The next day we started off at the infamous breakfast buffet that our hotel dude had raved about. It did, in fact, have the exact styles of milk and brands of cereal that he rattled off like a computer. The woman at the front desk during checkout gave us some tips for our drive ahead, including Teddy’s Lookout just outside of town, but warned us that “not all cars can make it up the hill”. She was excited to hear that Apollo Bay was our next stop, saying that it was a cute town with live music at either the “top pub” or the “bottom pub”. The town is so tiny that it has only drinking establishments—one at the top end of town and one at the bottom, neither of which she remembers by name. She recommended the “top pub”.
We reached the turn for Teddy’s Lookout and quickly realized how serious the drive-up warning was. It was one of the steepest hills I’d ever driven on in my life. Katie pushed the gas to the floor while I held my breath and the car precipitously crept up the pavement inch by inch. By the time we reached the summit, I had barely exhaled as the car groaned to a stop. The views were stunning—sweeping ocean waves juxtaposed with an S-shaped sandy shoreline and country roads. Skinny nature trails led you to various viewpoints alongside chirping birds and signs warning you to “watch for snakes”. It was peaceful for a few minutes but driving back down that steep hill in low-gear felt like falling into a deep pit in slow motion. I grew a few grey hairs.
Before hitting the road, we took one more detour about 15 minutes inland to walk to Erskine Falls. The parking lot was quiet and surrounded by tall, skinny trees. The walk to the falls was short and led us over stone steps that seemed to blend seamlessly into the mossy hills. Water trickled off trees which seemed to stretch into infinity, like a scene from Lost. We basked in the tranquility of the quiet falls for a few moments before setting off again.
The Great Ocean Road is known for having a sizeable koala population. We read that Grey River Road near the Koala Kafe in Kennett River was a good spot to see them in the wild. They are one of the only animals that can digest the fibrous leaves of gum trees, which makes the trees perfect for sleeping since no other animal will be competing for food. After driving along the shore for a while and stopping every so often to watch surfers brave the long, sweeping waves, we were at the café and heading up the road by food in search of koalas. We spotted a few curled up high in the gum nut trees but it wasn’t until we were about to leave that one of them woke up and started climbing down the trunk. He moved like a sleepy roly-poly and then disappeared into the bushes in a blink.
We reached Apollo Bay in the early evening and checked into our little waterside motel with a “garden view” (flower plots with the ocean in the distance). Apollo Bay is comprised of just one strip of businesses along the shoreline with hills behind it. We had dinner at the Brewhouse (no idea if this was technically the “top” or “bottom” pub), which was quiet on a weeknight but friendly and comfortable. I dug into a kangaroo hot pot, which had a stew-like consistency and tasted similar to a hearty beef or lamb dish in a savory sauce. I hesitated to indulge in this “local” cuisine after seeing so many kangaroos wandering roadside already, but it seemed to be a regional favorite.
After dinner we took a walk to the outskirts of town where we could see the line of twinkling business lights as it blended into the grassy park and twilight sky. For good measure, we got a drink at the second pub alongside only a few other patrons. Sleepy towns and early nights were never a disappointment anymore. The towns were becoming smaller and smaller, and I was feeling more at home with every kilometer.