11. Australian Road Trip: Schoolies, Koalas & Flies on the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road
Cape Otway is a marvellous piece of Aussie bush and coastline with Victorian Lighthouse, bushwalking, remote beaches and koala bears in abundance.
The Great Ocean Road. Part 1
In Australia, everything is Great
By mid-morning we are back on the Mainland, heading south from Melbourne, via Geelong, toward The Great Ocean Road, one of the worlds Great driving experiences. This iconic highway follows the winding contours of Victoria’s southern coastline where steep green hills plunge into a turquoise Great Southern Ocean. Sleepy, off-season resort towns are dotted along the way and at the western end of the official G.O.R. there is one of Australia’s most photographed geological formations – The Twelve Apostles.
The coastline is also famous for Bells Beach, one of the world’s Great surfing venues; it is also home to that Great accompaniment to any seaside smorgasbord – the Great White Shark. Everything is Great in Australia it seems - the Great Australian Bight, the Great Barrier Reef, The Great Sandy Desert. It’s only when you visit these Great places that you begin to understand why.
The Great Ocean Road was constructed by veterans of The Great War, a project devised by the government of the day to provide work for unemployed diggers and in the process create a lasting memorial to their sacrifice – it is therefore, a Noble Road on which we travel.
On this hot day we eventually arrive in the picturesque town of Lorne. It is a sleepy village of trendy shops and cafés facing a golden beach and a gentle bay of turquoise sea. We take a site in the town campground, ideally located on the edge of the saline lagoon behind the beach. It is a tranquil location in which to relax for a few days in the bright spring sunshine and warm up after the chilly air of Tasmania. Little do we know.
Now most Aussies will no doubt be familiar with the word, but I have lived away for quite a while and when the lady at the campground tells me that most of the town accommodation is booked up by “Schoolies,” I am none the wiser.
To be fair, how am I to know that this weekend is part of what is known as “Schoolies’ Week!” And on top of this, how am I to know that every bloody Schoolie in the state of Victoria is about to converge on Lorne for their end of school year “Great Annual Piss-up and Vomitfest.”
For those who don’t know, a “Schoolie” is what Aussies call a high school graduate or a sixth former, but only in the context of “Schoolies’ Week”, the rest of the time they are just plain students. The first inkling we have of Schoolie Anarchy comes when we watch from our comfortable campsite as a souped-up Holden Kingswood screams along the Great Ocean Road (which is also the main street of Lorne). Billowing blue clouds of burning rubber choke the air and a semi-naked, drunken Schoolie-Boy hangs precariously from the roof-rack as the car breaks what sounds like the sound barrier and his mates on the side of the road cheer in drunken ecstasy.
After that, an endless procession of vehicles rumble into the campground, disgorging all kinds of teenagers, filled to the gills with adrenalin, hormones and alcohol. But what the hell – it’s “Schoolies’ Week” and the world belongs to them.
It looks like being a pretty rowdy night but we do our best to take it in our stride, after all, not only were we both teenagers once, but we also have children who were recently teenagers themselves. We are not prudes, conservatives, teetotallers, moaners or whingers. Nevertheless, in a matter of two hours Lorne turns into a cross between National Lampoon’s Animal House and Max Max.
As it turns out, the best laid plans for causing major disruption in the campground are well and truly scuppered that night by the fact that the temperature plunges to 3°C - so much for a super-heated mainland. It is so ball-tearingly cold that the various gangs of youth are forced to huddle together in their tents to avoid hypothermia despite the beer coats they wear; to coin a phrase – "it is too cold to comfortably clutch a cold can". We “Oldies” huddle in the van for warmth and are only occasionally disturbed through the night by the odd whoop, girly-screech and vomiting. But truthfully, we can’t stay here.
We leave Lorne the next day and continue our cruise around the spectacular hairpin, cliff-hugging, bends of the Great Ocean Road for a few dozen kilometres, until we arrive at another lovely town. Apollo Bay is draped across a spectacular landscape of rolling green farmland with high ranges as a backdrop and a pristine, golden beach as a playground. It’s the opposite of Lorne in as much as there are no Schoolies other than the ones who have brought their Mums and Dads along for a laugh. As it was so cold the previous night we spoil ourselves and hire a cabin in one of the near-empty caravan parks. We have a pleasant afternoon and a relaxing night, and we use this pit-stop to trawl through our guide book and local brochures to carefully pick our next destination – Bimbi Park.
Koala as movie star
Bimbi Park at Cape Otway
Bimbi Park: Koalas Good, Flies Bad
Bimbi Park is a privately owned bush camp and horse riding centre in The Cape Otway National Park, about 25 kilometres west of Apollo Bay. It is run by Frank, a friendly young Aussie guy of Greek heritage. The camping area is in the shade of twisted gums and the main attraction is the Koala Bears. Where I grew up, in Bundeena, I never saw a Koala in the wild, but here they are everywhere; sleeping in the crooks of branches, walking along swaying limbs and as it is Spring, mating like there was no tomorrow. I never realised Koalas made a noise, but during sex they growl, grunt and squeal like bush pigs. The sound of Koala Love echoes through the night.
