The Apostles…..

Aussie signage leaves little to the imagination. The walkways to these remarkable cliffs are safe enough but I guess there has been the odd idiot who has tried to get a closer look. Just in case I was thinking of it these reminders are posted everywhere.

I am happy to get my vatage point from a safe spot.

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On The Road Again…….

 

The beach from Johanna campsite...

It is drizzling as we leave the comfort of Dav and Barb’s home but we decline their offer that we could stay another night. There is something about having made the decision to leave, we should keep to the plan. So we head off for Joanna Beach campsite mentally adjusting to a night under canvas in possible rain.

 

But Joanna is full when we arrive. I guess you must arrive early at these free sites if you want a decent pitch. There are so many camper van varieties that can pitch up that a site can quickly fill up. We head off along the Great Ocean Road into new territory and eventually end up at Princetown where a friendly local directs us to the near empty campsite. From his house on the hill above the site we can see at least fifty kangaroos milling around as dusk falls. Many of them are in the sports oval that sits in the middle of the site itself.

We find a cosy pitch, made even more cosy by the presence of new super thick sleeping mats and soon have a brew and picnic on the go. We are soon surrounded by a mob of kangaroos that seem quite oblivious to us as they chomp away. Marilyn expresses her delight muted by a slight worry about having to exit the tent at night to do what one has to do and being confronted by a daddy roo. I try to put her mind at rest by telling her that they will all go to sleep soon but I know she is not convinced when just as I am settling into my sleeping bag with some Weather Report on my ipod as a lullaby she shakes me by the shoulder and asks what is making the scratching and chewing noises outside the tent by her head. I confess I do not know but that it is small and is not a lion or a bear and that we are quite safe. Nevertheless at three in the morning I decide I have to get up and sit in the car with a torch to find out what it is……..nothing shows……I return to my sleeping bag and the chewing and scratching continues. They are a complete wind-up these Australian critters. And Marilyn is, by now, snoring.

Last few days with old friends…..

Tuesday 14th ….Local beaches

We spend a morning on Marengo beach, just along from Apollo Bay. This is effectively the start of the Great Ocean Walk and a lovely beach to start on. Like so many beaches we have seen this is a volcanic outcrop of hard rock that has been weathered into fascinating shapes, pools and colours. There is a reef just off shore that is home to a colony of seals as the waft of strong marine odours tells us. We spend a happy hour or so searching the rock pools and being mesmerized by swell and rhythm of the sea against rock.

The homes that are built on the shore have amazing views and I notice that most are empty at this time of week or year.

The afternoon is spent on Apollo Bay Beach where I get a brief body surf session in with Dav and Barb and we all enjoy a rare lie in the sun until the incoming tide eventually sends us packing.

Tonight I cook a king prawn curry with a vegetable side dish and a few of the Otway beers help to wash it all down.

Wednesday 15th….Aire River and a kayak..

The second valley along from Apollo Bay is cut by the Aire river. It has been tamed by farmers to accommodate their cattle and potato crop and its treeless hills undulate like valleys in Argyll do. At the head of the river the Great Ocean Walk crosses the river before ascending again into the forest and Ti tree shrub that hugs the shoreline. We walk to the beach along a sandy track in the sand dune. Dav spots a dead baby tiger snake along the way and can’t resist playing silly buggers with it.

Soon we are standing watching some hardy body surfers playing in the waves that crash on an otherwise deserted beach. Even Barb would think twice about entering this sea today.

The river, however is another matter. We have bought Dav and Barb’s two kayaks with us and it is a simple matter to launch them for them to have an initial explore of this lower reach of the river and upstream to a couple of small lakes. I wait for them to return and enjoy watching the birdlife – especially four Ibis that feed on a little island.

And when Dav and Barb return I take up the suggestion to squeeze into Barb’s kayak and join Dav in a brief paddle up to the first of the lakes and back through a reed passage into the main river stream. It is a lovely way to explore. The silence is profound and the river seems alive with fish. I am tempted to add a kayak to the little fleet that my neighbour Kev and I have accumulated back home in Cornwall.

