DM and MM's Great Ocean Road Trip Diary

Day 3 - Apollo Bay to Port Campbell

Monday, 30 October, 2006

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21:31 Sea Foam Villas, Port Campbell

We've had a very busy day today, despite it being the shortest driving day of the trip.

We began by sleeping in a little, getting up around 07:40. We ate the cereal we'd bought yesterday, and I had a pear as well. Then we walked over to the bakery around the corner and bought some bread rolls for lunch: two cheese, tomato, and onion, and a cheese, ham, and mayonnaise. Then we bought some apples and pears and a bottle of water at the IGA, before heading back to the motel and checking out.

Our first stop was the Maits Rest Rainforest Trail, which was a gorgeous walk through a lush, wet, green rainforest gully on an easy walking track. It took us a bit under an hour, as we took our time and took several leafy photos, using a tripod in the darkness under the canopy. There were plenty of huge tree ferns, lots of moss, and lots of fungi all over the place. It was very chilly, and sprinkled intermittently as we walked, but never enough to really worry about. We passed several other people doing the same walk, some of whom we would cross paths with again at further attractions along the Road later in the day.

Clean air, bird calls, and thee
Maits Rest Rainforest Trail

Leaving the rainforest, we turned off the Road back to the coast for a sojourn at the Cape Otway Lighthouse. We pulled off into a parking area that was under active construction, with workers digging a ditch with a backhoe for some new plumbing while we were there. We paid our $15 each and entered the lighthouse property, which had a half-dozen or so historic buildings, variously being accommodation for the lighthouse keeper, his assistant, some storage buildings, a disused generator building, a World War II era radar installation, and the lighthouse itself. Unlike the Split Point house, we could climb the lighthouse steps to the top, where a cheerful man was happy to answer questions, give impromptu explanations, and take photos of people standing on the precarious catwalk around the outside of the light.

Cape Otway Lighthouse
Cape Otway Lighthouse

I was keen to get a close-up shot of the fresnel lens of the light, but as I aimed at it, the light began turning! When I put the camera down I noticed it was the guide turning it - he helpfully suggested I'd get a better shot aiming through the removed lens panel that he was bringing around to face me. While I took a few shots of the interior workings of the light, I then asked him to turn it back around so I could shoot a detail of the lens.

In the light
Fresnel lens, Cape Otway Lighthouse

We walked back to a cafe where Michelle got a take-away coffee. They also had some interesting looking slices, including one I couldn't identify, topped with orange peel pieces. I asked the woman at the counter what it was, and she read from a scribbled note on the counter that it was a "semo... semol..." Spotting her prompt, I said, "Oh, a semolina slice!" "Yes, that's it!" Although it looked interesting, I wasn't really in the mood for a sweet so declined to buy anything. Instead we walked back out to the car and ate one of the bread rolls each for lunch.

We left Cape Otway and rejoined the Road on its journey west. Across the Gellibrand River we took the turnoff on to Red Johanna Road to the tiny settlement of Johanna, which I'm not sure we ever really saw. We did see Johanna Beach and a decrepit tennis court, but that was about it. We returned via Blue Johanna Road, which formed a loop back to the Great Ocean Road. The Blue Road was dirt for about 6 km of its length, and wound uphill past several dairy farms and sheep paddocks, which were very picturesque, presenting vistas of rolling green hills stretching into the distance and the sea.

Dairy farm

On the main Road again, we continued to Lavers Hill, where we took a toilet stop. There wasn't much there except a couple of roadhouse cafes and a public toilet block. It was only after driving on a bit towards the ocean that we passed a few houses and a tiny school.

A little past Lavers Hill we stopped at Melba Gully State Park, where we did another short nature walk, down another rainforest gully. It was similar in some ways to the Maits Rest walk, different in others. There was quite a large stream passing through Melba Gully and we saw some small cascades that created a soothing sound mixed with the bird calls. When standing quietly it was wonderful to listen to the sound of nothing but nature.

Ferns, Melba Gully State Park

Continuing our journey, we turned off the main Road again to take what was listed as the "scenic" Old Ocean Road in our Lonely Planet. It was 11 km of dirt road passing by and almost endless array of dairy farms, which were indeed quite picturesque, but not exactly what we'd expected. We stopped at one place to take some photos of black and white cows, and the entire paddock full of them walked over until they were all bunched up as close as they could possibly get to the car. I took advantage of their curiosity to get within a couple of steps and take some close up photos.

Soon after rejoining the main Road, we found ourselves zipping through the hamlet of Princetown without even noticing it, as signs indicated the proximity of Gibson Steps. We stopped here to climb down the steep steps to the beach some 70 or 80 metres below the sheer cliff. Several other people were checking out the same sight, and a couple passing us on their way back told us we should walk a good distance along the beach to get the best views of the huge sandstone stack out in the water, saying that there was a second one hidden behind it. So we walked a few hundred metres along the sand until we could see the second stack, and incidentally a better angle of the sun on them, (Oh yes, the sun had finally appeared by now, and was blazing out of a mostly blue sky.)

