DM and MM's Great Ocean Road Trip Diary

Day 4 - Port Campbell to Mount Gambier

Tuesday, 31 October, 2006

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21:00 Mount Gambier Hotel, Mount Gambier

We woke up around 08:00 and ate our muesli and bran for breakfast. We decided not to finish off the leftover pizza from last night. Then we packed the car and went for a walk so Michelle could get a coffee while I bought some apples and licorice allsorts for snacks. I was a couple of dollars short of the cash to pay for it, so used EFTPOS, which attracted a 50 cent fee. Then I asked if there was an ATM nearby, and the woman pointed me at one sitting in the store right behind me. D'oh!

We dropped the key for our villa off and drove a short distance down the street across from there to stop for a quick look at the beach and port of Port Campbell. It was a small protected cove surrounded by impressive sandstone cliffs, making quite a picture. I took a photo of a couple using their camera for them.

We drove out of town and soon came across a sign advertising a scenic lookout. We stopped and walked a few hundred metres through scrubby heath to a point overlooking the town and cove from atop the western cliff.

Continuing on the Road, the next stop was The Arch, another sandstone formation between the cliffs and the sea, this one presenting, well... an arch of rock that had been cut through by the sea. A bit further along, and another carpark and short walk to the edge of the cliff gave us a vantage point overlooking the London Bridge formation. This was the rock arch that famously collapsed into the sea on 15 January, 1990, leaving two tourists stranded on the resultant newly formed stack. (They were rescued by helicopter.) It was still spectacular, as was the view west into another picturesque cove.

London Bridge fell down
London Bridge

The next stop was another coastal formation called The Grotto, which was a collapsed cave in the rock, littered with large chunks of sandstone and containing large tidal pools. We climbed right down into the grotto on a series of steps, from where we could see through a low rock arch to the sea beyond. This was our last view of the sea for some time, as we left from here and took the next right turn inland towards Timboon and the cheese farm nearby. As we drove along the inland road through farming country I spotted several brown rabbits by the side of the road, but was too slow to point them out to Michelle until we saw one bound across the road right in front of us.

The Grotto
The Grotto

We arrived at the Timboon Farmhouse Cheese establishment just before 11:00. It was a small retail outlet and cafe on an immaculately kept English garden - nothing like the working dairy and cheese-making facility I'd imagined. I presume all of that was hidden out the back somewhere, behind the luxuriant foliage and flowers. We partook of a cheese-tasting, which was a walk-through of abut a dozen varieties of cheese, served up by one of the woman there. Another couple went through the same tasting session with us. After the tasting, we decided to sit and share a small cheese platter while Michelle had a coffee to replace to rather nasty one she'd only half-finished from Port Campbell and I had a chocolate milkshake. We asked for a "cheese platter for one" (they went up to six or so), saying that we didn't want to spoil our lunch. The woman who took our order said it would probably turn into our lunch...

Timboon Farmhouse Cheese
Timboon Farmhouse Cheese

We sat in the garden amidst a field of daisies surrounded by all manner of flowering shrubs and garden beds, with small birds flitting back and forth. A woman brought the food and drink out to us, and indeed the amount of cheese and fruit and crackers was astounding - doubly so considering it was supposed to be for one person. The selection consisted of a King Island Dairy cheddar which was crumbly and very tasty, a soft fresh cheese rolled in diced onions and peppers, a brie, and a Timboonzola blue brie. They came with slices of rockmelon, watermelon, kiwifruit, and halved strawberries. It took us some time to work our way through it all, and we left the farm completely full.

While we were in the shop, an older couple had struck up a conversation with us, and asked if we'd been to the nearby strawberry farm yet. We said that we hadn't, and they gave us directions and said it was fantastic. You could pick your own berries, for $5 a kilo, and they were delicious. Since Michelle loves strawberries and it was in the direction we were headed anyway, we resolved to make the stop.

Old trestle bridge, Timboon
Old trestle bridge, 1892, Timboon

We weren't disappointed. We were greeted by a friendly old man who gave us a plastic tub about the size of a loaf of bread, and then escorted us out to the berry fields and showed us how to remove them from the stalks by bending the stalk over and snapping them off. He gave us a taste test direct from the plant; the berries were warm from the sun, sweet, very juicy, and amazingly delicious. Then he left us to pick berries, but not before asking what I did, and when I mentioned I worked for Canon he started telling me all about the problems he was having with his digital camera.

Strawberry picking
Picking our own strawberries at BerryWorld, Timboon

After filling the container with berries to a level we felt comfortable about eating in a day or two, we went back to the entrance shed to pay for them. The man's wife greeted us, and rather than weight the berries and take our money she said, "My husband thought of another thing about his camera, how the button is too small for his big fingers." He reappeared then and the two of them regaled us with stories for a few minutes. The woman weighed the berries, and rang up $4.35 on the till for close to a kilo of them. Then they began talking about the history of the local era and the woman dug out a photo book and showed us a photo of an old wooden trestle railway bridge while the man told us how to drive there. He said it was a much-photographed local sight, and pulled out an old local newspaper to show us some of the shots taken during a local photo contest, so we should like it if we're into photography. I pulled out one of my moo Flickr cards to give to them, and said, "I don't know if you use the Internet at all..." at which the old woman started ranting about Google and how she didn't trust it after some news story she'd read, but that she'd definitely take a look at my site...

