What comes to mind when we think of Melbourne and Victoria? We picture trams, quaint cafes, side streets and art culture. We envisage the iconic Flinders street station, painted yellow, arms open to traveller and settler alike. Of course, there’s also the zany weather, which rains and stops without warning, going from sunny to cloudy and downright pouring any moment of the day. One thing though that epitomises the state, that cannot be removed from any conversation of Victoria’s awesomeness, is the great ocean road.
One of the top drives
The scenic seaside road is one of the must-sees for any visitor to the area. Winding down the southwestern Victorian coast, the drive provides a delicious eye feast for all creeds, nationalities and walks of life. Built by returned army serviceman, the road is a testament to Aussie mateship and the ANZAC spirit. So good is the attraction that it has consistently been rated one of the top drives anywhere in the world. Naturally, being curious and a certified nature lover, I’ll have what they’re having.
Upon doing research, I decided to try this well rated tour company. People had been saying nothing but good things about them, so I was impressed. For reasons I’d be wise not to post here, I decided against booking with them. I then found an even better tour, which was more expensive but whose thrust had far more integrity. I booked it for the second full day of our trip, and received a confirmation email.
We woke up at 6am that day, but managed to get ready and have breakfast. We were about to leave the hotel when this lady called out, ‘Chris’. She introduced herself, Tara, saying she’ll be our guide for today. We were the last to board the blue customised Mercedes van, sitting in the middle. Tara was an excellent guide, very accommodating and knowledgeable. She told us about the history of landmarks we passed, of Prince Charles’s former boarding school, of ex-PM Kevin Rudd’s award winning tea, of Vegemite, of Australia’s ridiculous population density…. I was amazed later on when she told us that this was her first solo tour at the helm (she had been training for 1.5 months).
Our first stop was a beach in Anglesee. I talked to some of my other tour participants (there were ten of us). Most of them were tourists visiting Oz for the first time. They were all couples, from Zan and his wife, to Indonesians Reza and wife, and a Scottish couple. On the beach, I connected with Zan, who was from Singapore. We jammed over biscuits, Tim Tams, Vegemite on crackers and black coffee/milk tea. The journey continued, from Lorne for a pit stop to a rushed lunch at Apollo Bay. I wish I had more time to look around, but this was a packed itinerary, crammed into one full day. After this, Tara told us about the elusive snail which could be found on our next stop. We did the customary forest walk (about 1 hour), before eagle eyed Reza saw the snail. Our guide told us that this was a very rare occurrence, and was missing from prior tours. We then spotted a koala in the wild. We dashed along the road, careful to avoid the passing vehicles for this once in a lifetime pose.
We had a few more stops, before finally reaching the famed 12 Apostles. Apparently, it wasn’t really 12, and some of the rocks had fallen over the years, to be replaced by newer apostles. A few years ago, they were down by one, but erosion has ensured that two more were added to the collection. Indeed the apostles were attached to the mainland aeons ago, but rising sea levels have enabled this new figure.
What great timing! The rain really started when we had just reached the national park. We were holding our cameras as the downpour splashed our lenses. I managed to sneak in a conversation with Andrew, the Scottish guy who sat across from us on the vehicle. This was apparently nice weather, from a Scotsman’s punto de vista. In Scotland, he said it could get to minus 20 degrees. Apparently he didn’t read Irvine Welsh, his countryman who authored one of the few books I’ve finished so far this year.
Supper with the gang
We went by a few lookouts, and also marvelled at the enchanting Gibson’s steps, which manifested the progress of Aborigine art ages prior to colonisation. Next was dinner, at this chic place. I learned there that the Bandung couple had two sons, a 2-year old and a 7-month old. Guy said he’s been ‘all over the place’ but hasn’t yet gone to South America, because it’s not safe. Our guide Tara also showed us some photos of her blonde 4-year old daughter. Zan mentioned that London weather was still better than Victoria’s, in spite of the sustained chance for rain. I regret not taking a group pic of us during dinner. It just never crossed my mind till we were heading to the vehicle.
To my tour mates, bon voyage!