We were in Ballarat, Victoria, working on a farm for 5 months and, between digging and grading potatoes ( If you haven’t seen yet the video we made about the experience, you can have a look at it here ), we also found time to explore a bit the so called “Garden State”.
The Great Ocean Road (i.e. GOR) has always been very high on my bucket list but I’ll be honest: in my dreams I have always pictured going there on a hot, blue-sky-and-summer-dress kind of day. That was actually how I imagined every single day in Australia would be.
The reality was quite different and If you ever happen to end up in Ballarat between May and August let me be clear: it will get cold. And not a tiny bit cold, fresh-breeze-that-caresses-your hair kind of cold. REALLY COLD. Picture strong winds, freezing air that cuts your face and snow. So do pack a coat.
So often the reality is different from what we have wished for but what can we do? The best way is to try to make the most of what you have, in that exact moment (and philosophically convince yourself that being unlucky is cool).
Rather than waiting for the “perfect day” or “perfect weekend” to visit the GOR (who knows If we’ll ever be back to Victoria during summer), we decided to just go even if what we had was a weekend in cold July.
But, as it often happens when you have low expectations, the experience turned out to be actually amazing and even with the occasional rain, we discover that going to a super turisty destination during winter has lots of advantages
- It’s CHEAPER
- You can ENJOY the driving without getting stressed because there is virtually no traffic
- Believe it or not, you can actually SEE the different natural attractions without being elbowed/ pushed all the time, without the risk of getting a selfie stick in your eye and without having all your picture photobombed by other phones/heads/duck faces in the background.
- You save TIME. With less people around, you don’t waste time queuing, waiting to have your moment in the front to take decent pictures or similar, and so you can squeeze more attraction and things to do in your day. Talk about optimization!
- You have PEACE. No crowd around means that you can listen to the ocean in all its natural roar and connect with the nature, spending as little or as much time as you want; no one is pressing you to get a better view.
So how about that? What is all this compared to putting a ticker coat on? Exactly.
♥ WHAT IS THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD? ♥
The Great Ocean Road is an iconic and very popular road along the south-eastern coast of Victoria.
It is 243 Km long and runs between the cities of Torquay in the east and Warrnambool in the west. It was built between 1919 and 1932 by returned soldiers from World War I, so its construction meant important job opportunities for them and concrete help to rebuild a future, besides creating a connection between isolated settlements on the coast.
The GOR is a permanent memorial to those who died while fighting in WWI and it is therefore the world’s largest war memorial. At Eastern View (30 min driving from Torquay direction Lorne ) you can see the famous “Memorial Arch”, which celebrates the road itself and all those who contributed building it.
This popular road trip offers beautiful dramatic views of the ocean, being the road (or at least a good part of it )along the coast.
The 12 Apostles is surely the most famous attraction but there is so much to see that doing it in one day is really a shame (and this is what the organized bus tours do).
We tried to make the most of the two days we had and following are the places we decided we couldn’t possibly miss.
♥ LORNE AND ESKINE FALLS ♥
Lorne is roughly one hour drive from Torquay and along the way you can stop to view the Memorial Arch and you’ll pass the Split Point Lighthouse as well.
We didn’t visit the town of Lorne itself, but we drove off the GOR direction inland instead, as we wanted to reach the Erskine Falls, which are located 9 km from the town.
The last part of the drive is a bit adventurous, the road is narrow and made of gravel, so be careful especially if instead of driving a 4w4 you are driving a rented Toyota Yaris like us. Just saying.
Once you reach the car park, it is very easy to follow the path to the falls. There are two lookouts: one is just 5 min walk from the parking which allows you to admire the cascade from the top, the second one, the lower lookout, can be reached through 240 steps that take you down to the base of the waterfalls.
I definitely recommend to do the effort and reach the 2nd lookout, which is way more beautiful. There were very few people when we arrived down so we had the falls all for us and we were rewarded with this:
♥ TEDDY’S LOOKOUT ♥
Not far from the Erskine Falls, circa 15 min driving, you will find the scenic spot known as Teddy’s lookout.
From the carpark you can follow the walkway through the bush which in few minutes takes you to the viewing platform. The panorama is truly breath taking and again, as only a handful of people were there at the same time as us, we could enjoy the stunning vista in silence, immersed into the beauty of the nature.
