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The Great Ocean Road in a Jucy Camper – day 3; Princetown to Port Fairy

As our plans of sunrise at the Apostles had been scuppered by pesky mosquitos, Sven and I enjoyed a leisurely Aussie breakfast in the camper overlooking the valley and reserve. As the temperatures grew we were both more than looking forward to the proposed leisurely beach day as our next overnight stop was only around 60km up the coast. Easy right?

Wrong!

Arriving at the first site we learned there was far more to see here than just the signposted attraction. Setting off into the heat haze we could soon hear the low rumbling crashes of thunder cave, where the ocean has carved a perfect crevice into the limestone to send an echo of thunder reverberating around whenever a wave hits. It sounds almost sinister and must be rather alarming at night. Around the corner from here was a stunning cove which was once again being hammered by gigantic waves, sucking up huge tendrils of brown seaweed as they rolled into shore. At one point a few strands were caught on a rock, flapping and slithering around with such vigour I initially mistook it for an octopus! The next wave hit moments later sweeping everything back under the surface and my seaweed oct chum was gone.

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There was also Broken Head viewing point here, but having left hats and water in the car I was a little afraid we’d be suffering our own broken heads if we stayed out unprotected much longer (it’s only spring time!) A quick drive to the next car park and we were soon descending the steps to Loch Ard Gorge, named for a shipwreck which claimed the lives of all but two. The surviving pair were trapped here by the towering cliff faces until the young man was able to climb out and get help. Seriously those cliffs are basically vertical, and I’m going to assume he wasn’t wearing boots fit for climbing. Kudos! The young lady in the story stayed in the cave at the bottom of the gorge and waited to be rescued, how the world has changed.

Lorch Ard Gorge

It was at this point we realised the beach day wasn’t going to happen. Loch Ard Gorge was point one of six, and we’d spent the best part of two hours here. Even though the next two sights were less than a Kilometer away there still wasn’t going to be much leisure time ahead.

Pulling into the next car park before the AC had even had time to fully kick in it was back out into the sunshine and down more steps to The Arch, a monumental sight. Apparently popular in the afternoon when hit by golden light, from here you can also look back to the 12 Apostles. The Arch

This amazing archway was naturally formed by weather and tides, standing 8 meters high. With the waves still crashing against the base at force I wonder how much longer it will remain standing before it collapses into the sea, much like the next stop; London Bridge.

London Bridge

Originally two archways spanned the distance here, giving the formation its name. The first collapsed in in 1990, leaving two people stranded atop the second until a helicopter came to rescue them. Legend has it this was a well off Melbourne business man and his girlfriend, causing quite a bit of trouble with his wife when the story hit the news. Oops. Here we met two British ex-pats who came to Aus in the 70’s. They were exploring the GOR in reverse and full of tips for the next leg of our journey to Adelaide. We’ve met so many Australians doing similar trips along the way which really stuck with me. The UK is beautiful, but we’re so small. There’s no real concept of a ‘road trip’ like this. Sure we can visit Cornwall, the Lakes, the Peaks etc, but when you speak to a woman who drove down from Western Australia on a trip which took two weeks of driving (only) 5 to 6 hours per day you really gain some perspective!!

The final stop before lunch was The Grotto, by far my favourite spot. This charming arch, with reflecting green waters stirred images of fairy tales and magic glens. Unfortunately due to unstable cliffs and high footfall you can no longer explore the archway like you used to, but I was content enough to sit on the wall and soak it all in. Swallows were nesting in a crag just above the archway, leaving Sven poised for more than 10 minutes hoping to catch mum or dad popping in and out. But alas they were too quick for him!

