Well we finally took the plunge
and drove a car in Australia! Avis delivered a Toyota Camry to our hotel this morning and we made our way out of Melbourne. We managed to make our way out of the city
and on to the Princes Freeway to Geelong. A few thoughts on driving in Australia. First as
everyone knows you drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the
right, but do you know that the turn signal and the windshield wipers are also reversed.
Every time we go to make a turn or change lanes, we turn on the wipers. This is how Australians can recognize an American tourist from a mile away. At
least the gas pedal and the brake are in the same place! Second the roads are slightly
narrower than ours and everyone seems to drive right on or over the center line well above
the posted speed limit. Then again I'm sure that visitors to our country feel the same way
about American drivers.
After passing through Geelong, home of the National Wool Museum which not surprisingly we skipped, we headed down the Surf Coast Highway to Torquay and Bells Beach. Surfing and Torquay are synonymous and the town has earned the crown of Australia's surf capital. It is one of the most popular beach resorts on the Surfcoast and nearby Bells Beach has international recognition as home of the longest-running event on the men's professional surfing circuit, the Rip Curl Pro, held every Easter. The waves were only running around 4-5 feet and the temperature was around 65 degrees when we were there so we didn't see any surfers, only a few boogie boarders. There was a marker on the beach for a surfer who drowned in surf that was 3 meters (around 12 feet) high, so obviously this was a relatively calm day for Bells Beach. I used to bodysurf when I lived on the Jersey shore, but I can't even imagine doing that in 12 foot surf. The only time I ever saw waves like that in New Jersey was during a Northeaster and I definitely wasn't thinking about bodysurfing in it!
From Torquay we headed west on the Great Ocean Road to the city of Lorne and Erskine Falls. Lorne, nestled beside the waters of Loutit Bay, is shadowed by the Otway Mountain Range. Thousands of acres of tall timber hide a number of beautiful valleys of ferntrees, waterfalls, wild orchids, and native shrubs and wildflowers. Erskine Falls is just a short ways off the Great Ocean Road and it's a detour worth making. It's a short hike from the parking lot to the falls and if you're up to it there are a number of other waterfalls within walking distance including the Splitters Falls and Straw Falls. After seeing the falls we headed down to the Lorne pier for a quick lunch at the restaurant there. Once again we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of Italian food here in Australia. I'm beginning to think that every Italian that didn't immigrate to the United States ended up here in Australia.
After lunch we again took to the road, this time with me at the wheel, and headed toward Apollo Bay and the Claerwen Retreat. The retreat is situated on top of the hills overlooking the coastline at Apollo Bay. The retreat is surrounded by 130 acres of fern gullies, farmland, and bush country. The views of the Great Ocean Road coastline and the rolling hills of the Otways are spectacular as you can see from these pictures. They had an extremely wet winter this year and the surrounding hills are as green as what I imagine the landscape of Ireland to be. The retreat, the scenery, and the weather is also very similar to what you would find on the North Sonoma coast of California. Just after I took these pictures it started hailing and the weather has been extremely unpredictable. One minute it's bright sunshine and the next minute it's hailing or raining. Yep it definitely feels like home.
We're staying in the Country Guest House and our room is
simply and beautifully decorated. There is a salt water pool, outdoor hot spa, tennis
court, and many tracks for bush walking. The staff are extremely helpful and they even
provided a phone line for me to check my email and upload some more photos from the trip.
They can also arrange for guided bush tours, horse trail rides, hang gliding, and flights
along the coastline. In addition to the Guest House there are two 3 bedroom cottages
available that can accommodate up to six people. Each of the cottages has a fully equipped
kitchen, vcr, stereo, fireplace, and sundeck. If we were going to stay more than one night
we probably would have chosen one of the cottages, but for one night the Guest House was
perfect. We'll be driving along the most spectacular part of the Great Ocean Road
tomorrow, the Shipwreck Coast. Hopefully we'll have some great pictures for everyone to
see. See ya' tomorrow.
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