Along the path there are few a tables and benches which make a perfect spot for lunch. We stopped there and, apart from the annoying and scary-looking crows that kept approaching our table (there were three and I swear they had a plan: two were trying to distract us while the third one tried to steal a bit of bread! It reminded me of the velociraptor in Jurassic Park), it was a perfect place.
Remember to take plastic bags to put your trash in, as there are no bins around.
♥ KENNET RIVER AND THE KOALA WALK …WITH A SURPRISE ♥
After lunch, we kept on driving along the Great Ocean Road in the direction of Kennet River (west).
The section between Lorne and Apollo Bay is considered the most beautiful part of this famous route and I agree. It is all along the coast and for once, I was grateful for the fact that in Australia you have to drive on the left, because this means you drive the closest possible to the ocean and the cliffs.
As much as I like having a plan, I also like keeping it flexible. The GOR is stunning and I think you should simply stop along the way whenever you feel like it, without rushing to the next destination. And that’s why when we saw a stunning rainbow (full arch, no less!) we decided to stop the car and simply admire it.
We noticed then that from the point where we were, it was possible to walk along the beach. We didn’t know whether we would have another good moment (or good weather?) for a beach walk during the weekend, the sun was out and we just went for it; it was a good decision.
After the lovely walk, we kept on driving following the original plan and we arrived in Kennet River, better known for the “Koala walk”. Whoever knows me, knows also I couldn’t possibly miss this place!
We just parked at the “Koala Cove Café’” and we started walking up the road adjacent to it, a quiet gravel track lined with Eucalyptus trees.
I have to be honest: I thought we would have to walk a long way and be very lucky to spot koalas! This is not a zoo or a wildlife park after all, it is their natural “home”, so there was no guarantee of seeing them.
But just a few min into the walk we saw the first one already. Keep your eyes wide open and look up among the branches for a dark fur ball.
We walked no longer than 30 minutes in total and we saw 3 koalas. They were all asleep (of course!) and one was actually so close that I was seriously tempted to climb the tree and hug him!
They are the cutest animals ever and seeing them in their natural environment is beyond magical.
FUN FACT: Ok, now it comes the fun part of our trip. The above said koala –very cute and very close- got all our attention and as no one else apart from us was there, we could stay there as long as we wanted.
I took something like 1000 pics, zoom in, zoom out, too bright, too dark.
The koala slept all the time, only from time to time he would confirm to be alive just by moving a little bit from his comfy position.
While I was focusing intensely on the koala in total awe, I saw something dropping from the branch.
I didn’t pay too much attention to it, until it started happening like, every minute.
So I called a bored Sam (I’ve been staring at the koala A LOT) and he said matter of factly: “It’s pooing”.
And so it started a funny conversation between us, me affirming that no way that was its poo! The koala was fast asleep! It must have been a nut or small stick, whatever, something that the koala with its little movements was probably causing to drop. Sam kept on saying it was poo and we got closer to try to decipher the not-well-identified object.
Closer…closer…pof! Another little thing dropped, missing Sam’s face for just a couple of mm!
And then we saw it: a bunch of green, olive-shaped pellets that looked very much like mini-dragon’s eggs to me (fans of Game of Thrones, you know what I mean. Yes, like THOSE THREE, with that textured surface, only much smaller).
No more contest. That was clear. That was Koala POO!
Google Images confirmed our now very slim doubts, adding that the poo actually smells of Eucalyptus. No, I can’t say we test THAT one out.
I tried to check whether koalas poo while sleeping, but that information seems to be too specific even for Google. However, as koalas sleep up to 20 hours per day and the rest of the time they eat, it seems reasonable to think that they might poo while peacefully lost in Koala-dreamland.
Haven’t I told you already they are amazing??
♥THE 12 APOSTLES AND GIBSON STEPS♥
I only have one suggestion regarding this world-famous natural beauty: book accommodation close by (we stayed at the 12 Apostles Motel and Country Retreats, $120.00 for one night) and make the effort to wake up early and go there in time to catch the sunset.
It’s really, REALLY worth it.
Our cottage was only 5 minutes’ drive away and we got there on Sunday morning when it was still dark. I swear, beside us there were only 5 more people. THAT’S IT!
