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…
Day 2: THE OTWAYS WATERFALL BONANZA
Julie and I woke up refreshed after yesterday’s pleasant change of pace and the comfortable bed we were sleeping in. It certainly was difficult to leave the warmth of the bed and into the waking cold of the morning.
We couldn’t tell from lookout out the window here whether there was going to be sun or not. Regardless, at 6:35am we got packed and did an early checkout (leaving the keys in the room) from the Great Ocean Road Motor Inn to go to the Twelve Apostles.
Sunrise had already occurred, but the scattered clouds made it hard to tell whether we would’ve experienced a sunrise.
At 6:46am, after driving slowly in anticipation of any roos or wallabies that like to hop in front of cars, we arrived once again at the large car park for the Twelve Apostles. We were just one of two cars there.
So as Julie and I put on multiple layers of jackets to help offset the bitter Antarctic cold, we walked towards the overlook once again and this time we had it all to ourselves. Naturally, we took advantage of this opportunity to take our own photos (with the help of the tripod).
Julie was the first to return to the car as she didn’t want to linger in the cold much longer. I, on the other hand, allowed my hands to get numb for a bit as I foresaw more photo opportunities.
Fortunately the squalls were in the distance and not about to pass over the overlook area. One of these squalls started to produce a rainbow! This was a tremendous photographic moment as I wondered how often people get to see the Twelve Apostles under a rainbow.
So I spent a few more minutes taking practically hundreds of photos (aren’t digital cameras great?) before the rainbow started disappearing. By 7:30am, I rejoined Julie and we continued our drive west along the Great Ocean Road.
At this point of the drive, the drama of the turbulent coastline bashed by the raging Southern Ocean gave way to forested hills further inland. The drive was mostly uneventful (though I was always wary of wildlife) until we reached the turnoff for Triplet Falls.
We had arrived early so the Otway Fly (basically another tree-top walk like the one we did in Walpole, WA six months ago) was still closed. We eventually continued driving along the unsealed road towards its end at the car park. By now, the time was 8:32am and we were getting some light showers.
Going into this walk, I had a feeling the waterfalls would be doing better than the ones we saw the last few days. We could tell by how green the Great Otways Forest appeared. I also recalled the Melbourne family we spoke to back at Katoomba Falls who told us the Otways waterfalls would be doing well.
So after walking along the well-developed boardwalk and steps, we eventually made it to the wooden platform looking right at the three columns of water tumbling alongside each other. As expected, the volume was about as good as it could get – probably helped by the recent winter storm. The first two columns to the left were partially hidden by the rainforest foliage. But the rightmost column was the most photographable. Still, I was glad I had a zoom lens capable of doing some wide angles so I could capture the whole scene in one shot.
As we headed east, we were greeted by a red sign saying that the road we were on was closed east of Beech Forest. I immediately thought about whether we’d be shut out of more waterfalls again.
But at least both Beauchamp Falls and Hopetoun Falls were accessible. It turned out that the closure happened just past their access road so I was glad we could press on with our waterfall hunt. The only problem was that our route changed due to the closure and it was less than optimal.
So originally I had planned on seeing a series of waterfalls in one giant loop ultimately landing in Apollo Bay from the northeast. But now, we’ll be arriving at Apollo Bay from the west and having to contend with much more unsealed roads to go around the closure.
At 10:03am, we were the only ones at the Beauchamp Falls car park. The sign at the car park indicated a 1-hour return walk. Julie thought this was a bit long, but we still had to see this falls.
The mostly downhill path appeared to have coincided with a logging road. The path continued downhill and continued down a steeper incline as we had to negotiate some muddy steps towards the base of the falls. There was a sign with some profound and memorable saying as it pertained to waterfalls. It said…
“There is something inexpressibly soothing about the sound of falling water. All ages have found it so and amid the restless activity of modern civilisation its beneficient effect is probably greater than ever.” – Souvenir of Colac, Date Unknown.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Beauchamp Falls was an impressive 15-20m waterfall that had a pretty satisfying rectangular shape. Like Triplet Falls, it had a very healthy flow and Julie and I spent some time here taking photos while I was experimenting with tripod-aided photographs.
