The next morning, we decided to brave another beautiful lookout in town that sat at the top of a *ahem* hill equally as steep as yesterday’s. We were better prepared this time and the groans of the car were less of a shock. Once again, it was worth the sweeping views from high above tiny Apollo Bay.
Waking up early is starting to feel natural (something I can never, ever say at home). Before hitting the road, we went to the Apollo Bay Bakery for one of their famous lamb meat pies. If you think it’s not appropriate to eat lamb pies for breakfast, you are living an incomplete life. I’ll dream of that flakey dough and tangy sauce for weeks.
On the road again and looking towards a sunny day. Just kidding. The rain patterns along the Great Ocean Road have been like something out of a Jurassic Park movie. The rain comes seemingly out of nowhere, whipping through the area with intense wind and zero visibility for exactly 5 minutes before revealing piercing blue skies. This can sometimes happen once every 30 minutes en route. It feels like being on a remote island with unpredictable gales that come and go in the blink of an eye and adds character to the journey.
We took a detour off the Great Ocean Road to the Cape Otway Lightstation which sits at the end of a skinny road winding through tall, wispy trees. The lighthouse was built in 1848 as a means of guiding ships along a stretch of the country that was infamously known as “shipwreck coast” due to dangerous tidal patterns and rocky shorelines. The lighthouse sits along a grass-covered cliff and is surrounded by a WWII bunker and historic houses once used by the lightkeeper’s family. The corner of a room within the main (supposedly haunted) house sat an old, intricately carved grand piano. Nobody knows where it came from but suspect that it was rescued off an old shipwreck because an engraving indicated that it was built in Canada. The floorboards groaned beneath our weight as we walked quietly through old rooms and listened to the whistle of wind through aging window frames.
The view from the top of the lighthouse was beautiful. The spells of rain had passed, and the sky was richly blue. Back down on the ground, we wandered past the old WWII bunker through brush-covered paths. As we made our way back towards the parking lot, we were stopped mid-stride by the wave of a concerned looking ranger. Just moments before, another tourist encountered a Tiger Snake moving across the footpath.
“You should be okay if you stick to the center of the path”
She told us that the snakes are normally too lazy to cross the cement pathways, but if we were to be bitten, we would require an immediate airlift to the hospital. “They’re deadly”. Time to start taking those “watch for snakes” signs more seriously. Venomous emergency averted.
The nice thing about keeping our daily drives short is that we can move at a leisurely pace and take frequent detours. We decided next to take the hike to Triple Falls which was a bit north of the Great Ocean Road. The inland country roads were a nice change of scenery and looked almost like rural Iceland in places. We managed to get ourselves hopelessly lost somewhere near Phillips Track and accidentally went down a 4WD forest road which seemed to be getting steeper and less maintained by the meter. Frustrated and tired, we pulled over into a patch of mud time to see another sedan driving in reverse down the same road due to the same wrong turn. Why do we get ourselves into these international driving pickles?
After backtracking for a bit, we finally found a tiny sign to guide us in the right direction. We parked and walked along the rainforest walk, a suspended pathway that cut right through the tall, dripping foliage and past old logging equipment which had been abandoned to the moss and brush. The view of the falls was somewhat obstructed by trees, but we could make out the three smaller streams of water which converged to form the “triplet”.
Back on the road, we ventured onward towards the Great Ocean Road Wildlife Park after a quick stop for coffee and a recommendation for dinner later from a local cafe owner.
The wildlife park was tucked into the woods and had only a few other patrons. We paid admission in a reception room that smelled like a log cabin fireplace and were directed to the various free-roaming areas where we could feed kangaroos, wallabies, and emus. The reserve is committed to self-sustainability and protection of wild animal species so animals wander at will. We meandered past hopping wallabies with babies in their pouches who were occasionally brave enough to eat grains from our bare hands, holding our wrists with their scratchy paws while they chewed. We walked the grounds to a secluded viewpoint which felt almost spiritual with light dancing over the hillside and the creek of a wooden swing hanging low beneath a tree. It was meditative and strangely familiar. The path wound into a loop past duck ponds and fields with wild kangaroos in the distance.
Just before ending our day’s trip in Port Campbell, we stopped at the famous 12 Apostles lookout point about 15 minutes outside of town. It was completely mobbed with tourists but a stunning sight to see. Rocky structures jutted out of the water along a postcard-like coastline. While the hype was worth it, I also knew that we’d seen a dozen similarly beautiful sights along earlier stretches of the road that the tour buses were just whizzing past. I’ll never regret the choice to see these places behind the wheel of a little car with 16 tourist pamphlets tossed in the back seat.
By the time we sat down in our motel room in Port Campbell, we realized how exhausted we were from jumping in and out of the car to take forest walks and see animals. Port Campbell was a whisper of a town where nothing was more than a 2-minute walk from anything else. The quiet shoreline on the edge of town looks like a little bay with bursts of fresh windy air. Everything feels so clean and I’ve noticed that my hair rarely feels dirty here like it does back home after just 24 hours. The temperature spiked just enough to encourage a few brave bathers to enter the water as the sun got low in the sky. We ate at 12 Rocks (per recommendation) overlooking the bay and dug into some rich, buttery salmon, perfectly crispy fish and chips, and mugs of beer. The sunset was so calming that I had to drag myself home in total reluctance that night.