We were fortunate enough to afford a couple of days off from our video editing to take a trip along the Great Ocean Road in December. It was one of those drives that is considered a ‘must’ in Australia and it did not disappoint! With so little time to drive the route we had planned our route precisely. We rented a car in Geelong and picked it up late in the afternoon so that we could work for the morning before heading out. We knew that most of the really amazing views wouldn’t come up until after Apollo Bay, so we drove straight through until we arrived in Lorne where we briefly stopped to take a quick peek at Teddy’s Lookout which offered a really spectacular view of the winding, seaside road we were venturing along.
We stopped a few more times for some quick photo opportunities before arriving at our overnight destination, Kennett River Campground. We were thankful that our workaway hosts had lent us some camping equipment (to save money on hotels) and it allowed us to stay in a mini-koala paradise! Our hosts had insisted on a few other beautiful campgrounds to overnight in, but we read online that this site had several koalas that lived in the trees (wild koalas not pets). Once we set up our tent we grabbed our cameras and took a stroll through the area. Within minutes we had spotted our first koala!
There were a couple of girls from France also searching and they pointed out a few more for us to get photos of. In total we saw around half a dozen koalas and one was even on the ground making its way to a new tree. Unfortunately, the minute our fellow campers caught wind, they started chasing after it (it was unclear if they wanted to pet it or get a photo) and the koala took off up a tree in fear. As is generally the case, there’s always the small percentage of travellers that have no clue how to behave around wildlife.
We also discovered that this park attracted a ton of King Parrots, with a local general store selling seeds for tourists to feed them. They are a very beautiful bird and it’s too bad that they are now so pushy when it comes to food. Dan and I opened our trunk to prepare dinner and we were swarmed by them!
We also noticed that one of the ducks in the park had a broken bill and it’s tongue was hanging out the side. Worried for the duck, we called a local wildlife rescue group to ask what to do. We were instructed to try and get the duck into a box and bring it to a rehab centre along our route. We were able to get an appropriately sized box from the reception but catching it was a new obstacle all together. We didn’t want to traumatize the poor duck so we tried to slowly walk up to it. It was very aware of our plan and kept quickly walking the opposite direction. We had some seeds that we were trying to coax it with, but soon enough other ducks were coming over to reap the benefits. Meanwhile, our duck was intermingling with the others and staying far enough away that it was impossible to catch.
We had a towel that we were hoping to restrain it with but it was too quick. After around 15 minutes another couple had come over to try and assist. This seemed to alert the local King Parrots that something was up and soon the birds were swooping down and landing on our head and backs! It was sheer chaos and we were gratefully interrupted by a call from the rehab folks. The woman told us that it was likely they would euthanize the duck if we brought it in. With the duck staying at the campground it had a safe place to sleep and endless food from visitors to sustain it, so we decided to leave it alone. It was relieving since the duck had grown tired of waddling around and proceeded to fly to the opposite side of the campground.
We then made our way along to Great Otway National Park to do some hiking. We didn’t have time to explore much of the park so we decided to limit our trek to two hikes, The Redwoods and the Beauchamp Falls walk.
Back in the 1939, someone had a grand idea to plant a whole bunch of California Redwood trees in the forest. Today the trees tower over the area and create an almost surreal habitat. We had grown accustomed to seeing the gum trees everywhere, so these redwoods reminded us more of the forests back home in Canada.
The Redwood walk was very short, so we continued on to our next walk, Beauchamp Falls. The forests here were lush and green, and the trails were well taken care of. The walk was fairly easy (although online it is listed as strenous), heading downhill towards the lovely Beauchamp waterfall. We were slight rule breakers and wandered a bit off the trail to get a better shot of the falls.
The way back was uphill, but it was gradual enough that it wasn’t too bad. We ended up eating lunch in the picnic area at the trailhead before continuing our journey towards Port Campbell. We stopped a few times on our way to Port Campbell to snap some photos and to have a look around Apollo Bay. It was a very tourist town with a quaint shopping strip beside the ocean, well worth a visit if you need to stop for lunch.
We had been warned by our workaway host that the Great Ocean Road was a painfully slow drive because it was full of slow tourists and everyone was stopping for photos. Perhaps because we were driving on a weekday or because it was early December (prior to school holidays), we encountered very few people! Our campsites were sparsely inhabited and all of our stops so far had been empty. Having said that, we were quite shocked when we reached the 12 Apostles. Obviously the road is a big tourist attraction, but nothing attracts more people than the 12 Apostles, a set of towering rock formations, standing near the shoreline. When we arrived at the visitors centre, there were people EVERYWHERE, with more and more tour buses arriving by the minute.
We parked quite far from the building and started walking down to the viewpoints. It was like being in a mall right before christmas, we just had to move with the crowd and hope that someone was leaving so we could find a spot to take a photo. Not only was it hard to move past people, but the newest fad in travel accessories is the ‘selfie stick’. I can understand if you have a large group that you want to get a shot of, or if you are trying to take a photo over a group, but here? It was very inconsiderate because it basically created a pile up of people ducking through in an attempt to avoid being clotheslined. Sheer chaos.
After barely escaping the war zone we decided we should head to our next campground and wait for the crowds to thin. Originally we drove to the Port Campbell Holiday Park because I am an idiot and thought that was where I made reservations. We were so excited when we drove in because it was in a great spot and the park looked so well taken care of. It turned out we were actually staying at the Great Ocean Road Tourist Park some 13km away in Peterborough.
