It seems Australia takes Good Friday a lot more seriously than us in the UK, as such everywhere including car/camper rental places were all closed when we arrived in Melbourne from Ayers Rock. Luckily we knew about this in advance so had booked up an airport motel to spend the night relaxing before picking up the camper and heading for the open roads early on Saturday morning.
We collected our camper, and found a slight upgrade from our pre-booked older Hippie camper, to an almost ready to be downgraded to the value Hippie but not quite Apollo one (all the same company, along with Cheapa Camper and Star RV). This is a modified Toyota Hiace, so it has a high top for standing, or in my case jumping up and down without hitting ones head. I was very excited the morning of camper collection, to the point I think Rob seriously considered leaving me in the hotel. We named our camper Jenny. She had a fridge, a sink with a water pump, a gas stove, a microwave and with us on board a trusty garden gnome.
Camper evening set up
Rob making tea
Jenny night set up
Jenny ready for morning departure
My attempt at a selfie with Jenny
Our first stop on the Great Southern Touring route was Ballarat. This for those eagle eyed of you, is a change to the original mapped plan. We had to reverse the route as we didn't book our holiday park sites until we hit Cairns and had forgot perhaps seaside resorts not far from Melbourne might be popular on a long bank holiday. Anyway this led us to Ballarat, an old gold mining town which has something to do with the birthplace of democracy in Australia. I can't be sure what it has to do with the birth of democracy as I meant to Google it but campers don't have wifi and I forgot I wanted to look it up until just now. I am slightly ashamed to say that despite there being a wealth of history to discover in Ballarat we just went to the supermarket and stocked up for the week, and then went to a mini golf that had a very well done gold rush themed course, and a time travel course.
We spent the night at the Shady Acres holiday park, a peaceful little place about 3km out of town. First the positives, it was super clean, the owners/front staff were super friendly and helpful and the site was spacious and quiet. Negatives, and they did puzzle us, were that something's were rather run down. There was what would once have been a really tricky fun little mini golf course that was clearly uncared for many a year and was unplayable. Although it had a runaway beauty like the abandoned Sheraton on Rarotonga. A games room that had a beautiful mural summarising the local history running around 3 walls, with the 4th started and not finished, this had now been vandalised by previous awful guests. This would have taken someone hours in the preparation and painting. There is a pool, that wasn't open when we were there due to Australia suffering the UK's bank holiday weather (Thursday in Melbourne sunny at 28, Friday to Tuesday cloudy with rain at 19) but it looked perfectly acceptable. The site looked as though someone had truly loved it at some point a few years ago, but something had happened and although the amenities were spotless things had obviously been left somewhat. This something turned out to be being bought out by the highways and the site earmarked for a slip road at some point in the near future (which has now been a cloud over the site for several years) and needing permission from the highways to do any work to the site. It was the cheapest site we stayed on, and with all the facilities you could need and the friendly front desk I can only recommend it.
Next stop was Halls Gap, a little township at the heart of the Grampian mountains. On route we took a hair raising ride up the mountains to Mackenzie Falls. It is a long steep climb down to the falls, but very much worth it. Halls Gap is a cute little town but seems to have very little that isn't just there for the holiday parks and hikers passing through. We stayed the night in the Halls Gap Caravan Park. Big, clean, centred perfectly in town and friendly but with the world's most frustrating wifi! We got talking to our neighbours who along with 100 members of their family head to the site for the Easter bank holiday weekend every year and we could see why. This site being at the base of the mountains means it also has wild kangaroos come to visit you, which is pretty cool.
Mackenzie falls - so disappointed I had a finger over the Rob and the waterfall photo
The view from Halls Gap Caravan Park
I found this in the supermarket for all you non believers in the greatness of chips and gravy
Not quite the right spelling but this ice creamery has the right idea with the name. They do also put ice cream on their cones but Rob had eaten that by photo time
Sunday took us to a historic old port, Port Fairy. Sadly it was gloomy and raining, and as it was Easter Sunday pretty much all indoor activities were shut. We had a leisurely lunch at a lush little cafe in the main parade and drove around admiring the old port buildings. We took a detour on the way back to the camp for the night to admire the beautiful beach that I imagine is crammed in lovely weather, with a light house overlooking it. The camp, Gum Tree Caravan Park, was new and tiny. Again spotless facilities and very friendly. As it rained the whole afternoon and evening, confining us to the campervan they lent us a board game, and along with the good wifi which we just to rent a film (Mission Impossible, whatever the new one is called) and download a Risk app we enjoyed a rare lazy afternoon on the trip.
The view from the road between Halls Gap and Port Fairy
Port Fairy beach with the lighthouse in the background of the 2nd picture
Port Fairy was the start of the Great Ocean Road for us, so we got an early start so we could take in some well known and some less known geological wonders on route to the evenings camp at Apollo Bay. Along the Great Ocean Road there are many brown tourist signs indicating stops for scenery or place of interest. Our rule for stopping was if we liked the look of the name. But before any of these grand geological features we had to make a stop at Cheese World. This interesting little place had a small museum that taught me how to make cheese, and some cheese tasting (that led to some cheese buying), and makes an absolutely cracking milkshake. Our stop at the cheese factory also led to the creation of the amazing Ring Canape, which after seeing the picture and the description many of you may want, but you can't because I've eaten all the ingredients.
