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Window on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Whacky or wonderful? However you describe them, these bright and sassy painted bollards have become the icons for Geelong

Geelong, Victoria's second-largest city, is now many decades away from its industrial past of woollen mills and Ford car manufacturing. Once an important industrial city south-west of Melbourne, with a change of economic direction it is now a place of the arts, cafes, fine food, wineries.....and tourists. 

For any trip along Victoria's Great Ocean Road, it is also the ideal starting point.

But first you need to meet the bollards!

These whimsical additions to the city are the work of local artist Jan Mitchell, who began creating them in the mid-1990s, painting over 100 timber bollards which had once been a vital part of the port. They are worth looking at carefully as they reflect local history and identities. You won’t miss seeing them as they are located all around the waterfront and also in the Botanic Gardens.

Geelong is still Victoria's largest regional port, and the pier has had an important place in Geelong's history. Built in the 1850s it was a vital part of the port with rail being used to load and unload cargo.

On the bay end, there are now two dining places City Quarter Bar and Baveras Brasserie sharing wide views of Corio Bay

Within sight of the pier is something that families love. The Carousel Pavilion, right on the bay, houses a c.1892 Armitage-Herschell steam-driven carousel with its c.1888 steam engine. 

The carousel is housed in a modern glass and steel pavilion, open daily, with times varying according to the season.

Inside the pavilion, beside the carousel, stands a part-original, part replica 1898 Gavioli Band organ.

Other places of interest in the city are:

Geelong Museum of Motoring, National Wool Museum, Geelong Botanical Gardens and 22 kilometres north, You Yangs Regional Park.

More information on Geelong......

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The road-trip begins.

 

Technically, the Great Ocean Road is the scenic drive which hugs the coast between Torquay and Warrnambool. As it twists and turns it reveals hide-and-seek views of the ocean, but tantalising as this is, brief forays into the hinterland, as well as pressing on beyond Warrnambool, is well worth doing too. Port Fairy – the name alone makes it worth a visit (more of this later) – and Port Campbell, both further along the coast, have much to offer, as you’ll discover.

On leaving Torquay, it is easy to wonder what all the fuss is about. For many kilometres there are few scenic views and the roadsides are scrubby. However at Anglesea, you are rewarded for your patience with sweeping views over the town and the lagoon-like spreading of the Anglesea River. From here you follow a high road, tempted often to stop and gasp at the steep bluffs.

Airey’s inlet has the Split Point lighthouse and more views. By now you are in the heart of the  road trip which is punctuated by small coastal towns, each bordered by golden sands and creamy surf. And cliffs. 

The Great Ocean Road has a fascinating history. Rather than a simple plan by the state government, this was an initiative launched by three thousand soldiers returned from the Great War. Between 1919 and 1932 these men built the road as a memorial to their fellow service men who did not return.

This huge task was achieved by men who had learned  many of the skills needed as ‘digger’ in Europe. With picks and shovels, wheelbarrows and some explosives and small machinery, they carved the 243-kilometre route from rocky cliff faces and mountains.

It seems an impossible task, but these men chose to do it as an honour for their lost mates. It is certainly the world’s biggest war memorial. It is so unique that it is the only road to be listed on the Australian National Heritage list.

The Memorial Arch, five kilometers west of Airey’s Inlet may be a great place for selfies........ 

.........but it can be a reminder to stop and listen to the message from those men so long ago. If your interest has been sparked, you can visit the Great Ocean Road Story permanent exhibition, open daily, at the  Lorne Visitor Centre, just a little further along the road.

Approaching Lorne, there is a picturesque swing bridge over the Erskine River with a café tempting you to stop, and brightly coloured canoes, begging you to stay longer. It’s a lovely coastal town with plenty of shops and eateries overlooking Loutit Bay, and a good stopover if you are enjoying the trip at a slower pace.

Lovely Lorne is where you’ll haul out the camera and begin snapping the coastal views in earnest. You’ll also want to check out the local dining as it is very good. This aptly titled Grand Pacific Hotel was built in 1875 with its major drawcard the stunning views out to sea and over the surf beaches.

 

The road hugs the cliffs all the way to Apollo Bay. Almost anywhere is worth pausing, for photographs, a sandwich or a glimpse of one of the tiny towns.

At Apollo Bay it was lunchtime for us, and right on the street facing the water was the Apollo Bay Bakery...

....boldly offering locally caught seafood – in a pie!

It was late, so there were only a few pies left, but we certainly enjoyed ours.

Of course the main event was yet to come, just ahead. Although there is a clifftop walking trail, the road cuts across inland at this point until not far before Princetown, the site of the Twelve Apostles Centre. 

