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  Travel
Aussie Tourism III
Traversing the Great Ocean Road
By Rowena dela Rosa Yoon
Associate Editor/ Staff Writer
The view of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria

This is the third part of a series of articles on Australian tourism in line with the current slogan, "Where the Bloody Hell Are You?" a campaign which has been gaining tremendous popularity among travel buffs who want to get a unique and authentic Aussie experience. -Ed.

Melbourne—Imagine you're given a chance to venture into once-in-a-lifetime escapade in Down Under. A kaleidoscope of choices is offered—each of which guarantees unique and unparalleled great outdoor experience. What would you choose?

A well-known Australian travel magazine has listed Top 100 Things to Do In Australia Before You Die endorsed by a panel of travel writers and celebrities. Top 10 choices range from visiting Kakadu to diving into the Great Barrier Reef, from going to see a remarkable pebble at Uluru to climbing the Coathanger Bridge. Cruising the Kimberly Coast or swimming with the whale sharks at Nigallo Reef is highly recommended. The magazine also listed exploring Sydney Harbour or chasing a pure dingo down a 75-mile beach at Fraser Island. In the 10th slot, the magazine suggested to go unwinding along the Great Ocean Road.

If you're in Victoria, you're absolutely in the right place then. Think of no other than taking the trip to the Great Ocean Road. It's a choice of a lifetime.

Throughout its history, a trip to the Great Ocean Road has challenged the most prolific imagination. Many have tried to come up with a label—from ecotourism to natural tourism, adventure tourism to wildlife tourism—in an attempt to give some justice to an unforgettable outdoor escapade. Think of all the adjectives and superlatives you've ever known, but there's simply no word to measure up the scale and magnitude of the indelible impression drawn from this colossal exploration.

The Great Ocean Road is an extensive stretch of coastline along Australia's Southern Ocean—an astounding 400 km or more—from Geelong going past Torquey, Apollo Bay, and all the way to Wornambool and Portland.

One day tour can only provide you with glimpse at a tip of the iceberg. Great Ocean Road features a long and winding road overlooking the panoramic view of the open seas, dozens of rocky and sandy beaches, and craggy cliffs. It is a road that ascends to the Otway ranges passing through a massive rainforest clad with a canopy of towering trees. It is a passageway leading to a pristine view of rivers, creeks, waterfalls, valley, and hills. The ultimate destination is to see the mighty Twelve Apostles along Port Campbell National Park.

Venturing into great Ocean Road offers a range of activities for people from all walks of life. Things to enjoy include surfing, sailing, gliding, beach walking, bush walking, trekking, camping, and so on. It, thus, needs systematic planning to map out your itinerary in order to make the most out of it.

One-day Journey

Waterfall in the Otway National Park

The day was overcast with continuous downpour—a sharp contrast from a day earlier where no clouds hid the sun. (This is a typical Victorian weather which is described as unpredictable. In Melbourne, Melburnians claim the city to have four seasons in a day.) Wet as it was, the trip was nonetheless all set and there's no way to call it off. Besides, it must be a thrilling adventure to see the great ocean on such a day, at least, for a change. We'll be on the road for over eight hours.

The Australian Pacific Touring coach launched the journey at 9 am, taking the Melbourne-Geelong route. Vivid memories start at Torquey, a juncture where the Great Ocean Road begins— after more than an hour or so drive from our departure point.

Our tour guide dropped us at Torquey for a stopover under a shed by the beach to take some brunch (breakfast-lunch). He served his guests with Billy tea which he steamed beforehand, along with other delicacies like cake and biscuits. Billy tea is said to be the SOP of most travel guides going to see the Great Ocean Road. The tea warmed us up, especially in a chilled winter morning.

While the destination is yet to be seen many miles away, journeying through was an adventure itself.

We boarded back the coach after tea. We passed through a number of great lookouts. The seas were gray with surging waves but loved nonetheless by dare-devil surfers. Viewed from a distance, they looked like sharks frolicking in the sea.

