The Long Road South v.9

Shifting from a cold and wet night of sleep tenting in the beautiful Australian bush the previous evening to a dry, overly hot and crowded hotel room, with wallpaper and carpet straight from the browntown 70's, was quite the contrast, and I certainly know which one I prefer. Rising early from heat exhaustion I headed out camera in hand and set off to explore the unironically coastal town of Portland.

Lo and behold, directly in front of me upon walking out the door was a port. I started heading for it, but noticed a massive rainbow in the other direction, and a beautiful old church up the road. I did my best (poor) to capture the astonishing beauty of that scene before walking down and around a little jetty playing home to some quaint old fishing boats, each looking like unique characters that could have easily come straight out of Scuffy the Tugboat.

A huge front was fast approaching so I headed back to find a good coffee shop. That turned into far more of a mission than I had expected, as so far good coffee was always at arms reach. Not so in Portland, and by the time I had searched every obvious location and become decently soaked, Sera and Koffo appeared on a mission to find a supermarket to buy a big shared breakfast. So a new mission began, with a Safeway found and attacked in short order. We grabbed the others and set off back to the jetty for a picnic breakfast in the cold rain that couldn't have been far from sleet.

Eventually we packed up and set off to look for surf, catching wind that it should be cranking. After an unsuccessful mission to find the main secret spot in town and a scoping of a beachbreak featuring small closeouts in a protected corner, growing out to the largest beachbreak waves of all time, we decided we had to just get on the road as we were due 6 hours away in Victor Harbour that night. So, of course, we went back into town in Portland, performed coffee search number two (just as unsuccessful as the first and yielded thee worst coffee ever), perused every op shop in town and only then did we actually finally hit the road.

The rain made way for beautiful, sunny open road and it felt good to be driving. We made it as far as Kingston with barely a stop, but upon refuelling discovered Sera's father's car had some internal issue or other (car engines are so far removed from my intellect that I could barely name one piece in them). It was the last day before the Easter weekend and 4pm, leaving a mechanic essentially out of the question. After checking out the main tourist attraction in town, the Giant Prawn (respectable), and Lisa and I made our way through a tractor museum (something I really did not think existed), we called and begged and found someone around the corner and all worked long and hard to discover and rectify the problem, while I focused my attention on the latest Dumbo Feather (good magazine that!) and caught up on my Words With Friends games. 

By the time the riddle was solved dark had descended and it was well past dinner time. Turns out Kingston has a good bit more class than Portland and we found an amazing restaurant housed inside an historical shearing shed. It had been entirely refitted and unbelievably well-maintaned by the same couple who served us, and featured the work of many local artists throughout. As we sat down a huge thunderstorm roared through town and we wined and dined in our warm, comfortable shed, declaring it our celebratory end of road trip meal. After which we hopped in our cars and drove another 5 hours, well into the night, rocking up at Victor Harbor with eyelids propped open by pegs and crashed into our new homes for the weekend with a dull thud.

The Long Road South v.8

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.

The Long Road South v.7

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...

The Long Road South v.6

Tuesday morning was a repeat of the previous day with an early out to Beacon, but with a decreased swell and a slightly contrary wind, we opted for the warmth of a nice cafe in Barwon Heads we'd seen the previous day called Annie's instead of a frosty, inconsistent surf. Annie's is everything you want in a cafe, stunning food, amazing coffee, fascinating layout with good design, quirky handmade tables and all sort of fresh produce lining the walls. We fell in love with the place and stayed a long, long time, before heading back into the cold of the morning.

While driving back past Beacon, current world number 3 ranked surfer, Jordy Smith, happened to run straight in front of us. So of course we pulled in, suited up, and jumped in the water for the chance to see some epic surfing firsthand. Not only was Jordy out, but also Cory Lopez and a couple other O'neill team members. Before long we were joined once again by Tom Curren's son, Pat, and his friends, with Tom sitting on the beach to watch. We ended up having a super fun surf while also having front seats to a sweet show of surfing.

Upon coming in we noticed another peak being dominated by pros and discovered CJ Hobgood and our friend, Abe Andrews, the ASP World Tour Chaplain, destroying a sick little beachie. We took our time in the car park; starving and cold, but surrounded by our heroes, before taking off for the big pack-up and preparation for the beginning of the Great Ocean Road.