Heart to Beat #44 Victoria: the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne

Published on October 11, 2019 at 9:37 AM

One of the most iconic routes in the world and perhaps the coolest coastal bike route  is the Great Ocean Road. The road lies along the south coast of Australia, below Adelaide and close to Melbourne. The route is a succession of rugged cliffs, rock formations, sandy beaches and tourist resorts.

Heading to the town named Portland the meadows on the hills are increasingly giving way to huge timber plantations. The trees are rising high above us and, sporadically, an area has been cleared or are being cut down. The trucks with logs drive back and forth and make the idyllic route of today a little less idyllic. The only other flaw on this perfect cycling day are the two dead koalas on the roadside. It’s a shame that the roadkills almost always “take care” of our first encounter with a special and typically Australian animal. Let’s hope that we will encounter living koalas to.

When we arrive in Portland and do some shopping, we are approached by Peter and Felicity from New Zealand. We don’t recognize them at first and they have to remember us that we met them on the Coast to Vines route south of Adelaide. Aaaah yes of course, then they were in their cycling clothes and with sunglasses and a helmet on. They spend the night in a room in the same caravan park and in the evening while Felicity takes to their children on the phone, Peter visits us in the camp kitchen and gives us great tips on cycling routes through New Zealand, so that we can bypass the dreaded highways. We again look forward to cycle NZ!

After the beautiful day yesterday, a drizzly, gray day follows. It is cold again and getting up and ready isn’t easy. If we then sit in the relatively warm camp kitchen, we are unable to leave it. When we look outside, we see the bicycles standing in the drizzle. Bah, don’t feel like getting out there, just another cup of coffee. Maybe the weather will get better later today or tomorrow? A check of the weather forecast helps us out of that dream: tomorrow it will be even worse with rain all day and even colder and … the strong headwind and with warnings about gusts of wind. We don’t like this cold and windy wetness, not for cycling and not for camping. Harry suggests to treat us to something with a roof over our head and to stay inside tomorrow, relax when it rains outside.
We search on Warmshowers, Booking.com and Airbnb, what is possible in Warrnambool, a good 100 kilometers further east. Warrnambool is a relatively large town (32,000 inhabitants) and offers things on the three sites. Warmshowers is scratched first because sitting inside with other people on the couch all day does not seem very relaxed to us. Booking.com then falls off because of the high prices that are common in Australia for a small hotel room, on which it will also not be fun to hang out for a whole day. Airbnb remains; the prices are also not within our daily budget, but we feel that we have earned it after two months in Australia. Our eye falls on an old historic cottage that’s rented out as a whole and has all the facilities and convenience to make us very happy. We book it and sit down on the wet bike with a broad expectant smile. Vamos a Warrnambool!

The wind is in our favor and blows from the west and that is nice! We fly over the bitumen and it is quite remarkable that at that speed we see a koala in a tree. In the tree next to it, we see another and a moment later we see two more, one of which is holding a little one. We get off and take photos. So nice to see these cute living bears. That and the fact that the drizzle rain has stopped makes it another great day.

The only town we encounter along the way is Port Fairy. We have heard that it would be a nice, historic town with many shops and restaurants. When we reach the town, we decide to cycle in for a cappuccino. We find it in a nice and pleasantly busy café and we classify this cappuccino as the tastiest so far on our world trip. Australians do like good coffee. We resist the urge to order another and continue our journey.

Just before we reach Warrnambool the only climb to Tower Hill. When we reach the top we see a beautiful rugged landscape. It turns out to be a huge crater of a dead volcano that has inflated itself as the last blown out. What remains is a unique area of ​​a large crater lake with various islands in it, one of which is connected to the mainland. The whole is sharply bounded by a whimsical, heavily eroded, diagonal layered crater wall. It seems to be a unique habitat for a lot of flora and fauna and wonderful for a walk. We pass by because it is already past four o’clock and we still have some kilometers to go and look forward to our house too much.

