Built in 1932, the Great Ocean Road stretches from Torquay to Warnambool across ragged cliffs, wild windswept beaches, tall buffs and tangled rainforests. Our first stop was Lorne, a delightful little seaside town nestled in a nook that protects it from the winds that lash many of the other towns along the drive. In early October, which is spring in Australia, the ocean was way too cold for a dip, but we walked the length of the beach along the boardwalk and, with few people about, felt like we had the ocean to ourselves.
Lorne is more hip and alternative than some of the other coastal towns that have a more suburban, commercial feel—and this is part of its appeal. The café we visited for evening tea had large sofas, mismatched cushions, an eclectic menu and a grungy air—clearly, the operative words here were sink and loll, and that’s exactly what we did. In front of us, a flock of white cockatoos hobbled comically around a lawn, their bodies tilting to one side under the weight of their crests. And from the balcony of our bed and breakfast, we saw king parrots with blood-red heads and lush green throats, colours so vivid they seemed to belong in a dream.
The next morning was grey, windy and foggy as we drove to Mait’s Rest, an accessible walking trail in Otway National Park. Although we drove just two hours from Lorne, we felt like we had reached the Amazon basin—a world of eternal green silence where tall trees rule.
It is quite rewarding to spend an entire day driving from Lorne to Port Fairy, the most scenic and ‘coast-hugging’ part of the drive, stopping along the way for short walks, Devonshire teas, and other small delights. One such treat was the Cape Otway Lighthouse, built in 1848 – the oldest standing lighthouse on the Australian continent. The lighthouse still functions, and visitors are allowed to climb to the top of the neat white and red-trim building and take in the view, but because it’s on a cape, the wind hits it full tilt, and it is impossible to stand outside for more than a minute.
The last major stop of the day was at Port Campbell National Park, better known as the site of the Twelve Apostles—or 12 limestone rocks eroded into strange shapes by wind and wave. Only 10 of these currently remain, and have to be approached through an interpretive center that boasts a maudlin ode to Australia’s immigrant past. Although these rocks and monuments had impressive shapes, they were, after all rocks. And there was no possibility of discovering these through our own senses and imagination, since they had already been packaged as Razorback, Blowhole, Thunder Cave and what have you. Wandering through this was becoming a bit like checklist tourism, rather than a relaxed weekend, so we decided to call it a day.
By now, we were on top of the cliffs with the ocean well below us. We drove another hour to Port Fairy, the last stop on the Great Ocean Road before it turns inland to join another highway. Although Port Fairy is not as ethereal as its name, it has the quaint feel of a riverside town of yore. Lying in an antique four-poster bed in Gobles’ Mill House, (a flour mill converted into a heritage B&B), ruminating in the wake of a wine-washed dinner of Tasmanian salmon, the only thought that came to my mind was prosaic yet eminently satisfying. “Aaah, this is life.”