Scrambling to catch the early tram on Fitzroy Street Max and I ran out the door at a painful 7:30 a.m. With blankets and gym shoes ripping the seams of our bags we made our trek to Wicked Campervan’s office in West Footscray.
We smiled as the attendant pulled around with another offensive and cleverly graffitied campervan.
This time our destination was in much closer reach than Sydney: The Great Ocean Road. We opted to take the back roads down to Tower Hill Game Reserve where I hear you can enjoy the company of some of my favorite critters: emus, exotic birds, kangas and best of all koalas!
Pulling into the car park it was obvious why this was such a renowned wildlife haven – after nearly hitting a bird that was the size of Max and I combined (emu in Australia, The Roadrunner-on-Steroids in American) we pulled further in to discover heaps of the mammots everywhere. Though they are known to be aggressive the emus seemed extremely people-friendly, relaxing beside families picknicking, walking normally next to cars driving through. I was stoked and snapped some shots, but my eye was on a better prize…koalas!
Determined to see one of the cuddly bundles of joy, I dragged Max violently around the hiking loop, teaching him how to spot a koala. About three quarters of the way through our hike we were slowly losing hope after not having seen so much as a bloody mosquito. Just then we heard a very strange series of sounds. A low growl, sounded like Big Foot or Tarzan (or maybe a hybrid of them both). And a sharp yet soft cry, similar to that of a cat who is pinned down against its will. Over and over the sounds were repeated, and I grab Max, telling him I don’t thing we should go any farther and growing fearful of whatever growling creature was causing another poor animal to cry. Max, determined to deliberately disobey and feeling his irresistible male curiosity for adventure, inches his way toward the noises and then signals for me to follow saying he can’t seem to spot where they are exactly coming from. As soon as I turn the bend a very peculiar scene unfolds before my eyes: two koalas, one tree, fighting? Or trying to help one another? A small koala is lodged between thin branches out on a dangerously wavering limb, and a larger one just feet away on a more secure branch.
What in tarnation (cue country accent), I think to myself. They larger one begins to climb toward the other, who is crying uncontrollably. Reaching out his arm in an effort to grab the small bear he growls and the small koala inches further away from him. In a matter of seconds the bear is literally hanging onto the wispy branches for dear life with the tips of his claws. Of course a teary-eyed Kelly is staring up, first putting my arms out to (catch?!) the bear and then turning on one heel and running away so as not to see the horrid sight, all the while begging Max not to let anything happen to the bear. For those who don’t know of my love for animals, well, read on and you will be aware.
The bears both scramble back up onto the branches, aware of our presence and fall silent and stare at us. My shrieking must have scared the bear right back onto the branch! Mission accomplished, I suppose.
Deep breath, ok not exactly what I budgeted for my first koala spotting of the weekend, but certainly an adventurous starting point.
We drive a while longer and beeline for Melba Gully, a secluded spot known for its protected population of beautiful glow worms. Thus begins of the most terrifying experiences of my life. But before we begin the fun, of course we have a near-disastrous situation.
Where is the Literally past the empty tick on our petrol meter, I frantically google gas stations, only to find that the nearest one is 32k away! Finally I find a random number on a local online directory, the only one posted, and nervously I call. Ring, ring, ring times a million. Finally, a man answers and says he is not a Shell gas station. Just as I am about to apologize and tell Max the bad news, the man says he has petrol, but doesn’t operate under Shell any longer. Even though he closed at 6, he tells us to come on down – “Well I reckon I will have to get you some petrol Love,” he says, telling me how to get there and that he will be waiting.
We pull into the pitch black gas station and the sweetest old man emerges and opens the shop for me, even loading his register to run my credit card. The Australian sense of care and helping a fellow human never ceases to amaze me. Close call with the petrol!
Okay back to the heeby jeeby story. We pull into the parking lot and turn off our lights. Secretly I am praying that this eery and pitch black lot is the wrong one. Then just when I feel the chills of the night seeping through my jacket, I spot the dodgiest footpath I have every laid eyes on. With a rugged old wooden fence lining its curves, I take a deep breath and strive to stay composed. We were actually referred to this attraction by my friend Jess, and I convince myself that if she can do it I can too. With every step my gut tugs me back to the car park, but I carry on. I have to see the silly glow worms at this point, they must be included in my blog, I argue with myself.
