Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Great Ocean Road and Beyond

 Getting to Great Ocean Road

Well the day had finally arrived and we were both excited, we have been planning this trip for months and with some last minute major alterations to our original plan, we cancelled our flights, hire car and accommodation and decided to drive our van and do a 10 day road trip instead.

The Pump House Reserve Gundagi

Leaving in the early evening we headed to Gundagai approx 3.5 hours drive. The coordinates had been put into the navman to a free camp area called the Pump House Reserve on the out skirts of Gundagai. A beautiful large flat grassy area on the banks of a tree lined river no amenities and no camping unless your self contained caravan or campervan and its pet friendly. We arrived about 9:30pm and settled in and had an early night.

Gundagai Goal

In the morning we headed into town to grab a few supplies, we were on a bit of a time schedule so we didn't have long to look around but we drove past the Old Goal and noticed the gate open so we went to have a look around, apparently you need to go to the Information Center and pay to get keys and audio to look around, whoops! we had a quick look around and left. Then over to the old historic railway and also the two old wooden road and rail bridges. Gundagai has so much more to explore than the dog on the tucker box (which is out of town) we cant wait to get back again and check out more of this beautiful historic town.

Continuing along the Hume highway our next stopped was Holbrook, were there is a Maritime Museum and Submarine. Andy was having a great time here climbing all over the submarine called the Otway, we had a look around at the other displays then headed over to Corowa, where there is a chocolate and whisky factory, as we had been to Junee's chocolate factory, we both agreed it did not compare to Junee, but we were glad we stopped in for a look.

Corowa Whisky and Chocolate Factory

Granthams Bent

We stopped for lunch on the way out of town at another free camp called Granthams Bent which is on the banks of the Murray river, it was a rough drive in along the road, the area has an open space and was beautiful but a little dusty with no amenities and is pet friendly.

The day was getting on and we headed over to Glenrowan, famous hangout for Ned Kelly and his gang, Australia's favorite bushranger. The small town consists of a few streets with history and memorabilia everywhere, while still maintaining the old historic look of the town.We stopped at the main center and museum took a few pictures with the over sized Ned Kelly Statue, then drove over to the cemetery at Greta where Ned was buried.

The sun was starting to set and we had to a find camp for the night, our original plan was to make it to Ballarat but that was hours away so we did a search on Wikicamps and found a beautiful spot by the river in Seymour not far off the Hume highway called Northwood Road Reserve there is long drop toilets and plenty of space you can have fires and is pet friendly. 

Awake early next morning we got organized and headed to Ballarat, the town still lined with historic building and historical sights, a stunningly beautiful place. We stopped at the information center to get a map of the Eureka trail walk. The weather had turned bad with icy winds, so we rugged up and decided to just do a short walk through the tunnels and past the viaduct bridge to the oval. It was freezing, so we had lunch and started driving again to Port Fairy.

Mt Elephant 
We had decided to start the Great Ocean Road from this point (Port Fairy) and drive to Geelong, as we also wanted to head to Phillip Island and didn't want to back track to much or get stuck in the flow of traffic heading the opposite way. The drive down to Port Fairy was very windy but the scenery was amazing, long flat fields and roads. As we drove along we were both blown away at the sight of Mt Elephant an extinct volcano which towered over the flat landscape.

The Great Ocean Road

Arriving late afternoon we had a look around Port Fairy, a cute fishing village where we could only imagine it would be very popular in peak seasons.

Killiarny Beach Camping Reserve

We headed to our $20 un-powered camp spot for the night at Killiarny Beach Camping Reserve, which has 50 un-powered and 20 powered sites set around a sporting field and just behind the sand dune making the beach a short walk, it was a perfect spot. Toilets, hot showers and free laundry and BBQ facility's and pet friendly. We found a spot out of the wind and set up for the night with a few beers to relax and reflect on our day.

The morning came and we were up early to get our first sunrise shots, little cloudy at first but a great way to start the day.  We were both excited.

