The Great Ocean Road: A Smorgasbord of overheating piglets, raining koalas, rock stacks of pancakes, and some German Sausage.

We woke up next to the beach, then drove the last 60 K’s or so into Adelaide. We planned to stop for an hour or two and look around, find a coffee shop, and take in the sights, as we’d heard good things about the South Australian capital. It didn’t quite work out that way, though, as our van took a major turn for the worse: every time we stopped at traffic lights, the car behind us, in fact the whole street behind us, would rapidly disappear in a cloud of smoke from our exhaust. Coupled with the overheating problem, which came back with a vengeance, it was all we could do to keep moving fast enough to air-cool the radiator and get out of the city before we were arrested as the No. 1 cause of global warming.

World's Best Road Safety Campaign, South Australia

Back out on the open road, we drove to the little town of Handorf, the German capital of Australia. The English couple we met way back in McClean had told us it was worth visiting, so we did. Having exited Adelaide in a hurry, we hadn’t had much in the way of breakfast. We sorted it out with as many free samples as we could get from all the little shops in Hahndorf. We had cheese and crackers, 5 types mustard and chutney, and even a glass of port! We chased it with a cheap sausage in a bun from the market, and two Cornish pasties. Nom! From Hahndorf we drove across to Mt. Barker, where yet another market was just winding down. A few free samples of cheese, oranges and cake sorted lunch out.

The next day we arrived in Mt. Gambier, after a wonderful drive through one of South Australia’s wine regions. We passed the world-famous Penfolds estate, which stretches some 80km along the road! In Mt. Gambier we took in the sights at Blue Lake, a huge crater filled with deep cobalt waters, and treated ourselves to Fish and Chips because the weather was bloody freezing. We headed for a free campsite near the border with Victoria, but despite good old GPS, we couldn’t find it, so we drove on into Victoria and stayed in a little place called Dartmoor; camping up for the night between a huge semi-trailer that someone called a caravan, and a cute possum scavenging around the bin. Dartmoor in the light turned out to be a beautiful place, with incredible wood carvings dotted all over the place, and a bizarre “monster of the deep” electronic show in the middle of nowhere.

Further along the road we came to Portland, where we found a Petrified Forest on the coast, and bought a new radiator cap for the van in a vain attempt to cure our engine problems. That night we stayed in a little national park campsite a few K’s off the main road. When we got there, there was no one else around, except an empty campervan and 2 empty, tattered-looking tents. Oh, and a few kangaroos. When no-one came back to either the camper or the tents by dark, I began to get a really uneasy feeling about staying there, and we debated moving on. Clearly I was just being paranoid, as we stayed anyway and all was fine. Still, I don’t want to go back…

From there we started our journey along the Great Ocean Road, which is an incredible drive along the Victoria Coastline; a couple of hundred K‘s of amazing views, tight bends, little bays, and big cliffs. Our first stop was London Bridge, once a promontory of 2 connected rock arches, but the landward one collapsed in 1990, leaving a couple of tourists stranded at the time  on the new island. How scary would that have been, to walk across a rock arch and have it collapse behind you, cutting you off from the mainland!

We spent that night at Princetown Recreation Reserve, a cheap-as campsite near the 12 Apostles. On the drive in, in the dark, a huge Kangaroo jumped out in front of us and bounded down the road ahead of us for 100 metres or so: Incredible! We only paid for a place because it was freezing and we wanted a hot shower, but the water at the site was like ice, especially in the ladies’. Chrisie ended up having to pretend to be a man so she could shower in the warm!

We got up super early and drove the couple of K’s back to the 12 Apostles car park. Not too many people around at that time of the morning, and we almost had the view to ourselves. The 12 Apostles are 60 to 70 metre rock stacks, but there are only 8 left. Constant erosion by the sea has toppled four so far, but as the cliff behind gets eaten away, more Apostles might yet be born. We were amused by a story on an information board which said they used to be called “The Sow and her Piglets” but apparently that wasn’t dignified enough, for which read: It didn’t bring in enough tourists!

As we photographed the sun rising over the sea stacks, a friendly local introduced himself and we did the obligatory take photos of each other with the view in the background thing. He was the nicest guy you could ever meet, and spent ages telling us about places we should go, things we should do and places to sleep for free. We ended up back in the car park, cooking up scrambled eggs and hot chocolate to warm up with him and his travelling partner, a German girl named Svea.

Our new friend, Paul, convinced us to stick around the area for the day to see the bits we’d missed, and to join them both for lunch at a little café he knew in Port Campbell. We spent the morning looking round Ard Gorge, photographing yet more amazing sea stacks, some which definitely should not still be standing, before heading to Port Campbell for the epic burger Paul promised. The café turned out to be closed, so we bought eggs and made vast quantities of pancakes on the seafront.

We said our goodbyes to Paul and Svea, and agreed to try and meet up in Melbourne in a few days, then drove back up the road to Gibson’s Steps, a narrow winding staircase that leads down to the beach. Fighting our way past tourists, we made it to sea level, and spent a while taking pictures from a different angle.

Our next stop was back at the 12 Apostles to catch the sunset. It was pretty spectacular, and unlike the morning, the place was bunged. Lucky we got there in time to get a good tripod spot! Our day finished with us camping in Ard Gorge car park (where you aren’t allowed to camp, but Paul said it was fine…). We had heard that the rangers need to catch you twice before they can fine you, and when a vehicle drove in late, turned and drove out, we decided that a 6am start was needed. Fun Fun!