You are meant to walk with a flashlight (or as Aussies hilariously say “a torch” – the first time our electricity went out and my housemate told me that I should grab a torch I was flabbergasted haha) pointed only at your feet, so the worms don’t get frightened. We are told to walk aout 300 meters (who knows how far that is anyhow when you can’t even see your own hand in front of your face?). When you get far enough in, you flashlight is turned off and after a minute or so your eyes adjust and there you see them. Squirmy blobs of glowing light lining the mossy walls of the rainforest. It’s quite peaceful when I finally see the worms, and I thank myself for pushing through my fear to have the experience.
Nevertheless, I nearly sprint back to the car, ,freezing down to my core. The moment you step outside the safe shelter of normalcy (ie) going into a pitch black forest after sundown, you will be amazed at what you find.
The best part of our day was yet to come – when googling where to stay in Great Ocean we discovered a free campground in a small area called Johanna Beach. You must exit Great Ocean Road and drive about 11 kilometeres down a red dirt road until you reach it, and boy is it worth the drive. We pull in, as usual unaware of our surroundings since it is so dark out. There are two other cars parked, which is strangely comforting for some reason.
After a dinner of cold pasta because our gas burner wasn’t working, we settle in and decide to call it a night. It is quite a long night, so cold we can’t sleep and maybe for the best. At about 11 p.m., Max tells me to look outside. A full moon dangles in the mysterious night sky, and burns so bright that is casts a natural light on the campgrounds. We can see everything around us, it is literally as if Mother Nature turned the lights on. There are wild fields behind us and the entrance to the beach is just feet from our van.
In the morning we wake up to the sounds of enormous waves crashing against the shoreline just on the other side of our van. A group of young backpackers struggle to push their car and we offer a jump while we chat to them. Three girls and one Irish guy are traveling and living in a busted station wagon – they are going all the way to Perth on the west coast and then all the way up to Broome on the northwest tip of the country, then all the way back to Melbs. We wish them luck as they drive off. After a refreshing morning beach stroll, we set off to see the sites of the day.
Our first stop is at Australia’s most famous lighthouse called Otway Lighthouse. Through we didn’t care to pay the entrance fee, we ran into a multitude of entertainment on our way out. We pulled over since we saw several cars parked and people gathering on either side of the road. It was soon evident that this was koala heaven, the small patch of trees housed over 20 sleeping koalas, some so close you could reach out and touch them. Of course the weirdest part was that there were some other unexpected guests – a herd of cattle just walking along the road beneath the koalas.
It was quite a strange scenario and also a very interesting photo op! We hung around gawking at the little guys for some time and then it was off to try and spot some more wildlife…
After the lighthouse we went to Logan’s Beach Nursery, known as one of the best whale watching lookouts in the world! Even though we don’t see a whale, I am pretty happy experimenting with a pair of binoculars I snagged from the campervan rental office’s “community grabs” table.
The next couple of hours are spent stopping and seeing more and more of The Great Ocean Road’s spectacular natural sideshows: Loch & Gorge, two towering rock formations surrounding by crystal clear blue waters. The London Bridge, a stunning granite arch positioned off of the rocky coast, glimmering in the sun of the day. Of course, in the spirit of saving the best for last we speed at 110 down to The 12 Apostles to grab some shots before the sun goes down. We arrive just in time and get some amazing photos as we take in both icy gusts and sunny reflections of the rock stacks, which were originally a part of the now separated coastline.
There are so many scenic lookouts along TGOR, and we always want to stop at each, not wanting to miss a thing. A short time later we have a little explore nearby waterfalls and head to Apollo Bay to call it a night. We settle in at a popular waterside Caravan Park. Due to a lightning and slight hail storm we decided to spend the night relaxing, and that is exactly what we do.
In the morning we head to Koala Cove to see more koalas (they apparently never get old, bless Max’s heart for putting up with my animal obsession).
I run into the café to purchase a $2 bag of bird feed to feed a group of exotic and brightly coloured birds near the car park. They flock to our hands, arms, shoulders, and even our heads as they fight each other in a frantic effort to eat the seeds. An even rarer spotting of three cookaburras puts the perfect touch to the end of our trip and with that we begin the drive home.
We say goodbye to The Great Ocean Road, perhaps we will meet again someday. Now off to our next adventure…we are currently cruising over the clouds to beautiful New Zealand, my bday pressie from the man of the hour – stay tuned!