Gibson Steps
The Gibson Steps

It was hard, hot work walking across the sand, but definitely worth it as it gave us spectacular close-up views of the giant stacks of rock. While I took several photos, Michelle combed the beach for shells, finding only a few tiny ones. What the beach had plenty of was seaweed, cuttlefish "bones", and small glistening things shaped like long grains of rice, but transparent. I couldn't figure out what they were; they looked like tiny bits of jellyfish or something, and littered the beach in great thick drifts at the high water mark. Later we learnt that the waters off this coast are populated with the giant cuttlefish Sepia apama. There was plenty of evidence of it washed up on the beach.

Two Apostles
Two of the Twelve Apostles ocean stacks, from beach level

We returned along the beach, feeling quite hot now under the sun, and climbed the steps back to the carpark high above. Then we drive on to the most famous sight along the Road: the Twelve Apostles. There was a large parking area and amenities building there, all heavily populated with tourists - much more so then Gibson Steps. After making use of the facilities, we walked under the road through an underpass to the coast side and over to the lookouts. The view was spectacular and entirely worth this trip by itself.

Same two Twelve Apostles, viewed from clifftop lookout

It's hard to do it justice in words, but I took plenty of photos so we'll see if they can help embellish this account. The giant sandstone stacks ranged like sentinels along the coast, itself being eaten away by the ceaseless pounding of the Southern Ocean, leaving intricately patterned strata of coloured stone, all formed an amazing vista before our eyes. The sun was not in the greatest position, illuminating the formations from behind, but we would return later to rectify that minor problem.

the western sun
The rest of the Twelve Apostles, looking the other direction

After returning to the car, we drove on to Port Campbell to seek accommodation for the night. Ten minutes down the road we stumbled across this small holiday town. Some of the motels were full, but we found a lone room in the Sea Foam Villas, which was really a self-contained holiday apartment. Very nice, and the floor was actually big enough for me to do my stretching exercises (unlike the Apollo Bay Motel, where I had to do them squashed between the bed and the wall).

We ventured out for a walk to find dinner. Most of the places in town seemed rather upmarket, so we settled on what looked like a simple pizza and pasta place called Nico's. When we entered, we realised that it too had gone upmarket and was offering gourmet pizzas and pastas for around the $20 mark. Still, we were hungry and had to eat quickly, so we ordered a garlic and herb baguette and a Persian pizza that looked very interesting, consisting of cheese, tomato, potato, feta, walnuts, and sliced pear. It was very nice, though somewhat too sloppy to eat by hand, so the knife and fork had to do service.

While we waited for the food to be served, Michelle rushed across to the supermarket next door and discovered that they would close in 20 minutes. I asked a waitress if we could possibly store a carton of milk in their fridge while we ate, which was greeted with a cheerful "Sure!" So I ran over to the store and acquired such, bringing it back for storage while we ate. At the end of the meal, we collected our milk and walked back to the villas with it, and a couple of slices of leftover pizza.

Immediately after dropping these items in the fridge, we set off in the car back to the Twelve Apostles, to experience the wonder of the sunset. I'd been worried yesterday and this morning that the weather would continue to be drab overcast, and the sunset would be washed out, but during the day today the skies had magically cleared and by now presented a mostly blue aspect with enough wisps of cloud to make the sunset truly interesting.

Apostle Sunset
Twelve Apostles, at sunset

When we arrived, there were, if anything, more people waiting there admiring the view than earlier in the day. I counted at least 4 other tripods matching mine, one with a video camera mounted on top. As the sun slowly sank into the ocean, we all ooohed and aaahed at the shifting colours of the rocks, basking in the golden glow, which turned to orange and then red as the sun blazed under layers of multihued cloud that softened the sky just above the horizon. With the light now soft and coming from the side rather than behind, the view was even more glorious than earlier in the day, and again worth the effort to make it here several times over.

warm stone
Twelve Apostles, at sunset

With night falling, most of the watchers left, but a few remained. A man exclaimed that there were penguins down on the beach below us. I could see tiny dots that resolved into fairy penguins through my 200 mm lens. They were tentatively landing on the beach from the crashing surf, then indecisively waddling back and forth from the sand to the water, making up their minds on the safety of racing across the beach to their burrows. I snapped a few more shots of the rocks, but Michelle saw the penguins finally make the dash and vanish into the rocks at the base of the cliff.

In the gathering dark, a last group of Japanese tourists arrived as everyone else was leaving, and asked me to take a group photo of them in front of the Apostles. With the night-time portrait setting on their camera firing flash to fill in the foreground, they turned out quite good. They waved gratefully at us as we left them to the chilling cold and falling gloom.

We walked back to the car and drove back to our room, where Michelle watched some show on the TV about some sort of scam artists, while I typed up the diary of today's events.

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