Tower Hill

Our first detour along the way was Tower Hill, an inactive volcano, we drove into the reserve which is a volcano crater and the wildlife here was everywhere, emus, wallabies and also an abundant of bird life in the wetlands of the crater. The road takes you through the reserve than on top of the volcano, along the crater rim. What an beautiful amazing place and totally unexpected, but well worth a look. From here we drove into Warrnambool were we stopped for a quick stock supply and headed in the direction of Port Campbell.

Our first stops were the Bay of Island and Bay of Martyrs. Wow this was the beginning of some spectacular views and the limestone cliff faces are indescribable, large rock stacks in the ocean scattering the coastline, truly an awesome experience and just the start of an amazing few days. Driving along the coastline it is well signed with information on what you are viewing and documented history of the areas.

Next along the road we came across The Grotto, This is a unique vertical sinkhole formation, it could be viewed as a cave or blow hole, a huge hole in the rock formation. The boardwalk down is easy enough with stairs and stops on way down for several viewing platforms. At the base of the stairs offers the best position to view this unique place, at the base are rock pools surrounding the hole formation and a beautiful view of the ocean.  There were not to many people around so we took our time to get some great pictures.

We stopped at a look out further along the road were we could see the cute little coastal village of Port Campbell below us, so we headed down to have a picnic lunch by the wharf and enjoy the sun.

A little further down the road we pulled into Loch Ard Gorge car park. Oh My God the place was packed, there must of been at least 20 coaches and a full car park. We parked in the main car park and joined the stream of people flocking to Razorback lookout, following the board walk circuit around to view a variety of cliffs, the Island Archway, and Loch Ard Gorge lookout. At this point we were getting frustrated at the mass of people so we decided to leave. As we left the car park we noticed another road further down it also was full. It was now getting close to 4pm and we still had the 12 apostles to see, as we approached this area, it also was packed.  Our camp spot was 10 km past this so we decided to call it a day! and decided to get up early to watch the sun rise and beat the crowds the following day.

Princeton Reserve Camping Area

We headed to Princeton were we found a place called Princeton Reserve Camping Area, another unused sports field with both powered and unpowered sites and lots of room.$20 per night for unpowered, Hot water showers, undercover kitchen area and is pet friendly, fires must be in raised fire pits. As we drove in to this area we were both speechless of the amount of Kangaroos all feeding in the center of the field, I'd be guessing 50 at least maybe more. A nice place for a quick stop over.

We were up early the following morning before the sun came up and headed to the 12 apostles, we parked the van at Gibson Steps carpark and walked 2km to the viewing platform at apostles. The morning was cold but beautiful, We spent a good hour walking around the viewing platforms taking pics and and admiring the view, I can understand why the apostles are so popular.

Gibson Steps

Walking back to the van (At Gibson Steps) we walked down the steep stairs to the beach below. Lucky the tide had gone down as there wasn't much beach. I could say this place was one of my favorite places we visited this trip, standing at the base of the cliff faces, we felt so small, we walked the beach taking pics of the apostles from a different angle on the beach. Heading back up the steep stairs,we had a quick feed and drove back to Loch Ard Gorge to look around before the crowed arrived.

We headed to the other carpark further down on our right. From here there are a few walks, all pretty easy, we headed off first to Broken Head past Thunder Cave, and over to another path which led us to a lake and ocean cliffs. Walking back we headed over to Mutton-bird lookout and the cemetery. It was a great morning taking our time and exploring all the coastlines. By the time we were finishing up, the crowds started arriving. This area and the bottom section of the Great Ocean Road is amazing, the coastal edge is hard to describe but defiantly well worth a visit, every viewing platform or lookout has its own unique appeal and you get excited to see what is around the next corner.

They Have Some Strange Wildlife In Victoria
The Great Ocean Road heads inland for a while from here, windy roads through beautiful landscapes and a beautiful drive. In hindsight now we could of stopped at a few more sights in this area but our next destination was Cape Otway Lighthouse an hours drive. We turned off onto Lighthouse Road and not far along there was a traffic stop, cars just stopped in middle of road and everyone out of the cars looking up at a tree.

