We awoke numerous times through the night with the first rain of the trip falling generously from the sky, some quicker than others, with Koffo and Kenno, originally avowed to sleep under the stars, both shuffling into where I lay rugged up by myself, in very short order after the bucketing debut of the heavens. It was patchy sleep, but with the water coming in such droves, somehow comforting tucked away in the dark beige folds of the massive tent.
Despite good intentions of getting up for the early, with the promise of an all-time swell and offshore winds blowing strong, we managed to oversleep past 9am, and, due to the soaked nature of everything, including what had been under shelter, take another hour or so to pack up. We made it out and back into town for an all-time breakfast concocted from numerous of the great bakeries and coffee shops on offer in Lorne, before booking it back towards Torquay to check Cathedrals.
Rocking up to find most surfers exiting the water after hours surfing offshore, reeling rights, we found a slightly diminished swell, a creeping onshore and the dreaded high tide. This did mean, however, that the lineup was essentially empty, so we suited up and hit it for what turned out to be an epic session. Our companions in the water turned out to be mainly Peruvian, with the owner of Rip Curl in that country amongst them. It was sweet conversing with them and sharing waves, even finding common friends with some of the crew from Tablistas Para Cristo in Peru.
I ended up knocking out a fin, leading to the end of a long session, with the others eventually following. We exited town the way we came in - bakeries and coffee - with a particular splurge, ripe in my mind, involving sticky date pudding and ice cream at a time much too early for such delicacies. Finally at something like 2pm (once again, original goal 10am) we set out for our long drive, attempting to crack the majority of the Great Ocean Road.
We took it slow, allowing the beauty of the rainy day, coupled with the streaming swell running the coast and the natural magnificence of our location, to pour over us. We passed epic surf at Kennett River, and stopped quickly, allowing ourselves to be significantly tempted, but moved on and before long Kenno's hawk-like eyes spotted what we had hoped to find at some point that day - koalas. Pulling over thinking we'd found a handful, we ended up googling over a whole colony, and before long we'd attracted a whole human colony, with car after car stopping to join us in the pursuit of life in the trees. I'd always wanted to see the cuddly beasts in the wild and was so excited to finally have the opportunity. Poor Janie had woken up smashed by a mystery illness, and while excited to see koalas for the first time, had limited viewing time before falling back to sleep in the car.
Setting out again, this time with some hurry, we hoped to make it to the Twelve Apostles before sundown. With light winds, and smoke hanging in the air from some back burning, the light was stunning. As we got closer, realising time was short, Kenno and I in the lead of our little convoy booked it to gain every second we could of daylight.
We arrived just as the sun was disappearing and the orange glow was starting it's slow fade. Running down the stretch with three cameras hanging off my bodice, we were greeted with a drove of people returning to the car park shouting comments along the lines of, "Too late, mate!" The sight on our arrival at the lookout was still stunning though, and despite it's overly touristic status, we loved every second staring across the coast, snapping away a million photos as the others joined us and we decided it was achievable to spell 'YMCA' with our bodies (it's not).
Eventually the light had receded entirely, and stomach's were growling, so we made our way into Port Campbell and searched for food in what seemed to be sub-zero temperatures. Against all better judgment, we sat outside to eat a nice little dinner at the Fish and Chips shop in town, which was surprisingly cool and had a massive vegetarian menu.
With the day all but gone, we took off on our final drive of the day, deciding Portland was manageable for that night, and with a sick one amongst us, a bed indoors was required. It turned into quite the mission trying to find suitable accommodation in a small, coastal town in the middle of the night but we ended up showered, comfortable and warm in a Holiday Inn to which we shall never, ever return.
After the pack up, clean up and obligatory factory store visits, we finally left Torquay by 4pm (original goal: 10am), which was fine, because we'd had a sweet day. It only turned sweeter as we set out in our convoy, now made up of 3 cars - Kenno and I in one, Janie and Koffo in the next and Sera and Lisa in her camper - onto the beginning of the Great Ocean Road.
It felt good to be moving again after 4 days in Torquay - so good that we had our first stop after all of 40 minutes at the Lorne pier which looked stunning on a placid, clear evening. We all loaded out and took our time taking in the beauty of the evening; each shooting copious amounts of photos in the stunning light. Sera struck up conversation with the oldest fisherman on the jetty and discovered quite quickly that he was Italian. As she had spent the previous 18 months in Italy, she was amped to be able to speak Italian to him and had a grand old time talking about the motherland.
Our goal was to get to at least Wye or Kennet River, but as dusk had well and truly descended, we headed back into town for an epic round of fish and chips, debating wildly where we could or should stay that night. We found a free campsite listed just out of town, so decided to start there. It was pitch black by the time we started checking it out and the actual camping spots were 200m from the car park, so we had no idea what we were in for. Eventually the decision was made that we'd go for it, and we set about carrying in a ton of gear, erecting the tents and creating a decent fire to fight off the ever-growing cold.
Sleep came much faster than anticipated and despite good intentions of a good old round of campfire story and song, everyone was out within half an hour, save for the grumpy old kangaroo who made funny grinding noises just outside our circle of light...