Eventually we begged our leave by saying that we had to be in Mount Gambier by tonight, paid, and took our berries. We did elect to drive down to the trestle bridge and I took a few photos before we rejoined the main road again and headed west back to the Great Ocean Road, joining it at Nullawarre. We continued on along the Road quickly through various dairy farms until we came across the outskirts of the town of Allansford, where we were seduced by a sign advertising Cheeseworld, including tastings, a museum, and other amenities. Having overdosed on cheese already this morning, it was the amenities we were after, using their toilet facilities (temporary blocks while they built new ones for all the travellers passing through in need of relief). Then we took a brief look at the shop, being turned off by the rows upon rows of cheese, and the pioneer museum, which contained numerous displays of old-time farm equipment and household paraphernalia in various states of decay, housed in a dusty old shed that forced Michelle to take a swift retreat to avoid a sneezing fit.

Thus refreshed, we continued, passing through the large town of Warrnambool quickly and on to the Tower Hill State Game Reserve, where we took the entrance road intending a quick stop to eat some fruit and drink some water while admiring whatever view was on offer. The road turned out to be a one-way loop with no indication of how long it was until we reached the exit, and there was a car crawling along in front of us to avoid the wildlife. We saw a couple of emus close to the road early on. We stopped at the first parking spot we saw and ate our snack.

When we continued along the drive around the old volcanic crater, around a central lake, we came across a bus full of schoolkids on the road ahead, and crawled along behind it. The kids waved and gave us thumbs-up signs out the back window of the bus as we climbed the slope back up to the crater rim, with a view of a flat meadow below us that was presumably part of the lake, but in dry times. Eventually we returned to the main road and continue on our way.

The next stop was Port Fairy, where the presence of another lighthouse beckoned. On the way into town we were boggled by a roadside fast food place, looking much like a KFC or Red Rooster, but boasting the mind-breaking name of Canadian Rooster. This astounded us so much that we soon lost our bearings. Stopping in town to consult a map, we discovered that the lighthouse was far out on the opposite side of an island inhabited by shearwaters, requiring a significant walk to approach it. Pressed for time, we reluctantly pushed on without so much as a glimpse of the light.

Some kilometres down the road we began seeing giant power-generating windmills populating a hilly ridge south of the road. Their graceful white blades swept in vast circles, pointing into the south-easterly wind that was also buffeting the car as it drove. At first we could see just a few of them, but as the horizon peeled back we saw that they extended in a long disjointed line into the distance over several kilometres. There must have been upwards of 70 or 80 of them all up.

Wishing for a good spot to take a photos of the windmills, but frustrated by the road's parallel course that meant only a few could be captured in one frame at any time, we suddenly came upon a sign announcing "Codrington Wind Farm Tours and Viewing Area". Eagerly we drove into the indicated parking area just off the road, which was attended by a small tin shed and an elevated viewing platform. A sign indicated that tours were by appointment only, so no luck there, but the spot gave a reasonable photography location, enabling the capture of several of the mills of the Codrington Wind Farm retreating into the distance. An informative sign revealed that the location was chosen for its reliable and strong winds, which we experienced by being blown about as we dallied.

In drought, these fields still grow a crop
Codrington Wind Farm

Back in the warmth of the car we continued on towards Portland. Not far from town, we came across a sign that said "Portland Bay Lavender Farm". We pulled in to the parking area, noting the sign by the entry that said it was open until 4pm. Since it was just over 10 minutes to that hour, I said we could poke our noses quickly into the shop and then maybe have a look at the fields of lavender for some photos after it closed. We first used the toilets though, and I walked over for a look at some lavender patches in the front yard while waiting. On old woman dressed in a bright lavender purple track suit came out and said hello. I indicated that my wife would be there soon and we just wanted a quick look in the shop before it closed. She said that was fine and was retreating back inside when Michelle appeared.

Portland Bay Lavender Farm
Portland Bay Lavender Farm

We went inside and the first thing that struck the senses was an overwhelming scent of lavender. Not unpleasant, but enough to overpower even the visual sensation of absolutely everything in the room being purple. The woman began enthusiastically regaling us with the details of lavender production and essential oil extraction while she demonstrated various products by wiping them and spraying them on our hands. After she'd got up to a lavender and rose hand cream which we were struggling to rub in, she made a motion to dump more cream on our hands, but held off after seeing us still trying to cope with the previous lot. She eventually left us to wander the small shop, filled with all sorts of lavender products as well as some made from other flowers. Michelle bought a prettily patterned oven mitt and some lavender and rose water spray, while I decided to get a vial of lavender essential oil to use as an insect repellent around the windows at home, to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay. I'd read somewhere recently that lavender oil is good for that.

red on blue
Lighthouse keeper's cottage, Cape Nelson

Continuing on, we passed quickly through Portland and on to Cape Nelson where another lighthouse beckoned. It was an 11 km drive from Portland out along a road that needed to be backtracked to return. Another car led the way, and when we got there, there was a schoolbus parked at the lighthouse too. We walked around the tiny cluster of buildings, interrupted by the raucous noise of teenagers doing almost anything but actually appreciate the history and architecture and views that surrounded them. No staff were in attendance anywhere, and the lighthouse was locked, so we couldn't climb it, but we got some good views of it and the coast, before heading back out of the wind to the car.

