Camper van’ning- a whole heap of fun!
First things first, let me introduce you to our Camper. Decorated in butterflies and flowers, she’s on the Hippie side of the spectrum but deep down it’s a Mitsubishi Express 7300- white van man van- kitted out with a fridge and wash basin in the boot and a bed in the back seats. Basic, budget option but it had absolutely everything we needed and we were super excited when we finally got our keys (the staff at Melbourne Hippie Campers are not the quickest!) and drove off to start our Aussie road trip.
GOR Day 1- Melbourne to Airleys Inlet
After filling our fridge with food supplies (and of course cider!) from a nearby Woolies supermarket, we were off on the M1 motorway heading towards Torquay and the start of the Great Ocean Road. The people who had hired our van previously had left us a fantastic book, ‘Budget Camps and Stops Australia’ by Paul Smedley, in the glove box and we used it to find Torquay Park Area where we pulled up to cook our dinner that night. Cooked by Hedd on our gas stove we had Kangaroo steak salad and we ate it on a picnic bench in the open air and sunshine overlooking Torquay Beach and the kite surfers occupying the Bay. Not a bad first dinner! Now hiring a camper van is not the cheapest so we had the intention of freedom camping as much as we could to balance out our budget. However ‘Surf Coast Shire’ (the most ridiculous name for a Council) had other ideas for us with signs up everywhere saying ‘no camping or sleeping in vehicles’. So after checking out Bells Beach and Point Addis lookouts we reverted to Plan B and got our holiday parks in Victoria book out to find a cheap campsite. Airley’s Inlet Holiday Park was the new target and we set off in earnest as it was getting dark. On the way we saw our first Kangaroo. It was just by the side of the road and it was massive! No cute little Skippy; this one could have done you serious damage. Needless to say we didn’t get to close to it! We arrived at the campsite at 8.30pm to a very closed reception. However the owner Arys who was watching our disappointment on CCTV took pity on us and came down to reception and book us into a powered site for the night ($22.50). Relieved at our good fortune, we cracked open a cider and sat inside our camper toasting the first night in our new home.
GOR Day 2- Airleys Inlet to Apollo Bay
Making the most of the camp kitchen we had fried egg on toast for breakfast, made the compulsory cheese and relish sarnies for later and checked out before 10am. We drove to the Lands End Lookout a couple of minutes away and then walked along the coast to Split Point Lighthouse. Fondly known as the White Lady, the lighthouse was built in 1891 and is 34 meters tall. But most importantly it is the lighthouse in the TV show ‘Round the Twist’ and we sang the theme tune an embarrassing amount as we walked towards it! The lighthouse was pretty cool and as we wandered around it we really wished we had a laptop so we could watch an episode of ‘Round the Twist’ for old times sake. But alas no laptop and we walked back to the camper via Step Beach where our attempt at a jog for ‘exercise’ turned into a mess around dodging waves…running on sand is hard! We double backed on ourselves driving back to Anglesea to visit the golf course there which is also home to a big family of Kangaroo’s. However we saw none and we were soon heading back towards Airleys Inlet and onwards to pioneer more of the GOR. Heading towards a town called Lorne we passed under the Great Ocean Road Arch which is the largest enduring WWI memorial in the world. You see 3,000 Australian returned soldiers and sailors had built the road and the wooden arch crossing the road commemorates the construction of the road and the sacrifice made by so many in the First World War. It was a nice thing to stop at. We arrived in Lorne at lunch time and we grabbed a couple of cold drinks and took our camp chairs and sandwiches down to the beach to have lunch. We chilled there for an hour or 2 reading and watching the waves before continuing the journey turning 10km inland from the GOR to check out Erskine Falls. It was a pretty 30 meter drop waterfall but the steps going back up to the car park were a killer. The walk was shaded which was a bonus but it was still baking! On our way back to Lorne we stopped off to check out Teddy’s Lookout and the fab view it offers of the GOR as it winds and tracks itself mountain one side and the sea on the other. It’s why the GOR is one of the best drives you can do in the world! We then headed to Kennett River, parked up and then walked up Grey River Road which is a well-known hot spot for Koala spotting. The walk is through Manna Gum Forest- the Koala’s preferred diet- and as we searched the high trees for signs of movement our attention was diverted by amazing bird life. Kookaburra’s (which actually look really evil in real life) and these amazing little parrot like birds called Crimson Rosella’s. We saw a few Koala’s early on in the high trees but they were all curled up sleeping so we couldn’t get a good picture. But Hedd was on a mission and we