After a freezing five days in Melbourne (just kidding, it wasn’t that bad) we we’re all set to leave the city. Dad would’ve most likely been ready to leave after the first couple of days, but as we’d booked accommodation in Melbourne Monday through Saturday we had no choice but to stay. I would’ve been happy to stay for longer, but the combination of mine and the world’s cold (referring to the weather here) and dad’s fading interest in city life, it didn’t really work out. Thus we got into our rental car on Saturday and took off. As soon as we did, the atmosphere, or stimmung as I’d like to call it, improved a lot. Hello, roads!
We’d planned to drive all the way from Torquay to Peterborough in one day, adding up to just under 200 km. I’d gotten a list of ’must see’ places from Sebastian, the Swedish-speaking Finn who Thomas & co. were staying with, the night before, so we had insider-information on where to go. Turns out he’s part of the same group of friends as my ex-boyfriend, which I had no clue of. How small is the world?!
Dad drove and I navigated. He was clearly in his element, and I must admit that it felt pretty good to get out of the city. We hadn’t booked anywhere to stay as we had no idea of how far we’d get in one day, but we started out with coffee and cake at Cafe Moby in Torquay. Our itinerary, i.e. the messy notes I’d taken the night before, told us to get coffee in Torquay, but as it had taken us until noon to get on the road we had to do some free-styling (ha!).
In between Torquay and the Twelve Apostles, which ended up being our last stop for the day as it was already getting dark when we got there, we stopped at Bells Beach, a world renowned surf beach, as well as the seaside town of Anglesea. The weather was grey and gloomy, which kind of sucked. We had a late lunch in Lorne, a lovely little holiday town right at the beach with way too many cute shops and nice-looking restaurants for one’s wallet. We ended up having gourmet burgers and fries with a bunch of parrots who were uncomfortably comfortable at our table.
Next up was another coastal town called Apollo Bay. What followed was Johanna Beach, which was definitely not just another beach located about an 8-kilometer drive through a hilly landscape that resembled Ireland or Scotland (not that I’ve been to any of the two but I could imagine that’s what it looks like there).
When we finally got to the Twelve Apostles it was already getting dark. The collection of limestone stacks the number of which one would assume is twelve as based on the name is actually no more than five or seven (or who knows how many?) as rough weather conditions has led to a few of them falling down over the years. According to Lonely Planet, though, there was never twelve of them anyways; it was just thought to sound better than eleven, which was the actual number. Apparently, though, the number of Apostles that remain depends on where you’re standing, so maybe that was the case in history, too.
Too bad I didn’t come to think of counting them myself.
We stayed the night at an Airbnb in Allansford about 50 kilometers away from the Apostles. Our hosts were an Australian couple who had bought an old Bed & Breakfast and ended up renting the rooms on Airbnb as accommodation-seeking visitors hadn’t stopped showing up even though the B&B had closed down. It was my dad’s first time staying in an Airbnb, and my first time staying in a shared apartment. The hosts were super nice, the beds comfortable and the amenities clean, so we had a good stay.
On Sunday we took off early in the morning with no plan of what to do. After a refreshingly tasty breakfast at Pavilion Cafe & Bar located right in front of the sea in the town of Warrnambool, we decided to drive back to Loch Ard Gorge as we’d missed it the night before. Lucky we did, because just as we got there the sun came out, and wow! Once again I was reminded of how much more beautiful the world is when the sun’s out.
Was it the sun? Maybe it was, because Loch Ard Gorge was absolutely beautiful. Such a shame that Saturday had been so cloudy. The Pareto principle or 80/20 rule seems to apply here, for what’s top-of-mind for me as far as the Great Ocean Road is concerned is not the iconic super cloudy Apostles, but our spontaneous visit to sunny Loch Ard Gorge.
Having spent close to an hour down on the beach we started driving back towards Torquay. Ideally we would’ve taken the ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento that same night, but a spontaneous pitstop at Thunder Cave ended up ruining our timetable (which didn’t exist). Instead we decided to stay the night in Geelong, the second-biggest city in the state of Victoria, and take the ferry over to Sorrento in the morning. We stayed in a motel (another first for my dad!), and I got a flashback to our post-exchange road-trip through the US in 2013. Good times!
Monday was quite a lazy day. The main thing on our agenda was the Penguin Parade (who knew there were penguins in Australia?), so we had our navigator guide us to Phillip Island. Having taken the first ferry in the morning with the drive to Phillip Island taking no more than a few hours, there was a lot of time to kill before the parade would start at sunset.
We spent a couple of hours at Woolamai Beach, the dreamiest beach I’ve ever seen, that stretched out as far as the eye could see. I wrote a few Christmas cards while watching the surfers catch their waves – what a setting for writing Christmas cards! – and took a walk all the way to the other end of the beach. In the afternoon we drove to Cowes, the main township of the island, for a late lunch at a brewery (no beers for us, though, for we were drained!) and to pass away an additional couple of hours before the parade.
I’d been slightly skeptical about the whole penguin thing, but it turned out to be quite a nice experience in the end. Every day at sunset hundreds of penguins gather at the beach on the south side of the island to return home for the night. Their burrows can be located up to two kilometers from the shore, which adds up to quite a commute for the 30-centimeter tall birds – they’re the smallest penguins in the world! Spending their days at sea they can swim up to 50 kilometers a day and go to depths of 60-70 meters. To be able to do that they need a lot of energy, which means their daily intake of food can add up to as much as half of their body weight.
We took a seat in the audience and waited. The moon was out, which meant it would take longer than usual for the penguins to show up as they’d wait until it was dark. Taking photos was strictly forbidden for the safety of the penguins, so there was a few members of staff whose main responsibility it was to make sure no one took photos (good luck, I say).
Regardless of the penguins being well taken care of by the park, I found myself thinking why that too must have been turned into a tourist attraction. Even though it is a not-for-profit organization, which means that all the money that comes in from admission fees, etc. goes directly to the park, it can’t be good for the birds. I mean, just imagine coming home from work every day and having hundreds, if not thousands, of people watch you and comment on every step you take? No, thanks!
Nevertheless, I must admit that it was entertaining to watch the little penguins try to get past the flock of seagulls that had taken over the beach. Some of them were clearly goal-oriented and braver than the others, a few of whom dove back into the waves over and over and over again. Such adorable little creatures.
Once we’d witnessed a handful of groups of penguins cross the beach we figured it was time for us to leave as we still had to drive all the way back to Melbourne from where we’d catch an early morning flight to Ayers Rock. Oh, the early mornings… zzz.