Day 57: Great Ocean Road and Otway National Park
If there is one part of Victoria that visitors shouldn’t miss, it’s the Great Ocean Road. It is a Southern Hemisphere equivalent of Big Sur, California. Steep cliffs that meet the ocean, rocky shoreline, occasional sandy beaches, dense old-growth forest, sinuous creeks, and windy, hold-your-stomach road.
The day began with a pass by a collapsed volcano that still retained a shallow conical shape. Lands within and around the volcano were preserved and made into a park - called Tower Hill Game Reserve. A series of lakes and waterbodies outside the edges give the park a circular appearance on the map. We explored the wetlands and woodlands within the reserve. The park was teeming with wildlife (and people). We squeezed in a couple of short walks before becoming overwhelmed with the crowds.
On one of the boardwalks, we approached a family of six or seven that was chasing after a poor koala with their iPhones. The koala ran as fast as it could right for us. Its only options were to jump into the swamp water, or go forward in our path. Elias stopped the family in their tracks with a few words of his own. They became defensive and claimed they weren’t harassing the koala. Elias and I stepped aside on the boardwalk and let the koala pass. It managed to get away just in time. It didn’t even look up as it went by - it just wanted to get away. Not a pleasant experience for any party, but hopefully the people in that family will remember us when they think of harassing more wildlife.
After leaving Tower Hill, we continued along the Great Ocean Road for a short while before coming to a series of cliff lookouts. This section of the coast has one cliff feature after another for 20 miles. This Ocean Road is so popular, we were dodging tour buses and hoards of tourists at every turn. We heard more languages with the span of an hour than we had heard the entire trip. The first stop was Loch and Gorge. Anywhere you stop, a short walk would take you out to the edge of a cliff with another gorgeous view.
This particular spot was interesting because it dubbed the “Shipwreck Coast.” Australia’s goldfields were enticing people from all over the world. A man named Captain Gibb was heading straight for these cliffs, and set full sail to turn the ship Loch Ard away from danger, but the wind and current
sent the ship straight towards the cliffs. Anchors were dropped, but the ship
dragged across the ocean floor. In a final desperate attempt, the anchors were cut and sails raised full again. The ship made some headway, but the bow struck a shallow reef and water immediately flooded all the cabins. Masts smashed against the cliff faces, bringing pieces of rock and wood down on the deck. Waves overtook the deck, making attempts to launch lifeboats impossible. There was no way to scale the cliffs nor survive the swell. The crew simply clung to one another in their final moments and sank with the ship close to shore. This location marks the resting place of the Loch Ard.
We passed quite a few other famous coastline features on the way. We just didn’t have the time and it was incredibly crowded. Climbing in elevation up the Great Ocean Road, we entered Otway National Park. We stopped for two short (30-min) walks in the rainforest, just to see and hear the sights and sounds we hadn’t visited in a while - Melba Gully and the Maites Rainforest Walk.
As the light faded, we headed to our destination for the night - an AirBnB on a dairy farm - perfect for a couple of birders that want sounds of nature and not the carnival going on in town. The view from the front porch was just what the doctor ordered.