Having our fill of this pretty falls, we made the uphill walk back to the car. We regained the car at 11:18am and quickly drove over to the nearby Hopetoun Falls pullout arriving at 11:34am.
This particular waterfall walk had a pair of overlooks – one on top and one from the base. The upper platform was practically a stones throw from the pullout. However, its view of the falls was limited to seeing through the dense foliage. It basically whetted your appetite to bite the bullet and go down the stairs towards the lower overlook.
At the lower overlook, it immediately became apparent how tall the falls was and how picturesque it was. It was like Beauchamp Falls except Hopetoun Falls was taller. I’d say it was probably between 25-30m tall.
Once again Julie and I took photos of the falls and I experimented more with some long exposure photographs. Plus, we were the only ones on this track which made the experience even more special.
At 12:15pm, we were back at the car park. Now it was time to execute our change of plans and head straight over to Apollo Bay – site of our next accommodation. So we dutifully drove the unsealed road until we eventually rejoined the Great Ocean Road again. By then, we headed into the picturesque bayside town of Apollo Bay.
By now, the weather seemed to have mellowed out considerably and I could easily envision spending multiple days just relaxing here. It was yet another charming coastal town.
At 1:12pm, we arrived at the Comfort Inn International in Apollo Bay. Once again, Julie went to check in while I waited in the car. And I immediately knew something was going on when it took a while for her to get back to the car.
When she finally did, she was shaking her head.
“GoWay had us booked at Mt Gambier today,” she said. “I’m never using them again.”
“What?!? What about the voucher we had?” I asked.
“Well it’s resolved now. They took the voucher and got us a room. We were lucky they weren’t fully booked or we would’ve been screwed.”
“Did we have to pay out of pocket again?”
“No. Fortunately, the clerk saw the voucher we had indicated this place so she honored it and made a cancellation for the Mt Gambier accommodation,” she said.
And with that bit of drama, we checked into yet another roomy and comfortable motel room. This one had a loft and it was clearly a bit big for two people.
So after unloading our luggage, we headed back into town for some takeaway lunch (burgers and sandwiches) and a brief visit to the visitor center. We ended up having some delicious smoothies though both of them lacked bananas due to an apparent banana shortage. Still, they tasted good.
Finally at 2:10pm, we continued our sightseeing. First up was Carisbrook Falls, which was right off the Great Ocean Road. We arrived at its car park at 2:30pm. The uphill walk to its overlook was nice and there were a few bird watchers sharing the trail with us.
At the overlook, we could see the falls were a bit distant on the other side of the canyon. The main part of the falls was but a small piece of its overall drop and it was hard to capture the scene without a wide angle. Fortunately, I had one, but I could tell Julie had to do with the forced cropping on her Sony camera.
Next, we drove quite a ways towards Stevenson Falls. This was supposed to be the waterfall after Hopetoun Falls were it not for the road closure. Anyways, we finally made it to the turnoff for the falls. From there, we drove several more minutes on a narrow unsealed road. When we got to the camp site, which was occupied by a group of youngsters obviously having a good time here, we had a choice of going left or right.
The left way was shorter so we naturally took it. The park literature said this way was a dry-weather-only road. I wasn’t quite sure what they meant by that, but all that became abundantly clear when the road headed right into a flowing muddy river.
“There’s no way in hell I’m taking the rental car through that,” I said to Julie.
And I immediately used the nearby pullout to make the three-point turn and go the other way. It ultimately led to a large picnic area. From here, the walk to the falls was one-hour return.
Julie didn’t seem particularly interested in this walk so she opted to nap in the car. I immediately got ready and left the car at 3:43pm with the intention of hiking very fast.
