The Great Ocean Road: part one

Torquay to Lorne

Two weeks after arriving in Melbourne, I was joined by two old friends for a road trip around Victoria. We borrowed a friend’s van and some camping stuff, stocked up with bits and pieces in Kmart, and headed onto the highway towards the Great Ocean Road.

Starting 90 minute’s drive south west of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road stretches 150 miles along the dramatic coast of western Victoria and passes through forests, creeks and waterfalls, farms and vineyards, sleepy towns and cliff top beauty spots. It was built between 1919 and 1932 as a war memorial with the added purpose of providing jobs for returned servicemen, and continues to provide jobs in the area in the form of tourism.

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The Great Ocean Road, near Sheoak Falls

Our first night stop and the official starting point of the Great Ocean Road was Torquay, the first in a host of English seasidey names along this part of the coast. This Torquay is known as a surfer town, being the birthplace of Rip Curl and Quiksilver and the nearest town to Bell’s Beach, a world renowned pro surfing spot. It was nice and relaxed, with a new town feel to it that was quite refreshing after the historical Londoniness of Melbourne; what Banff or Whistler are to Canadian snowsports, Torquay is to Australian surfing. We were quite inspired to do some surfing ourselves, but weren’t organised enough and would have to wait until we got to Lorne a few days later. Instead we spent a morning enjoying the wide, flat Front Beach and having a wander around the rocky outcrop of Point Danger.

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Back Beach, Torquay

That afternoon we continued along the road, stopping first at Anglesea for a rockhopping beach stop, and then at Aireys Inlet for the first of many pub stops, at the Aireys Pub, home of Rogue Wave Brewing. Australia is known for being a beer drinking nation, and microbreweries have seen the same rise in popularity over recent years here as in the UK, and we tasted plenty during the trip. The beer was almost always very good, but it all got a bit weird when it came to quantities. Middy, pot, schooner, the drink sizes are different wherever you go; one quantity can have multiple names and one name can mean different volumes. Only one thing’s for certain, you almost certainly won’t get an actual pint, even if that’s what they say you’re getting. It’s more of an abstract general term, like a ‘bunch’ or a ‘slice’, it doesn’t equate to an actual measurement. But the beer was good.

Aireys Inlet is also home to Split Point Lighthouse, a pretty white tower on a rocky cliff in one of the most historically dangerous coastlines in Australia. It’s was also used to film the children’s TV programme ‘Round the Twist’, about which I can remember exactly two things; a) the theme tune, and b) the fact that it was set in a lighthouse. After seeing that we headed inland, away from the Great Ocean Road for the evening, to a free, basic campsite near Wensleydale, on the edge of the Great Otway National Park. Away from the main road the track got very bumpy very fast, but we saw a few wallabies in the bush along the way and a huge eagle flying over the van. Our spot for the night was what some people would describe as a ‘proper’ campsite; a car park in the forest next to what may or may not have been a billabong. No mobile homes, no kitchen, nothing at all but an unplumbed toilet block and a rainwater tap. We cooked dinner on our little gas stove and spent the evening sitting around our fire trying to get ‘Waltzing Matilda’ out of my head.

The next morning we headed back to the coast along another bumpy road and back onto the Great Ocean Road to Lorne. A decent sized town, Lorne is a popular spot for families and older people as well as being the gateway to the waterfalls and forests of the Otway Ranges. It’s an artsy kind of place and there was a public sculpture festival on while we were there, with a trail of nearly forty modern sculptures dotted along the seafront. There are lots of lookouts and walking trails around the town, and although we made it up to the coastal view of Teddy’s Lookout and the 30m drop of Erskine Falls, the weather broke on our second day there, stopping us from doing a proper walk. Instead we did a bit of a foodie tour inland in farm and vineyard country, following part of the gourmet Otway Harvest Trail.

Australia in general, and Melbourne particularly is a foodie heaven, and this part of Victoria prides itself on its local food and artisan producers. We stopped for lunch at Birregurra Farm Foods, a farm shop and cafe on the high street of the small rural town of Birregurra. From the outdoor pizza oven cooking pizzas topped with locally produced mozzarella, to wines from the vineyard down the road, to the salad made with heritage tomatoes grown by the guy on the next table, the waiter/chef/shopkeeper could tell us the origin of every thing on the menu. After a long lunch, as it started raining again and I finally abandoned my hope of a walk, we headed straight to the next eatery, the Forrest Brewery in the town of Forrest. Here I had my first tasting paddle and we sat around until we decided we’d waiting long enough for a piece of cake.

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Teddy’s Lookout, Lorne

After the gluttonous day before, by day five we were ready for some exercise, so our surfing lesson that morning was very welcome. We all got on pretty well, at least managing to stand up once or twice, and the rain mattered less when we were standing in the sea in wetsuits. After that we moved on from Lorne, heading towards Cape Otway where the coastline turns the corner from the gentle ‘Surf Coast’ to the dramatic ‘Shipwreck Coast’.

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