Cape Nelson Lighthouse
Cape Nelson Lighthouse

The road back joined another road fairly quickly, and we took that option, it being further west of our incoming road. It confusingly joined a main road at an intersection marked with route A200 to Hamilton to our left, Portland town centre ahead, and something else to the right. I'd been expecting us to need a left turn somewhere, but after consulting the map we discovered Hamilton to be a long way inland and to the north-east. Where was the option to go west? After turning around and deciding to go to the centre of Portland and get our bearings there, rather than continue on potentially a very wrong road, I realised that something was very screwy here. We'd come from the south, and the turn to the left was posted as leading to a town to the north-east...

Further map consultation led to the conclusion that A200 to Hamilton was a ring road around the centre of Portland, and would turn to the right further along, while our desired road, C192 west to Nelson, would turn off it at some point. Thus reassured, we turned back on the road to Hamilton, and were rewarded for our logic with the turnoff to Hamilton some 3 or 4 km down the track. If only the road sign indicating Hamilton had also included the fact that the same road led eventually to Nelson, we would have been fine.

From Portland to Nelson we blasted away the kilometres along a road that presented a never-ending vista of pine plantations, with trees in various stages of growth, all the way from saplings through medium sized young trees, to giants ready for logging, and back around to cleared ground ready for replanting. All the trees were arranged in large blocks of similar age, so after driving past mature trees for a kilometre or so, we would enter a kilometre of 3-metre trees, then a kilometre of mediums-sized ones, then a kilometre of recently felled bare dirt, then a kilometres of mature forest, and so on. This continued for a good 30 kilometres along the road.

Nelson turned out to be a tiny hamlet consisting of a petrol station, holiday houses, and some caravan parks, clustered around a river inlet. We stopped for a rest stop and to stretch my driving legs after that stretch of pine trees. Michelle bought a packet of potato chips to snack on, needing something salty after we had been munching on licorice allsorts and strawberries in the car since Timboon. As we drove on, Michelle commented that we might have to toss out the remaining half kilo or so of strawberries at the state border, now just a few kilometres away, because of cross-border quarantine. I joked that if we had to do that, I'd rather sit at the border and eat them all, and maybe we could get a cool photo of us stuffing our faces with fruit in front of a quarantine sign.

Lo and behold, at the South Australian border was a sign indicating that bringing fruit and plant material into the state was prohibited. A short drive further along was an unmanned quarantine station consisting of a big sign and a bin to dump any prohibited items into. We sat there for a good ten minutes eating strawberries before dumping the green stalks and a spare apple into the bin, then we crossed over into South Australia.

Disposing of the contraband
Disposing ov the evidence, South Australian border quarantine bin

The drive from the border to Mount Gambier was punctuated only by the appearance of a black wallaby on the side of the road as we drove past. Soon the town loomed large, with outer suburbs indicating that this was probably the biggest town we'd seen since leaving Geelong. We drove through to the centre along the main street, and found the Mount Gambier Hotel, conveniently located on the corner of the town's main intersection. We inquired and secured accommodation for the night in the magnificent old country pub building, our room being an antique-furnished and spacious affair with an astoundingly high ceiling, and a new shower/spa-bath installed.

After dumping our bags, we wandered the streets briefly, admiring some old stone buildings, before settling on a place called Sage & Muntries for dinner. It was a cafe converted into a mid-range restaurant, offering a selection of local fare and Italian cuisine. Michelle had a vege burger which came with chips fried in garlic oil (delicious) and I had fettuccine with smoked salmon, dried tomatoes, and macadamias. The serves were enormous, and after consuming so many strawberries recently we struggled to get even close to finishing. While eating we admired the view out the window of the main street, along which there was a considerable amount of traffic, and the adult erotica shop across the street, displaying saucy costumes of a French maid and devil girl on dummies in the windows.

Mount Gambier Town Hall and Riddoch Art Gallery
Mount Gambier Town Hall

On the way back to the hotel, we dropped in at Coles, located behind the main street, to pick up a carton of milk for breakfast and some water for the car. Michelle insisted on buying me something for our anniversary tomorrow, and found some tins of biscuits. She said that the tenth anniversary was "tin", so she had to buy me something that came in a tin!

We walked back to the hotel, which was near the lit-up old town hall building. It looked so good that I got the tripod from the car and took a few night shots before we retired for the evening. Michelle watched Futurama and then Rove Live while I typed up this entry.

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