The Great Ocean Road (Part 1) – Cycling Warrnambul to Apollo Bay
Ahhh yes…the wonderful post Xmas and New Years bulge. After almost 3 weeks off the bikes getting stuck right into all the goodies of the festive season we were feeling decidedly heavier and cycling across Australia seemed like another world away. We finally made it out of Melbourne on New Year’s day. Crowded public transport options meant we couldn’t be guaranteed of getting the bikes on the train before then. As we boarded the train toWarrnambul, the heavens opened up and we figured that was just bloody typical of our luck. Still we were used to it by now and were itching to get on the bikes, despite being a little pensive about our fitness levels.
We pitched up at the Warrnambul Holiday Village right in town. There was only one site available for $45 and all the rest of the campsites within cooee of town were totally full. This was our first introduction to peak season on the Great Ocean Road. Thankfully, it was a nice little park with a good camp kitchen, clean amenities and the supermarket right across the road.
We attempted an early start the next morning for the 67km ride through to Port Campbell where we’d had to book a room in the hostel as campsites were totally full. Mind you, the hostel was totally full as well with only one twin room available even though it’s quite large. We had hoped we would be able to bush camp along the road but most of the decent sites we could see were clearly signed as no camping. We met some German Cyclists who told us they had been found by “Security” the night before and been moved on. The prospect of having to pull up camp at night didn’t appeal to us one little bit.
For our first real day on the bike for almost 3 weeks we didn’t do too badly. We managed to plot out a route along some back roads to avoid the very busy main roads and the wind was mainly in our favour. I was cursing that extra helping of Xmas pudding as I put in the big ones up the first hill but managed to get there without blowing a gasket. The ride had several lovely viewpoints along the way including Bay of Isles and London Arch. We definitely knew we were in peak season as dozens of tourists clambered over the coastal paths to catch the views.
We stopped off in Peterborough (Vic) for a coffee and snack. We’d considered pulling up here but were glad we hadn’t in the end. There’s really not much there and the campground, if we could have gotten in was very expensive (or so we thought at the time!!) at $42 for an unpowered site. The campsite at Port Campbell was charging $69 a night for a site and was fully booked!!! Obviously not everyone thinks that is extortionate for the pleasure of pitching your tent on a piece of grass. We were paying $85 for a twin room at the hostel but at least we would be just a short walk from a bustling little village and the weather was turning crappy again.
The Port Campbell Hostel is extremely neat and tidy and very well equipped. The guy at reception very kindly locked our bikes up in the garage for us when we expressed some concern at having to lock them in the lobby. The toilets and showers are very “functional” although the hand basins are inconveniently situated to one end of the first floor and almost impossible to get to when the early morning fluster is going on. The kitchen is quite large and well equipped but even that was a squeeze with a large tour group making themselves at home. Thankfully we were just a low prep meal so didn’t need much time or space. The rooms are once again “functional”. They’re definitely no frills, no character but very clean and comfortable. We were very glad of that as the next day would be the big challenge of Lavers Hill, the highest point on the Great Ocean Road and the biggest hill we would encounter on the whole trip.
The weather was pretty dismal as we left Port Campbell. It was cloudy, very windy and threatened to rain most of the way. Still the view points were pretty amazing despite the hordes of tourists. First stop was Loch and Gorge with three coastal walks to viewpoints that take around 3 hours if you do them. Next stop was the 12 Apostles which aren’t really 12 anymore but are still an iconic site in this part of the world. I was here last in 2004 and a very large visitors centre has popped up since then. The very large car park was chockers full of buses and cars before the café had even opened. We have to admit to missing a few of the lookouts further on but still managed to get pics of “London Bridge” which has fallen down and other spectacular views of the coastline. There are some advantages of being on a bicycle as you can just stop on the side of the road, unlike larger vehicles.
At this stage we were pretty unimpressed with the non-existent should on the road. We’d left early enough to miss the return of the tour buses to Melbourne but the sheer volume of traffic was making life pretty uncomfortable. We had made an uncommon error that morning as well…We hadn’t totally filled our water bottles. At first we weren’t too worried as we intended to stop in Princeton before heading up the big rise. What we didn’t realize is that Princeton is off the road and there’s really nothing else between there and Lavers Hill itself. As we turned north east away from the coast we started a big climb. All up there’s about 18km of climbing to do to get to 470m. It doesn’t seem that big a deal if you average it out but there were at least a couple of big down hills where you had to make up the altitude again and again. Now the Xmas cheer was taking its toll. I have the photo but I swear I only walked for about 100m all up.
