The Greatest Memorial to Love: Driving the Great Ocean Road

Apostles during storm This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was lost, it was wet and very, very dark. It was also very wet. And in case you’re not really paying attention yet, let me say again, it was dark.

And wet.

The wind howled on cue, tormenting me like a spiteful hooligan by spitting and slapping me around the face. The streetlights turned their backs. The wheels of my suitcase span out of the mud, slammed in to the skin and bones of my underdressed feet and flounced off into the undergrowth taking all my belongings with them.

I left them there, making my way instead up the few leaf-fringed slabs to the unmarked door.

Before I’d the chance to knock, the darkness turned to a roar.

“Chuck your gear into whichever room you want,” said a large man appearing from the undergrowth. He strode past me and rummaged in the shadows.

“Yeah, you’re in that cottage down there I reckon. It won’t be locked, just head on in.”

Dark, wet and very late, I paused for a moment then did exactly what he said.

And so began my journey along Australia’s Great Ocean Road.

THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD.jpg

Driving Australia’s Great Ocean Road

You probably, as I had, have seen pictures of this road before: a dazzling honey-combed rollercoaster of beauty, framed by impossible blue skies and achingly turquoise fresh foamy waves

This 243 kilometre stretch is a mere hour and a half from Melbourne, Down Under’s most civilised and cosmopolitan city (according to Melburnians, that is.)

What you’ve less likely seen are the reflections of said majesty, bathed in dripping charcoal skies and raging, racing waves.

And what you’ve definitely not seen, even though they’re the best part of all, are the people who come out in the rain to make a soggy jetlagged pommie feel at home.

Good to have someone looking out for you

Good to have someone looking out for you

After my undergrowth encounter with the man who turned out to be called Roger, I threw my belongings into the room, left unlocked as requested, and went to shelter from the storm in the seafront-facing restaurant called The Maple Tree, Lorne.

Roger, from the tourist board, knows everyone, and Doug, one of our dining companions, seems to know everything.

Roger, from the tourist board, knows everyone, and Doug, one of our dining companions, seems to know everything.

Everything about Lorne and the Great Ocean Road, that is, because at the paper-thin-skin-on-hands age of 92, he was a child when it was built. And though he’s far too classy to use the expression, he did then actually write the book about it.

As he says in Lorne, A Living History “life in Lorne was a struggle in many ways because of the isolation due to poor overland access.”

The stunning terrain that brings joy to our hearts and viewfinders to our eyes also brought treachery, difficulty, effort and fear to the simple task of getting around at the turn of the 20th century. Steep inclines, sticky mud, and snakes (not that many, Roger is keen to relay) scuttled and scurried and sloped amid the fabulous beach views and koalas.

History of the Great Ocean Road
The trigger to do something about it came in the shadows of the then called the Great War in 1918. Servicemen, battle-scarred and traumatized, returned from the mud and misery of Europe to sand and sunshine –  but also a sense of isolation and loss amid the ragged waves and acres of rainforest.

Doug hands me a yellowed paper rich in thick, curving font:

“Motorists and Tourists who assist to build The Great Ocean Road will have helped to found a worthy Memorial to all Victorial Soldiers, and a National Asset for Victoria.”

As it turns out, The Great Ocean Road, built by returning soldiers, is the world’s largest war memorial.

The Great Ocean Road, built by returning soldiers, is the world’s largest war memorial.

The next morning, the horror film soundtrack has changed. Cool morning light streams onto pale blue and white stripes that cover the bedspread. And I’m summoned to breakfast – and piping hot coffee – by a tweet from the owners in the house nearby.

These two women, Laurel and Sue, it turns out, have followed their dreams here to Lorne. Previously nurses, they made the leap into opening up a French-styled B&B called La Perouse and lavishing it with love

They look at my map – point out where I’ll see koalas (koalas!! ) and wish me on my way.

I make a better job of negotiating my suitcase through the rain-glittered leaves but manage to cause a rumpus anyway by somehow jamming my key in the door.

“I think you’re the first person to use it,” they say as they manoeuvre the key free. “No-one locks their doors here.”

Surfers in Lorne

After a quick stroll along the shore in the morning mists of Lorne, watching surfers stride to their stage, I hit the road: off into the wilderness and on to Apollo Bay.

The road swoops and swerves with all the joy and abandon I’d dreamed of, plus some responsible town planning with little laybys for snapping photos. One eyebrow is raised when I spot the first of many signs reminding people to drive on the left. The second goes up, along with a rush, of delight when I finally see my first kangaroo sign.

Yes, dear Aussies, I can fully understand why you moan and groan about this. That you don’t have roos in your cities, koalas in your cloakrooms and you never wear cork hats. (Allegedly. There must be some of you who do.)

But hold the phone, Batman. You do have koalas snuggled into roadside trees and you do have that hopalong yellow diamond sign with a picture of Skippy.

I did the only thing a self-respecting tourist could do. I pulled over and took a pic.

kangaroo crossing

And then, it was time to drive on to Apollo Bay.

To be continued…

koala in tree

Found this fella at the edge of the road…

Disclosure – This road trip along the Great Ocean Road forms part of the #MelbourneTouring project with iAmbassador, Visit Victoria and Visit Melbourne. As ever, as always, I’m free to write whatever I like here on Inside the Travel Lab.

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7 Responses to The Greatest Memorial to Love: Driving the Great Ocean Road

  1. Rosemary February 9, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    It’s always great to see posts being written about places (almost) in my backyard (being a Melburnian)!

    • Abi King February 19, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      I agree – always something nice about reading something close to home!

  2. Sarah February 9, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

    Beautiful photos. Melbourne and Australia is on my bucket list for places to visit.

    • Abi King February 19, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

      Thank you – both are beautiful with so much variety.

  3. Kadri February 21, 2014 at 7:58 am #

    Nice photos, can’t wait to visit Australia one day.

  4. The Hopeless Wanderer March 11, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    I love Australia’s signs, they never cease to crack me up with how blunt they are!

    • Abi King March 12, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

      I like one I saw in Canada too (I think it was Canada) – Wrong Way, Go Back.

      Classic

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