With their bikes, kayaks and rucksacks Dav and Barb have a busy and fit retirement mapped out ahead of them. And they live in beautiful part of the world to enjoy their adventures.

Thursday 16th …..Leaving….

We drive to Geelong to collect the hire car. Barb takes us the quick way and we return along the Great Ocean Road so that we can enjoy the whole experience over the next few days.

Geelong seems a pretty place from what we see of the newly improved foreshore but we only have time for some coffee and a food shop.

We stop at the newly opened pub at Airey’s Inlet for lunch. The old pub burnt down and the locals have banded together to help rebuild and reopen the place. There are plans to make it a music venue with open mike nights and visiting bands. It is a tribute to the sense of community among the  folk that live in these small Ocean Road towns that such a project is a success. There are stories in most of these towns of disaster, often by fire, and then a rebuilding and regrowth.

We follow the road back to Apollo Bay enjoying the way it twists and turns and follows the contours cut into the hills  by the soldiers returning from the First World War who were given the task to build the road and open up the coastline to commerce and tourism. This section frequently comes close to the sea and Marilyn and I comment that it is another of the great coastal car rides that we are privileged to enjoy.

But too soon we are packing the car and getting ready to leave Apollo Bay. We have purloined a cool box and some de-luxe bed rolls from Dav to make our camping more comfortable and then we are saying our sad farewells to them and the dogs. We all wonder when we will do this again but are certain that our paths will cross at some time before we have to invest in Zimmer frames. It is a fantastic feeling that I always get with really good friends that  any meeting, even after a long gap, just seems to take up from where the last one ended.

Doing all this stuff with Dav and Barb in Australia and in New Zealand with our friends there, I forget my age and feel 18 or 28 again. And while the farewell is sad there is also a sense of joy and contentment in the knowledge that I know these people and can share their lives.

Milanesia Beach…..

Monday 13th – Milanesia Beach

 

Today we drive a stretch of the Great Ocean Road through Marengo and the Barham and Aire River Valleys rising and descending through the tall trees that make up the regrown forest of the Otway National Park. Many of the mountain ash gums are only thirty years old but already they tower above the road rising pencil straight a hundred feet. The monsters that were targeted by the early loggers were enormous with girths of 60-70 feet and rising well over 100 metres but trees of this dimension are long gone in the logging fest that took place in the early pioneering days. Now protected, these forests are managed and are replenishing themselves. We pass through the cool temperate rainforest at Maits Rest where there is a protected 300 year old Myrtle Beech tree and where glow worms can be found at night.

 

We pass the turning to Cape Otway and the lighthouse that we visited at the weekend and on through Lavers Hill, a small township that sits on a crossroads at the highest ridge on the Otway Ranges at 1510 feet. Soon after this we pass through Melba Gully. This little stretch has been in private hands and therefore protected from the ravages of de-forestation. This patch of rainforest is home to many dinosaur finds and is also noted for its glow worms.

 

Passing on, we eventually turn off the main road on an unobtrusive shingle path that will lead us to the Old Coach Road that is part of the Great Ocean Walk. We park up, pass through a gate and make the half hour descent through gum forest where we are given tantalizing views of a deep blue sea and a long strip of gold sand lying at the foot of the bright green hills.

As we approach the beach itself we see that a young couple have set up a tent on a grassy outcrop. They are protected by a low hedge of Ti Tree but have an amazing spot over the beach.

 

 

There is a steep sided valley that disgorges its stream into the sea and at the head of this valley, as it it widens and flattens out, a small stone fisherman’s house nestles beneath the hillside of scrub. It is hard to imagine how hard life must have been before the opening of roads but this space with an adjacent fresh water stream, constant supply of fish and sea food and game in the form of kangaroo, wallaby and birds, might have been quite bearable for someone who liked their own company. It is a private home now and an idyllic holiday spot.

 

The beach is empty except for a young woman who reads on the sand and might be upset that her solitude has been invaded by four day trippers out for a picnic. We settle under the  rocks to enjoy the remains of a Dav pizza before heading off to explore the sands. The cliffs are volcanic, a mixture of hard and softer rock. Where the wind and water have eroded the stone there are strange rounded protuberances that are the remnants of the harder rock and which stick out all over the face of the rock. They have earned the nickname ‘cannonballs’ which is pretty self explanatory.

