The drive from Bairnsdale to Melbourne was pleasant. It reminded us of driving through Florida – lots of cattle grazing, very flat land, signs to good fishing on the left. It had rained a little, so the earth was not as parched as elsewhere.
The Commercial Hotel, however, was not all that Lonely Planet had led us to hope for. The room had a double bed – that's it. No bedside table or lamp No closet or anything to hang our clothes. The bathroom down the hall had a broken sink and was freezing. When I had first inquired if there were any rooms, the guy said he would make one up for us. First he told me it would be $33 , and then, when I said it was for two, he said $44 I originally thought that was for breakfast, but no, it was for the extra shower; there was no breakfast. We had dinner at the hotel, a very popular dining spot -- it was packed – and dinner was very good. When we got up and were ready to leave, we started out, but could not get downstairs; the door was locked. A girl finally came out of her room and showed us the way out on the staff's stairs and the alley gate. She said she'd be down to take our cash, so we went to a bakery for breakfast and it was already 8:30 by the time we got back to the hotel. It was still all locked up and dark. The girl was nowhere to be seen. I left a note with the keys and some cash – enough to cover the dinner and a little for the room, but not what he had quoted me the night before. It wasn't worth it.
We drove along the coast all the way back to Melbourne. I spent some time at a café and was able to post my blog entry. It then started to ain in Melbourne. They must have been happy, but it was just when we needed to go out looking for dinner.
This morning, we left Melbourne for Geelong and the Great Ocean Road. We got to Geelong just after 10 and wanted to go to th national wool museum. Lonely Planet said it was open every day from 10-5. Well, they are wrong. On Sunday, it doesn't open until 1:00. Fortunately, it is also where the tourist office it, so we loaded up on maps an advice for the rest of the trip. The Great Ocean Road has some spectacular views. It's great surfing country. You can see Sunday surfers out all along the road, but it doesn't seem crowded. There are plenty of lookouts and places to park to take in the view. As we approached Apollo Bay, we hit some showers – and gorgeous rainbows to go with them.
Our hotel is a"retreat" at the top of the hill overlooking Apollo Bay. It's only 6 km. from the turnoff, but it seems like the end of the world up here. The room is elegant and spacious. We'll go down to the town for dinner, but I imagine a restful night here. Now, I'll try to find Paul and get some pictures.
Tonight we are in Port Fairy, having traveled along the Great Ocean Road from Apollo Bay. It rained most of last night and we got caught in showers all through the day, today. Bill, from last night's retreat insisted that we take our time in spite of the rain and he was right. We put on all our layers of sweaters and a poncho and headed on our way. The first stop was a rain forest in the Otway National Park. The stop on the road is called Maits Rest. There is a short, 40-minute, walk among the giant ferns, myrtle trees and eucalyptus. We didn't see any snakes, carnivorous snails, or any other fauna that was indicated on the boards along the path. It was no longer raining, but it was a good thing we had our ponchos because a rain forest is always dripping.
Further along the highway, as it veered back towards the ocean, we turned off to visit the Otway Lighthouse. There's a whole set of buildings. First they built the lighthouse at the southernmost point of Australia; then they built the telegraph station to hook up the submarine cable to Tasmania in 1859. The cable broke in 1861, so they converted the telegraph station into a marine signaling station with a flagpole that could hold many flags to send messages to ships on their way to Melbourne or Sydney. The ships would send flag their messages to the shore and they would then be telegraphed on to Melbourne so everyone knew what was coming in just a few days before the ships docked. There was a whole little community, there: the lighthouse attendant and his assistants; the telegraph station master and his assistants, and all their families – maybe a total of 5 or six families in tiny quarters.
As we were driving out of the lighthouse area, on the way back to the main road, we saw a car stopped and some people looking up in a tree. There was a big ball of fur up there. Our first koala sighting! We got out and were able to watch the koala look at us, eat a bit, scratch a bit and go back to sleep, then walk on to another branch and start all over. Cute.
The next sights to see along the coast are the "Twelve Apostles". These are eroded sandstone outcroppings of the coastal cliffs. They are beautiful sights, but I think I appreciated the way the Australians have preserved their coastline. Parking areas are set aside and you have to walk a bit to get to the overlooks to see the sights. They have re-vegetated the area and people do tend to stay on the paths and respect the zone. There are plenty of overlooks. Towards the end of the cliff area, there is a formation called "London Bridge". Until 1990 it was a double-arched bridge still connected to the land, but then the connecting arch collapsed, probably due to the rain weakening the top of the arch rather than the waves working from below. I took plenty of pictures, including the explanatory panels, in case anyone is doing a school project on erosion :-)
As soon as the road leaves the coast, you're in the middle of farm land. Almost entirely grazing land for cattle and sheep. In Warrnambool, there's a gigantic dairy plant. I don't know what else there is there, but it seems to be a very prosperous major town, with its car dealerships, fast food restaurants and so on the road towards Port Fairy. What we've noticed most about Australian towns is that most of them are more like what American towns were like: a main street with shops on both sides, angled parking, one block long for the small towns, maybe two or three blocks for the bigger ones. The most common building material was brick – and basalt for the banks and other significant buildings, so they still look very much like they did when they were built in the mid to late 19th century. Lots of cars are parked in front of the shops and there is plenty of business. Only the really big towns,, like Warrnambool or Geelong, have a Kmart, Coles supermarket, or other big stores. Even small towns have a community hospital, post office, school and other public service. The roads are excellent.
We ended the day at Port Fairy, one of those one-block main street towns on the coast with a river port. There were lots of pleasure boats docked along the river. Our hotel is a boutique hotel with a dock out the back.
This morning we left the coast to see a bit of the Grampians What we saw was the remnants of a disastrous fire in January 2006. Almost all the trees show signs of being burnt, but they are so resilient that many survived and have fresh leaves all over. That was strange – since many of the branches burned completely, the leaves are coming straight from the trunk and the big branches that survived. But a lot of the trees did not survive. It's pretty bleak. We walked to an overlook to Broken Falls and there's not much water coming down.
Driving up to the Grampians and then back down to the road to Coonawarra took most of the day. We finally saw a live kangaroo late in the afternoon. Over the past few days we've seen quite a few road kill, so this sighting was exciting.
Now, we are in the wine country of Coonawarra. Since it's fall, the vines are all yellow and orange – very pretty. And, of course, the wine is excellent.
Today, from Coonamarra to Adélaïde in one go (5 hours) in order to get to Adelaide early enough to see a little of the town. We visited the Aboriginal Cultural Center, where we took in an exhibit of contemporary artists.
Tomorrow, we leave before dawn for Kangaroo Island.