gor 1Every summer our parents took us kids to Anglesea for the summer holidays and that was fine until we discovered that compared to Lorne, Anglesea was about as cool as playground milk. The turning point came when my brother got his driver’s licence and we could get to Lorne, or even as far as Peterborough, independent of the parental boat anchors.

To us the Great Ocean Road was the means to an end, not the end in itself as it seems to be these days. We were always in a hurry. And my sister and I spent a lot of time throwing up with motion sickness. That people spoke of this road with reverence was always a bit mystifying to us.

Careers happened and we went in various directions. People in far flung parts would ask us about the Great Ocean Road and we’d wonder at their awed tones. Beauty, history and grandeur never blipped on our radar back then.

gor 2Now, 50 years later, we re-visit our old haunts. We do the full bit; stop at every turn-out, see every waterfall, walk every pier and say hello to every koala. And it’s magnificent. How did we miss so much? Were we blind?

For example we pass a sign between Lorne and Apollo Bay announcing merely ‘Historic marker ahead’ and we stop to discover the amazing story of the wreck of the barque W B Godfrey in 1891. It struck rocks obscured by the smoke of a bushfire. There were no casualties, everyone made it to shore and there the poor Godfrey sat. Yet in three attempts to salvage the cargo five men drowned. A recurring item for wonder all along the shipwreck coast is just how many sailors couldn’t swim.

Carisbrook Falls is a stone’s throw from the Great Ocean Road but so easy to miss. It’s well worth the 10-minute uphill amble, and coming back is downhill all the way. Melba Gully is better signposted and rather more topographically challenging but a terrific hour’s walk through verdant rain forest. On the day we’re there it’s totally deserted.

gor 3The Moonlight Head cemetery is also hard to find but its occupants have brilliant views. The road in is clay and gorgeous. And Turton’s Track has become positively classy since they sealed it for access to the Otway Fly, but it’s still narrow and scary as it winds and twists through virgin rainforest on its way to Beech Forest. Stop and listen to the bush. Then go to the Otway Fly.

There used to be railways all through the Otways, including one from Beech Forest to Colac, and at Beech Forest there’s a large and engaging open-air display. But you’ll have to work harder for information on the others, like the line joining Birregurra and Forest. At the Forest end the turntable was only big enough for the locomotive and to turn it around the coal tender had to be uncoupled, a job so dirty the train usually returned to Birregurra with the loco chuffing along in reverse, pushing from the rear.

Budget an hour at the tourist information office in Lorne for a terrific display on the building of the road. It’s remarkable. The guys repelled down the mountainsides until the surveyors told them to stop, then they’d dig a foothold and start gouging out the road. I ask there, and at several bookshops both new and second-hand, if there’s a book about this, ideally heavy on pictures, but no one knows of one. Has to be an opportunity for someone.

Back when we were young and stupid it took us four hours to get from one end of the Great Ocean Road to the other. This time it’s two weeks. The road itself hasn’t changed much and Lorne is still way cooler than Anglesea, but I suspect there’s still plenty of stuff we’re yet to find.

Terr 2It’s a sad irony that on the cusp of closing local assembly Ford Australia is building the best cars in its history. We spent a month in a Territory on this slow trip from Melbourne from Adelaide; four people, lots of luggage, heaps of back roads and even a few four-wheel-drive tracks. The Territory was brilliant.

Comfort is excellent front and rear and with four medium suitcases, a small esky and lots of shopping bags in the back the rear-view mirror was still usable. But I wish there was an interior release for the cargo door, and a luggage blind is optional at $681.

The diesel motor is economical and surprisingly quiet, but can be slow to respond when you need instant acceleration. The car handles adequately in all situations, the suspension being designed more for ride comfort, and the ride is excellent.

Hey, one of my passengers wound up buying one.

Some sage advice for a Great Ocean Road odyssey:

• Don’t do it during school holidays, public holidays or long weekends, when it becomes the Great Ocean Car Park, but there’s nowhere to park.

• You’ll come across vacancies on week nights but not necessarily where you want to stay, so book.

• The best pizzas come from Pizza Pizza in Lorne, possibly the world’s smallest pizza shop.

• Rather more upmarket is Chris’s at Beacon Point, high atop Apollo Bay (turn off at Skene’s Creek). Greek/southern European and they know their saganaki.

• Bells Beach has the best surf, Anglesea the best beach, Aireys Inlet the best swimming for kids and Lorne the best kicking back. Apollo Bay is the quiet retreat for writing your novel.

Published July 2015


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