Day 1: CHECK!
It had been raining loudly all night long. Being the light sleeper that I was, I had trouble sleeping. But somehow I secretly hoped that the rain would be intense enough to perhaps flood the Wannon River and make some kind of waterfall so we might be able to check it out before heading south to the Great Ocean Road.
Anyways, we were able to check out from the Quality Inn Grange Burn Motel and leave Hamilton at 7:20am. But I didn’t want to leave Hamilton without trying to see Wannon and Nigretta Falls one last time to see if the rain did anything to them. Julie was very skeptical of this, and she was probably right. Still, I didn’t want to have any regrets and the falls were only 15 minutes from town.
By 7:47am, we showed up to the official car park and lookout for the Wannon Falls (unlike the alternate lookout we were at yesterday). The falls was still trickling so the rain really didn’t do jack.
By 7:56am, we left the falls and headed towards Nigretta Falls again. As we drove the rural road towards the falls, we noticed numerous kangaroos hopping about. It was a good thing I was in no hurry as I could easily envision a recurrance of that dreadful kangaroo incident from our NT/WA trip last North American Summer (or Australian Winter).
In one instance, we saw a kangaroo just sitting on the road unaware we were approaching. So I just slowed the car down and drifted some 20km/h towards it on the road. The roo eventually started hopping away back and forth on the road. After what seemed like an eternity, the roo finally hopped the wired fence (they sure jump high) and off into the bush. Finally, we could drive a little faster than 20km/h.
By 8:14am, we were at Nigretta Falls. And once again, it was trickling. But we could totally see a wide stream of water further upstream. Why wasn’t any of that volume going to the falls? I reckoned it was probably diverted.
Oh well. At least we tried.
So now we headed south towards Warrnambool, which sat at the eastern end of the Great Ocean Road. Even though the weather looked like it was improving out in the Grampians Shire, we could see the dark squally clouds in front of us.
Julie wasn’t too crazy about the weather as she had hoped to see the long awaited Twelve Apostles without this cold, Antarctic storm being blasted our way. As a matter of fact, when we passed through some of the dark menacing squalls, the rain was so intense that it produced hail. The fallen ice managed to chip the windshield of our rental car. I sure hoped we weren’t going to get charged for this.
Triple J Radio also mentioned that there was snow in Queensland. “Wasn’t that state supposed to be tropical like Florida?” I asked myself. This was like saying there was snow in Florida in the month of May…
Finally at 9:55am, we arrived at Warrnambool. The wind was intense over there and it was biting cold. We picked up some free literature in the visitor center there before heading out to the nearby Hopkins Falls.
At 10:28am, we were at the car park for the falls. For the time being, a dark cloud was headed our way as it blocked out the sun. The wind was still blasting making it bitterly cold to be hanging out outside the car.
Julie and I braved the cold and walked towards the bottom of the wide waterfall. The falls looked like it could’ve been a very wide loud river waterfall, but all we saw was a bunch of disjointed, clapping, parallel columns of water.
We took photos of the falls but then hastily made our way back to the car. By that time, the skies started dumping its intense rain. Once inside the car, the rain turned to hail. The noise made by the falling ice pounding on the car prompted Julie to say, “Scary!”
Not wanting to risk more windshield chips from the hail, I opted not to start driving until the hail calmed down. When we started driving, we had waited a couple of minutes. The time was now 10:45am.
So off we went heading west beyond Warrnambool and eventually the famous Great Ocean Road. We could catch glimpses of the angry seas backed by menacing clouds, and at 11:38am, we arrived at the Bay of Islands Lookout. And so began the autotour of the Great Ocean Road.
Braving the intense winds and bitter cold with rain threatening at any moment, we spent a few minutes checking out this very nice viewpoint. There was a view of the bay as we looked inland. As we looked towards the sea, we could see sea stacks. As we looked westbound down the coast, we could see a mostly submerged sea arch that would peek itself when the waves destructively interfered with each other.
At 12:04pm, we stopped at the Grotto Lookout. I walked to the end of the well-defined track as Julie stayed in the car thinking there wasn’t much at this spot and it wasn’t worth braving the wind. At the end, that’s when I learned that the Grotto was actually another natural arch. The sea spray blowing through the arch by the strong winds and high tides made photography a little difficult. But anyways, it was impressive nonetheless and it made me wonder what other worthwhile surprises were in store for us.
At 12:25pm, we arrived at the famous London Bridge. It was too bad half the bridge (it was a double sea arch reminiscent of the famous London Bridge in the UK) collapsed in the late 90s. All that was left now was just one sea arch but the intense waves looked like it could engulf the span and make even that piece collapse at any moment.
At 12:43pm, we stopped at a car park for the Arch. It was basically another sea arch but by now it looked like the sun was making a cameo appearance between the dark squalls lighting up the light blue seawater down below.
At 1:08pm, we arrived at our accommodation at the Great Ocean Road Motor Inn in Port Campbell. This place was very nice and roomy. It seemed apparent that we were upgraded in this motel. It was too bad we were only staying for one night.
