Great Ocean Road: Part two

8 to 12 November 2019

Geelong to Cape Otway via Kennets River, 141km

The first thing we did when we arrived in Geelong was head straight to the city centre shops to buy me a new pair of jeans. I had nearly worn the only pair I packed to death, not dreaming that I would need their warmth for so long. In the end I bought two pairs (to go with the new jumper I picked up in Beachport) and was to make good use of them both! Three out of the four pairs of shorts I packed have remained packed. The fourth has only had a few outings.

On a pretty wet and windy weekend we found no one other than these statues on the beach or in the sea water swimming pool.

Geelong sits at the southwestern corner of Port Phillip Bay. It developed an important role as a major port for the wool, and later the gold, industries. Today the waterfront has been redeveloped for leisure more than freight.

To continue our farming education we visited the National Wool Museum. Housed in a former woolstore built of bluestone we found the museum was about a lot more than just wool.

Thrusting me back to my former career we were faced with another shameful episode from Australia’s past. The exhibition Without consent told the story of the country’s past adoption practices. Between 1950 and 1975 saw women forced, pressured, coerced, sometimes drugged, into giving their children up for adoption. Julia Gillard’s apology in 2013 gave important recognition to the pain and trauma caused by this Government policy. It had nothing whatsoever to do with wool but it was an important and arresting exhibition.

For some light and fluffy relief the wool museum offered us a better understanding of the different types and grades of wool, particularly merino, and looked at the role of women in the industry.

It moved on to the manufacturing processes that turn the raw product into all sorts of woolly things from socks to carpets.

On the top floor we got to judge for ourselves the entrants to the biennial Art Quilt Australia competition. They were all stunning pieces of work but my favourite was the noisy miner with the grey kangaroo in the background, so evocative of places we have visited.

Best of all in Geelong though we got to hang out with Stefan’s friends Paul and Cath and their three children, one of whom hadn’t been born last time Stefan saw them. Edwina is now 6! It was a long overdue reunion for Stefan with his former swimming and cycling buddy and they even managed to squeeze in a visit to the pool together.

On account of our changing itinerary, it was completely accidental that we made our way back up the Great Ocean Road on Remembrance Day. The Road is the world’s largest war memorial, built by returning soldiers from WW1 in memory of those who did not.

We stopped briefly to make a cup of tea at the beach just outside Lorne where there were some hardy surfers braving the water. We continued along the Road’s twists and turns to Kennett River where the Lonely Planet promised “great koala spotting“.

We therefore stopped with quite high hopes of finally seeing some wild koalas. The presence of the occupants of a few small tourist buses craning their necks at the trees increased those hopes. We parked up and followed the nature walk into the rainforest. Not a sign of the koalas anywhere!

We did better with bird watching – some lovely cormorants on the river and very cheeky cockatoos, king parrots and rosellas.

With the weather still wet and wild we again eschewed the tent in favour of a solid roof, this time a caravan at Bimbi Park tucked amongst the eucalyptus forests of Cape Otway. With the strapline Camping under koalas, surely this really was the place we were going to see wild koalas.

And before we even moved in, there she was just above our heads in the tree behind the caravan – our first, maybe our only, wild koala sighting. They do exist! Just very hard to spot and to photograph as they are so brilliantly camouflaged. It’s no wonder we’ve found them so hard to see. There were reported to be about 10 living in the caravan park but we only saw this one. We didn’t care. We can leave Australia having (finally) seen a koala in the wild!

To see a bit more of wild Cape Otway we took a circular walk from the campsite to a very wild and windy Station Beach

where we found the sand full of the jellyfish they call here Blue Bottles but we know as Portuguese man o’wars. Their very long, thin tentacles give an excruciating sting though they looked pretty and harmless out of the water.

From the beach our walk took us up on to the dramatic cliffs where we followed a section of the Great Ocean Walk. We were grateful for the scrub covering the area as we needed to shelter from three downpours as we made our way to the tip of the cape.

Close to the lighthouse we found a tiny cemetery of 13 graves where the family of the lighthouse keepers were buried alongside some shipwreck victims washed up nearby.

Cape Otway sticks out where the Southern Ocean meets the Bass Strait. The hazardous passage between the cape and King Island to get to Melbourne was known as the Eye of the Needle and the lighthouse built in 1848 to ensure safer navigation.

Replaced in 1994 by a solar powered beacon, the light station was once home to a Head Lightkeeper and his family, several assistant Lightkeepers’ and their families and a number of Telegraph Operators and their families. It must have been quite a community. It was big enough to have its own school.

At Castle Cove we said farewell to the Great Ocean Road pleased to have been able to drive nearly its whole length. We were headed to try our luck in the Goldfields…