Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Great Ocean Road

Koala
At the end of our stay in Melbourne, we rented a car, and headed out of town on the Great Ocean Road, with our ultimate destination being Adelaide. We decided to just take our time, stop when we wanted to, and not try to do the whole thing in a single day. It was a perfect day in Oz—the sun was shining, the traffic wasn’t too bad despite the fact that the school holidays were on—and we just tooled along, listening to music and enjoying being on another road trip.
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We stopped in Kennet River, after reading that it was a good place to see koalas.  We started seeing them before we even stopped the car, mostly due to the group of people standing under a particular tree. Once you started looking closely, you could find them in nearly every eucalyptus tree; mostly dozing in the crook of a branch in the mid-day heat.  It was one of those surreal moments. Here was a campground, surrounded by trees. Completely ordinary. And there, in the trees just behind the campground, were koalas. We never get over seeing “zoo” animals in their natural settings. It’s always very surreal.
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There were also a number of brilliantly colored birds in the trees.
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The show-stopper on the Great Ocean Road is the Twelve Apostles formation. Because we got a late start, it was later in the day by the time we got there.  While the pillars were unusual and amazing, most of the drive was this pretty, with tall cliffs and deep blue-green ocean around every turn of the winding road.  We got there at the perfect time, though. The light was just beginning to get golden, and some of the crowds had thinned.  The flies had not, and they were thick, despite the light breeze.
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The coast was unlike anything we’d seen before, but it did remind us in some ways of northern California. Big Sur has much more road on the cliffside, but there were lovely areas full of crops and cows a bit inland on the Great Ocean Road that reminded us a bit of Napa Valley. We spent a night in Warnambool and then headed further inland, detouring through the Grampians National Park before heading West again towards Adelaide.  The Grampians were beautiful, and such a different landscape than the coastline.  However the road was just as windy, and the views equally stunning.
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We’ve been renting the smallest cars we can find, and this was one of the smaller ones.  It’s a Suzuki Swift, and we were impressed with it.  It averaged over 45mpg, and that was with a fairly hilly drive, including lots of starts and stops.  It was also easier to shift than the little Daihatsu we had in New Zealand.
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After we left the national park and headed west, we were in a region that reminded us strongly of the African savannah, only with kangaroo in place of impala.
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You might not be able to spot it in this photo, but we did see several hanging out under the trees in the heat of the mid-day. (Kangaroos! Just hanging out! We tell you, it never gets old.) This part of the road was pretty, but the general inland road from Melbourne to Adelaide, which we avoided as much as we could up to this point by taking the scenic routes, is very boring, flat, and straight.  This is where we saw the series of signs, in our previous sign post aimed at tired drivers, and trust us, they totally made sense in context.
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There was very little reason to stop, however, so apart from a couple of refueling stops, we made it to Adelaide in good time. It was a fun road trip, and it made us appreciate how very big Australia is. The distance between Melbourne and Adelaide the way we drove it was 953 kilometers. It took us 12ish hours of driving (not including stops along the way). We were beginning to understand just how much of Australia we were bound not to see.