Because of its remoteness this beach is pretty unspoilt. Walkers on the Great Ocean Walk will pass over it on their way from Johanna campsite to Ryan’s Den but it would take a fairly determined daytripper to make the jaunt down here and back up to their transport. As we leave the beach Barb and I think we spot a seal playing in the surf. On the way back up the hill, wildlife spotter Dav notices dark shapes in the water and after much deliberation we reckon we are watching a shoal of large rays making their way up the coast as their movement is too slow for seals, dolphins, shark or whales as they seem to fly just under the surface of the water.

 

I am grateful for the fact that Dav and Barb have this intrepid and determined mindset that has brought us to this magic place today.

Marilyn and I have the added joy of walking both dogs on Apollo beach this evening and getting Indie to run like a mad thing between us as we walk in opposite directions. Memories of Marley, our old collie, come to mind. She used to love this game.

 

 

 

 

 

Food and monotremes…..

Saturday 11th …Seafood and blackberries.

A downpour at about ten coincides with the opening of the inaugural Apollo Bay sea-food festival and the regular Saturday market. Signs are not good that things will improve as dark clouds still appear to be gathering over the sea. Undaunted we make our way down to the sea front and are pleasantly surprised at the healthy numbers of people arriving.

We get showered on a couple of times but it doesn’t stop us enjoying the local mussels, cooked in a delicious tomato and chili  sauce and a rather tasty fish and scallop kebab washed down with a summer ale from the Otway Estate Brewery that we are visiting tomorrow for lunch.

We watch a demonstration from a local chef on how to prepare and cook lobster in a cognac/butter sauce served with fresh local asparagus and a bed of home made linguini. I’m still not sure I am brave enough to try such a recipe that involves the killing of a live animal. I would have no qualms in eating one that had been prepared as this dish has been. Delicious.

Later in the day Dav, Barb, the two dogs and I take off for a walk up the hill behind the house in search of blackberries. Walking up the steep dirt track I am reminded just how difficult access must have been to these coastal settlements in the days before sealed roads that only came in the form of the Great Ocean Road in the 30s. The Colac Road that threads its way northwards through the forested Otway range also opened up the interior at about the same time. Before that tracks like the one we are on would have been used and they soon become steep, muddy slides that would be virtually impassable for much of the time.

Despite the approaching drizzle we gather a lot of berries in a short space of time and can enjoy the views from the top of the hill over the Bay. Those berries along with a few locally scrumped apples are very soon in the oven, topped by one of Barb’s delicious crumbles.

Sunday 12th……Sunday lunch and wild echidna

Lunch is planned at the Otway Estate Winery and Brewery today as the theme of good food continues.

The route to Colac takes us initially up Wild Dog Creek Road ( great name) where we look for the site of our memorable holiday thirty odd years ago at ‘Fogarty’s Cottage’. It could be one of two dwellings that lie at the bottom of the steep valley that are reached  by precipitous paths. These are now sealed but in those far off days they were mud tracks after rain that we remember having to negotiate in the old Combi.

We then drive through Forrest where a few days ago we had stopped for lunch at the small Forrest Brewery and enjoyed the local IPA.

A short drive through flatter farmland takes us through Colac and then back to the Otway Estate. Dav and I enjoy a taste of the ten beers on offer and agree on the four that top the list – A Red, a Stout, a Wheat Beer and a wonderful IPA . I am forced to purchase a selection of these to take home after we have enjoyed a very good meal at this popular spot.

It is just as we leave and are trucking home through the start of the forest that wildlife spotter Dav shouts out that he has seen an echidna on the side of the road. There is virtually a handbrake turn and soon Marilyn and I get our first glimpse of this wonderful creature, one of Australia’s two monotremes – a mammal that lays eggs. The other is the duck billed platypus that we have yet to spot. The echidna does a little turn for us, burying its head shyly before sussing out that we present no danger and waddling off with its little back feet sticking out and pushing it along. It eventually ambles into the bush where it becomes beautifully camouflaged. In her life in Oz Barb has only seen this elusive creature  a half dozen times so we feel honoured and very pleased with Dav and his eagle eyes. This weekend he has saved us from the dreaded tiger snake and spotted the shy echidna. Who’s to say it won’t be a platypus next?