Now called the Twelve Apostle Marine Park, the area has been maximized for visitors. An underpass takes visitors from the Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre under the road.  Being limestone pillars surrounded by open ocean, they are subject to the waves and elements and are slowly crumbling. Sadly the famed London Bridge tumbled in 1990.

There are boardwalks, railings and everything you need to safely and easily see the Twelve (ahem! now only about seven) Apostles. There were selfie-sticks everywhere, and almost every language too.

The Twelve Apostles – those iconic, much-photographed ‘standing stones’ in the ocean just off the coast  near Port Campbell may be crumbling as we speak, but the area’s food and wine scene is alive and well. And growing. 

At Cooriemungle, about fifteen minutes' drive from the Viewing Centre, you’ll find Apostle Whey Cheese prepared on the owner’s family farm using milk produced by their ‘contented herd of Jerseys and Friesians’. At 4pm visitors can watch the cows being milked, and the farm shop is a good place to stock up on gourmet cheeses, gifts, and good quality coffee.

From fine single malts to new artisan cheese-makers, luscious strawberries, blueberries, herbs and indulgent chocolate it seems the imaginations of the locals are as fertile as the ground they cultivate. Best of all there are ample places delivering good coffee, making that alone a good reason to break your journey. Follow the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail to taste some of the local produce.

This lush and fertile agricultural crescent that extends as far as you like, even to the South Australian border if you have the time to go, is turning food-loving heads and tempting more and more visitors to make the trip. 

Which brings us neatly to what is scenic and delightful stopping point with a name to match, the tiny settlement of Port Fairy.

This caught our eye in the main street of town and following the directions down a narrow lane we found....

...The Farmers Wife  serving up generous portions of wholesome farm-style food. As you would expect.

More than 50 buildings are heritage-listed in the town and Merrijig Inn is one of themwhich, despite its staid appearance, serves up some cutting-edge dishes on its daily menu which features seasonal local produce. Stay awhile if you like in either a downstairs suite, or upstairs attic room. 

Nearby at Killarney is a reminder of the early residents in the area. Keep your eyes open and you will find recurring shamrocks and leprechauns as extra reminders of the Irish influence.

If you love the TV show of Bargain Hunt, you can spend a couple of happy hours here.

But nowhere are the Irish more remembered than in the ‘Irish Town’ of Koroit, near Killarney. There is an annual Irish festival and shops in the tiny town sell souvenirs and fly the flag – the Irish one, that is.

 A non-Irish find is the excellent Seabreeze Café run by Tim and Andrew...

...who serve very generous sandwiches (like this pork and applesauce combo) in a bread roll made on the premises.

There's good coffee too, and city-style biscuits to go with it.

Am antique teapot...

...the Irish flag...

...Guinness, to be sure....

.....and an Irish annual festival.

A statue in the main street honours ‘The Spudpicker’ because of the importance of potatoes in the early settlement 160 years ago. The fertile soil and damp climate was ideal for growing potatoes.

Nearby, but completely different, is the Tower Hill loop off the main road through wetlands in the crater of an extinct volcano….

.

... where you may see some wildlife…. 

….and get your bearings....

....before turning for home.

 

Back to Warrnambool, the key town for this area which is known appropriately as the ‘shipwreck coast’. The steep cliffs and rough waves claimed many ships. 

Even here there’s a nod to the Irish.

Its name means ‘land between two waters’ and with a population of  around 29,000 and a front row seat on the treacherous Southern Ocean you certainly won’t go short of food and dining places here.

Like many other country areas, young men and women from the district fought for their country in two major World Wars..

.....and they are remembered touchingly here overlooking the river.

This imposing 'cathedral' is actually  the Presbyterian church.

Pickering Point at the mouth of the Merri River is a popular place  to visit.

An old bridge and walking trails connect to the Mahogany Walk.

On a street corner in Warrnambool we find the outstanding Ngatanwarr Mural, community project undertaken with street artist Adnate, 2015. It seems a fitting finale to the road. For hundreds of centuries Adnate's people journeyed along the coast, and probably, like people today, they would have paused to look and wonder and appreciate the beauty and diversity of this wildly beautiful coastline.

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Time to go home

A return trip from Warrnambool down the Princes Highway is a good choice as it allows you to literally enjoy the best of both worlds. If you have opted to return to Melbourne from Warrnambool, take the highway rather than retrace your steps, but plan to punctuate the trip with stops at a number of fascinating places.

Allansford, not far from Warrnambool (and officially the western end of the Great Ocean Road) has been home to Cheese World for many years. Here you can learn much about cheeses in general, and local cheese in particular, have lunch and stock up on all sorts of goodies.

Learn more about the Great Ocean Road....

Find out more from Visit Victoria.....

 

(Sally & Gordon Hammond travelled independently to Victoria)

Text and pics: ©Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond

 

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