The Great Ocean Road

Monument and sign to the builders of the Great Ocean Road. Most of the workers were veterans of WWI.

What are the top drives you ever taken? By that, I am referring to very scenic stretches of road where the journey is really the destination. On my current trip, I’ve only rented a car a few times, but in those few times I’ve taken several spectacular road trips. The Hana Coast Road in Maui was certainly near the top. The west coast road on the South Island of New Zealand was pretty amazing. The drives up to the cedar groves on Yakushima Island very beautiful. Before my trip, I’d say that the most amazing drive I’ve ever taken was from LA to San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway, which I did back in March 2000. (I still think that the Pacific Coast Highway is the best drive I’ve ever taken. It is on my list of things to do again.)

The Great Ocean Road had received a lot of build up as I was sitting in Melbourne. Everyone I talked to told me how amazing it was and how it was the greatest stretch of road in the world. The “great” in Great Ocean Road is certainly merited, but I wont go so far as to say it is the “greatest”. Probably a top five road.

The Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles

What makes the Great Ocean Road so great are the erosional features you can see on the coast. The southern part of Victoria where the road is located on the coast of the Great Southern Ocean. (Ok, you wont find the Antarctic Ocean on any maps, but it is often considered a body of water in its own right given the unique currents which exist around Antarctica.) The seas in the southern ocean are the roughest in the world and the cost of Southern Victoria is limestone.

The most noteworthy of these erosional features are the Twelve Apostles. As the cliffs are eroding, they do not erode in a uniform way. Depending on the angle the waves hit the shore, you can get inlets, coves and other formation which develop. The Twelve Apostles are limestone stacks where everything else has eroded around it. They are popular because you can see so many of the stacks next to one another in a single location. One reason why I don’t rate the Great Ocean Road higher on the list of all-time great drives, is that the formations are sometimes difficult to see from the road. Had the visitor center sign not been on the road, I would have missed the twelve apostles entirely.

Inside the Loch Ard Gorge
Inside the Loch Ard Gorge

Near the Twelve Apostles is the Loch Ard Gorge, which is a small inlet and beach carved out into the rock. The gorge is named after a ship, the Loch Ard, which sank nearby in 1878. (there were a LOT of shipwrecks in this area). If it wasn’t so populated with tourists and the water so cold, the beach in Loch Ard Gorge would be a great beach. It is hidden and well protected from the wind. It reminds me of the green sand beach on the Big Island of Hawaii in some respects.

The other big name attraction in the region is the London Arch. It originally got its name because it had a resemblance to London Bridge (now located in Lake Havasu City, Arizona).

The London Arch
You can see the span where the London Bridge collapsed. After the collapse, it was renamed the London Arch.

The history of the London Arch over the last few decades is a good reminder of how geology, even though it usually acts slowly, is an on going process. Every day, every hour, every minute, the cost along the Great Ocean Road is slowly getting eroded. The base of the towers of the Twelve Apostles slowly become narrower and narrower until at some point, it will collapse in a dramatic fashion. One of the Twelve Apostle towers actually did collapse in 2005. Likewise, the London Arch was totally connected to the mainland back in 1990. On January 15, 1990, while several tourists were on the end of the rock formation, the span to the mainland collapsed, stranding two tourists on the rock. No one was harmed, but the two people stranded had to be evacuated by helicopter. (If you are American, take a look at the New Hampshire quarter sometime. The image on the quarter is of the Old Man of the Mountain. It doesn’t exist anymore. It collapsed in 2003. The quarter was released in 2000.)

There are many other formations to see along the route, not all of which had names (or at least not signs pointing out the names). If you are diving from Melbourne, it is possible to at least see the Twelve Apostles on a day trip if you leave early. The nearest city to the major formations is Port Campbell, which has small hotels, campgrounds and hostels.

Question for commenters: What is your favorite scenic drive?

Spring Break!

One problem with traveling for so long is that you lose track of what day it is. There is really no distinction between weekdays and weekends for me anymore. Everything just runs into each other.

Normally that isn’t a big deal, but it has really screwed me up this weekend. For starters, i had no clue that it was Easter. It turns out that this part of Sydney is really popular during Easter weekend. Many of the “backpackers” suddenly started wearing sequin dresses and sport coats tonight. I think there is a crowd that just comes to Sydney for spring break to go to clubs and get drunk. Or at least they behave as if that were the case.

It has been overcast and raining all day today. I did manage to walk down the the harbor and see the bridge and the opera house. The opera house is really unimpressive up close. Have you ever seen a building that was built in the late 60s or early 70s and it is really dated by the architecture and the materials used? Usually, the buildings have a lot of cement and tile and they don’t look like they would stand the test of time. That is basically the Sydney Opera House. It looks great from a distance, but up close, it sort of looks cheesy. For some reason, I always assumed that the exterior of the building was metal. It isn’t. It’s tile. It looks like something they would have built at Disney World to show what the future would be like in the early 70s, but in reality it just ends up looking like the early 70s.

The harbor bridge is just the opposite of the Opera House. It is an old bridge. It isn’t the biggest or longest bridge in the world, but it is really impressive up close. Much of it comes from being able to see it up close from the foot of the bridge. It looks like something out of the 19th century. There is nothing futuristic about it. They have a walking tour where you can literally walk over the top of the arch of the bridge. You have to wear safety harnesses and such. I’m considering doing it.

Because it was good Friday, I spent most of today thinking it was Saturday. Everything was closed. In addition to the kiddies here for spring break, there is also a cruise ship in port. I have no desire to ever actually go on a cruise, but I am impressed as hell by the ships. I would want to take a cruise just to get tours of the boat. I could easily spend a week looking at the engines, the control room, and all the backstage stuff. Maybe I will do it in when I’m in the Caribbean….

I plowed through a ton of photos today. If you go to Flickr you can see all my Great Ocean Road photos, all my Melbourne photos, and a good chunk of my Mungo photos. I’ve also made some updates to my map. Tomorrow, assuming the weather is good, I’ll go do all the stereotypical photos of the bridge and opera house.