“Let’s get out of Melbourne.”
“I want to see a kangaroo.”
“What’s Australia really like?”
These were the phrases that roiled through our heads as we drove out of Melbourne in our rental car, a sleek Toyota Corolla festooned with a prominent Thrifty Car Rental sticker on the back windshield proclaiming that this was, indeed, a rental car: we probably don’t know how to drive on the left, we don’t know where we’re going, we’ll stop or severely slow down for almost anything of interest, and you can be assured that there are probably valuables inside the car.
Our plan was to travel down the Great Ocean Road, which is written in capital letters just like that. One can only assume that there is also a Lesser Ocean Road or even a Not-So-Good Ocean Road, but this was the Great Ocean Road. Extending roughly 250 kilometers from the town of Torquay to Allansford, the Great Ocean Road is home to famed surfing beaches, dense eucalyptus forest and rugged coastline all punctuated by small coastal villages. As we drove toward Geelong, the first city on our journey, I had to think of a story that perhaps says something about Australia and occurred not too far from where we were, on the other side of Port Philip Bay which fronts Melbourne. What happened was in 1967 the then prime minister of Australia, Harold Holt, went for a swim at the beach there. He was with friends and bodyguards. He went for a swim and just disappeared. That was it. Just gone. The prime minister of Australia. Missing. Gone. His body was never found, and no foul play was suspected. That is Australia, a place dangerous enough that not only can you drown or get eaten by a shark but it can happen to anyone including the prime minister.
I’ll spare you all the details of driving down the Great Ocean Road. Yes, it was winding and scenic. Most of the time we were part of long strings of other cars doing the same thing.
At the end of first day, we stayed in a holiday park at Cape Otway which is known for having an abundance of koalas, those strange, teddy-bear-type marsupials that feed predominantly in eucalyptus trees (a blog on koalas is forthcoming).
After settling into our campsite, Matthew and I went exploring. We walked for hours down a rocky beach and on the drive back, we began to see them—wallabies—standing furtively on the edge of the road, half-hidden in the brush, or sometimes in open fields. Wallabies, for those who may not be familiar, look like small kangaroos. Actually, they are small kangaroos: small and mid-sized animals are called wallabies and the larger sized animals kangaroos. Our wallabies, which were dark in color, would stare at us for a few minutes then bound off into the forest.
Back in Colorado where we used to live, tourists would stop in cars to see a deer on the side of the road. I’d think, “It’s just a stupid deer. What’s all the fuss about?” But I guess that’s a bit of the way I was in Australia.
The next morning Rebecca and I woke up early and walked through pasture land looking for kangaroos. Kangaroos generally come out in the early morning and at dusk. Suddenly a whole herd—do kangaroos travel in ‘herds’?—bounded past.
The next morning we continued up the coast. Despite the scenery, this coast has been known to be treacherous for mariners. There are over 600 known shipwrecks along the coast.
We then stopped at “The Twelve Apostles” a dramatic series of limestone sea stacks, the most famous site on the road. They were originally named the “Sow and Piglets’, but this name wasn’t felt to be catchy enough and was changed to the ‘The Twelve Apostles’ even though there were never twelve of them.
We spent the final night on the road at Port Fairy, a small seaside town near the end of the Great Ocean Road, and the next morning headed back toward Melbourne and our flight home.