About 3km from the top we were getting a bit desperate for a refill. A couple of signs for B&B’s were appearing and we decided that we’d stop in at the first one that looked occupied. Right at that moment we spotted a couple out the back of their house at Yuulong. They were more than happy to fill our bottles and have a chat. They’d seen quite a few cyclists in our condition in their time and weren’t surprised at our request at all.
By now our legs were busted. I wasn’t even thinking about the view. We had another big up before the incline leveled out a bit and we finally rolled into the small town of Lavers Hill. We pulled up at the “Roadhouse/shop/campground” scoffed down a huge burger and pitched up the tent before taking shelter from the howling wind in the bar. It was quite a rockin place with the Bistro doing a roaring trade. The owner very kindly made us sandwiches for breakfast the next morning so we could get an early start. A few pints of Guiness and we were over ready to lay down horizontal.
The wind literally roared all night. Our biggest fear was having a tree branch land on the tent. The next morning we weren’t looking forward to the big descent on wet roads and potential debris to try and dodge as well as the traffic. Our legs were a bit rubbery and we weren’t looking forward to the steep climb up for around 6kms before the descent into Apollo Bay. Just as we were steeling ourselves for the challenge, Karma kicked in again. We were having an early morning chat with some other campers when they happened to mention they’d come up the hill on another road that was gorgeous, quiet and along the ridge. A quick look at the Garmin told us a trip along Colac-Lavers Hill Road to Beechforest Road and then downs Skeynes Creek Road would be a much better option for so many reasons.
I can’t tell you enough how glad we are we made that decision. Yes, we deviated from the Great Ocean Road but it was a beautiful ride. We had a great stop at The Ridge Café at Beech-Forest (about 18km from Lavers Hill) where we enjoyed magnificent views with a great coffee and the world’s best Caramel Slice for a fuel up. We then headed off along the Turton Track that wnds its way through amazing rainforest. It’s totally gorgeous. The roads were peaceful and what traffic we did see was travelling extremely carefully around the twisting roads. The smells and sounds of the forest after the rain surrounded us as we twisted up and down. It’s still hilly but nothing like the day before. As the sun evaporated the rain of the roads and warmed us up I couldn’t think of another place I’d rather be. It was one of those days I wished I had a Go-Pro, especially on some of the down hills.
As we turned right onto Skeynes creek Road there was an immediate increase in traffic which was a bit of a pain as there’s still a few hills to negotiate even though it’s mainly downhill. There’s some pretty spectacular views of the coastline on the way down if you can find a place to pull over.
Once we rejoined the Great Ocean Road we had about 6km back to Apollo Bay. The traffic along this stretch was really pumping so thank God there was at least a little bit of a shoulder. Just as we got to the edge of town the rain that had been threatening all day hit with a vengeance along with strong gusty winds that actually blew Tim off the road and into the sand twice.
We were pretty happy to arrive at the Surfside Backpackers in one piece. Robyn gave us a choice of dorms to settle in at. We were happy to be spending two nights in this haven of peace. The backpackers is scattered around a number of weatherboard buildings. It’s old and could do with a bit of a spruce up in parts but very comfortable and well equipped. There’s two kitchens, at least three living areas, a couple of dining rooms, outside seating with views of the ocean and comfortable beds. Robyn is gorgeous and goes out of her way to make sure guests are happy and well informed on what goes on in the area.
On the second day we got an amazing surprise. Around mid afternoon the door opened and in walked a friend we’d met in Tajikistan around 18 months ago. Jacques Sirat has been peddling around the world for almost 20years now. He’s one of the crazy adventurers that inspired us to start this journey as his stories of life on the road held us enthralled on a cold night in Murghab. We’d known he was in Australia but had written off actually meeting up as it seemed we were on different paths. It was great catching up over a couple of drinks and trading tales from the road. If we still have the same passion for cycling as he had after 20 years we’ll be more than happy to be still peddling around.
We probably had a few too many refreshing beverages for our own good. After all we had quite a few hills to conquer the next day on our ride to Lorne and we were leaving particularly early to try and beat the traffic. Still, why let common sense stand in the way of a good time.
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