Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Australia Week 2: Great Ocean Road, Otways and Apollo Bay

While the week was once again taken up primarily by work, sleep and exercise, we started the weekend right with an open bar social sponsored by the studio at Federation Square in the Melbourne CBD. Many beers were consumed and much conversation enjoyed.

The next morning, a large portion of the Salt Lake Squad picked up rental cars and prepared to head out on our first weekend adventure outside of the city. We had two drivers: one who had a British driver's license from 20 years ago, and another who was just crazy enough to drive on the left side of the road even though he'd never done it before...I decided to be the navigator for the guy with the ancient driver's license.

Relying heavily on GPS, we headed out of Melbourne on the winding Australian highway system. Getting out of the airport we managed to screw up and make a few loops around the terminals before figuring out what to do. Thankfully that was the worst of the driving errors we made. Our first destination was about an hour outside the city -- an open safari zoo in the town of Werribee.

Pretty sure they were showing off their natural tendency for
frame composition.
Werribee Zoo, somewhat ironically for our adventure, primarily features African animals. It was on our list because our boss was taking his kids there, so we decided, what the hell, let's go too. It was actually pretty cool, since the zoo is predominantly open range. I got some ok pictures, including some shots of a very photogenic group of giraffes. Sadly, the small Australian animal section was pretty much shut down for repairs or upgrades or some such thing -- I have yet to see a kangaroo on this trip, aside from the one on my lunch plate in our first week.

Next was a drive down the very picturesque Great Ocean Road -- a not to miss experience. It is, perhaps, a bit daunting for foreign drivers. The lanes are small and mostly along a sheer cliff face leading down to the rough and rocky beaches below. Our drivers handled it with much tact and the passengers with clenched buttocks you could probably crack walnuts between. The weather changes quite erratically in southern Victoria, so we had periods of sun, clouds and even a little rain along the 3 hour drive to our final destination for the evening, Apollo Bay.

Apollo Bay from nearby Marriner's Lookout...
spelled correctly.
Apollo Bay is primarily a surf town. Unassuming and only somewhat touristy, the town is nestled in its eponymous bay and consists of a main road, some offshoots, and not much else. It's a great launching point for the Otways National Forest, which was our primary destination for the following day. Before that, however, we had a few things that needed taking care of -- first off, dinner, which for me consisted of a mass of fried seafood with chips (read: fries). The place we went to for dinner was a yelp favorite, and it was *pretty* good, though they charged a fee for absolutely everything -- if you wanted grilled instead of fried, if you wanted ketchup or tartar sauce with your fish and chips. Needless to say, there was some grumbling.

A visit to the visitor's center a few hours earlier had informed us via pamphlet of an interesting night walk at nearby called Kennett's River, where one could see noctilucent glow worms. I told the lady at the information desk that we were interested in this, and she said something along the lines of "that's actually not the best place to see them. The best place would probably be Mait's Rest." At which point she pointed to a spot in the dead center of the Otways rainforest. "It's about a 20 minute drive."

Well. Why not, right? We're here for an adventure! Our drive into the rainforest occurred after sundown -- naturally the glow worms were not visible during the day -- so we were driving into the pitch black rainforest on a very narrow, winding road, to an unknown destination which, by the way, is not in Google Maps *or* the Garmin GPS system. We were told specifically not to rely on electronic maps in the rainforest which, for my tech-dependent brain, was a sure sign of the eminent disaster.

I don't have a picture for this part of the story.
But imagine this, only really, really dark.
About 40 minutes later (either she lied or we drove like frightened children), we finally came to Mait's Rest. Mait's Rest is a glorified turn-off on the winding jungle road with a 1km walking trail hidden in it. There were zero lights there, zero other tourists, and zero information on the signs at the stop saying anything about glow worms. Our tiny flashlights seemed like poor protection against the looming darkness, the killer wildlife, and the vague threat of tourist killing vagrants lying in wait on the trail. Ten steps onto the trail...we all chickened out. This was clearly insane -- surely the girl at the visitor's center was just having a laugh at our expense -- no one would send people out into the rainforest in the middle of the night to hunt magical glow worms -- aren't there spiders that can kill a man in 30 seconds in this place?

