World’s Best Drive? The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road lays claim to being the most scenic drive in the world. Having driven another road with a similar boast in July, the Pacific Coast Highway, I was curious to see which one really is more deserving of the title.

Some history (naturally) to begin. The Great Ocean Road was constructed by returning servicemen between 1919 and 1932 as a memorial to those that passed away in the War. Starting about 90 kilometres from Melbourne and ending in Allansford, it snakes along the coastline for 243 kilometres.

I posed what I thought was a really stupid question to our driver/guide Simon:

“What ocean is the Great Ocean Road on?’

“The Southern Ocean,” he replied.

“Oh” I muttered, “That wasn’t an ocean that I ever learned about in school.”

“It is definitely the Southern Ocean and the Southern Ocean is an Ocean,” he insisted.

I didn’t see this conversation going anywhere, so I demurred. But later that evening, with internet connectivity restored (there’s limited internet on the Great Ocean Road), I turned to my now favourite question responder, Ask Google. “What are the oceans of the world?” I typed. “Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic and Antarctic, sometimes known as the Southern Ocean,” it responded. So Simon was right, but wait….. Until 2000, the Southern Ocean was not a recognized ocean, so I was also right since my education about the oceans occurred sometime in the 1960’s. When I went to school, there was no Southern/Antarctic Ocean.

Simon was perhaps also wrong on another count. The Southern Ocean is generally regarded (although there is dispute) as ending at the 60th parallel, well below the bottom of Australia, including its most southernmost island, Tasmania. Most would agree the Great Ocean Road’s ocean is the Pacific.

We approached the Road from the west, having driven inland from Melbourne to its westernmost point in order to avoid the expected large number of X-Mas holiday tourists driving the road from east to west. Our first stop was the currently named London Arch. It had previously been called London Bridge, since it had been a double-span natural bridge until January 15, 1990, when one of the bridges collapsed without warning. Two people were stranded on the newly formed island and had to wait for hours to be rescued by helicopters. Not surprisingly, the ditty London Bridge is Falling Down is quite popular here.

The (now) single span London Bridge

Loch Ard Gorge was the next stop, offering another spectacular view. Named after the clipper, Loch Ard, which ran aground in 1878 after coming oh so close to finishing  its 3 month voyage to Melbourne from England. Only 2 people survived, a teenage cabin boy and a young female passenger, who were washed ashore and took refuge in the gorge. We walked down to the beach and plodded through the silky sand.

The pinnacle of the Great Ocean Road is the Twelve Apostles, named after the (at one time) twelve limestone rocks standing proudly up to 150 feet high in the surf. Thirteen originally stood, earning the name the Sow and Pigs. But with erosion, their numbers have dwindled and they were rechristened the Twelve Apostles. Today there are only 8.

Just as the Pacific Coast Highway has the gigantic redwoods on the Oregon/ California coast, the Great Ocean Road is bordered by temperate rain forests with tall eucalyptus trees. We took a walk through them and stopped for photos:



Apollo Bay is one of a number of lovely, postcard perfect beach towns along the Road, filled with kids playing in the sand, ice cream parlours and picnicking families. I walked down to the beach, dipped my foot in and immediately took it out. The water was freezing cold, but since this was (perhaps) the Antarctic Ocean, that should not have come as a shock.

Lighthouse seen from Apollo Bay

Turning inland, we drove to the Great Otway National Park for a koala safari. The park is home to a large forest of eucalyptus trees, the only habitation of koalas, and Otway has one of the largest wild koala populations. Simon drove without stopping past flocks of brightly covered parrots and yellow crested cockatoos; he was on a mission to find koalas. He told us to look among the branches for large grey fur balls. We would be unlikely to see them move, since they sleep for 20 hours a day, eat for 3 and a half hours and spend the remaining time going from tree to tree or mating, but Simon thought we might catch some sleeping.

Sure enough, another tour bus was parked on the side of the road with tourists outside, necks craned upwards, pointing and shooting pictures. We disembarked and saw first one, then another, koala in different trees. They are territorial and keep a good distance away from each other – generally about 30 trees worth. We were in luck; one of the koalas was awake and eating. I managed a photo, but missed my zoom lens.


All in all, a wonderful day with great weather, glorious scenery and koalas to boot. Was it better than the Pacific Coast Highway? It is hard to say; they are both marvelous in their own way. But the Pacific Coast Highway doesn’t have koalas.

