This post is for those of you who have never driven down a stomach-wrenchingly windy road just to have a look. You really should know what you’re missing. It’s one of those things you should do as often as possible, if only because the crazier and more indirect the route is, the more insanely gorgeous the view.
Of course, there is an easy route, for those of you who are as terrified as I was of driving on the wrong side of the road in a strange car (or perhaps colliding with a tram on the way out of Melbourne, after trying to pull one of those insane right turns). It’s called a tour bus. Yes, it’s cheesy and touristy and blah, blah, blah, but they can occasionally be useful. I think the Great Ocean Road — a mostly coastal road in South-West Victoria, near Melbourne — is one of those times, provided that you are on a small tour bus (no mega-bus, please), and your driver doesn’t take his job too seriously. You know — something along the lines of: “Folks, there’s something worth seeing just down that trail. I’ll be right here having a smoke.”
We took this trip the day after we arrived in Melbourne. Despite a slight headache involving luggage stuck in a cargo hold (United SUCKS, for the record) and an appreciable lack of clean clothing, the full day trip was worth it. It is designed to take you through a few diverse set of ecosystems and some photogenic geological formations in Australia in a very short amount of time, which essentially means you spend a lot of time sitting on a bus, staring out a window, with occasional 15 minute walk breaks into well-marked tourist havens. But in the process, you begin to get a sense of the kind of ecological diversity that existed in Australia even in recent history.
You see a tiny swatch of cold temperate rainforest, preserved only because of the lucky eccentricity of one man, surrounded by acres of pine plantation destined for wood chip factories somewhere in the world. You also see sandstone, build up layer by layer over millenia, and then carved by ocean currents and wind.
And beaches. Of course you see beaches. I’m pretty sure this one is in Torquay, but I can’t be sure.
And koalas, which you shouldn’t try to pet. Apparently they’re quite mean over in Victoria, though they just looked a bit sleepy to me:
And of course, there were cheesy photo opportunities for busloads of tourists (This entrance to the Great Ocean Road is, according to our tour driver, the fourth one they’ve built. Others have succumbed to fire, trucks, and one other disaster I can’t quite remember? Maybe another fire… I think I would suck as a tour guide):
You also get some kick ass fast food in middle of nowhere Colac (which I’m sure is actually a pretty big town in comparison to some — I mean, it’s a big dot on the map, right?). Who would have thought?
So that’s that. It was a tour with a lot of pretty sights, which are worth seeing if you have a day to spare. And yes, I’m glad I didn’t drive myself, even if the road wasn’t nearly as bad as the northern stretch of Route 1 in CA. I do like actually being able to look at something other than the car in front of me.
Next time: a taste of Melbourne before we head off to Perth. If you want more pictures of the Great Ocean Road, you can find them here.