The Ring Canape consists of a flattened popcorn chip (sounds out but was pretty amazing), with 44 month aged vintage cheddar (very limited reserve) smothered with a rhubarb chilli salsa
First geological coastal stop was the Bay of Islands.
Followed by London Bridge, which used to be a double arch but we were about 20 years too late to see it as the sea wore it down.
Then on to the Thunder Cave, which looked like an ideal place for the storing of pirate treasure so will now be named the Pirate Treasure Thunder Cave
Which is only a short walk away from the Loch Ard Gorge, named for a shipwreck there back in the 19th century
Last fantastic rock formation stop was the world famous 12 Apostles (although after much sea erosion 12 is somewhat an exaggeration these days). Sadly I feel these have become too famous and were rather commercial, and the experience is somewhat ruined by the bus loads of Chinese tourist who come in just to take many a photo and then head back to Melbourne. We preferred the quieter London Bridge and found the rocks to be just as stunning, if not more so, and no we aren't biased just because they have London in the name.
At this point the so called ocean road, leaves the ocean and heads up over a steep forest for an hour or so. Beautiful, but unexpected. The road twisted us down into Apollo Bay back on the coast in time for sunset. This was our only Big 4 holiday park, and this example was called Pisces and set right on the beach a little way out of town. Again the site was new, had decent wifi (the rented film of the night was The Martian, which along with the book which I read earlier in the trip I recommend), amazing showers and a great looking play park for kids. It also had a pool, but although the weather had start to turn and there were slivers of blue sky it wasn't quite enough to tempt us in.
The view from Jenny's night parking spot
We got up with the sun for our second to last day with Jenny, swung by the beach to grab some photos then headed along the road, which by this point was one of the prettiest roads I've ever had the pleasure of cruising down. It rivalled those near Kaikoura in New Zealand for breath taking beauty. As the day before we followed if we liked the name of a brown signed stop, we stopped. This paid off with our first stop at the Carisbrook Falls. No one else was up at the falls walking track as they were all distracted by the rather fantastic rock beach on which hundreds of people have created rock tower sculptures, but we didn't let this deter us. About 50m along the track a rustling could be heard, Rob admits he hurried up just in case this was a snake. I also thought my death by snake could be close but I wanted to see my doom, but instead of a snake I was face to face with a koala. Rob has been desperate to see wild koalas since his first encounter at Australia Zoo so was thrilled. I'm not sure who fascinated who more, Rob or the koala. Leaving the koala to his dinner we continued up the walking track, which ended in a deep wooded gorge with what in winter would be a thunderous waterfall, but even the autumnal trickle we saw was amazing. We spent a good 15 minutes just stood at the edge of the gorge on our own in the silence (except the falls) soaking it all in. The camera does nothing to convey this view. We said hello to the koala again on the way back down the track, then went to the rocky beach to admire others work and try our hand at building our own rocky tower.
Apollo Bay beach
Carisbrook Falls, its koala and rock sculpture beach
A few km along the road Rob pulled over to make a cup of tea just because he could, and I hopped out to get a few look where we took our campervan photo. Then onwards to Lorne, a bigger town than I was expecting, but where the fish and chips I'd heard raved about lived up to the hype. Lorne is like many other local places built around a beautiful bay. This one was full of surfers and had from the few we passed, a good looking sculpture trail all the way around the bay, including some climb on ones on the beach itself. We both agreed Lorne would be a place to spend more time in, maybe even a night with more time.
Tea spot view
Our final stop of the day, before our final night stop with Jenny in Torquay (not that one), was Split Point and it's lighthouse. Which all you 90s kids should recognise as the Round the Twist lighthouse! This has led to many renditions of the theme tune from Rob, and was the thing that has brought him closest to a sudden fall from a cliff.
As you can tell from the photos the sun had finally found us, so we braved a quick dip in the pool at our final camp of Torquay Holiday Park. We treated ourselves to a dinner our after using Jenny's cooking facilities for the rest of the week. By chance we were in Torquay at the same time as the Rip Curl Pro Championship Tour. We couldn't miss the chance to go see something so terribly stereotypically Australian as a pro surf competition so we were up before sunrise to get the the competition site. Although we got to watch the pros during their morning practice, sadly the competition heat for the day was postponed until at least lunch time so due to our tight schedule (needing to get Jenny back to Melbourne for 4pm) we couldn't stay to watch.
Torquay in the evening
Some poor photos of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach
On the way back to Melbourne we took a detour out to the Bellarine peninsula and it's wineries. We stopped off for tastings at Leura Park and Bellarine, before a lunch stop at Jack Rabbit. I can thoroughly recommend these local wines, and we may have purchased some of our favourites to restock our wine rack back in the UK. The welcomes and information given by all those walking us through our tastings were amazing, and even better the bank holidays were over so we often had the place to ourselves!
The view from the Jack Rabbit lunch stop
After lunch there was nothing left to do but battle through the only traffic we encountered on our campervan travels back to part ways with Jenny and begin our 4 night stay in Melbourne. Only 13 days left our our supermoon, with 3 more places to explore.