English: Wedgetail eagles - found in Central Q...

Image via Wikipedia

Just as a throwaway on the way home he points out a huge wedge-tailed eagle that slowly circles an open field.

Around The Great Ocean Road….

Thursday 9th …. Wye River circular walk.

The day looks grumbly grey but we are not going to let the threat of a little rain stop plans for today’s foray along the Great Ocean Road to Wye River and a neat circular walk along the beach and then up and over the surrounding hill, returning for a picnic on the beach and a coffee in the cafe.

 

We have driven some lovely roads on this trip and this is up with any of them as it hugs the sea and folds its way along the contours of the hills for 250 kms starting at Torquay in the east and ending at Port Fairy in the west. Some stretches weave inland through forest and hills. We have the whole drive to look forward to when we leave by car next week and today this little stretch whets the appetite.

 

At Wye River we set off along the beach at low tide. The rocks are fascinating volcanic formations that look like pumice. The holes are apparently caused by high pressure gasses passing through the rock before cooling.

Some stretches seem to have been eroded to leave strange messages in an alien language looking a little like Sanskrit. A sculptor could never find the creative energy to produce anything as sensational as these rocks.

 

Eventually we have to leave the beach to climb through a tea-tree path, over the road and upwards along Bird’s Track into the gum forest that has survived the heavy logging for which this place has been famous. We notice sixteen koalas perched high before we stop counting and start to look in vain for ground mammals or marsupials amongst the ground cover.

 

The track eventually descends back into Wye River where we can enjoy a picnic while watching some brave souls surfing and swimming. We are kept company by a masked plover that seems oblivious to our presence. The threatening rain is just about holding off and we make the return to Apollo Bay while we are still dry.

There is still time to take the two dogs, Betty and Indie for their walk along Apollo Beach so that they can chase each other and let off some steam but all the while clouds are growing ominously from the South West. We are not home long before the onset of a storm, accompanied by dramatic sheet lightening and thunder. It is to last all night and into the early morning as it gets caught up by the mountains behind and goes round in circles above Apollo Bay.

 

This is not the customary Oz summer we are told, but I am happy to see the area in this ferocious mood. The Otways are green for a reason – they are used to more rain than a lot of Australia usually witnesses.

Friday 10th…..Lake Elizabeth and poisonous snakes.

 

We don’t let a stormy residue prevent us from heading off to explore inland today at Lake Elizabeth.

 

This lake was formed as late as 1952 when a rock fall of huge proportions damned the river at Forrest. It was only discovered when a few intrepid souls decided to brave the hinterland to find out why the river had suddenly stopped flowing. It was then named after the young woman who was about to become Queen of the Empire.

 

The drive is through some wet forest and so it is fitting that there is rain in the air. These are perhaps the ideal conditions for exploring such a place. Lake Elizabeth is still pretty remote and reached only after a longish drive down a dirt path and then a half hour walk up through dense forest. Almost immediately Barb spots a Wallaby on the track. Startled, it disappears a few feet into the brush and freezes watching us intently from its hiding place.

The weather is wet and cold and Barb tells us that we need not worry about snakes today as they only become active if there is a bit of heat so we confidently set off with Barb leading the way. Half way to the lake Dav, who is second of the four of us, stops in his tracks and warns us to stop and be quiet for there, at the side of the road, resting on a hump of grass is a deadly tiger snake. It is alert to our presence and has raised its head and is licking the air. It is said that it is not the first person in a walking party who gets struck by a snake – they startle and wake the snake. It is the second or third person who will be the victim if the snake is to strike. Thankfully, by spotting the snake, Dav has managed to stay a good distance from it. As with most snakes this one is as frightened of us as we are of it and it decides to take off into the undergrowth. It is nearly a metre long and beautifully marked with a flash of yellow on the underbelly. They can be aggressive if disturbed and we learn later that there are quite a few around this year.

