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Along The Great Ocean Road

Oct 10, 2007
It has been called one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the world, curving around rugged coastline and dense forest, through picturesque seaside towns and green, fertile farmland. The Great Ocean Road offers some of the most varied landscapes in Australia along its 300km's.

A little bit of history

Originally built by returning soldiers from the First World War as a memorial to their departed comrades, the road took 14 years to complete by blasting through cliff faces. It was officially opened on 19 September 1932 by the then Lieutenant Governor Sir William Irvine. The road soon took on a commercial purpose, linking the townships of Warrnambool, Lorne and Barwon Heads. Soon new settlements sprang up with some settlers coming to hunt whales and seals off the coast and others to log the huge trees in the Otways forests. Today, logging trucks can still be seen carrying their wares to timber factories to be processed. But the main industry now is tourism, with nearly one and a half million international visitors coming to drive the road each year. Add to that the number of locals who trek down the highway to get away from it all, and the Great Ocean Road has become big business.

Natural wonders

The south western coastline of Victoria offers some of the most stunning natural attractions you could hope to see. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the 12 Apostles. Huge stacks of rock rising out of the sea and standing defiantly against the crashing surf, the Apostles are located within the Port Campbell National Park, and can be seen from specially built viewing platforms, or at sea level by walking down a set of stairs to the beach. The Apostles have been formed over the years by the waves slowly eroding the soft limestone of the cliff faces forming great caves, which eventually became bridges, and when the bridges fell away, stood like islands as they do today. The many moods of the Apostles can be seen as different times of day, at different times of the year. Golden and warm in a summer sunset, or dark and unforgiving during winter dusk, they are always spectacular.

The surrounding coastline contains various other unique carvings, such as Loch Ard Gorge, the Grotto, the Bay of Islands and London Bridge (recently renamed London Arch following the collapse of the actual bridge section of rock). These too are wondrous sculptures of nature, created over thousands of years by an angry, inhospitable Southern Ocean.

Head further inland and the landscape changes dramatically from sand and rock to lush, green and dense forest. These are the Otway Ranges. Spectacular national parkland filled with towering trees, and many species of plants that can exist only in this part of the world. The Otways contain numerous nature walks, waterfalls and picnic areas. Some of the hikes can be quite difficult but worth the effort as you come across rampaging water flowing down sheer rock at Hopetoun, Beauchamp or Triplet Falls.

Man made attractions

In addition to all the natural wonders that surround the Great Ocean Road, it is dotted with numerous coastal towns that evoke memories of childhood holidays, spent playing in the sand and swimming in the sea by day and cooking sausages on the barbie by night. The casual atmosphere of townships such as Port Campbell and Apollo Bay can be a welcome relief to city dwellers looking for somewhere to forget the stresses and chaos of life in the city.

Some 700 ships are thought to have been wrecked off Victoria's south west coast, falling victim to rough seas or human error. The remains of many of these can still be seen today, prompting the nickname "the shipwreck coast".

Meet the locals

As well as abundant flora, there is also a wide range of fauna on show along the coast and further inland. Koalas, wallabies and possums can often be seen in the forests of the Otways, often not too far from town centers, and along the many walking tracks within the national parks.

Offshore, the Southern Right Whale can be spotted between May and September making their annual pilgrimage from further south to give birth, raise their young and begin the breeding cycle once again. The whales have been increasing in numbers since whaling was outlawed in Australia in 1935, but are still a rare sight and watching these magnificent creatures frolic in the sea is one of life's truly memorable experiences.

The Great Ocean Road is diverse, enchanting and sometimes challenging. It is rugged and beautiful. Located only an hour drive from Melbourne, it feels like a whole world away from anywhere.
About the Author
Mark Eden is a freelance travel photographer and writer, and the founder and director of Expanse Photography, a photographic services company offering fine art, limited edition prints as well as stock and assignment photography and publishing services. Mark can be contacted through the Expanse Photography website http://www.expansephotography.com.
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