Great Ocean Road: The trail of adventurers

Sometimes, the notorious Bells Beach can also be quite peaceful. | Photo: Tourism Victoria
Sometimes, the notorious Bells Beach can also be quite peaceful. | Photo: Tourism Victoria
The spectacular Great Ocean Road winds along the southern coast of Victoria. It reveals its true size through the little stories you find at the side of the road.

The steps give you enough time, enough to recall the whole drama. In the background, the ocean is already pounding in untameable anger, nebulously and ominously. Just ready to erupt, to let the waves go heading off to the beach with all-extinguishing power. On the beach: two men doing battle. One of them is fighting for the great rush of freedom by catching the final wave on his surf board. The other one is battling for the satisfaction of gaining moral high ground to hand over his arch-enemy to the law. Finally, the law enforcer falls prey to the hypnotising consistency of his opponent and tumbles into the water. Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves in the final scene of Point Break at Bells Beach. Only the toughest people come here to surf. The beach is renowned worldwide for its unique waves, their size, their dimension, their power. Further up, somebody carved “If you can’t surf, fuck off!” into the wooden railing at the steps. The wind hisses from the ocean as if wanting to knock you off the steps, slate-grey clouds loom threateningly on the endless horizon. Bells Beach is harsh beauty.

You could get addicted to curves here. | Photo: Great Ocean Road
You could get addicted to curves here. | Photo: Great Ocean Road

Usually, travel agents and tourists do the road in one day – and miss most of it in doing so. The Great Ocean Road tells stories of importance and bravery, about adventurers and the fortunate ones, about wild nature along the coast, about peaceful nature in the hinterland. The road rolls to Lorne and Apollo Bay. Today they are sparkling bathing resorts, in the 1840s they were nothing more than lumberjack camps in the middle of inaccessible rain forest. As land reclamation progressed from Melbourne, as ever more farmers located into the area and – when coal was finally discovered – plans were made to connect the area up to civilisation by building a road. It was not until 1919 that the plan was put into realisation. More than 3,000 soldiers who had just returned from the First World War were given the task of creating the coastal road which took 13 years to complete. An achievement that could not be any more breathless than the spots where the Otway Ranges extend to the coast and where the Great Ocean Road is jammed in between the elements water and earth.

What is left of the native rain forest which once covered the area is now protected in the Great Otway National Park. Eucalyptus regnans, also called Mountain Ash, is the mightiest living thing on earth. Lumperjacks once talked about a tree a height of 150 metres. The average height of the trees in the park is still 80 to 90 metres. The birth of such trees goes back to a time when Isaac Newton saw the light of day and Rembrandt was creating his masterpieces. These giants swallow everything, the light of the sun, the noise of civilisation. In the midst of root systems and ferns, and backdrops akin to fantasy worlds, the human being becomes rather insignificant in stature.

Dramatic shipwreck coast

A few minutes down towards the cape, and the powers emanating from the forest are severed. Lizzie Corke and Shayne Neal have found their perfect spot on a site previously cleared of woodland. The couple run the Cape Otway Centre for Conservation Ecology, an institution that is now regarded as an example par excellence for sustainable tourism in Australia. “Come on in, I need to give my babies the bottle,” says a blond freckled woman from behind the fly-screen door. Soon we find out that the babies are orphaned wallabies Lizzie is nursing back to health. Shayne puts milk into the bottle and talks about the beginnings: “We were looking for exactly this kind of lives and threw ourselves into the adventure of our life ten years ago.” And it was worth it. The Centre has grown constantly and employs many like-minded people and scientists who share the common idea that sustainable life can work out.

In the middle of root systems and ferns similar to backdrops to fantasy worlds, the human being becomes rather insignificant in stature. | Photo: Tourism Victoria
In the middle of root systems and ferns similar to backdrops to fantasy worlds, the human being becomes rather insignificant in stature. | Photo: Tourism Victoria

In the purple light of dusk we observe animals along the Koala Ridge Walk. Grey kangaroos mistreat the grass at a safe distance to their observers. The trail leads back into the forest from where pig-like grunts can be heard, only a bit longer, louder and more dangerous. Lizzie laughs: “Typical territorial protective behaviour of a male koala.” And indeed, there are lazy furballs up in the forked branches of the trees.

The next day starts in simple plain white with the light house at Cape Otway which, up above the sea, marks the start of the Shipwreck Coast which stretches towards the west. Many ships were wrecked and hundreds, or even thousands of lives lost along the often rocky coast. Originally it was the convicts from England on their way to Sydney, and later on adventurers in the gold rush, lured by the gold in Victoria and New South Wales. In Port Campbell National Park, where the twelve photogenic Apostles stand in the sea, you can well imagine their perky character. What is Australia doing there? It simply comes to an end. Not a gradual slope towards the sea. No, without any warning, there is a 50 metre high sandstone wall. A stone-coloured and warming golden glimmer at the end of the world. It does not get any more spectacular than that.

 
GM Info

Great Ocean Road

the Great Ocean Road starts about one and a half hours away from Melbourne and winds its way along the coast of Victoria for about 250 kilometres. The start of the panorama route bearing the official name B100 is just after the surfer town of Torquay. From there it goes west to Warrnambool. Rainforest and deserted dream-like beaches frame the Great Ocean Road and with a bit of luck, you can spot some whales. For a relaxed roadtrip, you should plan at least three days.

Info and tips about the journey: www.visitmelbourne.com

 

 
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