Guided tour is a convenient option, besides our guide has a non-stop story-telling. He noted we're passing by the rest house of the Hollywood star, Mel Gibson, which was standing by the roadside. There are spots — all beautiful yet, on one hand, carrying some sad tales of people who were never seen again after waves swept them away from the shores. Tales of shipwrecks re-emerged as the guide toured us along the route. Such tales have formed part of the history of European settlement less than 200 years ago.

The sight of the Otway National Park beckons nature tripper to camp, hike, or trek. The Otway is believed to have been formed about 130 million years ago. It features a dense, tall-timbered rainforest with an expansive 88,000 hectares are waterfalls, lakes, glades of massive tree ferns and native animals. Here, indigenous Australians have lived with the land for the last 10,000 years.

We stopped by among the valleys of eucalyptus trees to search for koalas that were taking naps or still having some lunch. There were two or three seen clutching the gum trees near the road.

The Road to the Twelve Apostles

Twelve Apostles along the Port Campbell National Park in Victoria

The Great Ocean Road is more than what meets the eye. What is perceived to be a breathtaking scenery carries a deeper significance in the history of a nation. The stretch of road was born out of the necessity of the Australian soldiers to find their way back home from a fiery battle fought after the First World War. In 1918, they started to build the road by sticks and spade, and horses and drays. Building the road needed "the fighting Anzac spirit to blast out the great route."

It was 3 already pm. Choppers were seen hovering above the sea. We were approaching a sight of one of the stacks of the 12 Apostles. Our guide said taking a chopper costs about $90. The sound of choppers summons the imagination which takes one to a helipad before being lifted up to the skies—on top of the world— and look down several metres below where the swirling waves ceaselessly break against the massive rock stacks and the towering cliffs.

Limestone cliffs measuring about 70 metres high provide a backdrop to the Apostles. The tallest of the rock stacks is around 45 metres high. Based on the record of the Port Campbell National Park, the Apostles were formed 20 million years ago with the forces of nature attacking the limestone of the Port Campbell cliffs. The limestone was created through the build up of skeletons of marine creatures on the sea floor. As the sea retreated, the limestone was exposed. The stormy Southern Ocean and blasting winds gradually eroded the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs. The caves eventually became arches and when they collapsed, rock islands up to 45 metres high were left isolated from the shore.

Panoramic view from the tourists' lookouts displays nature's indomitable power which dwarfs a powerless and insignificant human. As gusty wind blows, the waters rise up and come smashing hard on the rocks and cliffs. Amazing and awesome rock formations loom before the eyes— formations which have earned names such as Pudding Basin Rock, Island Arch, the Razorback, Muttonbird Island, Thunder Cave, the Blowhole, Bakers Oven, London Bridge, and the Grotto. The 12 Apostles are world-famous icons of the Great Ocean Road— giant rock stacks that are the central feature of the Port Campbell National Park that extends from Princetown to Peterborough.

Loch Ard Gorge in Victoria

The Loch Arch Gorge is a living monument of the treacherous waves that had wrecked many wandering ships. Here, visitors are welcome to descend to a wooden stairway leading to the golden and sandy beach. Bare feet could feel the soft touch of the sand, while weary eyes could find rest on the scenery of a tranquil water inside the gorge— in contrast to the crashing waves beyond.

The final moment to glance on the mighty gift of nature comes at the London Bridge, a rock that resembles a bridge— forming an arc below where waves on both sides meet and splash asunder.

Departure

The sky on the western horizon turned from gray into purple and darker hues. It was minutes past five. The journey was ending leaving behind a spectacular place which was only partly explored. The long road is but a window of a place waiting to be further discovered.

We were called on to board the coach as we headed for a place where we can stop by for dinner; besides our guide estimated that we'll be arriving back in Mebourne at around 9 pm.

The road turned darker with only road signs illuminating our way as we journeyed through unfamiliar landmarks.

The Great Ocean Road might not be seen again. This is a thought for a moment. But there'll be stories to tell and to prompt adventurers to get ready for a bigger and greater ocean road escapade.



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