After all that time in cities, it made a nice change to get out into
the countryside. I finished my visit to Victoria with a three day tour
of the land to the west of Melbourne. The tour was a nice compromise
between being on my own and not having a clue as to what I was doing;
and being part of a group and spending most of my time waiting for
everyone to collect themselves. Three tourists and a guide/driver in
a small 4WD; what could be better? It meant that we could go places
that bigger vehicles and groups couldn't go. Like our time in the
Grampians, divided between sprawling vistas and climbing mildly
treacherous paths among the sandstone walls of the local Grand
Being in a small vehicle meant we could make emergency stops every time Mike, our guide, spotted a bit of wildlife. Like this echidna he noticed rooting around at the side of the road. Echidnas are spiny anteaters with long snouts that are ideal for digging into anthills. You can just make out the snout on this one, just below the three toes of his right front foot. He was a little too busy looking around for food to raise his head for a proper pose.
The kangaroo at right was even less cooperative. She was part of a
mob that was hopping madly down the field to our left as we raced
along to keep up. And then they decided to fly across the road. I
had time for one quick long distance shot through the windscreen
before they vanished into the bush.
I prefered our climbing sidetrips to visits to places like MacKenzie
Falls. Not that the falls weren't beautiful and impressive and all
that. And not that the views from the bottom weren't worth the climb
all the way down and all the way back up again. I'd just rather have
my exhaustion up front, thank you very much. With every step down I
was imagining the pain of the return trip. Kind of took some of the
joy out of the excursion, if you know what I mean.
Our first night's lodging was at a nineteenth century homestead called
Glenisla that has been in the same family for the last hundred years.
The current owner raises a few thousand sheep and a few hundred head
of cattle (in the American West he could have had his own range war),
in addition to
rapeseed/canola and other
cash crops. Despite my fears about ending up on an antipodean Green
Acres, the brief visit was a smashing success. Comfort, good food,
good company. Including the comical horse at right. The moment I
approached the fence to take a picture, he trotted over for a visit.
Concerned that I get his best side? Or just used to tourists who can
be conned out of a between-meal snack? I of course will never tell.
Day two was spent driving through more of the farmland to the west of
the Grampians, on our way eventually to a meeting with the southern
coast. And making occasional stops at little towns that are marked by
a cafe, general store and petrol station, often in the same building,
and a few scattered houses. What must it be like to live in a place
like this, in a town a fraction of the size of my
high school graduation
class? Even if it does have views that would cost millions anywhere
We arrived at the coast near the
Game Reserve, an extinct volcano that was farmed to death between
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and then
its natural state starting in the late 1950s. With no one alive who knew what
that natural state was, the architects of the game reserve had to rely
on an 1855 painting to know what to plant and where to plant it. The
reserve is now home to a variety of plant and animal life, starting
with the emus we spotted on our way in. I'm fascinated by emus,
particularly because they don't share the nasty temperament of their
cousins, the cassowaries and ostriches. When I saw the specimen at
right I got out of the car and walked right up to her. I knew, or at
least thought I knew, that she'd be unfazed by my approach. Only
after the fact did my city dweller's inexperience with large creatures
with large beaks show up to ask what exactly I thought I was doing.
Just as well; if I'd been sensible I'd have missed the picture.
Our guide warned us to be on the lookout for koalas in the trees. It
was mid-afternoon, so they were likely to be sleeping. So imagine my
surprise when a moment later I spotted the fellow at left, climbing
down from one tree, scampering across the road and then climbing up
into this one. Highly unlikely, I must say. There was another koala
asleep nearby, with a few others high above us as we walked around the
reserve. We were driving out when we spotted the critter at right.
We woke him up, I'm afraid. Not intentionally, but I still feel
guilty about it. And then we sat watching him until he raised his
head enough for the picture. But if it's any consolation, I bet he
nodded off again as soon as we were out of sight.
The coast around Tower Hill, or at least the impressive parts they
show tourists, is all limestone cliffs. The limestone makes for
impressive structures like London Bridge to the right. The bridge
used to join with the mainland to the left of the arch. Then in 1990
it collapsed, stranding two tourists on the arch until they could be
rescued by helicopter. A wonderful and possibly apocryphal story
claims that the two were cousins who were carrying on a clandestine
but rather torrid affair. Needless to say, the coverage of their
rescue blew their cover. That's the sort of story that really
needs to be true.
This part of Victoria is known as the Shipwreck Coast, and for very
good reason. Back in the
nineteenth century, sailing ships bound for Australia would travel
well to the south to take advantage of the winds. They would head
north right around this longitude. But, celestial navigation being
what it was, they could easily be a hundred miles from where they
thought they were. Such was the case of the Loch Ard, which in 1879
arrived at the reef you see here in the wee hours of the morning.
Despite the captain's best efforts to slow or turn her, she plowed
into the reef. Of the fifty-four passengers and crew, only two
eighteen year olds survived: apprentice seaman Tom Pierce and
passenger Eva Carmichael. Despite the romance of their adventure and
their survival, they did not end up together; Eva decided she'd had
enough of Australia and returned, now an orphan, to Ireland. It's
great story, although it's even better when you're standing on the
very spot that saw the Loch Ard's fate.
A little further down the coast we find the celebrated
Apostles. Not that they look anything like the apostles, or so I
photographic evidence being so limited. I'm not even sure
there are twelve of them, although there may have been. What's most
interesting about the Apostles isn't the what; it's the how. Like the
rest of the Shipwreck Coast, the limestone of the Apostles was formed
from the skeletons of sea life. After the sea level dropped and
exposed the limestone, erosion did its thing. The softer parts of the
limestone (presumably from creatures with poor nutritional habits)
fell away, leaving caves. The caves grew to become arches, which
eventually collapsed to leave free-standing columns that rise as much
as 150 feet above the surface. Which raises the question: why
apostles? Even if there were twelve of them once upon a time.
Eventually the coast changes, the stark and forbidding limestone
cliffs replaced by more gentle, more wooded slopes. The Shipwreck
Coast gives way to the Surf Coast, home to many fine surfing and
swimming beaches. The road began to get busier and the towns larger,
although even the biggest seemed small and quaint to someone who's
traversed the California coast. Just the same, I'm sure the locals
bemoan the crowds and the traffic and the parking problems and look
back fondly on the good old days before success ruined paradise.
The Great Ocean Road isn't just ocean. There's even some honest-to-God rainforest along the way, nestled in valleys where recurrent forest fires couldn't reach. A wander through a rainforest is a step back into an ancient world, with primitive ferns that would have known dinosaurs competing with more recent and more technologically advanced flora.
Our last stop before leaving the coast was at the golf course at
Anglesea. Our guide had to point out the kind of hazard golfers don't
encounter on American courses. It turns out the course faces onto a
nature reserve. The owners of the golf course get free lawn trimming
services by the kangaroo population, the kangaroos get all that tasty
grass to eat and the tourists get to gawk at the funny creatures over
the fence, not all of which are wearing
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California