A Drive To Loch Ard Gorge

As much as I like to complain about no longer being within a hop, skip & a jump of continental Europe, Australia isn't all that bad. In addition to coffee and venomous snakes, we're also quite fab at outstanding natural beauty, so I have decided to take it upon myself to quit being such a little bitch and explore the majesty that surrounds me. Living in Melbourne, one of the most familiar scenic drives to me - and one of the most famous in the world - is the Great Ocean Road. Although I've been up and down a few times in my day, I hadn't made the journey since 2015 when Fiona and I went with our friends Evan & Dodie, so when my cousins came over to visit from Perth it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a Road Trip.

Our goal was to reach the Twelve Apostles for sunset, and I had a few intermediate stops planned out quite nicely on a spreadsheet, so we left Melbourne around 9am and set off towards the Great Ocean Road. The first portion of the drive is not particularly thrilling - it's a lot of basic Australian highway, through parched looking rural landscapes, which is not really my vibe. Will and my mother both seem to love it, but I'm more of a lush greenery and rolling verdant hillside gal myself. After about 90 minutes and a tactical snack stop, however, we finally passed Anglesea and emerged onto the coastal road.

The road itself winds around the hills and is often atop a steep cliff, which may not be for everyone, but the view is worth it. There are small areas to pull over spaced out along the route, so one can stop for photos without creating a hazardous situation, and there are also a few more deliberate viewing points between Lorne and Apollo Bay. Ample viewing opportunities along the way, so do not stress if that photo you tried to take out the window of your moving vehicle turns out a bit shit. If you're pacing your journey a bit better than we did (see: not doing the whole thing in one day) I would suggest Lorne as the place to stay overnight. Of all the towns en route it's my personal fav, and even if you keep going a bit further down to Wye River or Separation Creek (also great for a more low-key beach stop) you've got a good chance of finding somewhere with phenom views and a more high-end feel than Apollo Bay, Anglesea or Torquay.

Given our tight schedj and the fact that it was a long weekend and therefore absolutely packed, we passed right through Lorne, gave the beaches a miss and drove straight to Apollo Bay (ft. a few insty stops en route). My original itinerary had included the Cape Otway lighthouse, but our lunch stop took longer than I'd imagined so I had to make the heartbreaking Sophie's Choice to prioritise making it to the Apostles by sunset over the A+ lighthouse photo I had envisioned. Yes, said lighthouse did require a considerable detour, but I had NEVER had a lighthouse on my grid and I NEEDED one. I have since captured an acceptable alternative in St Kilda, but at this particular moment in time I wasn't to know that was on the horizon. Anyway, I put the greater good ahead of my own aesthetic dreams and struck the lighthouse from the route. It's worth noting that we made this trip in winter, so sunset was much earlier than it would have been during Daylight Savings, so if you plan wisely season-wise and set off a bit earlier you'll be able to fit a lot more in than we did.

My sans-lighthouse melancholy did not last for long, because as the road moved inland we found ourselves overlooking a valley of rolling hills which - as indicated in paragraph two - is my absolute vibe. These photos don't do the view justice. The scale of it was ridiculous - literal miles of hills, hundreds of trees and a valley further down than we could see. Also a lot of sheep. If you see how tiny the farmhouse in the last photo is that gives you a bit of an idea, but it was tbph quite breathtaking. From ocean cliffs to rolling hills; get u a road that can do both. By this point we were nearly at the end of the Hamilton cast recording, so we knew we must be getting close to our destination. Although our ultimate end point was the Twelve Apostles, the penultimate stop for which I'd budgeted significant time was a few more minutes down the road. I'd saved a photo of this specific spot to a Pinterest board a year and a half earlier while I was still working in my London office, and I was not disappointed when I finally laid my eyes upon Loch Ard Gorge.

The more astute seafarers amongst ye may be thinking 'wow, there sure are a lot of protruding rocks in this region of the ocean, that can't have been ideal back in ye olde days of maritime transportation' and to that I would say 'you are absolutely correct, welcome to The Shipwreck Coast.' Explorer Matthew Flinders, of train station fame, once declared he had "seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline," which is pretty badass. At least to those of us standing on dry land in the 21st century and not on the deck of an unstable vessel in the 1800s. One of the places I want to visit next time Will and I drive down that way is Wreck Beach, where at low tide you can see remnants of the (638 known) shipwrecks that have washed up over the years. As a child who demanded regularly to be taken to the Shipwreck Galleries at the Maritime Museum in Fremantle, this shit is right up my street. Anyway, one notable name on the list of wrecks is the Loch Ard, which met its fate on the reef off Mutton Bird Island (just beyond the cliffs in these photos) in 1878, and gave the gorge its name. The cliff faces formed when a rock bridge collapsed a few years ago are also now called Tom and Eva, after the only two people to survive the wreck out of 54 on board. I feel like there's some solid historical fiction to be written about the whole event, but I shan't be penning it any time in the foreseeable future so if anyone feels inspired then go right ahead. In any case I highly suggest a google of 'Wreck Beach Victoria' and a debrief on the numerous vessels that ended up contributing to its landscape.

Chilling history aside, we actually had quite a wholesome and jolly time. There were many steps to be faced in order to get down to and back up from the beach itself, and another hike to get out to the edge of the cliffs, but I'm usually pretty happy with walking if there's good scenery to peruse. Plus it was rainy, so the whole thing was very moody and amplified the maritime disaster vibe in an ambient-rather-than-morbid way. There are a few different walking trails you can take around Loch Ard, of different distances and viewpoints. I think the one we ended up taking was 'The Wreck', the view from the end of which you can see in the last couple of photos in this next set. Judging by a map I'm currently squinting at on google, I'm pretty sure the big rock face with the archway in it is Muttonbird Island, which would mean that the wreck took place just beyond. I'd like to go back another day and do the full walk, but the views we did get were pretty dece anyway.

Having seen about nine million cars queued up waiting to get into the Twelve Apostles car park when we drove past earlier, I was not feeling optimistic about the fate of our planned sunset antics, but we decided to give it a go anyway. I'd been before, so I wasn't expecting a clear shot with no one around, but boyyyyy was there a crowd. We got a park without any hassle though, and once we made it to the actual viewing area it was windy and crowded, but not unmanageable. As I mentioned before, we did go on the Sunday of a long weekend, so if you're planning to visit during a quieter time you shouldn't have a problem. There will always be people there, but there's enough space for everyone and multiple different viewing points to ensure you get. that. shot. 

When I say it was windy, I mean I had to keep an iron grip on my phone to prevent it from being blown out of my hands, but it was still worth the trip. There are few views I treasure more highly than choppy ocean waves and moody skies, so I was happy as it was, but the clouds also parted just enough to let the sunset through which was a bonus. The thing about ancient limestone formations created by erosion via the turbulent waters below is that the turbulent waters below do not cease once the formation has occurred, so every so often the Apostles - like the rock bridge that used to link Tom & Eva - like to tumble into the sea. As such, I find it a worthwhile practice to pop back and check on them every so often, just to make sure everyone's in tact. Assured that all formations were present and thoroughly exhausted from the bare minimum of hikes, we hopped back into the car as the sun disappeared and drove back to Melbourne. There are several more points along the coast on my list, so I'll update you when we get around to visiting those, but for now our journey is through. 

Thank you for joining in on our wholesome family fun. See you next week xoxo