Yes Koalas!!! Andy was excited.. the smile on his face said it all, he was out of the car before I put it in park. As we continued along the road it was a slow journey as we were koala spotting, we did manage to see a couple more along the way. Finally arriving at the Light house carpark, we were a little surprised at the set up here, and the over populated gift shop/tourist trap and a disappointing entry fee. We decided not to go in as the price was way to high for our short visit, if we were making a day of it, it may of been worth the money, but we have seen many lighthouses along the coast of Australia and a $50 entrance fee for both of us wasn't an option. At the end of the car park was a walk which links the Great Ocean Road walk, we headed along this for a short distance until we reached a lookout were we got a glimpse of the light house and the surrounding area.

Our drive back out I couldn't help but take a detour down a small dirt road, driving along we found a small car park where you can park for the walk in camping areas. There a a few camping grounds here but you need to walk a few kilometers to the camp sites. (you can find this information on the Victoria's National Parks Website). We walked a short distance down a track and got a small glimpse and the amazing southern coastline.

Kennett River Holiday Park

Apollo Bay was the next major town, we stopped to get supplies and a quick look around, and decided to go to Kennett River Holiday Park for the evening. The caravan park their is a well known area for koalas. I went to inquire about the price and availability for camp spots $31 for an unpowered site. Chatting to the lady at reception she had a great knowledge of the area and suggestions for our trip. I asked about the koalas in the park and she advised there were at least 8 that live in the park, and then pointed outside to the tree next to where I had parked and said there is one above your car, I was a little excited to go out and tell Andy. We went and picked a camp spot and wandered around the park looking for koalas, and we were not disappointed we saw about 10. As night set in we set up a fire to warm our bones and enjoyed the evening with a beer or two. Kennetts River caravan park is a beautiful park, friendly care takers, clean amenities, camp kitchen, playground, with all the little added extras supplied like washing powder, detergents, washing up equipment, basic cooking equipment, fridge, oven and coin operated laundry and a few wild koalas and its not pet friendly (safety for the koalas).

The following morning we took our time and explored the park. Just outside is a general store/cafe and an abundance of Crimson Rosella's, King Parrot's and assortment of ducks. As we were about to leave I glanced up the road and thought I saw a dog crossing the road, but had to look again and noticed it was a koala, we walked as fast as we could to catch up to it without scaring it away. We spent a good half hour watching it demolish a small eucalyptus tree in someones front yard, getting quite close to get some great pictures. Kennett River Caravan Park is a great place and will defiantly stop past here again when we return.

Carisbrook Waterfall

Our Stone Tower

We back tracked from here and headed to Carisbrook Waterfall. A short easy walk up a steep hill, on the other side of the highway, on the ocean shore we noticed a collection of rock towers had been created, we went to check it out and made a couple of our own to add to the collection. fun way to spend an hour.

Getting hungry we drove to Lorne, along the winding road which hugged the picturesque views on every bend of the coastline and mountains we also spotted this guy walking by the road .
Lorne was another cute coastal town, the weather had turned nasty again the rain and wind had finally set in (as predicted form the weather forecast). A yummy lunch at a little Asian Noodle Bar and deciding where to camp for the night.

Split Point Lighthouse
Have you ever, ever felt like this ? Strange things when your happen when your going around the twist!

Bells Beach
We took our time driving for the afternoon stopping at coastal sights along the way such as Split Point where the infamous "going around the twist lighthouse stands" A beautiful lookout with amazing cliff faces, Airley Inlet, Angelsea, and Bells Beach which had huge surf and crazy surfers out in it. The wet weather had set in and it was getting dark so we headed to Geelong for the night, deciding to spoil ourselves and booked into the Novotel foreshore Geelong, and lucky to get the top floor, waterfront room. We went out for a beautiful Indian meal then back to a warm and dry room for the night.

