We had been using the Tim Reynolds hospitality, in his villa in Caulfield, a suburb 12km south-east of Melbourne.
We weren't the only ones. The retired man in his fifties also welcomed Max Weise and Yinka Kehinde, a young German couple like us, discovering Australia.
At one point, Tim excelled in his kindness, with an open heart, without hesitation or embarrassment, as we would come to understand his new way of life: "Want to go for a walk on the Great Ocean Road?" he asks us during a dinner at a Thai restaurant that he had invited his girlfriend of Thai origin to. “I would like you to get to know that down there.
I'll lend you my car but see… bring it in one piece!” For a few seconds, we stared at each other in astonishment, not knowing how to respond in a dignified way.
Finally, we accepted the offer a little awkwardly and we listened to the information and explanations that Tim was keen to add to the challenge, both about his red Ford Fiesta and about the famous Great Ocean Road, one of the really unmissable road routes in the face of Earth.
Great Ocean Road. A Grand Road in the Bottoms of Australia
Officially referred to as the B100, the Great Ocean Road starts in Torquay. For a winding 243km, it stretches to the west and reveals the Shipwreck Coast, Bass Strait and the Sea of the Great Australian Bay, perched on the somewhat diffuse contact point between the Indian and Antarctic oceans.
As if the fact that Melbourne is considered year after year as one of the three cities in the world with the best quality of life was not enough, the road is only an hour and a half drive from the metropolis.
Accustomed to urban well-being but in a good way ozzy, always eager to be in contact with nature, the inhabitants of Melbourne and the surrounding state of Victoria leave their homes whenever they can towards these grandiose depths of the Australian continent. We soon followed in their footsteps, methodical Max at the wheel.
From Aireys Inlet to Kenneth River Koalas
At Aireys Inlet, we come across the first beaches worthy of a stop and a dip. In those parts, the sophisticated atmosphere of the village contrasts with the volcanic cliffs that hide tidal lagoons along the rugged coastline. And even with the scenarios of the bush Otway Mountain Range, part of a State Park called Angahook-Lorne and the greater Great Otway National Park.
From Lorne to the west, we wind between the sea and the mountain slopes covered with dense eucalyptus trees. In Kenneth River, these eucalyptus trees full of river red gums they turn out to be the homes of lethargic koala communities. We stop at a roadside already prepared to receive curious travelers.
We scrutinize the branches and foliage with eyes to see. It didn't take long to detect some less camouflaged specimens, given over to the sleepy pasture of the foliage, indifferent to the frequent human invasions of its arboreal territory.
After a few more kilometers, we enter Apollo Bay, another fishing village, idolized by the city's vacationers who surrendered to its gentle hills and open white sands.
It is also a perfect base for exploring Otway National Park, Blanket Bay and Cape Otway.
Cape Otway's Southern Threshold
Cape Otway marks the southernmost point of the route. Australia, to the south, only the tasmania island.
From Cape Otway to the west, the beaches rise at the bottom of huge, rugged cliffs, buffeted by waves and currents that we didn't quite know what to expect. Also, with the Australian winter approaching, the water remained icy and – we've known for a long time – probably patrolled by white sharks. The danger they pose forces authorities to frequently close several of the beaches on the Great Ocean Road to bathers.
Aware of the enormous risk we would run when entering that turbulent and suspicious ocean, we continued to postpone the craving bath. Majestic, as grand as its name suggested, and historic to match, the road deserved a better tribute than joining the growing list of victims of white sharks in the offshore seas.
In agreement, we continued to travel, whenever we could, also through the almost secular past of its asphalt.
Great Ocean Road. An Australian Memorial Road
The work that gave rise to the Great Ocean Road began in September 1919. The authorities aussies of Victoria planned it as a “useful” monument that could honor the Allies perished in World War I. At the same time, it should link several still isolated villages in the back of Australia and favor the purposes of the logging industry and tourism.
With these various purposes in view, a group of land prospecting technicians was appointed. Determined and qualified, the team managed to open up the rough territory at an average speed of 3km per month. Three thousand workers followed it, charged with, by hand and with the use of explosives, shovels and picks, wheelbarrows and smaller machinery, to implement the route on the ground.
