Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Great Ocean: Rode

Friday was the day of my Great Ocean Road trip, and given I was due for a 6am start I decided to go to bed nice and early.

An empty gesture, it turned out, as I was woken up at 1.30 am by two exceedingly late (or early?) check-ins, who preceded to turn on the light and spend the next ten minutes ensuring their duvet covers were at right angles to the pillow and the pillow cases tessellated.

I was woken again at 4am by the Frenchman singing in his sleep. He’s no better when he’s unconscious. And then again at 5.30 by a tram, sounding like a Sherman tank charging through a junk yard. In a thunderstorm.

So bleary-eyed I was picked up 6.55 by the tour bus and met Trevor – driver and guide for the day. Trevor was about 53, very tall, very thin with a pocked-mark face and a world-weariness about him. “Long day ahead” he said puffing out his cheeks and furrowing his brow. He wasn’t wrong.

After an hour of picking people up, some sat nonchalantly eating their breakfast when they should have been at the pick-up point, we set off towards the Great Ocean Road, a 120km southern coastal road, constructed by soldiers returning from WWI.

Throughout the trip Trevor, all microphoned up, delivered an informative yet strangely morbid commentary:

“See this? There were terrible bushfires here a few years ago. One family tried to take refuge in their water tank….Boiled. To. Death”

“See this ridge? This is named after a woman who drove her car off this ravine. Poor bitch”

“A couple of years ago a man in that house went mad and killed his entire family. Stupid bugger”

…but Trevor was good value and didn’t suffer fools gladly, shushing an annoying group of giggling Swedish schoolgirls talking all over his commentary.

The tour wend its way along The Great Ocean Road, round numerous inlets, beaches and outcrops, but our ultimate destination was The 12 Apostles - a series of million-year-old giant rock totems hammered into the coastline in parallel, like huge igneous fenceposts.

We arrived there after an 8 hour drive and made straight for the helicopter ride as for an extra $60 we could see the Apostles from the air. 10 minutes later I was being weighed for the trip.

My tummy did a little fart of fear when I saw one chopper launch off at an impossibly-stupid angle before erratically veering left and right like it was trying to evade an Afghan stinger missile. I was reassured, however, when one of the ground crew pointed out “Don’t worry. There are no passengers that. The boss is bored and has taken a chopper out for a spin” . 5 minutes after that I was strapped in the front seat next to the driver. “The stick and the rudder are live” he said “Don’t touch them, otherwise we will crash. And that WILL hurt”.

The trip was perfect, however. Great steep turns allowed us to swoop down on the rocks. The skies were deep blue clear. It was like being suspended in a little bubble of happiness. But, alas, after 12 minutes we returned to Earth.

And then began the long journey home. A good day, but a very long day – nearly 11 hours in the car. Trevor himself admitted he didn’t agree with the route and would have preferred to belt down the motorway for 2 hours to the 12 Apostles and then spend more time there, rather than the windy, carsick inducing Ocean Road.

But a good start to my grand Australian tour.

The chopper: An EC-300. Or something.

12 Apostles from the air.

...and then from the viewing platform

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