The following morning was grey but no rain, so we hurried and got organized and walked the foreshore of Geelong. The main attraction for us was all the pole people, the variety of different types which also explained the history of the area. It was a great morning and the rain held off until after our late breakfast, where the skies opened up and we got drenched walking back to our room for checkout time. By this stage we were half way through our trip and debating what to do as there were severe weather warnings for the coast and that was were we we heading.

 Phillip Island

Andy drew the short straw and had to do the drive through Melbourne, all was going well with the trip until we missed a turn off, lucky we find it funny when we get lost, its all part of the fun, as Andy drove around in circles dodging trams and trying to find the way out of the city. Finally finding the right exit, we were on our way to Phillip Island. As were drove out of Melbourne the sun decided to sneak out of the clouds and as we crossed the bridge onto the island we were amazed at the beauty of this place, lush green field seemed like they were glowing. We made our way to the Penguin on Parade and inquired about the price of the tickets for that evening show, then went to find a campsite. Phillip island was a little pricier but we found a nice Caravan Park called Cowes Caravan Park and got a powered site. The Park seemed to have a lot of permanent vans on-site and a few vacant blocks, some right on the beach (thank god we didn't stay there) we chose one of the powered sites just behind the tree lined sand dunes (later we would be glad about our choice, with the Island getting hit with 100km winds later in the night). The amenities, camp kitchen and laundry were very clean and the ground kept tidy and is pet friendly in the off season, its probably better to check with management.

We quickly organized dinner had a showers and layered up and went to watch the nightly Penguin Parade. We had front row seats as we sat and waited for them to come to shore for the evening, while enjoying the beautiful sunset. They were so cute as they all huddled together waddling up the beach to there nest in the sand hills. As the numbers dwindled we headed back up along the board walk, it was here where we spent a couple of hours watching them interact with each other, very entertaining we could of watched all night but the complex was packing up for the night.
We headed back to the van park and cranked the heater up to warm the van, chatting about our awesome adventures until we went to sleep.

The Nobbies

The next morning it was raining again and very very windy, we drove around the island exploring as much as we could. We headed to The Nobbies,which is the furthest point of the island. Andy looked hesitant to get out of the van, I had to convinced him it will be fun, and it was. The wind was so strong it nearly blew us over a few times and very difficult to hold your photo to take photos but the scenery and watching the wild ocean made up for the uncomfort of the cold weather. Instead of driving back along the main road I took a detour along a dirt track, which took us along the edge of the cliffs, the van was a little shaky with the wind gusting against us, but an amazing view as we stopped at a couple of lookouts along the way.

The best one was Pyramid Rock were we struggled to walk to the furthest point along the board walk, the winds were over 100km probably a little dangerous but it was great fun and amazingly beautiful scenery, we only wish it wasn't so windy so could of explored more.

We followed the coast back and stopped at the chocolate factory on way out for a hot chocolate and cake, deciding not to continue on our original plan to Wilson Promontory due to the bad weather, so we decided to head north to avoid the weather.

 Heading Home

We decided on the Yarra Valley, and redirected the Navman. The drive up was beautiful winding country roads with small towns and vineyards scattered along the way. We headed to Murrindindi Scenic Reserve were we had a selection of about 5 camp grounds to choose from, some are walk-in for tents and some for campervans, caravans and camper trailers, and only $7 a car a night. Finding the perfect spot Andy got the fire started, while i cooked up some dinner then relaxed in front of the fire with a couple of beers chatting and staring at the stunning star show.

There was plenty of wildlife here Andy had a great time with some friendly wallaby's and kookaburras, and a morning choir of black cockatoos, even a couple of sneaky foxes kept appearing out of the bushes. We had camped close to the suspension bridge, so up early we walked over and took some great pics and looked to see what else was around. They were many walking tracks and one of Victorians biggest waterfall Wilhelima with a view from the road near the top camp ground. The walking tracks were wet and muddy so we decided to be lazy and drive instead of walking the river walk.