walked over 30 minutes up hill before we decided to call it quits. But as we were walking down hill our eye level was more inline with the Koala hang outs and we saw loads more and these ones were much more active. Very cool! It was then back in our camper towards our stay for that night in a free (and legal!) campground past Apollo Bay down Horden Vale Road. But on the way on a branch overhanging the road we saw the most awesome Koala. We pulled up and spent some time with him. He was really big and so close up and was being really active. In fact as we turned to leave the little creature got even more active like he didn’t want us to go! I think he must just like the attention! After taking what seemed like hundreds of photo’s of the Koala we decided we probably captured him pretty well and headed off to our campground. So our freebie campground- a field next to a lake with long drop toilets. Nothing fancy but with plenty of trees for us to park our camper in a shady spot which was good. Only thing was that it was down a long unsealed road that seemed to go on forever but perserver…there is a campsite down there eventually! Tea that night was meat balls and salad which we ate on a slightly dubious camp table with a broken lid and leg! But we managed all the same, washed up with cold water from our sink and headed to bed hoping to wake up with kangaroo’s all around the camper the next morning.
GOR Day 3- Apollo Bay to Princetown
So no kangaroo’s this morning, but instead we woke up to rain! That was a bit of a shock and hadn’t stopped by the time we made it to Cape Otway. We had come with the intention of visiting the lighthouse but at $17.50 entry each just to get close to it we cut that plan short, had breakfast under our boot escaping from the rain and then resorted to plan b and drove to Blanket Bay instead to check out the beach and walk a section of the Great Ocean Walk. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time we arrived and we enjoyed a stroll on the beach covered by a blanket of smooth flat rock (hence its name) and then a short hike through the bush along the Great Ocean Walk track to Point Lewis Lookout. We got yet again a great view over the rocky coastline and the blue haze of the sea below it. Then it was back on the GOR turning off at Moonlight Head Road (unsealed again- sorry camper van!) to The Gables car park. From here we took the 20 minute walk to the Gables Lookout through coastal health and woodland, arriving at the lookout which offered us spectacular views of some of Australia’s highest sea cliffs. If they had been a bit whiter and the weather not so hot I could have been looking at the great cliffs of Dover! We then hopped back into the van and drove to Wreck Beach car park where we walked down the 366 steps to the beach. It was super hot now and it felt like we were on a desert island searching for treasure as we went looking for the anchors of the 2 ships- the Marie Gabrielle and the Fiji- who became shipwrecked here many moons ago. After our successful hunt we sat on the beach eating an apple and looking out to sea and the tricksy under the surface rocks that had caused disaster for those 2 ships long ago. Then it was the hot haul back up the beach and those 366 steps to our van. We were now reaching the GOR main attraction- the limestone rock formations of Gipson Steps and the 12 Apostles- just outside Princetown. And boy did we realise, as we fought our way
through bus loads of people to get down the steps to Gipson beach to check out what all the fuss was about. Just a big rock really a little way out to sea, but the late afternoon sun hitting it brought out its brilliant colours- orange, yellows and creams. Then, just a little way up coast, we arrived at the 12 Apostles. Again a collection of limestone rocks just out to sea. There were never ever 12 of them and there are even less now that many have fallen victim to wind and wave erosion. Much like Gipson Steps the place was packed with day trippers but the Apostles are still a cool sight to see, if perhaps a little ‘bigged up’ by the GOR tourism board. We found a lovely campsite back at Princetown to stay the night- Apostles Holiday Park- pitched up, showered and made tea before heading back to the 12 Apostles for sun set- the best time to view the Apostles. There were still plenty of people there but not the crowds from earlier and secured a spot overlooking the beach to watch the sun go down. Unfortunately it was cloudy so we didn’t see the traditional big orange ball pour itself into the sea on the horizon which was a shame, but instead as it did the sun tinged all the clouds in the sky red. So all around us the sky was touched with crimson, it was really rather beautiful. Then as it got darker 4 little penguins arrived back from their day at sea and wibble wobbled their way up the beach to their nest. You normally see a lot more but it was malting season so penguins stay up to 2 weeks out at sea without coming back. So after watching these 4 guys for a while and being sure that this was our lot for the night we headed back to our campsite to sleep.