The walk was actually pleasant with colorful birds probably mating or courting each other above trees, which towered over flowing meadows. The track followed the brown stream so I figured the falls was probably going to look brownish.
It wasn’t long before I got to the other side of the water-crossing obstacle that I dared not take the car through. Not much longer than that, the trail paralleled the unsealed road and reached another picnic area. From there, a short 10-minute walk eventually took me to the viewpoint for the Stevenson Falls.
By 4:30pm, I was back at the car with Julie. We then proceeded to drive back to Apollo Bay. We still had one more waterfall left to do – Marriners Falls.
The road to this waterfall started from the back side of the Apollo Bay township. It eventually became narrow and unsealed with a few potholes so we had to watch out for traffic going the other way.
We would eventually make it to the car park for the falls at 5:32pm. The moment we stepped outside the car, we could hear the nearby house blasting some hip hop music.
A warning sign at the trailhead mentioned several boulder-assisted river crossings that were slippery. That was fine we thought. We have hiking sticks for balance.
And so we headed off. The water crossings were not bad at all except for the second one, which appeared to have had one of its stepping boulders moved perhaps by the recent winter storm runoff. That got Julie’s foot wet since she wasn’t wearing Gore-tex hiking boots for this.
Eventually, we got to the end of the track where the intriguing 5m waterfall stood in its shadowy grotto. Once again, we took plenty of photos as we had the falls to ourselves. It paled in comparison to the falls we had seen earlier in the day, but it was nice nonetheless.
Finally at 6:53pm, we returned to our accommodation to leave the car and proceeded to walk into town looking for a dinner. But today, we weren’t in the mood to spend lots of money on another expensive cafe so we opted to just get some takeaway pizza for something cheap this evening.
The pizza wasn’t all that great, but at least we didn’t go hungry the rest of the night.
Day 3: NOT SO FINE DINING
Julie and I did another early checkout this morning from the roomy Comfort Inn as we left Apollo Bay for the waterfalls around the Lorne area. Today was her birthday and I made sure to remind her first thing in the morning.
Basically this would be the last of the waterfalls we would see on the Great Ocean Road. It had already been a successful mini-tour (at least in terms of waterfalling and in the overall scenery in general) and I expected some similar success in the rainforest of the Angahook-Lorne State Park.
After going along the winding Great Ocean Road, we eventually reached the Sheoak Falls Car Park at 7:35am. The walk to the falls from here involved a brief uphill climb affording views of the small bay near the road here before heading inland towards the falls.
We eventually got to the base of the falls under overcast skies so it made for great photographs with the even light. The falls itself was about 10-15m tall and gave off a similar impression that I got with Stevenson Falls yesterday – although Sheoak Falls might be a little more memorable.
We were back at the car at 8:22am and headed into the township of Lorne. While there, we picked up another meat pie brekkie before going into the town’s visitor center to learn more about the waterfalls in the area while picking up free literature.
After our brief visit, we proceeded to drive towards Erskine Falls. I knew prior to coming here that this was the major waterfall attraction in the area. So Julie and I were excited at having a chance to finally see this falls.
At 9:30am, we arrived at the car park for the falls. Once again there were two viewing spots for the falls. The upper overlook was interesting but all it did was motivate you to go down the stairs to the base of the falls, which we promptly did.
Down at the base, there were already a few people enjoying the scene. We could tell this was a really popular spot already. The falls itself was about 30m or so tall. Its column was a bit thinner than the falls we had seen in the Otways though. Still, it had satisfying flow and was certainly worth the fanfare it gets.
I was tempted to continue on to Straw Falls further downstream from Erskine Falls. There was a warning sign indicating “experienced bush walkers only.” Then they had a sign showing the hazards and among them was drop-offs and snakes. Julie didn’t want to do it and she managed to convince me not to go through the trouble to do it even though I had reckoned this falls wasn’t that far away. Still, I wasn’t sure what was after the stream crossing you’re immediately faced with.
