Australasia | Australia | Victoria | Great Ocean Road – Cycling the Great Ocean Road
Cycling the Great Ocean Road
There are some great bicycle rides in the world: some say the Trans Canada Trail is one of the best; others claim its the Kakorum Highway from China into Pakistan; still others claim its a circle loop of the Irish Coast; but talk to anyone in Australia, and they will tell you the one road that offers up the greatest scenery is the Great Ocean Road running from Geelong to Warrnambool in the state of Victoria. Victoria is one of Australias smallest states and offers a mostly temperate climate. Its early autumn here now, and the gladiolas are just coming into bloom in the local gardens. The temperatures are averaging 21 degrees in the daytime and as low as 11 at night with mostly fine weather, which makes for pleasant riding.
Getting to the ride from Adelaide in the state of South Australia, short of time left in this wonderful country, I take a bus to Mount Gambier, a small town full of flower displays and a replica of Captain Cooks ship at the visitor information center. From there, its a short 45 km ride through some mild headwinds to the small fishing resort village of Nelson. Theres a lively pub, and (dont tell anyone on my softball team, but) I pitch my tent for the night at the River Vu Caravan Park run by a local Australian and French Canadian woman. A couple of dairy farmers, Gary and Gary, and I have a few pots of Victoria Bitter(VB) and more than a few laughs before I head back to the tent. The pots of VB mean a later than planned start for the morning ride through the national park to the town of Portland where I once again (and once again, dont tell anyone on my softball team, but) I pitch my tent for the night. Yes I do camp once in a while, as long as theres a good breakfast joint or a lively pub for a nice meal and thirst-quenching pint at the end of the day.
On the way, flocks of black and yellow, red and green, white and yellow, as well as pink and white, exotic parrots, cockatoos, and other birds fill the air announcing their passing through the skies with screeches that pierce the silence. Australias birdlife is in your face, and I love it! The mammals are more a twilight/dawn affair, but theres plenty of that too. Along the road, I pass my first of several dead Kangaroo in this place full of pine tree farms even those that I dont see signal their presence with the stench of decay. Its a quiet ride with many long quiet intervals passing without logging trucks, cars or campervans many times throughout the 80 km day. My next stop, Portland, is just an overnight rest for tomorrows 110 km ride to Warrnambool where the Great Ocean Road supposedly begins. That day is relatively uneventful with mostly a lot of dairy farms, although I do add a few photos to my new photographic essay entitled Carnage & Debris aka Roadkill around the world. I know its morbid and perhaps Ill do nothing with it, but I am seeing a lot of it and it disturbs me. As I pass these dairy farms, I ring my bike bell, checking to see if the cows will run either away or towards me, as they did in New Zealand. As far as I can tell thus far, the cows here in OZ are trained for their feeding times somewhat differently. Its silly, but after several hours on the bike, you do in fact talk to the sheep, and tease the cows with your bike bell.
Warrnambool is a small town thats getting big. Its getting a little big in the head, and more than a few of its citizens like to slag residents of the capital city, Melbourne. They may have a valid slag going Ill have to see if and when I get there. Meanwhile, they exhibit that small town/wannabe big town attitude that is a little much. Perhaps Ive become so used to the wonderful hospitality of most Aussies and the country warmth that is found almost everywhere that Im invalidly put off.
Morning arrives, and Im on the bike headed for Port Campbell. Along the way, I pause at the Bay of Islands, which is a group of limestone rock outcroppings carved by the sea. In the distant past, they formed part of the continent, but through time they are eroded and will eventually be reclaimed by the sea. I think to myself that all Im doing is riding, running, or climbing around the world looking at a bunch of Fickin rocks! Punakaiki rocks, Remarkable Rocks, Ayers Rock, the Chief, Bay of Islands, the Twelve Apostles and a bunch of Volcanoes. Its just one rock after another and for what? But they do make me marvel and wonder at the beauty and majesty of time and nature. Some of these formations take millions and millions of years to form – others only a day. Theres a lot of texture and form in each of them: different colors, different shapes, and different sizes a lot like the human race. If only we could always look at each other with the same feelings as most of the people who travel around seeing these geological marvels appreciation.
