MELBOURNE, Jan 31 -- We are all creatures of habit. When travelling to distant locales, most of us would join a guided tour or throw ourselves to the mercy of a long-lost relative now rooted in that land. This mode of travel can be fun and safe, but even security can be repetitive and boring after a while.
There’s backpacking, of course; running to catch trains and buses in a free and easy manner. But depending on public transport, however unreliable it may be in certain cities, still seems to fall short of a complete adventure.
No, there’s nothing quite like having your own hands behind the wheels, determining the routes and exits you would take. (It’s not a bad metaphor for living life too, come to think of it.) With this in mind, we head Down Under to embark on our road trip, our “Great Ocean Road-trip” that is.
The Great Ocean Road lies about 95 kilometres from Melbourne so we fly here first. Upon arrival, there are plenty of car hire companies for renting a suitable vehicle. Online reservations in advance help to reduce the amount of time you spend waiting in line and you’re more likely to get the vehicle model you prefer.
With a full tank of petrol, we leave the airport and take the B100 towards Geelong. The highway signs are all clearly marked. The Great Ocean Road starts at Torquay (near Geelong) and stretches 243 kilometres till Allansford near Warrnambool, where we will stop for the night.
It helps allocating enough time for the trip to fully enjoy the view which means plenty of stops along the way. You can definitely do the Great Ocean Road and back in one day but that would probably mean driving non-stop and where’s the fun in that?
Some of the coastal towns can be a great lunch or coffee break stopovers. Lorne is a beautiful resort town while Apollo Bay has a quintessentially Aussie laidback vibe. There are plenty of wildlife around too, from koalas to kangaroos, but spotting them may depend on the time of day. Kangaroos, for example, tend to come out to feed during dusk and rest during the heat of the day.
(There are plenty of dairy cows too, in case you are wondering where all our imported milk comes from.)
Of course, the local fauna aren’t the only reason to drive along the Great Ocean Road. There are several striking limestone formations that rise from the sea, presenting perfect picture-taking opportunities.
Perhaps the most photographed structures are the Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park. The formation was originally known as the Sow and Piglets until it was given its current tourist-friendly moniker in 1922. There were only ever nine stacks (now eight after one collapsed) despite its name, though with such a grand display of Mother Nature’s beauty, who’s counting?
My personal favourite is the London Bridge, a complete double-span natural bridge further down the road. On January 15, 1990, the arch closer to the shoreline suddenly collapsed, leaving two tourists stranded on the isolated part. Urban legend has it that when the couple were finally rescued via helicopter some hours later, they were outed in the news as carrying on an affair!
Fact or fiction, it makes for a good story, and of course, the eroded formation is no longer called the London Bridge but instead, the London Arch. Still it makes for quite a breathtaking sight.
We reach the city of Warrnambool at the end of our Great Ocean Road drive and check into our hotel. After resting for a bit, we head to nearby Pickering Point to watch the sunset. The coastal wetlands here are a great way to end the long day, with little besides the wind and the waves as company.
The next day, we check out of our hotel and drive west towards Tower Hill, a wildlife reserve situated around the crater of an extinct volcano. Rich in local Aboriginal history, the swampy reserve also teems with wildlife. We spot koalas and emus; echidnas may be observed when it gets darker if you’re lucky. There are four short walks that range from a peak climb to a boardwalk around the wetlands; all are self-guided so take your time.
For lunch, we head to Port Fairy, a coastal town south-west of Warrnambool. Established in the early 19th century thanks to the whaling industry, it’s now a scenic spot for yachting, fishing and the ever touristy pursuit of watching the first two activities. At any rate, you are assured that your fish and chips are absolutely fresh.
Last stop before we take the inland Princes Highway back to Melbourne is the Grampians National Park. The Grampians is one of the richest indigenous rock art sites in Australia, with picturesque sandstone mountain ranges.
We wander about Halls Gap, the largest town here, and are rewarded with a troop of wallabies and grey kangaroos, grazing with a flock of yellow-crested white cockatoos. Be it feathered or furred, the natural wildlife in Australia is always astounding – you truly cannot see this anywhere else in the world.
The experience is all the better because we keep our own schedule, driving when we feel like moving, stopping wherever we feel like, and taking our time to treasure every moment. Now this is truly travelling; now this is an adventure!
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on January 30, 2014.