The last thing I remember is setting the alarm on my phone for 6am so I wouldn’t be late for my tour of the Great Ocean Road.
The previous night had been spent in Melbourne, drinking this, shooters of that, beer, tequila, Jager bombs. But now I fall from my bunk expecting to turn off the alarm, yet it’s 7.15am and I’ve just hung up on my tour guide questioning my whereabouts. And what is this God-awful taste in my mouth?
I throw clothes into my backpack, grab my phone and split for the bus. Jumping aboard, my phone rings. It seems I’ve taken someone else’s phone.
Fortunately, Danielle, my lovely and forgiving tour guide, has been in this position more than once.
As I u-turn for the hostel, apologising, confused and still asleep, she peels off for St Kilda to pick up more troops and re-convene an hour later.
Warning: to greet your fellow travellers in such a manner instantly makes you the butt of all the jokes for the entire trip. I shut my eyes and pass out.
Torquay arrives quickly. The surf capital of Australia also marks the start of the Surf Coast and is the town in which legendary Aussie brands Rip Curl and Quiksilver originated.
It’s our first stop, giving us the chance to pick up some bargains and look the part when we hit the beach – or for me, buy a coffee and croissant.
In our group are four Brits, six Germans (two of which are, er, Dutch), two Swiss, a couple of Canadians, myself and Danielle. It’s a good mix.
Around the corner is Bells Beach, home to the world-famous wave some claim was used in the closing scene of Point Break with Keanu “Wyld Stallions, Excellent” Reeves and Patrick “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” Swayze. (Note to films geeks – despite being name-checked in the movie, it was actually filmed in the US to save cash.)
The fresh salt air fills my lungs and clears the head as the caffeine kicks in – I’m feeling perky already.
There isn’t too much swell peeling through, just a couple of hardcore locals getting a mid-morning session in – presumably Quiksilver’s directors are in a board meeting. Gerrit? Brilliant.
A few kilometres down the road, to the delight of Nikki and Alex from Bristol, is the lighthouse from Round The Twist, an Aussie children’s show and favourite in the UK.
Lorne is a beautiful little beachside town popular with surfers and Melbournians on a weekend getaway. But we don’t stop for long because lunch is waiting.
Apollo Bay marks a meal and a swim. I don’t wait the usual half-hour before jumping in. Yup, I live on the edge! (Please don’t tell my mum).
The water is brisk but clears what hangover I still had lingering, plus it’s a welcome break to stretch the legs and body-surf a few breakers.
Back in the bus, the road now teeters on the edge of the hills like a goat track, and we hug tight.
Earlier we passed under a wooden archway that marks the beginning of the Great Ocean Road and serves as a memorial for the men lost to the cliffs while building it.
The high sandstone walls also mark the edge of mainland Australia and the Southern Ocean – there’s nothing between here and Antarctica but a few sharks and seals.
Pulling in to Loch Ard Gorge, we are told about the tragedy, in which a ship, The Loch Ard, ran aground just off shore. Of the 54 people on board, only two survived – an Irish deckhand and a young woman, who were washed ashore into this small cove.
Nowadays it’s gorgeous (pun intended). The waters are a luminescent aqua from centuries of erosion and mineral extract leaking out of the precariously carved rocks.
Another destination, and another tragedy: The Bay of Martyrs is a string of coastline with small islands broken from the shore just 100 metres out.
Many years ago, white farmers moved into the area, staking claim to land that had been the property of the local Aboriginal people for 60,000 years. Suddenly, the Aboriginals were not allowed on their land to hunt and began to seek revenge, hunting farm animals.
Tragically, the local war came to a head when the farmers rounded up the Aboriginals, shot them and threw them off the cliffs of the bay.
More recently the cliff walls have been of interest to scientists. As the many layers crack away, the craggy lady’s face has revealed fossils of species previously not found in the area.
On a lighter note, down the road is the London Bridge, a rock formation once attached to the land that resembled
One fine day, about 20 years ago, a couple were out on the point when the first arch gave way into the sea, stranding them on the high rock.
A media helicopter circled overhead filming the two and later that afternoon, rescue crews got to them.
You might think that’s not so bad, right? Au contraire, mon frère, as Karma, like revenge (or beans), is a dish best served cold.
The couple were not man and wife, but man and secretary out for a private “junket”.
That night the news showed the couple stuck on the rock and their office romance was sprung to the world, including the distraught wife stuck at home with the ironing.
Stories aside, the Twelve Apostles are the real stars on this Sunset Boulevard. True pillars of the community, these prophets are profiting Port Campbell’s economy.
So after a brief set down at our wonderful waterside hostel in town, we are off for a sanctimonious visit at dusk. But in the short moments of driving in the van, the heavens open and it appears rain will stop play.
As we hit the crest of the hill, however, the sun appears below the clouds and from behind the rain, running the full gamut of colours, is a spectacular spectrum of purple, blue, red, a contrasting grey, and of course, pink.
Like true Australian sun-worshippers, the Apostles enhance the glow with their own tanned hues of orange and red, but it’s certainly not fake. No bikini lines here.
Sunset is by far the peak time of the day to be here, but as the golden hour passes and the cameras are turned off, on the cold sand below, little penguins march up the shore to roost for the evening.
On that note, once Danielle has served up crackers and dip, it’s time to head back to Port Campbell for a beer on the porch. After such a religious experience, I think I’m ready for another drink.