13 Reasons I love Australia

This is my third visit to Australia, excluding a short layover on an idiotic routing from New Zealand to Canada using Aeroplan points, but I keep coming back for a lot of reasons. After enjoying the fall in Europe, I landed here in December and instantly was reminded of all the wonderful things about Australia. They include:

  1. Mostly understandable English is spoken. I don’t need to ask for an English menu or consult Google translate on an hourly basis. Some words still befuddle; a subway doesn’t lead to the metro or even a fast food joint but a pedestrian underpass and a chop shop is a dollar store. The accent is easier to understand than Irish English and I don’t start every conversation with “parlez vous Anglais?”
  2. It doesn’t snow, freezing rain is just a bad memory and the average temperature is between 20 and 30 everyday. Granted, it is now suffering a bit of a heatwave, with temperatures hitting 39 in Melbourne, but it is a dry heat in the south and much more pleasant than 0.
  3. Sunrise is before 6AM and sunset after 9PM. It is the winter solstice back in Canada and the sun shines only between 11:00AM and 3:30PM in Iceland, not that the sun deigned to show its face once in the 4 days I was there, but it is gloriously sunny for a long time in Melbourne in December.
  4. History is brief. As a history buff, I was enthralled learning the long sinuous histories of the European cities and towns I visited, but here, history can be summed up as: the Aborigines inhabited Australia for at least 40,000 years before Captain James Cook claimed it for Britain in 1788. It became Europe’s favourite dumping ground for convicts and other undesirables until 1868. On January 1, 1901, Australia gained independence. It has suffered only a single invasion: during WWII, Japanese airplanes bombed Darwin, a small city in the north. Nothing else of much significance happened.
  5. Things make sense, with the exception of driving on the left side of the road. ATM’s dispense cash when a debit card is inserted (unlike in Latvia), the subway system accepts Canadian credit cards for payment (unlike France), foreigners can make train reservations over the internet (again unlike France) and toilets are clearly marked for males, females or unisex, in contrast to most of Europe where deciphering which toilet to use is often a challenge.
  6. The news relegates Donald Trump and Brexit to the bottom of the newscast, after the Indonesian tsunami, Chinese hacking and a structurally unsound apartment building in Sydney. The British royal family is (rightly, IMHO) not even mentioned.
  7. X-Mas is understated. Maybe it’s hard to get excited about X-Mas in 35 degree weather, but it is not the giant event it is back in Canada or even in Europe, except for the Boxing Day sales. The largest department store in Melbourne, David Jones, does a special window display every year, but in contrast to the Hudson Bay’s Christmas themed windows in Toronto, this year showcased Alice in Wonderland, with a dozen three dimensional windows featuring moving dioramas of the novel.

    A tree decorated for Xmas in Melbourne
  8. Women wear leggings on the street. I am not a fashionista and rarely care about fashion do’s and don’ts, however my sole concession to European fashion sensibilities is not to wear leggings outside, not even to a yoga class. Any woman doing so is immediately branded a gauche North American and treated accordingly. But here, women have only 3 bottom options: shorts, sundresses and leggings, the latter perfectly acceptable to wear everywhere (except perhaps to weddings) and anytime.
  9. It’s multicultural. In 1994, when I first visited, multicultural meant a large Greek community in Darwin and Vietnamese boat people who came in the 1970’s. Australia has changed a lot, encouraging immigration especially from Asian countries. Nearly every cab driver I met beckoned from India, downtown Melbourne reminded me of Vancouver with at least half of the people Asian. Korean Barbecue restaurants dotted every block, and ramen noodle bars, Vietnamese street food, Thai, Sushi, Turkish kebob shops, Schnitzel fast food places were easy to find; everything, in fact, except French.
  10. Streets are what streets should be – no quaint cobblestone sidewalks waiting to trip me – and street names are familiar: King Street, Russell, Chapel, not a 4 quatre September or unpronounceable (by me) Khreschchatyk in sight. Roads are built, more or less, on a grid with a few curvy roads to accommodate a river. Street names generally stay the same for the entire length of the road. None of the “let’s change the name every couple of hundred meters to confuse the heck out of tourists and google maps” etymology which characterizes much of Europe.
  11. Being a newish country, there are very few 19th century quaint or character buildings with ceilings low enough that even I hit my head or bathrooms carved into weird spaces that generally require contortionist moves to use. Rooms are square or rectangle, buildings over 3 floors have elevators and the bathrooms are logical and convenient.
  12. Smoking is banned just about everywhere – parks, playgrounds, beaches, train platforms – and most significantly to me, restaurant patios. In Paris, it was impossible to sit on a patio without the ubiquitous smoke wafting towards me. Australia has some of the most restrictive smoking laws in the world. Smoking is permitted only on specially built patios which must be at least 4 meters away from everything.
  13. It’s cheaper than Iceland. Prices for hotels, restaurants, transit and groceries are comparable to, or slightly higher than, Canadian prices.