From the top car park you can walk down to view the Murrindindi Cascades, we only walked about a kilometer to reach the cascades the track was very steep and slippery from all the rain and mud. We managed to get some great pictures and explored the small area that was easier to get to, and watched in amazement on how easy the lyrebird crossed the river.

The Thong Tree in Echuca

During our time of traveling together we have often spoke of Echuca and the mighty Murray River with its historic paddle steamers, so we decided to go take a look. We took our time and drove west to the historic town of Echuca/ Moama split by the Murray River with Echuca on the Victorian side and Moama on the New South Wales side.The place was very busy as there was a Rotary club annual meet up in town with over 2000 caravans in town, we drove around looking for a decent van park for the night (poor Andy had driven us across the boarder 5 times in 10 minutes), giving up we settled for a dodgy park on the banks of the Murray River on the New South Wales side. The caravan park is called Moama River Side Tourist Park was right next to the main highway and railway line, but looking at the positive of this place, we enjoyed a hot shower, did our laundry, The park was tidy and had clean amenaties but they were getting a bit old, and the feeling of being packed in like sardines.

We decided the following morning to board the early departure on the P.S. Canberra along the Murray River. The trip was very entertaining with the captain explaining the history and development of the town and Murray River, lots of interesting information about the other paddle steamers along the river. We had the front of the streamer to ourselves (we could of sat inside by the warm engine, but NO Andy had to sit outside) as there were only 4 others on board. When arriving back at the Port were so glad we took the early trip as the Port had become quiet hectic with passengers waiting to board our vessel. The paddle steamers run throughout the day and have overnight and weekend journeys available too. Our trip was great, quiet and relaxing floating up river and enjoying the scenery and landscape along the Murray River.

Afterwards we walked around the historic town and had a late breakfast while deciding which way to head home. decision made lets go via the Snowy Mountains.
We headed East over to Corryong and the rain had caught up with us again, but taking it easy and enjoying the drive. Its amazing how the scenery changes as you drive along one minute we have long straight roads with flat dry land, then we have lush green paddocks, winding up steep gum tree filled mountains, maybe its one of the reasons we spend most of our travels on the road.

 Colac Colac Caravan Park
We drove past Colac Colac on the way into Corryong and the caravan park caught my eye and after looking at other van parks we headed back to Colac Colac Caravan Park. I was in paradise with a autumn leaves filling the trees and the ground blanketed in a sea of colourful autumn leaves, stunningly beautiful. This place was really good, the amenities were nice and clean, laundry, BBQ areas, camp kitchen, the grounds had lots of shaded areas and grassy areas with fire pits provided and a lovely mountain stream running through the bottom of the property. It just had a really nice feel about the place.
The next morning we took our time and looked around the area, adding this place to our list of "must return". From here we had the whole day to explore and take note of whats around as Snowy Mountains Area. (as it will be another trip we will explore in the warmer weather).

Driving through the Kosciuszko National Park we were both amazed at the stunning scenery, our first stop was a hydroelectric power station then on to Dead Horse Gap where the wind was gusting pretty wildly and the temperature was a low slightly numbing 8 degrees. Back in the van and we headed to Jindabyne, we spent a little bit of time here and I'm glad to say the temperature was a warmer 15 degrees. We both loved the Snowys area, and will be back to explore and enjoy its magical splender.

Back on the road again and on the way to Braidwood and a short 3 hour drive we arrived around 8;30pm. Andy got the fire going while I got the van ready and we settled in with a well earned beer or two.

Next morning we were cold!!! very cold!!!.  Andy checked his weather app at 7am and it was 2 degrees. Our feet were numb until Andy got a fire going again to warm our bones. We were amazed that we had traveled along the lower Victorian coast, Yarra Valley and the Snowy Mountains and Braidwood was the coldest yet.

We made a beautiful pot of beef stew and dumpling for lunch, then we packed up and headed for Sussex Inlet for the night to spend time with family, before heading home and back to reality.Which left us wondering where to next ?

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