Well, we have finally seen the “Twelve Apostles” – sort of! The day after our motorhome, Winston, was repaired with his second new starter motor in five months, we continued our journey east on the Great Ocean Road in pouring rain. The “Twelve Apostles” are several iconic limestone rock stacks up to 45 meters (148 feet) tall along the shore of the Southern Ocean. In the 19th Century, they were known as the “Sow and Piglets” (with Muttonbird Island near Loch Ard Gorge as the Sow), but that wasn’t dignified enough to suit 20th Century sensibilities, so the name was changed in 1922. We kinda liked the old name better!
Apparently, there never were actually twelve rock stacks in this group; nine were identified originally. The constant change caused by the sea’s erosion has swept away one of those, now just a pile of rubble. More will probably fall, but most likely more will be formed in the future as the cliffs continue to erode. The brief look we got of them in the pelting rain and fog only showed about five Apostles distinctly, but at least we can say we saw them!
As we progressed east through the temperate rainforest, grinding our way up over the headlands of Cape Otway, we decided to spend the night near the tip of the cape, some 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of the Great Ocean Road, where the oldest lighthouse in Australia stands. The next day was a little better weather-wise, so we spent a very interesting half-day at the Cape Otway Lightstation. The lighthouse here was built in 1848 to help guide mariners through “The Eye of the Needle,” a narrow strip of water between Cape Otway and King Island, which serves as the entrance to Bass Strait and then into Port Phillip Bay where Melbourne lies. Keepers’ quarters were added over the next several years.
In 1859 a Telegraph Station was built at the lightstation when Australia’s first submarine telegraph cable came ashore at Cape Otway from Tasmania. This cable failed within its first eighteen months, but the telegraph station became a signaling station for passing ships, communicating information between the ships and Melbourne via telegraph. During World War II an RAAF Radar Station was positioned on a bluff, and the bunker still stands as a silent sentinel. Nearby a replica of an Aboriginal stone hut houses artifacts of indigenous culture in the area, and an excellent artist/storyteller shares his vast knowledge of the lives and ways of the indigenous people. The light at Cape Otway Lighthouse was replaced by a small solar-powered automatic beacon just south of the lighthouse in 1994, but the lighthouse still serves as a landmark and tourist attraction.
Farther east, past Apollo Bay, much of the Great Ocean Road is carved out of the cliff that forms the shoreline. Along the winding, narrow highway, we stopped to allow an echidna to make his waddling way across the pavement with his nose to the ground searching for ants. This was the second echidna we had seen in this one afternoon; both apparently made it across the road. As the weather improved, we hiked the short trail to Sheoak Falls. Between the towns of Lorne and Aireys Inlet, we passed through the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch at Eastern View commemorating the returning Great War soldiers who built the road by hand between 1919 and 1932.
We are in the midst of School Holidays in Australia. Every caravan park along the south coast is packed with university-age young people, families with school-age and younger children, and foreign tourists like us. Hordes of happy kids ply the driveways on bikes, scooters, and skateboards, all with helmets in place. Impromptu cricket games break out in the driveways. Loud parties often go on deeply into the night, and every park seems to have a screaming toddler sharing his/her nighttime fears through the thin walls of a tent at 2 a.m. Every beach along the Great Ocean Road as we get closer to Melbourne is crowded with little kids playing in the sand and wet-suited surfers riding the waves. We have been caught without reservations a couple times and had to scramble to find someplace to stay. The prices are exorbitant – in Lorne, the only spot that might have fit us would have cost $77 for the night. We passed on that one, finding a spot in Torquay about an hour on up the road for “only” $48; we normally pay $25-$35 per night. Even with the cool, wet weather this past week, the crowd pressure hasn’t let up.
This is quite a change from the early months of our jaunt around Australia. From May through October, we were traveling primarily with “Grey Nomads,” older folks like ourselves who were heading north into the tropics to escape the winter down south. We know them as “Snowbirds” back in the States, but of course, here both the time of year and the direction of travel are reversed. With that crowd, we hardly ever had to have a reservation and the campgrounds were always quiet by about 9 p.m. Along about November, those older folks headed back home, knowing that a change was coming. Traveling as we are, we didn’t have that option, so what we are experiencing is the full force of that change in all its manifestations, both good and bad. The little darlings should all be back in school by the middle of February.
Now we are staying for a few days a ways back from the beach at Geelong, a very non-touristy area across Port Phillip Bay about 70 kilometers (42 miles) southwest of Melbourne. This Monday (January 19) we will board the Spirit of Tasmania in Melbourne to cross Bass Strait to the state of Tasmania where we will spend three weeks seeing the wonders there.