Thirty years ago I drove a quiet back road from Port McDonald in South Australia over the Victorian Border to Port Campbell and on through to Torquay so we could be on hand to watch the Bells 25th Anniversary surf comp. By the way when I say I drove that wasn’t exactly the case, Craig my ex did all the driving, I didn’t get my license for another decade, but I’ll leave that story till later.
So back to the story, I called it a back road but it was in fact the Princess Highway and the Great Ocean Road, which most people have heard of even if you don’t live in Australia. In those days it was little more than a country road but the scenery was no less amazing.
On that occasion we got to the Twelve Apostles (now it is 8 ½ Apostles) late in the day then drove on through the night, only stopping somewhere near Lorne because we sadly hit a Tawney Frogmouth Owl. Sleeping in the back of our 1968 Holden Kingswood Station wagon with stainless steel mud flaps and white metal venetian blinds was very squishy. We had a cat, my brother, surfboards and luggage but when you’re young you just handled it.
What I didn’t I didn’t realise until I recently travelled the same road with two friends (but from the opposite direction) was that because it was night on my previous trip I had missed out on so much.
The Torquay stretch is actually a well worn path for me. When we arrived thirty years ago our stay extended to about three months so I got to know the area quite well. Since then I have travelled back on a few occasions, my son was a pro junior surfer so surfing comps at Bells were a part of my life. It hasn’t changed a lot in all those years. A few more shops, but not as many as you would think, more houses but not much else.
Bells Beach however was as mesmerising as ever, the pure power of the waves demands respect. On the day we were there a rescue helicopter had landed on the beach just before we pulled up in the carpark, I never found out why but I can only imagine. Standing at the lookout staring out to the horizon you can’t help thinking about the massive waves that are generated in the Southern Ocean and propelled at the Australian coastline. Dark and ominous it is easy to feel the icy embrace of water that originates in the Antarctic.
The trip from Torquay to Lorne along a road that hugs impossible cliffs and runs beside exquisite sandy beaches is only about an hour drive in distance. However, there are numerous places you will want to stop so it should take you quite a bit longer. We stopped for a late lunch in Lorne, very pretty but I found it a bit too commercial.
Our next two nights were spent in Apollo Bay and gladly a lot different to Lorne. It is a lovely little town, with beautiful beaches, a great boat harbour and amazing pub meals, really huge. Most importantly it is a perfect distance from the Apostles. Stay the night, then make your way to the apostles the next day. On the way back visit The Otway Lightstation and get more that you bargain for. The road to the lightstation is about 12 kilometres and the only place in Australia I have found that seems to be riddled with Koalas, no joking. They were hanging out of the trees everywhere along the road. The koala in the picture is literally only two metres above the ground.
The light station itself is fantastic and full of history. The most famous of the light house keepers had an amazing wife that cared for shipwrecked people and others in wretched situations. Commended for her spirit, she was described as being the “nicest of all women having only nine children” beat that all you earth mothers, lol. Who would ever describe someone as ONLY having nine children. Times were definitely different one hundred and thirty years ago.