Old crater of Tower Hill

Warrnambool is a nice town by Australian standards with many “old” buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This also applies to our house. We get the key by opening a locker with a numerical code and when we go inside we become very cheerful. The cottage exceeds our expectations! The decor is authentic and classic, but on the other hand luxurious and comfortable and, not unimportant with this wet and inclement weather, there is a modern gas fireplace. The large supermarkets are just around the corner and before we take a warm shower we’ll get some groceries. On that small ride we are attacked by a swooping magpie. Both on the way up and back and he remains persistent the next day and the next day when we leave Warrnambool…, you f* rogue.

Leaving the (“our”) house is difficult. We even asked if the house was available for an extra day and that was unfortunately not the case. The owner tips us to stop in the next village the next three days to wait for the bad weather to pass. Bad weather? What? Three days? What? Yes, today the weather is pretty okay, but after that three very cold days with storms are predicted. In those coming days we will cycle on the famous Great Ocean Road. Hopefully the lookouts will be visitable and the great views visible. On the route are many campsites, which often rent cabins and other accommodations along this road. We’ll see how far we get every day (and how wet and cold we arrive a need roofs above our head). And oh yes, we happen to hear from the host that we can enjoy daytime saving.

Bay of Islands

also Bay of Islands

The first encounter with the limestone coastline of the Great Ocean Road is the Bay of Islands and the description as “a bay with rocks” sounds too banal to do justice to the beauty and grandeur of the scene with the (even in not sunny) weather) turquoise sea and the gigantic waves that roll against and around the remains of the lonely rock islands. The town nearby is called Petersborough and gives a deserted impression. We drink a cup of coffee at the general store and when we arrive in the next village of Port Campbell, we are happy with a totally different vibe than Peterborough. Before we hit the road again the coffee lady warns us about the dangers on the road: many tourists  get into a rental car immediately after arrival at the airport and (suffering from fatigue) do not always realize that there is a left-hand drive in Australia. At every exit there are signs along the side of the road to warn right-wing drivers: “drive on left in Australia”. We ask ourselves what we fear the most: a ghost-driving Chinese tourist or an irritated, honking Australian with a fat caravan who wants to overtake us without any loss of time while a truck is coming at the same time. At least you’ll see the first coming …

Yep ride on the left in Australië

Not much further we descend the The Grotto, where the waves have created a creative hole in the coast. The same waves demolished London Bridge in 1990. Previously, the arch, which remains today, was connected to the mainland. The span collapsed when tourists were at the extreme end. They were taken off the rock by helicopter. Now it is actually called London Arch, but nobody calls it that.

London Bridge who has lost contact with mother Australia

The Port Campbell caravan park is busy and on the way to it we see that many accommodations have no vacancy signs. The village exudes that it is a typical holiday village and people with an Asian and Indian appearance dominate the streets. There is even a brewery in the same building as the backpackers hostel. We visit the local general store to stock up on groceries for dinner and resist the inviting atmosphere of the coffee cafes, bars and restaurants.

It has not been warmer than 13 degrees all day and this night we experience the special phenomenon that the temperature rises. Around 5 am it is 19 degrees and the wind has picked up again. A warm strong hair dryer blows over the campsite and our tent. Instead of zipping the sleeping bag during the night we just throw it aside. When we get up it is still quite warm but the temperature is falling again. Around 1 pm in the afternoon, normally the warmest moment of the day, we are shivering on top of Lavers Hill after 50 kilometers of cycling. No idea how cold it is, but our breath condenses and we flee into a coffee shop. First enjoy a cappuccino, but when the storm drives the rain horizontally past the window and the clouds swallow the hilltop, we decide to have a cup of soup to avoid having to go outside yet. During the coffee, we found and booked a cheap motel in Apollo Bay, which is another 50 km away. So now we have to go further. In the meantime we see that we were able to take some nice pictures of the Twelve Apostles.

Twelve Apostels

Wind, rain and cold on the descent from Lavers Hill

The descent in the rain and storm is fortunately not half as bad as we got in our head above the spicy and tasty Thai pumpkin soup. The tall trees of the forest area give quite a bit of shelter from the gusts of wind and lower on the hill and closer to the coast, it is already raining less and the rain even stops. It remains cold until we can climb a bit again. We are busy all day with clothing adjustments: more clothes when descending, less when climbing by varying gloves, scarfs, leg and arm pieces and jackets: then the raincoat again, then the new red Adelaide jacket with and then without its handy detachable sleeves and sometimes no jacket.

