Our 2nd day in Melbourne was devoted to the Great Ocean Road Bus Tour. This was our primary reason for including Melbourne in our Australia travel itinerary. I had been quite sure I wanted to visit the Great Ocean Road (most trips originate from Melbourne) as well as the Great Barrier Reef (accessed from Cairns). The rest of the Australia trip was planned around these two givens.
We had to get up early and rush through breakfast as our pickup was at 7:15 am. The pickup was from 15 Therry Street, about a five-minute walk from our hotel. The tour was organized by Otway Discovery.
The pickup happened more or less on time. The next 15-20 minutes were passed in picking up other people from nearby hotels. After that we were off.
The best part of taking a bus tour is that the driver guide is very informative. He pointed out all the important landmarks as we were passing through Melbourne onto State Route 32. After a bit, I fell asleep listening to his soothing voice.
I woke up as our bus made its first stop at Anglesea, a small, picturesque town in Victoria. We walked over to the beautiful grassy banks of Anglesea River. Here, our driver guide served tea, coffee, and two varieties of cake as refreshments. He set out the cake trays, tea/coffee thermoses, and plastic cups on one of the many wooden tables there. You can read the details of the trip at Coffee at Anglesea.
The hot coffee refreshed me sufficiently to allow me to pay more attention to our guide’s many anecdotes. He said that the trunks on trees we were passing were black because they have survived many bush fires. The bark does not catch fire, though the leaves and small branches burn away. Once the fires burn, new seeds exposed to sunlight sprout and grow. So these trees actually thrive on fire.
Our next stop was at the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch, which serves as the gateway to the Great Ocean Road. This is an interesting spot to learn about the history of the Great Ocean Road, and I’ve covered it in great detail in A Memorial for a Memorial?
As we passed through the town of Lorne, the guide told us an interesting tale. Lorne is renowned for a Pier to Pub swimming race. Once upon a time, two guys were sitting on the pier drinking. One guy asked the other to fetch another round of beer. Somehow, this led to a challenge – whichever one of them was the first to swim from the pier to the pub and down one pint of beer would be declared the winner. The loser would then pay for the guy’s beer for the rest of the week. Well the challenge happened with several other beach goers as witnesses. As the story goes, the winner was soon bragging about his win and challenging others to complete the race in the same (or lower time). And that’s how the annual Pier to Pub race of Lorne came into being.
Lorne is also popular for a food festival that lasts for over 3 days. While the normal population of the town is 2000, it swells to around 35000 on festival days.
An hour or so later we reached Kennet River. The guide promised us that we were bound to see a koala or two here. We walked on to the grounds near Kafe Koala, and sure enough we soon spotted koalas sleeping high up on a Eucalyptus tree. There were also lovely birds in the area, which were very used to having people around as visitors often feed them birdseed bought from the café.
When we were back on the bus, the guide shared a lot of interesting tidbits about Koalas. Did you know that Koalas only eat eucalyptus leaves even though they are toxic? Over the years, they have evolved to be able to process it. Mother koalas even mix crushed eucalyptus leaves with milk and introduce it to baby koalas or joeys.
- Some more interesting facts about koalas that he shared:
- Koalas have two thumbs on each hand!
- They eat around 2 kilos of leaves in a day.
- In Victoria, holding or carrying koalas is banned.
- Mother koalas are pregnant only for 30 days.
- They live on trees and have upside down pouches, similar to wombats, but the babies don’t fall out because of a contracting muscle.
- Joeys don’t have hair or claws. They develop over 6 months.
For lunch, we stopped at Apollo Bay, a picturesque seafood village. We picked up scallop pies and sandwiches from the Apollo Bay Bakery, and headed to the beach for A Picnic Lunch at Apollo Bay.
After the heavy lunch, I soon drifted off to sleep on the bus. The guide was taking a break and had put on some soft music possibly just for this purpose. When I woke up, he was telling us about the tallest flowering in the Cape Otway national park. None survive now. Some were hit by lightening and and exploded. So the last one here had to be chopped down as a safety measure.
We soon reached the Twelve Apostles, a group of magnificent limestone stacks, located off the shore of the Port Campbell national park. The Twelve Apostles and surrounding landmarks are the highpoints of the Great Ocean Road trip. Surprisingly, there are only seven limestone stacks that make up the “Twelve” Apostles. Read more about their story in The Twelve Apostles of Australia.
From the Twelve Apostles, we moved on to the Loch Ard Gorge, a beautiful gorge straight out of a fairytale world. Unfortunately, this picture-perfect setting gets its name from the tragic shipwreck of the clipper ship Loch Ard in 1878 in these waters. Check out The Tragic Tale of the Loch Ard Gorge.
Just adjacent to the Loch Ard Gorge viewing platform are paths leading to two other natural wonders, the Island Arch and the Razorback. We only had time to see one of these and so based on the driver-guide’s recommendation, we opted to visit the Razorback.
The Razorback is a massive, but incredibly stunning, limestone islet that the pounding surf has carved out of the the cliff.
Our driver guide said that the Loch Ard Gorge–Island Arch–Razorback location was usually the last stop in the Great Ocean Road Bus Tour but since we still had time, he took us over to Gibson’s Steps.
Gibson’s Steps were originally cut out by a local tribe hundreds of years ago, but are now strengthened and supported by metal railings. The steps are named after Pioneer Hugh Gibson, who regularly used these steps to access the beach below.
Although the Great Ocean Road in Australia stretches to Allansford in Victoria, most bus tours starting from Melbourne only go up till the Twelve Apostles and nearby landmarks like the Gibson’s steps before returning to Melbourne. I guess no more is possible in a single day tour.
The return to Melbourne was not a repeat journey over the Great Ocean Road. Instead, it was via a much shorter inland route using the M1 motorway and took only about 2.5 hours. We stopped for an early dinner (opting for burgers at McDonalds) at Colac, known for its lumber industry.
We also passed through the town of Winchelsea about which the driver guide shared this interesting tale: A young farmer from England had settled here in 1800s. As he was missing his home, he asked his people back in England to send some sort of reminder. Well, as he had been fond of hunting, they sent rabbits. The farmer released the seven rabbits that survived the journey into the wild. After a few weeks, he went hunting and ended up killing many more than seven rabbits. The rabbits were multiplying at a tremendous rate. Soon, farms were being destroyed. The farmer’s neighbors too started hunting the rabbits, but still the situation got out of hand. Due to their extreme prolificity, the rabbits spread rapidly across the southern parts of the country resulting in a rabbit population explosion. It was the fastest spread ever recorded of any mammal anywhere in the world!
With such interesting anecdotes, the return journey to Melbourne passed very quickly enough and we were back at our hotel around 7:00 pm. Overall, this was an extremely rewarding day!
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