I get a strange feeling as I walk towards the Twelve Apostles, with the sun setting in the background. (And I’m not talking about that rash I picked up in St Kilda).
I’ve had them listed as my great must-do’s in Australia, and I was worried they may not live up to expectations. But like Uluru and the reef, these guys haven’t got their reputation for nothing.
Great road trips and beautiful coastlines are hardly in short supply in Oz, but you’d struggle to beat the combination of the two found on the Great Ocean Road.
Originally built by returning veterans as a memorial to those who died in the First World War, the Great Ocean Road must be one of the most photogenic stretches of tarmac on earth.
After a bleary-eyed sunrise over Melbourne’s Yarra River, we eagerly clamber into our minivan and set off westwards out of the city. After Aussie surf capital Torquay, we’re soon passing Bells Beach – where I’d heard Point Break was filmed. We can’t quite spot the 50-year-storm
that ravaged Patrick Swayze, probably because although the beach was “featured” in the film, it wasn’t actually filmed here. Gah!
Nevertheless, it’s a world-renowned real life point break.
Round the Twist: Aireys Inlet
It’s then time for another quick culture stop. Well, I’m not sure if you could actually call Aussie kids TV show Round The Twist culture, but it certainly had an annoyingly catchy theme tune.
Fan or not, everyone seems to love somewhere famous so out come the cameras at Aireys Inlet, where we find the lighthouse used in the show. Luckily for me, I couldn’t quite remember how that annoyingly catchy tune went. Not so luckily, our helpful guide played it to remind me.
Before the line “have you ever, ever felt like this” was over, I knew it was mine for the day. Bastard.
After a couple more stops at the idyllic little towns of Lorne and Apollo Bay, plus a bit of wild koala-spotting in Otway National Park, we get to the Shipwreck Coast.
This is no time to realise your camera battery is dead. Every twist and turn the road takes along the rugged coastline presents view after view of picture-perfect bays and beaches straight out of a brochure.
But there’s no need for Photoshop here. Like some femme fatale waiting demurely in a smoky bar, this coastline is as dangerous as it is beautiful, only making it all the more irresistible.
You don’t have to spend long staring into the ferocious waves of the Southern Ocean, battling and blasting the towering limestone cliffs, to realise this is no place for a quick dip.
Many dozens of ships have ended their days trying to navigate their way along this treacherous stretch of Victoria.
All in all, the soft rock of the cliffs haven’t fared too well in the face of such a powerful onslaught, but the resulting erosion has created a devastatingly good looking part of the world, the undisputed highlight of which is the Twelve Apostles.
Indeed, so devastating it seems that their original name, the Sow and Piglets, just didn’t do them justice, or at least wasn’t pulling in enough crowds to keep the local tourism bosses happy – so they became the Twelve Apostles in the 1950s.
And before you start cursing your old maths teacher while scanning the horizon trying to spot all 12, don’t worry, you never will. Only eight of the stacks remain.
London Bridge fallen down
The London Bridge formation, since renamed London Arch after a bit collapsed, may leave you wondering what they were smoking when they started dishing out names round here.
One little walk not to be missed is the strangely eerie Loch Ard Gorge, so named because of the Loch Ard ship that sank nearby in 1878, killing all on board, except two 18-year-olds. Its sheltered beach is a great place to get your toes wet.
And if the rocky stacks rising from the water look great from on land, they’re even better from the air.
Before you can scream “Jack Bauer”, I’m suddenly in split screen mode, jogging, head bowed towards the chopper.
I get strapped in and get my mike on so I can chat to the pilot (in case we need a quick detour to CTU) and suddenly we’re soaring straight up above the ocean.
Gliding past the iconic Apostles and gorges, with the sun shimmering beautifully off the now inviting waters, I get the chance to admire them in all their glory, away from the crowds and the pounding surf. It’s spectacular.
Stepping back onto solid ground 10 minutes later to begin the journey back to Melbourne, it’s hard not to get carried away and have a quick “this is why I came to Australia” moment in my head.
All that’s left to do is jump back in the van and head back to town, humming contentedly to myself: “When strange things happen, are you going round the twist?”
The damage & the details: Great Ocean Road tours from $95 with Bunyip Tours (Ph: 1300 286 947); Helicopter rides with 12 Apostles Helicopters (Ph: (03) 5598 6161) cost $60; Urban Central Melbourne (Freephone: 1800 631 288, ) has beds from $22/night.