After Erskine Falls, it was now time to do the longer hikes of the day – starting with the Upper and Lower Kalimna Falls from the Sheoak Picnic Area. At first it was a bit tricky to find the correct unsealed road to get there, but eventually we found it. When Julie learned it was a minimum 2-hour return track, she opted to have another nap in the car.
When I got out of the car to start the hike, I was greeted by some Triple J Radio blaring out from a park worker’s truck stereo. It was good motivation for me to get moving with some of their songs stuck in my head.
The slightly humid forest track was mostly flat and shaded. There were interpretive signs talking about the rainforest and its history. But of course I headed straight for the Lower Kalimna Falls first, the closer of the two to the trailhead.
This occurred nearly an hour into the hike, where a signed spur took me right to the base of the small but impressive waterfall. This 5m waterfall spilled over a huge shady alcove allowing you to walk behind the falls. I took plenty of photos here and it seemed like a pretty cool spot to hang out. I reckoned Julie missed out on this one.
But after a few minutes, I continued onwards towards the Upper Kalimna Falls. When I finally reached the overlook at the end of the track, the 20-25m waterfall might have been taller than the Lower Falls, but it seemed to lack its intrigue and character. Also the sun, which finally started to dominate the lighting made photography difficult as I was looking against it.
When I had my fill of this falls, I returned to the car park by 12:41pm.
I reckoned we still had one more waterfall excursion left in us before heading back into Melbourne. So we drove back to a large informal clearing area near the confluence of many roads (most of them closed).
From there, we took the Phantom Falls walk, which passed through someone’s private property before going up a very steep gravel road. Eventually, we would get to the spur track leading to the base of the satisfying 15m waterfall.
Julie and I momentarily had the falls to ourselves before we were joined by a Melbourne couple who stayed in one of the cottages nearby. After taking our photos and having a lovely chat with the Melbourne holiday makers, we returned to the car at 2:28pm.
Now we could finally return to Melbourne.
The drive was mostly uneventful as the Great Ocean Road followed coastal scenery that gradually became beaches and play areas as opposed to the rugged and wild beauty of the Twelve Apostles vicinity. The weather had also improved to a point where there was nary a cloud in sight.
Traffic was heavy already when we were near the Geelong area. It continued into the Melbourne CBD. From listening to the radio, we knew that the G20 convention was this weekend so hardly any of this was surprising. Still, we worried about road closure like that Christmas Parade last week.
Fortunately, there was no such thing this night. Once again, we parked in the familiar QV parking lot and lugged our luggage into the same hotel as last week – the Mercure Grand Hotel. It was 5:30pm.
When we got the key cards to our room, the first thing we noticed was that it wasn’t the nice room we stayed at before. Instead, it was one of the smaller ones with a view of just other neighboring buildings in the city district.
We had plenty of time to clean up and get settled as we had a dinner reservation for Grossi Florentino at 9pm.
So once again, we got dressed and made it to the restaurant on time.
Inside, we sat in a large dining area with murals on the walls. Julie was quite impressed by the ambience especially considering she had just gone to Italy as part of a whirlwind European tour with her mother in September.
Unfortunately, the service and food at Grossi Florentino was not nearly as good as Ezards. Things were also more overpriced here. Plus, we waited unnecessarily for our souffles for over an hour.
After going up to pay for our dinner (forget about them bringing us the bill because we were obviously overlooked consistently), we mercifully left the restaurant at almost midnight. After walking past some girls who fought over some guy at a night club, we made it back to our room – exhausted from this evening.
I apologized to Julie for this anticlimactic birthday dinner. At least we’ve got two more days in Melbourne with no real agenda so we could relax for a bit before the second half of the trip in South Australia and Tasmania. One of the days would be spent with my cousins along with a family friend who happen to be living in the city. We both looked forward to that…
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