We got back in the cars. There was a few moments pause, then Oscar, one of the group, knocked on our window. "Give me your flashlights. We're going in." Well, no one in our car was going to let that go unchallenged. If the group in car A was going in, car B, clearly the more awesome car, wasn't going to wuss out. So...into the darkness.

It was slow going. We were not unafraid and we half believed these glow worms were a figment of the dastardly mind of the wicked visitor center wench, but on we trekked. I said the bene gesserit littany against fear, because I'm a huge dork. 'Fear is the mind killer.' About five minutes in we crossed a bridge in the darkness, and suddenly Katie, the wife of one of our coworkers told everyone to stop. What was it, we wondered? The killer hobo we all suspected was working with the visitor's center girl to rob tourists blind and leave their battered corpses in the jungle? She wanted us to turn off our flashlights -- a bold request at this point. We did.

And there they were, all along the embankment of the bridge. Softly glowing, like faint little stars peppered all through the moss. Glow worms! They were real! Disbelief and wonder, and then curiosity as we attempted to pinpoint them and then turn on our flashlights to see if we could see what was making the glow. They were literally undetectable with the lights on, and impossible to photograph. It's just one of those things you have to see -- and believe me, they're there.

Well, you don't go through that sort of thing without being galvanized as a team. In good spirits, we hopped back into the cars and returned to Apollo Bay, to the hostel that was to be our evening home. It was actually a very nice hostel other than the lack of air conditioning. We spent a pleasant evening talking and being thankful that at least one of us had been brave enough to convince all of us to go on that walk.

A Walk in the Woods
Day 2 of the Great Ocean Roadtrip started with breakfast in Apollo Bay, followed by an hour-long drive back into the rainforest. While it was indeed less terrifying in the dark, the road we had to traverse was not pleasant. In some spots, 20 kilometer long spots occasionally, there was only one lane, and if another car had come tearing around one of the many switchbacks, we would have eaten dashboard. We were headed to the Otways Fly Treetop Walk -- a destination that featured a several hundred foot scaffolding-like path through the canopy of the rainforest. This is another place where photographs do the actual experience very little justice. Being a rainforest, it was misting quite a bit, but I got some ok shots of the ancient growth there, including ferns that could have easily been around during the Jurassic period. We spent a few hours there and then headed down a gravel road to what was going to be our next stop -- Triplet Falls.

Unfortunately when we got there, we were greeted with what would have been another hour-long walk to get to said Falls -- and damn it, we had koalas to go see. We decided to skip the falls, and drove back out of the rainforest and out to the Cape Otway Lighthouse road, which is lined on either side by a eucalyptus grove.

This may be, no joke, the best picture I've ever taken
Where there's eucalyptus, there's koalas, and the little dudes were a little elusive at first. We did eventually find them, mostly because other tourists were parked along the sides of the road taking pictures of them already. Koalas are constantly high due to the semi-poisonous leaves of the eucalyptus tree, so they're very docile unless you frighten them. The legend of the "dropbear", according to an Australian companion, comes from the fact that koalas can get so stoned that they fall out of the trees and into the tents of unwary campers, causing the koalas to freak out and shred the tent to bits with their freakin' enormous claws. We shot some pictures, stood in awe of the majesty of nature for a while, then headed back to Apollo Bay.

Lunch -- scallop pie. Very good. Then beach. I had no real interest in plunging into the frigid Pacific Ocean on an overcast day in Fall, but some of our group did, so they rented wet suits and surfboards and braved the 10-foot waves. I laid out and hoped to collect at least a little tan from the cloudy UVs, but about an hour in I gave up and decided to walk down to the marina. No epic stories here, just a nice walk and then back again. We got in the cars, a bit exhausted after the whirlwind day, and drove back to Melbourne, stopping only briefly in the equally beachy town of Lorne for dinner (whole baby snapper, flash fried.)

It was a momentous weekend and I'm glad we did it. This coming weekend will be a 3-dayer -- it's Labour Day here in Australia. I plan on doing a bunch of little day excursions and maybe even sleep in, which I have literally not done once since I got here three weeks ago. Until next time.

1 comment:

  1. Such a great story and Ryan you really bring it to life with your skillful writing! I lol'ed :-)