Anyways, we dropped off our luggage and traveled light for the rest of the arvo as we wanted to check out the rest of the coastal attractions in Port Campbell. But first, we had ourselves a fish and chips lunch in town. We were finally back on the road at 2:10pm.
At 2:21pm, we arrived at the large car park for the Loch Ard Gorge. Here, there were a few involved walks (between 30-60 minutes return) that took in another spectacular sea arch as well as some sea stacks. The weather was such that the sun lingered in the clear as the next batch of the Antarctic storm made their way north. At least this made for decent photos in the Loch Ard Gorge area, but we wanted to get to the Twelve Apostles before the next band of fast moving clouds headed our way.
So at 2:50pm, we made it to the car park for the Twelve Apostles. Unlike the other points of interest, the car park for this attraction was on the north side of the Great Ocean Road instead of the coastal side. I guess this was smart considering the impact and likelihood for further coastal erosion (given the popularity of the Apostles) had they put it on the coastal side of the road. But it did throw me for a loop and actually caused me to miss the turnoff at first since I had expected to make a right turn instead of a left.
Anyways, we wasted no time walking fast towards the overlooks for the Twelve Apostles. The walkway was wide and paved as it passed underneath the Great Ocean Road. The car park was very busy and plenty of people crowded the walkway here.
But when we first laid eyes on the Twelve Apostles, we immediately could tell why this was a popular and world wide attraction. The sea stacks were indeed impressive and even iconic. Sure, there weren’t 12 of them and one of them looked like it just collapsed recently. The turbulent seas chipping away at the stacks added to the drama of the scene. The threatening rain clouds also added to the drama.
When Julie first saw the Twelve Apostles, she oohed and aahed. Then she turned to me, smiled, and said, “Check!” It was one of her must-see attractions of Australia and now she could say that we’ve checked this one off the list. By the way, the other ones we’ve seen already were Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) and the Pinnacles in Western Australia. All that’s left now was the Great Barrier Reef, but that will be for another trip to Oz some time in the future – assuming global warming doesn’t completely bleach the reefs when we finally get there.
It was difficult to get decent photos of the Apostles with the quantities of folks (mostly from tour buses) crowding all the overlooks. Still, we knew we were staying here so we could come back at sunset later this arvo and at sunrise tomorrow morning. So no hurries and no worries was the mood of the moment.
Since it was only about 3:15pm, we decided to head back to Loch Ard Gorge to kill time. We had yet to see the Blowhole and Thunder Cave over there so we mind as well kill some time checking it out.
So at 3:41pm, we were on the Blowhole/Thunder Cave Trail. The Blowhole actually didn’t put out any water as I had expected a geyser-like hole. Really it was just a sea tunnel with an interpretive sign at the overlook saying there was once an eerie purple glow due to some of the Loch Ard ship’s cargo (including corpses) being washed towards the cove right below the overlook.
The Loch Ard was a ship that was wrecked by the turbulent seas here in 1878.
Minutes further down the track was the Thunder Cave. It was basically a cave in which turbulent sea water would crest and foam its way into the darkness of the cave. There was no way that we were going to walk all the way down the stairs into the churning water flooding the beach in this high tide. Clearly the cave was inaccessible this time.
By the time we returned to the car park, it was still 4:12pm. We drove back to Port Campbell just to chill out a little in town and then in our roomy motel room. It wasn’t until 6:24pm when we got back in the car and headed back to the Twelve Apostles for sunset (not a guaranteed thing given the scattered storm clouds moving quickly over the area).
Quite naturesque, indeed.
Julie and I took advantage of the reduced human presence for more photographs. Eventually, I would get some silhouette shots of the Twelve Apostles since we were kind of looking against the sun. Still, we didn’t stay all the way until the sun set because the sun started hiding behind a large band of storm clouds.
But that was enough, we reckoned. By now, it was 7:34pm and both of us were ready for a nice dinner.
We ended up eating in a fairly humble cafe in town (the name of the place escapes me). I don’t remember what we had, but I did remember the pouring rain momentarily returned. Fortunately, we were in the indoor shelter of the cafe by then.
Back in our room at the Great Ocean Road Motor Inn, we showered and washed off all the salt all over our bodies and hair. Speaking of hair, the howling antarctic winds really made today a bad hair day.
As Julie turned on the tellie (Oz-speak for TV), we both watched the local news for a bit. And the news of the day – the wild weather!
We had already heard about the unseasonable winter storm in November on Triple J, but it was funky to see images of these things on TV. Apparently the storm that produced mad squalls and hail for us had produced snow in Ballarat and the Grampians (as well as in tropical Queensland, which we knew about earlier in the day, but we didn’t know it was the first time since 1940 that it snowed there)!
When the news ended, we killed some more time watching the Ring 2, which was free. We had already seen it before, but I guess Julie had to get her movie fix in.
And so ended a pretty memorable day in Victoria. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate tomorrow morning so we can catch the scene in the early hours with the soft light of the waking sun…