Forces of Nature – The Great Ocean Road

Forces of Nature – The Great Ocean Road

Discovery Melbourne hasn’t been the most sociable hostel I’ve ever stayed in so I’d been fairly mopey since Mike left for a trip with his parents, thinking I’d spend the three weeks of his absence friendless and lonely. It turns out though that was just what I needed to push me into making a few friends in the labyrinthine hostel where everybody really keeps themselves to themselves. It’s got the lowest long term rates for Melbourne and an interior decor and leaking walls to match that title; two beds are out of bounds in my room as they become soaking as soon as the rain starts, I can hear water dripping on them as I write! I guess that attracts people on a budget, spending their days searching for work and their evenings despondent from lack of success. Not conducive to building the budding friendships I’m used to from hostel life.

A girl studying photography in my long termers room has her own car here. She suggested we take a road trip out to the Twelve Apostles to get out of the city for a day, Google maps telling us they were but a 2.5 hour drive away down the iconic Great Ocean Road. Her quirky old Ford Falcon, complete with fluffy dash board, was parked out in St Kilda so the first leg of our journey was a jumpy start through insane Melbourne central traffic; they have the left turn lane on the inside of straight on traffic, how on earth does that make sense?!

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Finally breaking out of the suburbs, we cruised through the flat lands of Victoria, passing rural towns of crammed, soulless new build bungalows and endless, endless empty, scrubby grass fields. The muted colours of the parched grasses and the bland anonymity of the as yet un soiled towns was far from the luxuriant beauty of scenic WA’s towering Kari trees with its contrasting exuberant, green foliage and dusty red soils.

I was incredibly underwhelmed, thinking what was so great about this Great Ocean Road which had no Ocean in sight and ploughed through some of the ugliest sights I’d seen in Australia so far. It began to disintegrate into a gravel track, and then just dirt; ‘this is a major tourist hot spot, how can it not even be a tarmac road?’ was running through my head! Then we hit a river running right across the track and signs advising ‘engage 4×4’. It seems we were not on the Great Ocean Road, but rather some “Great Google Maps Short Cut” entirely unsuitable for a 20 year old Falcon! We could barely do a 3 point turn without bottoming the car!!

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We managed to turn back and eventually found a brown tourist sign signalling we were back on track and were soon winding our way along the undulations of Victoria’s coastal cliffs. The sun had decided not to break out for our road trip and a damp mist clung to the cliffs and the trees that survived on their steep slopes, mixing with the salty spray of the violent waves at their base creating an atmospheric scene. The promontories ahead of us disappeared as ghostly outlines, devoured by the flat greys of the ocean. The bone white trunked trees stretching above us had been maimed by forest fires whose flames had licked stark charred scars up their trunks and stolen away their delicate foliage. It being a working day, there were few cars on the road, intensifying the feeling of primordial loneliness in a landscape given up to the forces of nature.

Occasionally, when the steep gradients of the cliffs relented, a town would spring up amongst the vegetation, following the line of a rocky beach. These sea side towns penetrated back into the woodland which, untamed, overran the secluded, mysterious properties. Facing away from the ocean, these places brought Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to my mind, the interior camp where painted, wild, tribal men could melt in and out of the shadows at will. On another day, brightened by sunshine, I think these towns would be buzzing with the energy of surfers, road trippers and fishermen who, for the most part, were hidden indoors as we passed through. Only a few of them spattered the golden sands, rods raised and lines riding the rough tide of the stampeding white horses.

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Finally, it took us some 5 hours to reach the Apostles. We hadn’t been that lost at the start so we really couldn’t work out why, however our delayed arrival turned out to be incredibly fortuitous as we caught the great rock formations blazing in the setting sun. The pale limestone rock stacks were streaked with lines of darker eras and softened by the light mist flung up by the sea surrounding them. The dense layer of tourists lining the look out point couldn’t detract from their majesty and the aura of calm which descended on us all as the sun sank and the colours changed from creams to burning oranges to darkened browns. There aren’t 12 Apostles anymore, several having succumbed to the pull of the tides that rip at their bases and it felt like, even if one had toppled in front of us that evening, it would have done so in quiet, slow motion so as not to disturb the rest of the scene.

We remained for about half an hour, until the sun had dropped below the cloud line and then began the journey home. In all, 8 hours of driving for half an hour at the Apostles, but it was totally worth while. Once we had made it onto the Great Ocean Road it had been a spectacular drive and half of the fun of a road trip is always the getting there. The 12 Apostles were just the icing on the cake.

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We walked back into Discovery at 9PM to find Mike sitting on my bed, a bottle of goon in hand. A day of beauty and culture rapidly descended into a night of cheesy tunes, failed attempts at suck and blow and the general debauchery of a Wednesday night at Turf bar with $6 vodka lemonades! If you’ve ever been out in York, it’s just like Willow, but without that special something that makes Willow, well Willow. Now that I’ve reached the grand old age of 23, I’ve finally succumbed to hangovers, and that Thursday it was a particularly bad one; not ideal when I’d finally got a job interview, and it was at 10AM that morning!

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