The Grotto

We’d been lucky to have the Grotto to ourselves initially, but after a while a lady descended the steps to join us, stating her husband was also on his way. Lille is from further up the coast in Perth, whilst John hails from Lincolnshire. They met 5 years ago and 2 years ago decided to marry, travelling all the way back to England for a blessing in Johns local quintessentially English church. John spoke about his time in the navy, visiting all the continents including Antarctica twice. With a forces family background I knew enough to ask what his role on the ship had been, however I’ve always wondered what the purpose of these naval ships was outside of a war scenario. Why was that boat traversing the globe and visiting all these continents? Well in this instance John worked on the Royal Yacht, ferrying the Royal Family between their commonwealth states and taking Prince Philip on expeditions to see (and hunt, back in the day) the wildlife of Africa and Antarctica. Wow. What a life!! (Any fans of The Crown will have seen an insight into these expeditions with the Duke of Edinburgh during season 2…!) Had there been a cafe nearby I would have suggested lunch with these two, so easy to talk to and full of stories. His favourite involved Prince Charles and Princess Anne who needed their life jackets on for a shore visit; the young princess put hers on without drama, but Charles pouted and cried ‘do I have to wear this beastly thing?’ Bless.

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Having heard lovely things about Port Fairy I was keen to get there in good time, however even with the best of intentions we arrived with the sun low in the sky and shop keepers packing up for the day. Adjacent to this little town is Griffiths Island, a nature reserve home to hundreds of nesting Shearwater, black wallabies and other animals. Following a moody sky with sheets of rain falling in the distance we set off to circumnavigate the sands on a walk which should take around an hour if you’re not constantly stopping to frame photographs and wet your feet.

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Information points dot the route, telling the story of the island in first person prose from the point of view of the light house keeper, forum and aboriginal tribes who lived in the area for 40,000 years before the white man turned up and changed everything. These boards spoke of a different world, where bored boys built row boats in search of occupation and dinner. Some weeks the family wouldn’t leave the island, despite Port Fairy being only a stones throw away. They were completely self sufficient, growing food, keeping live stock and requiring permission to visit the mainland.

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The plan had been to camp in Port Fairy, but at some point along the route there had also been discussion around free camp sites. As all the options in the vicinity of this little town were some of the most expensive we’d come across this seemed as good a time as any to broaden those horizons. Using camper mate (a fantastic app for camp sites, petrol stations, picnic spots, toilets, ATM’s and more which for the most part works without Internet as long as you’ve checked the general area (i.e. The entire great Ocean Road) with a connection beforehand) we selected Sawpit camp ground near the Narrawong Flora Reserve. Suitable for all vehicle types, with basic facilities and promising sights of kangaroos in the morning this sounded perfect. 30 minutes later dusk was truly upon us as we turned off the main road and into the woods. If these roads are quiet during the day, they’re truly desolate at night and trundling along the final 15 minutes of the journey in the dark woods both Sven and I were quietly hoping the app was up to date and all would be well with the camp site. Soon enough campers begun appearing through the trees and we came across a clearing with BBQ pits and a sign welcoming us to the camp ground. Phew.

After a long day of adventures, driving and a lot of heat on next to no sleep we were both more than happy to crawl under the dooner for a quick game of Monopoly Deal and kindle time. A bottle of wine would have been the perfect final point to the pyramid, however within moments we were both fast asleep, games and reading devices abandoned, completely comatose until the sun reminded us we hadn’t even closed the blinds in the camper!!

And so we were onto day 4, but that’s another blog…

Great Ocean Road in a Jucy camper: Day 2 – Lorne to Princetown

An orange sunrise peeked through the curtains of the camper so temptingly the next morning I was in agony waiting for Sven to wake up so I could get out and see it properly (there is no way to creep out of a camper). Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long and we were soon up, dressed and ready to explore. Our camper was parked within walking distance of the beach across a footbridge at the end of a riverside boardwalk frequented by herons, swifts and swallows.

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A short hop across the dunes from there and the sights, sounds and smells of Lorne beach greeted us, beautiful in the early morning light. We joined the runners, walkers and people with their dogs already out and about despite the early hour. What a joy to live by the sea like this, I’d be there every day. Though maybe not quite swimming like one lady we saw, as the water was freezing and there were more stunning blue jellyfish littered here too.

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An hour or so here was enough to work up an appetite, but with a camper on your team you can take your meals on wheels anywhere you choose! An Aussie breakfast of smashed avo and tomatoes on bread (no one had the patience to fry toast!) with watermelon juice and coffee on the picnic tables in front of the bay followed. It seemed there’s endless places to picnic, or public BBQ sites along this road, all well signposted and used by tourists and locals alike.