Over the months, dozens of workers died mainly from landslides in the mountainous sections of the coast. In order to alleviate the discomfort caused by these and other tragedies and difficulties, the management of the work kept available a piano, a gramophone, games, newspapers and magazines, unprecedented luxuries in constructions of this kind.
The "Casino" Wreck. The Unexpected Luck of Great Ocean Road Workers
Still, the feast of festivities washed ashore when, in 1924, a steamboat of his grace “Casino” hit a reef, ran aground near Cape Patton, and dumped five hundred barrels of beer and one hundred and twenty cases of spirits into the sea.
As generous as it was unexpected, the offer forced those responsible to take a two-week break, which is said to have been the approximate time it took the workers to consume the load.
In relative terms, the interruption had little or no delay in the work. The work had been dragging on for a long time. It would only end in 1932. In that year, the Lorne-Apollo Bay section was completed. The long-awaited finish of the project justified a solemn inauguration – bearing in mind the usual Australian revulsion for excessive pomp – of the largest war memorial ever built.
One hundred years later (in 2019), the route of the Great Ocean Road continues to surprise and delight curve after curve, especially from Anglesea, when its semi-urbanized route is left behind.
In this stronghold, the Shipwreck Coast coastline proves more capricious and impressive than ever.
Great Ocean Road and the Nautical Cemetery of shipreck coast
Over time, the inclement end of the sea that left us standing behind claimed several boats. Some were victims of powerful currents, others of fog and sharp reefs. They all sank into history. Almost all of them present exciting challenges for historians and treasure-hunting divers.
In 1878, the “Loch Ard” capsized off Mutton Bird Island on the final night of a long voyage from England. Fifty-three of its 55 passengers lost their lives. THE "Falls of Halladale” – a ferry from Glasgow – got lost on the final leg of its route from New York to Melbourne. Also the British boat “Newfield” and New Zealander “La Bella”, among others, went to the back.
Still on the Shipwreck Coast, we enter the domain of Port Campbell National Park. The most admired stretch of the Great Ocean Road extends there.
Port Campbell National Park is dotted with cliffs, some seventy meters high, excavated many millennia ago by the force of the ocean. It is also adorned with curious rock sculptures left behind by the large island.
The Twelve Apostles No Longer Over Eight
These successive rocks and splinters that cause the early break of the waves serve as a landing place for suckers and other marine fauna in the region. The suckers, in particular, justify the presence of the white sharks, the feared kings of the oceans that kept us ashore.
The most notorious of these formations, the Twelve Apostles, is today the object of a true international photographic cult.
The nearly two million annual visitors that the four of us join, in turn, have led the authorities in Victoria to provide the surroundings with special infrastructure and visiting conditions: regular scenic flights and the wooden walkways that we traverse above and below of the cliffs, to mention just a few of them.
Until 1922, the formation was known by the name cattle-profano The Saw and the Piglets (The sow and the little pigs). That year, senior tourist concerns and patrons of the Victorian Tourism Entity dictated his rebaptism as Twelve Apostles. This, despite the fact that there are now only nine boulders jutting out of the sea.
As happened many millennia ago, the rocks continued to be at the mercy of the waves, with their bases losing about 2 cm per year.
In July 2005, another collapse of one of them, reduced the set to eight. And yet, in the time we've dedicated to the viewpoints that reveal them from the coast, we've only been able to identify seven.
One of the survivors remained and remains out of reach, unless you take advantage of the beach-sea culmination to descend to the base of the cliffs and explore the sand and rocks. We didn't have time for such a detour.
From Other Marine Sculptures of PN Port Campbell to Warrnambool's Imminence
We found the next ocean sculptures to the west of Port Campbell. The arched boulder The Arch, opposite Point Esse. And, nearby, London Bridge, another recent victim of erosion.
In the last 12km of the Great Ocean Road the cliffs are greatly reduced in height but the sea remains cold and uninviting, suitable only for surfers and bodyboarders intrepid.
On the edge of one of the softest beaches in these parts, we rested playfully with a young kiwi couple who were picnicking on their box. campervan, a Spartan van, graffiti with art and good mood.
Soon, we reach the vicinity of Warmbol.
There, the Great Ocean Road gave way to the Princess Highway. We, reversed path. We arrived in Caulfied much later than we had planned and saved Tim from his anxiety. It had only been a day.
One day aussie sped up as the Great Ocean Road demanded.