 

Delighted by the sight of our first snake we head down to the lake confident that we will get to see the duck-billed platypus that are to be found in these parts. We know that they are nocturnal and shy but hey…snakes only come out in the sun don’t they?

The lake is strangely beautiful with the drowned remnants of large trees pointing out of the green water. Today the atmosphere is heavy with the residue of the storm and there is a stillness to experience, especially as we are the only people around. There is also a distinct lack of platypus and we decide to return after completing only half a circuit as the weather is still threatening. We have a lingering hope that the snake may have returned as they seem to have favourite spots to rest up in to try to get warm.  And, sure enough, as we approach the grassy mound quietly, we see that it has returned. Again it is instantly alert to our approach and the click of the camera lens sends it rapidly into the scrub so we manage only a glimpse again as it makes its getaway.

 

One of the rangers tells us later that there are venomous brown snakes and lots of these tiger snakes around this year. I think that of the world’s top twelve venomous snakes, ten live in Australia and I am surprised at the blase approach that these Ossies have to all the various creatures, large and small, that have the ability to fell a man with a lick or a bite or a sting.

But then they have been bought up on Crocodile Dundee movies from birth haven’t they?

 

 

 

Lighthouse and Koalas……

Wednesday 8th….Lighthouse and Koalas

 

By the time I am tucking into my breakfast porridge at eight o’clock Dav and Barb have already done a morning swim in the local open pool ( 6a.m)  and dog walk ( 7a.m). They forego their daily jog around the bay today and arrive home as I down my first mouthful. It makes me tired to think too much about it so I concentrate on watching the approaching clouds and trying to assess if they will spoil our planned foray into the Great Ocean Walk later in the day.

 

The Great Ocean Walk has been open for a few years only and meanders just under 100kms from Apollo Bay to Princetown. D&B have already walked it shortly after it was opened and are keen to share some little sections with us over the next week, interspersed with some bits of the Otway National Park.

 

We drive the short section of Ocean Road as far Blanket Bay to start the first section through to Parkers Inlet. On a section of the road into the forest I notice a koala ambling along the side of the road and cannot contain my excitement. We soon see several more in their usual daytime position, asleep with a part of their broad bottom stuck in the branches of a tall gum tree. Time to stop later on in the day I am informed.

 

The first section of walk takes us from the beach up through forest and fern until we descend into a delightful inland bay at Parker’s Inlet. This spot was used to land supplies to the lighthouse that is perched at the top of the next cliff. Twice a year a boat would anchor off shore and the six month supplies would be rowed through the narrow passage into the relative safety of this sheltered cove. The entrance looks choppy enough on a calm day. This must have been a very dangerous task when a gale was blowing. There are stories of wrecks and lost lives in this bay.

We then walk out and up the steep hillside that would have been negotiated with bullock and cart or pack animals back in the old days.

Eventually we reach the light station on Cape Otway and do the tour. It includes a climb up the lighthouse itself and then a visit to the heritage centre where we are enthralled by tales from Brad, a local indigenous guide.

I feel a lot better informed about some of the local history as we head off to the little cemetery, hidden away at some distance in the bush. There are the sad tales of some of the sailors who gave their lives supplying the place and, more poignant still, the many babies and young children who didn’t make it through what must have been harsh living conditions. One of early lighthouse keepers had ten surviving children who lived in a tiny house on this piece of blasted heath. I guess he found something to do on his down time!

Another got the sack within a few weeks for having a foul mouth, a penchant for the rum and an ability to break the delicate instruments that made up the light.

It is on our drive back that we get the opportunity to see Koalas close up as they come to life ( at least as much as a koala can). One in particular scampers up a nearly vertical tree, grace of its huge claws, bellowing and grunting and making a heck of a noise. Others might occasionally have a little scratch or open a beady eye to check out the tourists. They really are sweet animals and it is sad to hear that they are threatened by disease, fire and de-forestation.

 

The weather has been kind enough for us to enjoy a BBQ on the terrace. Lamb and a delicious salad washed down with some fine local red wine courtesy of Barb’s retirement cellar.