GOR Day 4- Princetown to Narrawong
Woke up today with my right ankle twice its normal size, 4 large bites circling my ankle bone- ouch! After some breakfast, some anti histamine pills and a struggle to get my sandles on, we were off and headed for Loch Ard Gorge. Loch Ard Gorge is a series of limestone caves, bays and arches and also the site that the Loch Ard ship sank in 1878 hence its name. It was already getting warm as we walked to the various look out points and down the steps to the beach. With its easy access and limestone archways I found Loch Ard Gorge almost more impressive than the 12 Apostles. But maybe that was just me! Don’t shoot me GOR Tourist Board! We then drove to Muttonbird Island lookout and wandered through Loch Ard Cemetery which have memorials of those who lost their lives in the wreck. Thunder Cave was next where the sea crashes into and up the cave creating a lot of white water and thunderous noise. That was pretty cool. It was now super hot and you could really feel the lack of o-zone; we were relieved to get back in the van and have the breeze in our faces as we drove along our last stretch of GOR towards Warrnambool, stopping off at our last limestone formation called London Bridge. Now just a rock stump out to sea, the main arch connecting London Bridge to the mainland fell into the sea in 1990 marooning 2 tourists on the newly formed island! They were rescued soon after by helicopter but that would have been one hell of a holiday story to tell the folks at home! Just before hitting Warrnambool we stopped off to visit ‘Cheeseworld’ in Allansford where Hedd fed his mild addiction to cheese with a cheese taste and some lunch. And then we were in Warrnambool- a rather hefty town that marks the end of the GOR. Saying goodbye to the GOR we made our final drive of the day to a free (and legal!) campground, called Saw Pit, in Narrawong.
On our way to the Grampians…
1/2 a tablet of Hedd’s 9 x strength anti histamines later and an ankle still the size of an elephants, we made our way further West to Cape Bridgewater in a hope to spot a blue whale. Today was a scorcher and as we parked up at Blowhole car park there was not a cloud in the sky. But alas no whales either, but we did walk to a petrified forest which was quite cool. Then it was time to leave the coast and head north on the A200 towards the Grampians- Victoria’s rather attractive mountain range. And my goodness did we notice the change in temperature- the heat got increasingly unbearable as we got further and further inland and the winds hurtling across the plains into the camper were boiling too; we could get no relief. Eventually we sacrificed the fuel and put the air con on. Phew, did we need it! We had lunch at a rest stop called The Griffin as an ode to the local pub in Ruthin where we had leaving drinks, and then made our way up Mt William- the highest peak in the Grampians. You can walk the 2k to the summit but we didn’t get that far it was just too hot! We arrived into Halls Gap, the Grampians main town, early afternoon and paid the information centre a visit to find out what we could do in the area in this heat. They confirmed that it was indeed in the upper 30 degrees and was gonna get into the 40’s over the next few days! Crazy hot! If we wanted to do any walks it would have to be in the early morning with plenty of water. Armed with that info we tried to be as active in the heat as possible, visiting the Brambuk Cultural Centre to learn more about the Aborigine heritage before succumbing to the inevitable and collapsing in the shade with a cold can of pop at our campsite- Takura Holiday Park. And there we stayed, having ice lollies, reading, playing cards seeing in the evening. I did have an exciting encounter with a Crimson Rosella though, courtesy of the gentleman from the caravan across from us depositing a load of bird seed in my hand and saying “meet the locals”! All was well until I got swooped by another Crimson Rosella with a gammy eye and then I freaked out and scattered the seed everywhere. I then felt like Mary Poppins until the all the birds, now a party of 4, ate all the seed and flew away! BBQ steak and salad for tea and then the terrible task of trying to get to sleep in a roasting camper van. Open the windows for a chance of a little breeze but the likelihood of being bitten alive by bugs? Or slowly sweat to death in the metal box that was our camper?….decisions, decisions. We opted for the breeze!
