. The complete opposite to the peace and calm of the Victorian & South Australian countryside. And I hadn't organised a room for the night yet. I also spotted a New Holland Honeyeater. 
 Torquay, home of the global surf brand Rip Curl was our final stop before we arrived at around 6pm in the centre of Melbourne. 
Boasting many discount surf outlets, I avoided these and made a b-line for the Globe store and then Blunt Skate and Snow.
The latter was a really friendly place, and when I took a shop branded t-shirt to the counter - this has become a ritual by this point in my trip. Any skate shop I visit, I buy a shirt. I have a collection of 5 at this point.
 I chatted to Jake (I think) who called me "Ledge" the entire time. He not only gave me a big ol' handful of stickers, he scribbled a whole list of skate spots in Melbourne he recommended I visit. He's the Ledge!  
It began to rain as I left the shelter of the shops. And the light was fading. Car lights dazzled me through the buses wet windscreen as we drove through the Melbourne suburbs and across the Westgate Bridge into the bright lights of the metropolis in the height of rush hour.
 I'd decided, following advice from my friend Jim, the fellow from San Francisco I met on the train from Sydney to Perth that I would try the Central Melbourne YHA on Flinders Street. Jim had stayed in two different YHAs in Perth and Fremantle and a number before we met. He could only say good things about the YHA network of hostels, so I was pleased to be told that a single room was available for a couple of nights. I took it and wearily carried my bags to the lift. The journey to the third floor didn't take long. Long enough to work out I was hungry, so after a quick shower I left the hostel to brave the mayhem of rush hour Melbourne to find the local Gutzman & Gomez under the security blanket of my iPod.  

New Holland Honeyeater

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