Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Great Ocean Road Australia: Almost a Roadtrip

One of the greatest ocean drives in the world, we read. Stretching about 250 km along the southeastern coast of Australia it has cute tourist towns, beaches, cliffs, interesting history, and a stretch known as the Shipwreck Coast. However, a major miscalculation on my part didn't make it all that great. That, and the flies.

It's no secret that I'm a planner. In fact, we have all of our flights books, most of our other transportation booked, and except for a three week period in June, we have the rest of our places to stay booked. And I'm happy about this. We have terrific places to stay that are in great spots, that suit our needs (kid-friendly, kitchen, wifi, washing machine). But every now and again, we pretend that we can go with the flow. We thought a 4 day road trip along the Great Ocean Road would be a great way to prove to the world (or at least to us) that yes, I can so go with the flow.

Well, nope, I can't.

We planned to spend a few days driving along the Great Ocean Road, enjoying the views, hanging out in cute towns, and generally being flexible and rocking it. Turns out, because I didn't book in advance, there weren't any rooms available for the four of us that were under $300 - except at the end of the Great Ocean Road (assuming Melbourne is the start) in Warrnambool.

Since we had no place to stay, we booked a room in a Motor Inn in Warrnambool. The room was quite dated (pink toilet, shower, sink and tub), but it served its purpose. Plus it was far less than the $300+ a night elsewhere. And to be fair, the landscape truck and driver provided hours of entertainment. The driver wore heavy work boots and shorts. At first I thought he was there to just do a bit of plant care, but he was there every day, all day. I have no idea what his job actually was, but he drove around the parking lot, jumped out, would walk into a little shed next to the pool, spend some time there, hurry out again, hop back into the truck, drive around to the other side of the shed. This wasn't a large motor inn. The parking lot was maybe the size of half a football field. Maybe. I felt like I was in an episode of "Trailer Park Boys" without any volume.

The motor inn. You can see the "landscaping" truck parked in the row of vehicles. It's the first one. Unfortunately, I never got a photo of the "landscaper" with his truck.

But, Warrnambool the town, was a pleasant surprise. The marine museum was fantastic, as was the lightshow that told the story of just one of the many shipwrecks in the area, the Loch Ard. Plus, the couple places we ate out were little gems. But three nights is a bit much when the grand Great Ocean Road awaits you.

We did get out and about during the day to see many of the limestone formations along the western part of the road. There were many, and all of them quite stunning and beautiful. 

However, the friggin' flies dampened our spirits. They swarmed us and then stuck to us like we were honey. Brushing them away doesn't help. It's particularly gross and disconcerting when they crawl into your ear, up your nose, behind your glasses. Needless to say, we found them most distracting at each stop. Eventually the kids had had enough (I don't blame them at all) and they were done with that part of the drive.

We did get to the Twelve Apostles (which are basically 8 bits of limestone sticking out of the water - due to erosion. There used to be nine but one collapsed. But why is it named Twelve? Because Twelve Apostles sounds way better than the Nine Apostles). 

In an incredible splurge, and thanks to the generosity of Kerry's parents at Christmas, we took a helicopter ride out over the Twelve Apostles and London Arch. Fan-freaking-tastic! Nothing compares to being in a helicopter and the kids loved it. The helicopter provided us such a fantastic and unusual view to this part of the coast. But let's be honest, just being in a helicopter is awesome. If the pilot had just spend the time flying around aimlessly we would have loved it.

Staying in Warnnambool did mean that we drove the entire Great Ocean Road back to Melbourne in one day. Not ideal because you just don't have time to stop and enjoy the journey. We'd done much of the western part of the trip as a day trip from Warrnambool, but there's so much more to see on the rest of the road. Plus, because we were driving from west to east, we weren't on the ocean side of the road where all the pull outs were, and it seemed that everywhere we wanted to stop at was on a corner making it tough to impossible to see the oncoming traffic. The signs mentioning the high collision rates didn't make us want to just go for it, and pull over.

Also, although Kerry and I enjoyed the views and the scenery, it all started to look like the exact same thing to the kids and interest waned early on. And of course, there were the curves and the hills. Even at a slower than highway speed those of us not driving the car started to feel like we'd been on a spinny ride a bit too long. Well, actually, it was mostly me that felt that way. So Kerry did make one pit stop to take the kids up to a lighthouse. I stayed in the car with my eyes closed for awhile before digging out my book.

Photo of the three of them thanks to a kind soul who undoubtedly admired this dad taking his two kids out and about. Little did he know I was down in the car grateful for not having thrown up on the curvy roads. I'm so wimpy.

However, we did see an interesting part of the road that looked quite different from everything else. A bush fire went through part of the area over the Christmas holiday (thanks to a Christmas Day arsonist). The road had just opened up after closures due to the fire. We saw a fair amount of burned bush along the side of the road, and then a helicopter picking up water from the ocean with a bucket to go drop somewhere over the hill, presumably to a hot spot. That provided some much needed excitement for the kids.

All in all, the Great Ocean Road is pretty great. But I know it would have been greater if I'd planned and booked our places well in advance. We could have taken our time and enjoyed the sights and the towns. But, travelling as a group of four on a budget makes it difficult to find great last minute deals, or more properly, anything that's last minute and affordable. At least we got to go for a ride in a helicopter. That's one way to save the day.

As for the remainder of our travels now, this experience drives home the fact that I better get planning those final unplanned weeks in June....

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