The gentleman at the desk was very nice and told us to set up camp anywhere we liked, we were the first people to arrive and we were very confused. The non-powered campsites were a big grassy field. There was a slight line around the ‘sites’ but it was pretty shabby looking. As for privacy, well as I said, it was a field so there was no privacy whatsoever. Anyway, I was a bit peeved at having to pay around $30 for a piece of grass to park on, but Dan assured me that we would really only be sleeping there because we would be so busy exploring the area. He was right. After setting up camp we headed out to Port Campbell National Park and visited some of the major sites.
Loch Ard Gorge had a beautiful view of the cliffs with signs describing the shipwreck of the Loch Ard, which left only two survivors who were swept into the gorge and forced to climb up the cliffside for help. We proceeded to head down the staircase to the beach and discovered two beautiful shallow caves where stalactites and stalagmites had formed. We timed our arrival nicely because we ended up having the beach to ourselves!
We then made our way back up to the top and walked along the trail to the Razorback, a beautiful rock wall standing prominently in the shallows. The trail was very easy and provided us with breathtaking views of the cliffs.
After passing through Port Campbell we came to a viewpoint of a giant Arch, still attached to the main cliff like a window to the sea.
The next viewpoint was for the London Bridge, now known as the London Arch. Formerly this structure was comprised of two large archways jutting out from the rocky edge and closely resembled the London Bridge. In 1990 a couple of tourists had crossed over the bridge (as you did back then) when suddenly the archway closest to mainland collapsed away, crashing into the sea. The two tourists were now trapped on an island with no way to get back to stable ground. They had to warn arriving tourists not to try and cross the non-existent bridge (you think they would notice it missing) and after 3 long hours, a helicopter arrived and brought them back to shore. Nowadays, there are dozens of helicopters doing joyrides along this coastline, but back in 1990, they had to call a chopper in from Melbourne for the rescue!
We continued down the coast to The Grotto, a quick shuffle down a staircase to a hollow near the waterline. This grotto is fairly deep (compared to the surrounding arches) and the shallow water pool at it’s base makes for some stunning shots. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t able to get the angles we desired as there were a couple of teens lingering at the rail and not taking the hint that people may actually want a photo without them in it. Ugh, tourists.
By this time it was getting close to sunset so we decided to head back to the London Arch to try and get a photo of the Fairy Penguins. Each night around sunset the little penguins come marching back to their nests at the base of the cliffs. We assumed that we would be competing for a spot to see them, but it turned out we were the only people there! Granted our vantage point was fairly high up and the lighting was NOT ideal for photos, we watched in amazement as they returned to their homes after a long day out hunting. Earlier in the day a couple of researchers had been down on the beach doing some surveys of the nest, and for obvious reasons, there was no public access to the beach itself. It was a very cool experience! For those wishing to get a better view, there are several places to see Fairy Penguins in the wild (including on Bruny Island where we previously visited in Tasmania) but many of these sites have expensive tours that you need to join and have you sitting in stadium type seating for the ‘show’. A bit too commercialized for our taste.
It was quite dark now so we slowly made our way back to the campsite, fearful of encountering a kangaroo on the road (if you can avoid it, do not drive in Australia after sundown, that’s when all the native wildlife is active). The next morning we decided we wanted to get shots of the sunrise at the 12 apostles, although we feared this would be another crowded ordeal. We decided to head to the beach for the shots so we headed down Gibson Steps and set up at the base of the first few apostles. Thankfully, it was early enough that we didn’t encounter anyone until we started heading back from our photoshoot!
We then continued down the road until we reached the Bay of Islands past Peterborough. As described, this stretch of coast had just as stunning scenery as the 12 Apostles but much less traffic. The rock formations here were also more iron enriched which gave a lovely splash of colour to the photos. The turn offs along the Bay of Islands coast weren’t as well marked so we ended up stopping at every turn to check it out, but we weren’t too upset about it, every site was really stunning!
From here our next and final destination was Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. I wasn’t really sure about what we would find or if it was even worth it, but our expectations were definitely exceeded! The reserve is in a giant extinct volcano crater and is full of native wildlife. Upon descending into the site, we immediately spotted a mother emu and her baby on the road, lazily pecking at shrubs. Our car was a meter from them and they didn’t bat an eyelash!
We parked at the visitor centre and headed out on a couple of the trails leading away from the parking lot including the Journey to the last Volcano trek (circling around the crater edge with sweeping views), the Tower Hill Peak Climb (where we spotted a Nankeen Kestrel carrying off a skink!) and the Lava Tongue Boardwalk trek. We saw more Emus with babies (quite tame, unfortunately probably used to feedings from tourists), birds of prey, a variety of songbirds as well as koalas up in the treetops and a sleepy echidna!
Tower Hill was a definite highlight for us and we only wish we could’ve stayed for longer! There is a lovely map of some of the trails here: http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/630147/Tower-Hill-Reserve-map.pdf if you are interested in visiting the park. Did I mention it’s free to enter and park?
Thankfully, the reserve was close to the junction of the B100 (Great Ocean Road) and the A1 (Princes Highway) so it was easy to get back to Geelong in time to return our rental car. We loved the short time we spent exploring the area, but we definitely wish we had more time to really visit all of the wonderful places along the way.