After an hour’s drive in the dark, the sun came up, and it was spectacular! We stopped to watch the day break as the sun lit up the clouds to a vibrant pink, and the rolling hills disappeared into the distance, each range slightly greyer than the one before.

We took a detour down the Cape Otway road to the lighthouse. Paul had said this was one of the best spots to see Koalas in the wild. We found their general location easily enough – all the Eucalyptus trees had been stripped bare! Chrisie spotted a couple of koalas sleeping high up in the trees, just grey lumps in the crooks of branches, but none close enough to get a good look at.

Down at the lighthouse we slept for a bit, and made a hot drink from powdered jelly, before venturing towards the lighthouse. The entry fee of nearly $20 each put us off. $20 to see a bloody lighthouse – No thank you! Grumbling about tourist prices, we set off back up the road, and found hundreds of koalas where we’d seen the few before, and they were so close you could almost touch them. Chrisie even bent a branch in towards one who was struggling to reach his breakfast and he reached out and took it from her! We spent a while taking photos of the cuddly animals, and I had to drag Chrisie away before she adopted one!

That evening we ended up in Lorne. Yet another bit of information from Paul; he had told us that Lorne had free hot showers and free camping. We found the free showers and soaked up as much heat as we could before doing another bandit run at the local campsite. Seems it’s not free anymore.

The next day we carried on along the Great Ocean Road, loving the twists and turns, the narrow lanes and the dramatic drops. We stopped briefly to write Happy Birthday in the sand for my brother, then arrived at Bell’s Beach. Bell’s is famous as the beach with the 50 year storm from the film Point Break. It was a lot calmer when we visited it, with just a few surfers out enjoying the gentle swell.

Later that day, in Torquay, we got Vodaphone reception again, and a torrent of voicemail messages came through. Two in particular caught our attention. The first was a lady from Skilled, a workforce training organisation, and the sponsor of the $50,000 car I’d tried to win at the Townsville 400, saying to give her a call. Had we just won a 50 grand car? We hoped so! The second was from a man in Tasmania saying he’d love to have us and he’d even pick us up from the airport! Life was looking up, so we treated ourselves to Fish and Chips for lunch, and booked some flights to Tassie!

From Torquay it was a few short kilometres to Melbourne, where we got stuck in traffic on the main motorway through the city, and of course the engine temperate climbed rapidly. We could see a stop-start queue of cars crawling over the huge bridge and we bailed out before we got stuck. We spent a while in a supermarket car park contemplating if we could make it through, or if we should wait 8 hours to cross it that evening. In the end we went for our usual attitude of She’ll Be Right. Thankfully the traffic had died down a little, and we made it all the way through Melbourne and out the other side, not daring to stop.

Over the next few days the glorious weather we’d had West of Melbourne disappeared, to be replaced by some of the worst storms that bit of the country had seen in a while. We drove out to Phillip Island to try and see the Fairy Penguins arrive home at dusk, but we nearly got blown off the road, and the rain was just insane. Besides that, the Tourist-Trap got us again: It was $20-odd to see the penguins as they close the road at 6pm, and they don’t let you take photos. Disappointed and damp we watched one-legged seagulls battle to stay standing in the fierce wind at San Remo, and yet again we treated ourselves to Fish and Chips. We managed to get Barramundi fish this time, as it was in season for once. It was very fishy fish!

We drove off the island and onwards towards Wilson’s Promontory National Park, supposedly a stunning part of Australia, almost like a mini New Zealand. Rain stopped play! We camped up at a rest stop next to a river, and spent the whole night trying to block out the sound of water trying to drill through the roof, and wondering if we’d know when the van floated away! Oh, and the roof has started leaking…

We abandoned our loop out East and headed back for Melbourne. A very tenuous link bagged us a place to leave the van near Melbourne airport for the time we’d be in Tassie. Ready for this: The brother of the husband of the cousin of the eldest son of my parents’ friends! He runs a cosmetics company in an industrial estate about 4 Km from the airport and our thanks go to him for agreeing to help out two almost complete strangers. We got ourselves back through Melbourne without too much engine mishap, but did run a red light and do an illegal U-turn or two as a result of heavy rain and our loveable GPS that gives helpful instructions like “Turn right” when clearly turning right would flatten a park bench and the poor old lady sitting on it…

We met Gabriel, and not only did he give us a place to park the van, he kindly gave us a lift to the airport and gave Chrisie a stack of makeup. It’s only fair to give a bit of publicity in return, so check out his site at www.majicbeauty.com.au. His company are the only people who make one-shot eye shadow application, and even do leopard-print, if that’s your thing. I genuinely never expected to be promoting eye shadow on our world tour, but there you go…

That night we slept on the comfiest bench in Melbourne airport – the padded red one at the Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop. I asked the girl if they had any doughnuts they were going to throw out. She pointed at a trolley full of doughnuts and then at all the ones in the display. “All of them” she said. There must have been 200 or more, all going for the bin. When I asked if I could have a couple she said they’re not allowed to give them away, but to talk to the manager later.

Later arrived and the manager said Krispy Kreme count it as stealing if they give them away, but she shared my disgust at the awful waste, every single day. I tried a bit of persistence and said could she not accidently leave 2 behind when they locked up. She gave in and gave us our pick each of the doughnuts. Score! I thought I’d try my luck elsewhere in the airport, seeing as it was shop closing time. No luck, but when I came back Chrisie was sat with a box of 6 more doughnuts in front of her!

We slept as best we could with construction noise, colour-changing lights, security announcements and 1 ½ feet of space, before getting on a plane to Tassie…

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