At first we are saying “Look! There is a Koala.” Then, after a few hours, “Ahhh, look, another koala; and finally “God, I wish those bloody koalas would shut the f**k up!”
Bimbi Park is also home to an extended family of precocious Kookaburras who will swoop down and steal the bacon off a hot frying pan if you don’t watch out. But cute koalas and cheeky kookaburras aside, the most prevalent wildlife in Bimbi Park in spring are the Bush Flies. They appear in the morning when the rays of sun warm the land and then spend the day trying to crawl into your ears, nose mouth, eyes, hair and any other exposed crack they can find.
The next day is overcast and relatively fly-free, so we go on a long walk across heathland in search of the Cape Otway Lighthouse. The heath eventually becomes a forest of thick acacia, laced with a maze of trails that we soon become lost in. Despite there being a tall Victorian Lighthouse somewhere nearby, we can gain no bearings and for a half hour I almost become worried. Then we climb to the top of a sandy, gorse-covered hill and can see our destination. Access to the Lighthouse costs more than we are prepared to pay so we trek back to Bimbi Park.
In the spring you can light camp fires and we spend a great evening sitting around the fire drinking wine, playing guitar and generally chilling out. In the morning the flies are terrible. The sun is blazing and the little black pests are out in force. We decide to hike to Station Beach, about two or three kilometres away, but first I make some fly nets out of some mosquito netting, hats and gaffer tape. The unflattering apparel proves absolutely essential as we set off into the bush in search of the unmarked trail that leads to the beach. The flies swarm around us like a bristling black cloud, searching for any opportunity to drink our sweat and generally drive us crazy. The beach is a long way off and the shade of the forest soon gives way to a sandy ridge of low, prickly gorse, but at least we can see the beautiful blue ocean and feel the soothing sea breeze which tends to blow the flies away, a bit.
There is a windmill-powered water pump on the hillside where we stop and drink fresh sweet water and sluice our faces. The Aussie windmill is a ubiquitous sight throughout the land, a truly great application of simple technology; it is an oasis in this sandy, fly-filled seaside desert.
Once we reach the beach the flies are back in force, though the wind keeps them off our fronts. They choose to congregate on our backs instead. At the eastern end of the beach there is a cliff known as Rainbow Falls. Mineral rich water drips over the edge and has formed a colourful feature of multicoloured limestone with stalactites and all. Station Beach is deserted and despite some great surf further out it looks like a jolly treacherous place to swim. The sand slopes steeply down and there is obviously a deadly undertow, and the waves wash up with enough force to sweep you into the sea if you are not careful. Then there is the distinct possibility of sharks. The sea looks “sharky” here.
We stop at Rainbow Falls and attempt to eat our picnic. This is a difficult task as we have to raise our nets to take a bite. Cue kamikaze fly attacks. I digest at least three of the bastards in the course of a sandwich. The walk back along the beach is tough – the flies are now setting up camp on our front instead of our back. They are relentless in their quest to climb up my nose and despite the net, a few still manage to enter my sanctum and crawl up my septum.
Despite the flies, Bimbi Park is a Great place for a visit. Horse riding would have been fantastic, but only when fly season is over. The koalas on the other hand, are a Great attraction.
A monumental coastline
Holy rock formations - It's the 12 Apostles
We leave Bimbi the next morning and continue along The Great Ocean Road. The landscape changes dramatically from forested hills to dry scrubby desert. The edge of the land becomes sea ravaged with high cliffs of yellow sandstone(?), eroded and gnarled by the pounding of the Great Southern Ocean. We stop at the Twelve Apostles and are awestruck, as much by the coach-loads of tourists wearing their store-bought fly nets as we are by the spectacular pillars of rock that form the attraction. Further on we pass the Bay of Martyrs and Massacre Bay - a dry arid landscape, a broad bay dotted with desert islets and a dark, unwritten history that alludes to the genocide of the local Aboriginal population back in the 19th century.
At Port Fairy we decide we must stop our westward journey and prepare to head east, so we can get back to Sydney in time for Christmas. Port Fairy is a fairly large old town with beaches, a harbour, a lagoon and some outstanding colonial architecture. It also has a strong Irish folk music tradition, and hosts an annual folk music festival. Unfortunately, the day we arrive there is no music to be heard in any of the pubs. There is only the sound of a strong southerly change ripping through the Norfolk Pines and driving before it stinging sheets of Great Southern Ocean rain which at least washes away the last vestiges of the flies of Bimbi Park.
Music from Port Fairy
Next Hub: Head inland with us to the golden heart of Victoria.
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