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Time was ticking along, so after a quick stop to buy hats (when in Rome) we hit the road again. Having enjoyed the beach this morning we’d used up our waterfall time so decided instead to continue along the coast to Apollo Bay. What a coast! I was so jealous of Sven being able to lean out of the window and enjoy it without concentrating on the road. However with the current ongoing GOR restoration project creating roadworks every few kilometres I had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the view during traffic. Many of the signs were in Chinese as well as English as tourism increases. We later discovered this was also the reason for all the ‘Drive on the left in Australia’ signs we kept seeing around the place.

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Stopping frequently to get out and stretch our legs at places like Sunshine Drive and Petticoat Creek it took most of the morning before we were parked up in the Paradise By the Sea that is Apollo Bay. At each stop we tested the water in the hope that it would be miraculously warmer than the last one and we could swim, but it was icy on the skin even in 30degree weather! Even the water from the creek was more than refreshing as Sven and I added to the piles of stones already standing there. Ours is the tallest, but also the most unstable…hmm.

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We’d been advised by many friends and forums to stop at Apollo Bay, a seaside town with surfing and paddle board lessons and a number of beachy shops. But with so many tourists around it lacked the charm of Lorne so we only stopped long enough to enjoy an award winning ice cream and a stroll along the super soft sandy beach before rolling on into koala country! Dan had prewarned us that if you spy someone parked on the side of the road looking up, there’s probably a koala. So when not long after Apollo Bay we pulled up alongside a beautiful viewpoint on the right, and a couple under a tree on the left, it was worth pulling over. Sure enough there was a chubby fella stuffing his face with eucalyptus leaves. They’re quite spritely compared to the sleepy guys I met in the blue mountains, leaping from branch to branch at speed, but still taking the time to pose for a photo.

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The drive to Otway lighthouse was one of the most fragrant I have ever enjoyed, as the air was filled with the scent of pine and eucalyptus. Sven craned his head left and right as we wound our way through miles of forest looking for more koalas, but as Julie had warned us of the need to be at camp sites prior to 6pm we didn’t have time for further stops.

Otway lighthouse is probably the one part of this tour I wish I’d researched. I’d expected a lighthouse, a stop which would take 30 minutes at most, but instead we found an extensive park with dinosaur fossils, aboriginal walks and historical tours and talks. I could have easily spent half a day speaking to the lighthouse keeper alone, and was more than disappointed to tear myself away from his stories. Sven on the other hand was fascinated by the wind speed, as it was more than blustery at the top. The keeper kindly demonstrated how to measure the wind using a little gauge, 48km…glad we left our hats inside!! However I can tick something else off my bucket list…climb a lighthouse, check!!

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Despite thinking we’d planned a quite leisurely tour there have certainly been parts we’ve had to rush. Otway lighthouse and the Gibson Steps are two examples, and for the latter I also wish I’d thought to check tide times as the sea was rushing in when we arrived leaving little room for exploration. Being that we were pushed for time this was probably blessing in disguise, but I would have loved to have spent a few hours nestled under the towering cliffs, enjoying the first of the Apostles whilst protected from the wind. As sunset at the 12 Apostles is definitely one for the bucket list we found a cute little camp site in Princetown rather than press on to Port Campbell and checked in by 5pm (if only Julie could see our progress!) Visiting the GOR out of season has been fantastic for winging it, as camp sites and tourist spots are next to empty and we’ve had no troubles with crowds. This was particularly fortuitous at the Apostles, where we spent most of the evening meandering back and forth between viewpoints which would no doubt be packed to the rafters in high season. The view was stunning in all directions, I could have done with 3 tripods and eyes in the back of my head!

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As the skies darkened we returned to camp and quickly realised leg of Sven is a mosquito delicacy. They just can’t get enough! Despite not using any lights, and cooking in the kitchenette rather than out the back of the camper we ended up with a van full! Pesky buggers kept us up all night buzzing around our heads and poor Sven was covered in red welts by the morning. First on the list for today is bug spray, yeulch!!