Great Ocean Road: Part one

7 to 8 November 2019

Beachport to Warrnambool, 265km

to Geelong via Princetown, 225km

We had been so grateful to shelter from the wind and rain in the warmth of Burk’s Island but with Tick all fixed we needed to move on. From Beachport we had planned to spend a week or so making our way slowly along the legendary Great Ocean Road

but the weather had other ideas. It was the kind of strong wind forecast that would have terrified us had we been on the boat but being in the tent it was the rain and temperature too that meant we needed a change of plan. We decided to head directly to Geelong to spend the weekend there catching up with Stefan’s friend, Paul and his family. We booked an Air Bnb in Warrnambool to break the journey.

On our way to Warrnambool we made our last stop in South Australia at Mount Garnier where volcanic activity has created some rather deep holes in the landscape, sinkholes that the Victorians in their own inimitable style turned into formal gardens. There’s a 50m deep sinkhole right in the middle of town that, on account of the torrential rain, had a pretty impressive cascade. Just outside the town, Umpherston Sinkhole is an even bigger hole made into a ready made sunken garden. That’s me right at the bottom braving the rain.

The Blue Lake was formed when a volcano erupted through the limestone creating a 75m deep freshwater lake. Just like the Pink Lake, a type of algae turns the lake a bright blue in the heat of summer. On an overcast day we just had to use our imaginations!

It would have been nice to stop off and enjoy Port Campbell and Port Fairy but the rain was falling so we continued directly to Warrnambool and took shelter over night from the torrential rain. Our Air Bnb was warm and dry but the noise of the rain on the tin roof was something else!

Contrary to the gloomy forecast, we woke the next day to a bit of blue in the sky and as the rain had stopped we decided to brave Warrnambool’s open air museum after all.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village starts as a shipwreck museum. Probably not the ideal place for two sailors to visit but one that certainly made us grateful for all our modern navigation equipment. “Look” said Stefan, “this ship is almost the same size as Pintail!” It is hard to imagine those early voyages on such tiny ships without GPS, VHF radios or satellite phones.

Here we first learnt the story of the sinking of the Loch Ard, a clipper that was sunk in 1878 in fog in the shallow waters of Port Campbell. Only two on board survived, Tom Pearce, an apprentice sailor, and Eva Carmichael, a passenger, who both washed up in what became Loch Ard Gorge. The other survivor of the wreck was an extraordinary 1.5m high earthenware statue of a peacock made in Staffordshire. It washed ashore in one piece two days after the sinking. It is an incredible object even without that back story!

But it is outside that this museum really comes to life, literally. We found ourselves in a recreation of an 1870s town complete with all the shops and services you might need in the 1870s!

The printer, the dressmaker, the shipping agent

and, for the sailors, a nautical instruments shop, a chandlers and a sail maker – they were all there.

In the blacksmiths we chatted to the blacksmith and he showed us more loot from the Loch Ard including piles of iron ingots which were being shipped from London.

We had resigned ourselves to missing out on the Great Ocean Road and heading instead directly to Geelong and the dry of another Air BnB for the weekend. However, although windy, the sky was staying dry and even a bit sunny so we decided to travel half of the Road on the way to Geelong after all.

And we were glad we did because the stormy skies and sea made this stunning coastline all the more dramatic. We made several stops along the way to see the incredible rock formations hewn for millennia by wind and water and they certainly get the extremes on this Southern Ocean coast with nothing between it and Antarctica 6000km away.

We stopped at the Bay of Islands and the Bay of Martyrs which both offered incredible cliffs and rock stacks. At the latter we looked into Massacre Bay whose name records the massacre of a large group of Karrae-Wurrong men. They were driven off the 20m high cliffs to their deaths. Don’t think the women and children were spared. They were killed in a swamp nearby.

Further along the coast, the now island known as London Bridge was once joined to the cliffs of the mainland by an arch. It collapsed unexpectedly in 1990 leaving two tourists stranded and needing rescue by helicopter!

At Loch Ard Gorge we found the location of the sinking of the Loch Ard and in conditions that were pretty easy to imagine getting shipwrecked. It is a good job I am used to looking windswept and interesting!

The Twelve Apostles is probably the most iconic of stops on this section of the Road and definitely the busiest. We got there just as it started to rain again

so from there we left the coast and headed inland across to Geelong, happy that we had seen some of the glorious Great Ocean Road after all…

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