I was tempted to edit that last comment.
More rock structures like the Arch, the Grotto, and London Bridge greet me on my way, but tomorrow is the main event: the Twelve Apostles.
The morning is cool and cloudy, so theres no rush to get to the national park for the early morning light. Instead, I have a leisurely departure from the pretty town of Port Campbell, getting to the Twelve Apostles at around 11 a.m. The visitor centre is a busy place as this part of the coast is probably the most photographed piece of coastline on the Great Ocean Road. The centre recycles toilet water using the surrounding wetlands as a natural filter, before treating and recycling the water for toilet flushing only. Another widely practiced conservation method in Australia is the use of half and full flush buttons on virtually every toilet, both public and private a practice I would like to see in North America.
The Twelve Apostles are pieces of the coastline that have been eroded by the endless pounding of the sea. Their steep edges of amber coloured limestone catch the sun and contrast beautifully with the turquoise waters. Ive not sure there are actually twelve of these miniature islands, in fact, I think its more like seven or eight but that doesnt take away from the feeling that as these cliffs lose two centimeters each year, they will still be here for many years after we are gone, saying something about the brevity of human life on earth.
Theres a beach access about one kilometer from the centre, and I hike down to have some lunch while the sun glistens on the breaking waves as it makes its first appearance of the day. The light is better, so I head back to the main rocks for another photo. I see a few more dead juvenile blue penguins in the sand perhaps battered about in the storms and too young or weak to survive.
In Port Campbell the previous evening, I had dinner with some of the motorcyclists that I have seen in the hundreds over the previous few days. They practice that international tradition of giving a wave as they pass you on the road. Heather and Al were attending the Ulysses Annual Meeting along with 5000 other members of the club for over 40 bikers. They all get together for about 5 days with the official meeting lasting about 10 minutes or so. Their motto is Grow Old Disgracefully! I think Heather is going to send me a badge.
I also met some Swiss guys named Roman and Cornelius who are willing workers for Organic Farms. Theyve been in Australia since November and have decided to take a couple of weeks and cycle the road. We are going in the same direction, so we will see each other often in the next few days.
Later in the day, there is a long 18 km climb up to Lavers Hill where I camp for the night. Its a small caravan park with just four cyclists; Roman, Cornelius, a guy from Holland headed the other way, and myself. The caravan park, or trailer park/camping ground, has been owned by an ex police sergeant for the past three years. Its a retirement project for Pete, and it includes a general store, petrol station, restaurant, café, and bar. Pete looks like he was the kind of cop you wouldnt want to get on the bad side. We share a bottle of wine in the in the evening and a couple of mates of his try taking the piss out of me for being Canadian all in good fun.
The next days ride is almost all downhill, and after a really beautiful walk in the rainforest with Roman and Cornelius, we say our goodbyes, and I head off to Wye River while they will camp in the bush for the night. Wye River is a pretty spot with one of Australias great pubs. Its not that lively, but the river is appealing and I camp for the night. The most scenic part of the Great Ocean Road is over, but the remaining ride that hugs the coastline has its moments. I spend one more night on the GRO camping at a place about 15 kms from Geelong. Lying on the beach staring up at the southern sky full of stars listening to the surf or the sounds of the forest has been a highlight of this ride. It is too soon that I am in Melbourne and attending a Footy game at MCG Stadium after sight seeing around the city for the afternoon. Australia feels it is a nation at war, and the Footy security check is much the same as at an airport with the shoes off inspection a part of the overall pre-admittance screening. I think its a bit much, but once I am into the game, it is a great energy. After the tigers win in the game between Collingwood and Richmond, the fans sing a silly song and leave happy.
My departure from Oz is relatively uneventful except for the ridiculous set-up of Sydney international airport and its domestic terminal located 5 kms away. The inter terminal transport is not as convenient as many third world countries. I wont go into the hassles, but lets just say that they could improve things just a little. On the whole, Im looking forward to coming back to Australia. I really enjoyed myself with these people and in this country.
Next Songkram and A Happy Thai New Year