John and I have traveled a lot since we retired in 2007. We have cruised around the world, sailed the Mediterranean and the Baltic, toured all over western and mid-west USA, been to London, Amsterdam, Dubai and Muscat. We spent a month in Scotland and 16 weeks driving across Canada and back. Among all the fabulous ruins, churches, archaeological and natural sights we have seen one of the most spectacular days we have ever had was the day we drove the main section of the Great Ocean Road in Australia!
We covered 160 km (just slightly shy of 100 miles) and it took us from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. We actually stopped short of our intended place – Mt. Gambier – staying instead at Warrnambool. We discovered later that had been a fortuitious decision because a town very near Mt. Gambier, Port Fairy, had a folk music festival going and there were no rooms available in any of the neighbouring communities. Leaving Apollo Bay.
The Great Ocean Road, as I wrote in my last blog, is the world’s largest War Memorial. It was built to commemorate the sailors and soldiers of Australia who fought and died for our freedom in WWI. The road goes 242 km (150 miles) along the southeastern Australian coast from Torquay to Allansford just east of Warrnambool.
At the end of WWI the rugged southwest coast of Victoria state was only accessible by sea or rough bush track. Not long after the end of the war the idea was broached to use returning soldiers to build a road that would link many of the small coastal communities. The surveyors began mapping the route in 1918 and work started Sept. 19, 1919. 3,000 servicemen lived in tent camps in rough terrain while they built the road. Construction conditions were often treacherous and several deaths occured. The steep sandstone and limestone cliffs are prone to slide and the inland portions of the road were over steep mountainous rainforest.
A large section of the road was opened in 1922 but it took a further 10 years to join Torquay to Allansford. Originally it was a toll road to help recoup the cost for the investors but in 1936 the deed for the road was turned over to the Victoria State government and the tolls were removed. Even though the new road linked the southcoast communites to the more populous east the road was only wide enough for a single vehicle, with very few places to pullover due to the steep cliffs. Major upgrades were done over the years to make the Great Ocean Road (now two lanes wide) one of Australia’s top tourist attractions with over 7.5 million visitors in 2009-2010. The road was added to the Australia National Heritage list on April 7, 2011 just 26 days after our visit, and is considered one of the world’s great scenic drives.
The first inland section of the road was through Great Otway National Park and at the lookout we saw 5 koalas in the wild, hanging out, as usual, in the euclyptus trees. They can be hard to spot because they are so far up in the tall trees. The area around Princetown is part of Port Campbell National Park, home of the Twelve Apostles, gigantic limestone monoliths gradually getting ground down by ocean waves and currents.
Three minutes down the road from the Twelve Apostles is Loch Ard Gorge, named for the shipwreck of the clipper Loch Ard that ran aground on Muttonbird Island at the end of a three-month journey from England in 1878 . Of the fifty-four passengers and crew only two survived; a 19-year old man who swam into the bay and a 19-year old woman he rescued when he heard her cries. The young man climbed the steep cliffs and went to find help. The woman lost four family members in the shipwreck and returned to England three months later. He stayed in Australia and died at age 49. As we were walking the trail back to our car we saw this echidna finding dinner. The little guy would smash his long nose into the ground to displace bugs. Next stop on the Great Ocean Road was the Razorback, a long narrow limestone cut that has been separated from the cliffside. With the angle of the razorback parallel to the viewpoint it was hard to get a photo of it all so I did a bunch of vertical shots and stitched them together.The view looking down the coastline along the road we had travelled was lovely. The wind and water spray cut some deep and interesting holes into the rocks.
Believe it or not, we weren’t done yet. The Bay of Islands was next. At last, after a magnificent day, we arrived a Warnambool; a dairy town. Dinner at an Indonesian restaurant gave me enough energy to sort the almost 300 photos I took that day. It was nothing short of fabulous!