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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 29 Sep 2011

Location: Great Ocean Road, Australia

Map“You’ll have to change lanes” said Anne.
“At the roundabout, take the third exit” said Sharon.
Anne was sitting beside me in the passenger seat. Sharon was sitting in front of me on top of the dashboard, firmly secured to the inside of the windscreen with a sturdy suction cup.
I had named our new satellite navigation GPS after Sharon Corr, the lovely drummer from the Irish band The Corrs, because of the female Irish voice I had chosen for the device. Sharon was directing us as we drove south out of Melbourne and down the eastern side of Port Phillip Bay. The second-hand but well set-out caravan that was closely following our car would be ideal for our holiday – wandering around our home country at our leisure with no pressure of an itinerary. Our only proviso was that we had to be back in Melbourne in a month’s time to catch the ferry back home.
The first night was spent at Dromana, a little bay-side town on the eastern side of Port Phillip Bay, with the main road and a strip of beach separating us from the bay. The huge expanse of water stretched out before us like an inland sea. In the distance, a concentration of tiny spires was just visible, poking up out of the water on the horizon. This was the central city area of Melbourne, some 60 kilometres away, where we’d driven our car off the Bass Strait ferry at 6.30 that morning to begin a month’s holiday of exploring Victoria and South Australia.
Behind the Dromana township was a mountain (at only 309 metres, in Tasmania it would be called a hill) called Arthur’s Seat, named after a similar geological feature in Scotland. Driving to the summit gave us excellent views of the bay and surrounds. At our feet was Dromana, to the north was Frankston and the road that had brought us from Melbourne, while the south lead our gaze towards McCrae, Rosebud, Rye, Blairgowrie, Sorrento and Portsea. Beyond Portsea and further around the coast, the Mornington Peninsula concluded at Point Nepean, and beyond which was the 2 kilometre gap that permit the waters of Bass Strait to pour into Port Phillip Bay.
Watching cargo ships enter the bay through the heads, it was quite evident that they all took a sharp turn to the right (or should I say starboard?) before heading north towards Melbourne. I learned that this follows the Yarra River’s original course when it used to flow through the flat plains before joining the sea. Geological faults millions of years ago flooded these plains to create what is now Port Phillip Bay, and these large ships must follow the natural deep channel to avoid being grounded.
Driving to the very tip of the Mornington Peninsula was a revelation – I did not realise that this area had been heavily fortified during both World Wars last century. Today you can walk through many arched tunnels, lined in brick, which had connected a network of pits that held huge cannons installed to protect Melbourne from invasion. A little further along the road is Cheviot Beach, the ocean-facing beach that claimed the life of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt in December, 1967. It is mysterious enough that such an important world figure should disappear without a trace, but It seems incomprehensible to me that he should choose to go swimming at such a remote location. As I stood at the top of the cliff, looking down at the rocky coastline that will forever live in infamy, I thought of how the rest of the world must have ridiculed us in 1967 for losing our leader in such a profoundly bizarre way.
Our initial target destination was The Great Ocean Road, which is the tourist name for the Victorian south-west coast that Anne and I had never seen. This required us to cross Port Phillip Bay from east to west, and we did so by catching the famous Sorrento – Queenscliff ferry. It reminded me of the west coast of Canada, where British Columbia relies on such ferries as extensions of their national highway. This particular one saves the couple hundred kilometres to drive around Port Phillip Bay, including the busy traffic-laden Melbourne city.
The few hours spent in Geelong made us realise just what a lovely city it really is, with its emphasis on waterfront restaurants, parklands and walkways. The enjoyment was tempered by the thousands of blue-and-white flags that were waving from every vantage point around the city. With their football team playing in the Grand Final in a couple of days, we felt like aliens in this parochial town, but we couldn’t blame the locals for jumping on board the possible excitement of being Premiers. Shop windows were adorned in the club colours, and one shopping centre even had a five meter high inflatable Geelong footballer looking remarkably like club legend Billy Brownless.
Exploring the coast to the west, we went through Ocean Grove, Barwon Heads, Torquay and finally Anglesea, where we set camp for a couple of days. Each township made the most of being on the coast, with esplanades of palm trees, sand dunes and headlands that jut out into the sea, and each one just inviting us to stay longer. Much longer than our one-hour visit..