The town of Apollo Bay is a size larger than Port Campbell. Not only are there a lot of tourists here, but there are also people actually living there, and we guess that some better-off from Melbourne have a holiday house here. Again we resist all temptations of cafes and restaurants and drive on to our motel room. We quickly find out how we can turn on the air conditioning to heating and then quickly get in the hot shower. We keep repeating: such a treat!!!

Despite the weather forecasts the next day is a nice day. The road from Apollo Bay to Lorne is directly along the ocean and we fully enjoy the winding road with the hills on the left and the sea on the right. Here and there viewpoints been set up at a higher point, but that actually makes no sense at all, because the view is magnificent throughout the entire route. Around noon we arrive in Lorne, again such a nice village and again quite touristy but this time it seems that permanent residents (and again people from Melbourne who have a second home there) have a larger share in the population.

We were planning to stay the night in Lorne and sit out the announced bad weather, but fortunately bad weather is not (yet) coming. We call Bob, whom we regularly met in Western Australia and with whom we kept in touch almost daily. In recent weeks Bob has regularly advised us about the route (and how to deal with those annoying Magpies). He and his wife Mary live in Geelong and that is about 65 km away and we would like to make an effort to reach them today. Bob says that we still have some tough climbs awaiting, and that he knows by now, we will get to Geelong and that we are of course also very welcome today. So we’ll get on the bike again and continue the morning stage with great views. On Bob’s advice, we cycle through Angelsea and Torquay, where we are flooded with wave surfing: surf schools, dull class in the sea, surf board and clothing shops, surf boards on car roofs, surf dudes. What is the name of the coast here? Yes, indeed Surf Coast.

From Torquay it is another 20 kilometers to cross the peninsula to visit Bob and Mary in Geelong. From there we are totally pampered with a hot shower, a beer and a cheese platter, a delicious dinner and a large bed with piles of blankets. Before ten o’clock we crawl in with that wonderful cyclist feeling, tired and satisfied in that big bed and wake up 11 hours later. We want to take the ferry to Melbourne, which leaves 35 kilometers from Geelong from Portarlington. The ferry will also depart at Geelong from December. The eyes are not yet fully open, when we are shocked to see that the ferry today only sails once to Melbourne and already at 11 a.m. We will never make it in time! Saving angel Bob offers to put the bikes on the car and to drive us to the pier. After Bob prepares our favorite breakfast with yogurt, fruit and muesli, he starts preparations for the car, Roelie books tickets for the boat and an apartment in Melbourne and Harry packs the bags and the four of us arrive in Portarlington on time. We say goodbye to Mary and Bob for their hospitality and help. Hope to see you again, you lovely people!

New friends: Mary & Bob

Skyline Melbourne

From the water the arrival in Melbourne is quite impressive. The boat takes us to Docklands, at the foot of the skyscrapers of the CBD (Central Business District). Here in Melbourne, the CBD is not a clinical office center, but a great architectural, cultural, dynamic “hotpot”. We are finding our way across cycle paths, sidewalks, tram lanes and roads and, despite the road barriers, finally arrive at the apartment also in the CBD. After some nagging from a resident about the rules regarding admitting a bicycle into the building, we find the parking facility and we can enjoy the big city. The apartment is located directly above a number of alleys that are frequently visited due to the street art.

We stroll through the city for two and a half days and visit bicycle and camping shops. We go to the Queen Victoria Market on Wednesday, but it is closed on Wednesday, we go to the South Melbourne Market on Thursday, but it is closed on Thursday. We walk past the huge Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium where the marathon starts and finishes next Sundays and preparations are in full swing. We walk through Melbourne Park, along the Yarra River and through the botanical garden. There is too much to see, there is too much to enjoy and to experience. We would like to stay longer. We would like to stay another day longer and hopefully meet our Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is visiting Melbourne. We would like to stay the weekend and watch the marathon on Sunday. But we would also like to arrive in Sydney on time for the flight to New Zealand. So no more Melbourne and continue cycling the world!