A day in the Grampians…
So it didn’t get cool enough to sleep until 1am even with the windows open, but I didn’t get bitten to badly so all in all an alright night! Ankle was still swollen by now just the size of a cow not an elephant so Hedd’s super pills seem to have been doing the trick. We had a jammed packed itinerary this morning so we started early to outrun the sun travelling up Mt Victory Road to Reed Lookout. So the short walk to Reed Lookout saw us looking out over Victoria Valley, Victoria Range, Serra Range, Lake Wartook and the Mt Difficult Range. In plain english…an expanse of green forest with a few lumps and bumps in it as the topography changes. It’s just massive which did go some way to remind us just how big Australia is as a whole. Its one biggg country! We then walked the 30 minute to The Balconies and as soon as I got there the memories came flooding back of when I was here last- 2004 with my 6 girlfriends from school the summer before uni. It was so bizarre replaying it in my head as I wandered around the place 8 years later but now with my boyfriend. So the Balconies are 2 bits of rock which protrude out like 2 balconies from the mountain side and overlook and overhang the expansive green blanket of forest canopy which is the Grampian National Park. We were very naughty and climbed down the lookout so we could actually stand on the balconies and look over the edge. Highly illegal but well worth it! Next stop was MacKenzie Falls and yet another deja vu moment for me as we made it to the Mackenzie Falls Lookout after the 30 minute walk. I’m not sure if Hedd and I were just waterfall’ed out but we didn’t find this one that special so we admired it for a while and then got back to the car to move onto our third and final port of call- the Boroka Lookout. It was an easy 5 minute walk to the 2 viewing platforms that look down on Halls Gap Valley and out onto the Eastern Plains, which was good as it was now baking hot. We took our last pics of the Grampians and stood admiring the view before hopping back into the camper to start our long drive to Melbourne signifying the end of our GOR and Grampian adventure. 3 1/2 hours and the loss of 50% of our body fluid later, we arrived in Dandenong just East of Melbourne at the Big4 Holiday Park. After several cold drink later and some time in the shade we felt vaguely human again. Beans on toast for tea and the hot weather gave us the opportunity to wash and dry our clothes in double-quick time. Another blindingly hot night, we resorted to playing cards in the side entrance of our camper in an attempt to grab some breeze which never came. In the end we just watched the nights goings on from our entrance, patiently waiting for the angry heat to dissipate. We saw an alarming number of posoms which made us agree that however hot it was we couldn’t leave the door open over night. Although we closed up at midnight, it wasn’t until 1am again that it got cool enough to sleep. But as the saying goes, the grass isn’t always greener. For whilst we were praying for cooler weather little did we know New South Wales was about to get the worst rainfall it had seen in years, and we were heading straight for it…
The Great Ocean Road and The Grampians in a snapshot:
- Weather=Boiling, 30 degrees plus, though cool in the evenings on the coast
- Food=Meat and salad
- Drink= Castaway Pear Cider
- Best Direction to drive the GOR= Melbourne to Portland like we did, you are on the sea-side of the road the whole way
- Top Tip to avoid the crowds on the GOR= Go to all the amazing hideaway places, 10 -15 mins off the GOR and go see the Gipson Steps and 12 Apostles early morning or late evening
Hedd’s words of wisdom:
What a great week this was. Firstly our camper van was very cool, a bit scary to drive on the busy motorways getting out of Melbourne, but once we got onto the Great Ocean Road, it was a dream. The GOR is a great scenic drive, although the 12 apostles at the end are a bit overrated in my opinion. Most people rush there to see these rocks, but the real beauty is the drive itself. We got to see some beautiful beaches, stunning cliffs, nice towns and plenty of wildlife. The highlights were definitely the giant Kangaroo we saw on the first night while searching for somewhere to camp, and the chilled out Koala hanging out on his tree by the road side (after we had spent an hour walking to find them and he was just chilling by the road!). And to think I had been worried about Australia being full of snakes, spiders and crocodiles…