Yes, it was freezing cold but I will never forget the time we spent there, moving from one viewpoint to another ( there are plenty), listening to the ocean waves loudly smashing against the rocks, feeling all the wild strength of Mother Earth, almost drowning in that view that kept amazing me.
I felt like I was high. I wanted to scream, I wanted to laugh, I wanted to somehow embrace that beauty, that wilderness, that primordial power and take it all with me. There is something intensely dramatic about this rugged and windswept coastline; while observing the fierceness of elements taking place, all the rest, even yourself, appears so small and so fragile in comparison.
I know that might sound crazy, but that’s how this place made me feel.
These gigantic limestone pillars rise up majestically from the Southern Ocean. There are actually only eight left now and the brutal strength of the waves keeps on eroding them at a rate of 2 cm per year. One Apostle gave up and collapsed completely only few a years ago, in 2005.
I cannot recommend enough to go down the GIBSON STEPS (there are almost 90), which lead you to the beach. From here, you can walk near to the 70 metre high vertical cliff and see very closely two of the Apostles which appear in all their enormity; you can’t help but feeling like a little dwarf in comparison.
You have to be very careful here and check the tide as it can be very dangerous when it is in. The ocean waves are huge and very loud. I read that they are really powerful and you can get sucked in. It’s actually recommended to NEVER show your back to the ocean, but be wary all the time and mind the tide! Don’t walk too far from the steps as the tide can come in quite quickly.
Apart from these mama-like tips, I highly recommend to go down there, to feel the connection with these giant rocks even more. Feel their power and to rejoice in feeling nothing compared to nature.
♥ PORT CAMPBELL NATIONAL PARK ♥
Even if the 12 Apostles are the most famous attraction in the area, don’t stop only there.
Port Campbell National Park features many other stunning wave-sculpted rock formations, each one unique and all of them worth of a stop.
The weather on that Sunday was not that great, but somehow the occasional rain and strong wind contributed to adding drama to this rugged and fearful section of coastline.
The Park is actually just a part of the so called “Shipwreck Coast”, which goes from Moonlight Head to Port Fairy and whose name speaks for itself: they say that 700 vessels are still lying in the waters of this very turbulent area.
LOCH ARD GORGE
This impressive gorge is named after the ship “Loch Ard”, an English vessel directed to Melbourne which sank here in 1878.
Famously, the only 2 survivors of the wreck were two teenagers, Eva and Tom.
By car, the gorge is only a few minutes from the 12 Apostles and there are viewpoints from the top as well as stairs that allow you to reach the beach.
This natural arch was formed by a gradual process of erosion.
Originally, there was a proper bridge that connected the coast to the offshore rock. This collapsed unexpectedly on January 1990, leaving two incredulous tourists stranded on the rock. They had to be rescued by helicopter.
Before the collapse, the name of it was “London Bridge”.
This was with no doubt my favourite attraction as this hole/cave is somehow enchanting and magical.
There are a couple of wooden platforms that allow you to see the grotto from the top; few stairs take you down to see it at eye-level.
The platform which is right in front of the grotto is quite small and once again I was glad we came during winter as it was very quiet and we could take our time to enjoy it.
If you come during a busier time, try at least to be here before 14:00. In the afternoon, the tour buses from Melbourne (yes, they squeeze all these wonderful attractions in one day trip only!!) arrive here, bringing with them tons of people. Avoid when possible!
And it’s really worth it, taking your time to marvel inside the hole and look far into the ocean.It feels a bit like peeking inside a magic world, spying from a secret door inside nature and marvel how beautiful she is for creating such vision!
Our last stop was quite a surprise. It is not very popular, the majority of tourists in fact finish at the Grotto. What a mistake!
I found this place being quote fascinating, wild, rugged and I think it kind of resembles the 12 Apostles. It takes the name again from a ship wrecked here in November 1908 which was called “Falls of Halladale”.
After parking the car, you walk a few minutes along a path with thick vegetation until the view opens up suddenly to reveal breath taking cliff tops. The space is very open and exposed to the elements, so the wind was particularly strong and cold in this point. On your right side, you can see rock formations emerging from the ocean, exactly like the Apostles. Maybe not as defined, but equally beautiful and wild.
And so our weekend came to an end way too quickly, leaving us with the memory of an amazing experience, which was perfect in all its cold and windy imperfection.
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