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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Notes From Melbourne And The Great Ocean Road - Part Two

The moment I begin travelling I apply Murphy’s Law to everything on my itinerary. It’s a better way to travel if you think it’s going to happen so you at least take the necessary precautions to try and soften any blows that might be heading in your direction. Traffic being one. Tyre flats being the second. The less likely but equally distressing to think about are getting bogged coming off the road, getting trapped in flood waters and having a car accident being the main one that makes me tap wood three times.

My partner, freezing from the changes between sunny Queensland and blustering rainy Melbourne was shivering when she got into the car. “The bus leaves at 5pm, we need to get to the hotel by 4 so I can do my make-up” she said.

We barely saw Melbourne or the Mornington Peninsula between the thick rain and staring at the satellite navigation screen for our next cue. We made the wedding just in time, housed in one of those austere structures that sits in juxtaposition to the natural beauty of a vineyard but made of earthy materials such as sand stone, timber and polished concrete. The wedding was great but the djay missed his mark and we all bundled into the car bound for the hotel, nestled next to a golf course, also cold and stark and lacking in real warmth, as the wind and rains lashed the windows and we guessed as to what was out there on this forbidding peninsula.

The next morning, I whisked my partner back out to Tullamarine airport on a much faster route now that I had time to use my navigation on my phone. I had always despised allowing location services on my phone but suddenly I was behaving like a businessman who could afford a secretary. “Ok Google, tell me what is the best route between Fingal and Tullamarine” and I sat around like a smart arse waiting for her to get back to me. I was then researching my next move – Torquay and The Great Ocean Road.

“Ok Google, Wiki The Great Ocean Road”  - and to my dismay it returned with search listings from a day ago saying “The Great Ocean Road closed after accident”. I thought I’d make a run for it regardless. As soon as I gave her a kiss and walked out of that terminal I was straight into my car like Jason Bourne with a mission to get somewhere by nightfall.

I refueled somewhere near Geelong on the highway and then made my way to Torquay. The weather was being very temperamental, ranging from soft breezes and patchy sky to howling wind and rain. I arrived in Torquay and had just managed to get some photos of paddle boarders heading out into the grey and choppy surf with temperatures at 10 degree Celsius when the winds picked up again and the rain started. I scrambled to a local café which had the most number of Google reviews and ate a wonderful lamb shoulder in a sort of Moroccan salsa with peas and carrots and a mint yoghurt. Whilst I ate I read the Wiki on The Great Ocean Road, never knowing that it’s provenance was entwined with ex WW1 servicemen who had intended to create the world’s biggest War Memorial and had done so by completing the 243km road between Torquay and Allansford. Previously the whole coast line was only accessible by sea with much of the land around uninhabited. The work was tough and, knowing what I now know about that coastline, the weather would have given them a relentless battering.

From Torquay I headed out to Bells Beach and pondered on that wonderful scene of Johnny Utah chasing Patrick Swayze’s character in that final scene from the original Point Break. Such a classic movie! So sad what happened to Patrick Swayze. How the years had flown by. A very pensive drive. It was all the more nostalgic when I got there and the conditions looked pretty similar to that in the film; a blustering wind battered the coast line, the storm surge was sending the waves right up the beach and not a soul had ventured onto the sand, just cars shaking in the weather with the occupants sitting cozily inside inspecting the tempest from a safe distance. I took my photos, did my hasthags and went back to the car to look for my next move. As I drove away the weather began to subside, such as it was the for most of the trip, four seasons in one day, as my partner had well noted on our only day together.

Bells Beach - the first example of the unforgiving battered coast line that forms the theatrical backdrop of the The Great Ocean Road in Victoria

Nobody was venturing onto the beach that day, not even one surfer. 
The Great Ocean Road does not really start at a fixed point, not one that I could find anyway. There is the large memorial archway that you’ll find at Eastern View, but according to my reading it’s a looser term applied to the road that exists between Torquay and Allansford, so all around the start of the road you keep finding signs that say this way or that to The Great Ocean Road but never a sign that says ‘Hey you, this is the start of what you came looking for’.

However, it became apparent as you left Torquay, what defined this road. Large cliffs, probably less height and browner than Dover, were being slowly eaten by the wind, rain and sea that lashed a shoreline where the vegetation looked like it was hanging on for dear life and any leaves deemed superfluous were blown away leaving what looked like green tips on other wise bare branches, similar to what you sometimes find in wind-swept Alpine areas.

The road was filled with other holiday makers; either the large SUV overloaded with luggage and roof racks, aggressive looking dual cabin four wheel drives towing campervans, those mural styled Wicked vans that backpackers travel across the country in and then the tourist buses filled with all walks of life.

On I went from Bells Beach to Anglesea, Anglesea to Aireys Inlet, then Eastern view and the onto Lorne. The landscape was beginning to look more human as the weather eased and patches of blue sky would appear between otherwise grisly cloud cover. At Eastern view as I took my prized photo of the memorial I looked up and noticed how advanced some of the architecture was that dotted the hills behind the road. They weren’t really beach houses since, as one local advised me, it wasn’t the most accommodating sea for beach goers. Angular lines of steel with timber and zinc cladding with glass panes all seemed to suggest that the owners loved watching the windows get battered with rain and didn’t mind the upkeep. They were beautiful to look at but all I could think of was what a bugger it would be at 3am when you got the call in Melbourne that the alarm had gone off on the holiday house and the window was broken because another tree branch has smashed through the viewing glass…
At Lorne, beautiful seaside cottages and hotels were compelling me to bed down for the night but I still believed there was plenty of light to drive so I headed out of town to be stopped by a man still wet in his yellow rain jacket and wellingtons from the previous hour’s rain. ‘I am afraid you can’t go any further, the road has been closed’ he said, with no explanation of why.

The memorial arch at Eastern View on The Great Ocean Road
“Well, what can I do?” I asked. ‘You can take Dean’s Marsh road after the round about and try your luck at Apollo Bay’ was all he offered and so I was left to my own devices, which, thankfully, included my Google secretary. The challenge awoke the Jason Bourne in me and I began clicking up and down on my gear paddles knowing that the next section of harrowing road was requiring my full attention.

Part Three to follow.

Lorne, the first town after the war memorial of The Great Ocean Road at Eastern View

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