It is said that travellers worldwide recognise the Great Ocean Road as a rite of passage. Here’s why.
Living in a concrete jungle, caught up in the daily grind, nose to the ground with no time to look up or around, how many of us even realise that we live in our own narrow little worlds in an ever expanding universe? Forget that. Most of us probably don’t even know the sheer beauty waiting to be experienced
Fortunately, life sends us a wake-up call every now and then.
In Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), Dorothy was whisked away from her life in Kansas by a cyclone and deposited in the adventurous and magical world of Oz. In my case, my voyage to Oz was courtesy a friendly human cyclone based in Kuala Lumpur, who called me up one day and asked if he should book my tickets for a week’s holiday in Melbourne in August, joining him for a family visit.
My eyes lit up at the thought of a holiday in Australia, a country I had only got glimpses of while watching the Australian and Indian cricket teams slug it out on sunny cricket pitches in Sydney or Melbourne. My response was, therefore, a no-brainer. Oz had beckoned and I was already packed and ready to go!
Australia in August? The usual wet blankets told me that it would be too cold and wet. It had as much effect as water on a duck’s back. As far as I was concerned, the countdown to fly off to a distant land had begun. And, the excitement had begun to mount, as some college friends I had e-mailed on an impulse were going to fly down from Sydney and Adelaide, pick us up at Tullamarine, and drive us down the Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay and the Twelve Apostles. Talk about a college reunion!
Imprisoned in paradise
We landed in Melbourne on a Friday morning in August, and spent the day wandering around the charming city, which still has the feel of a new settlement. We should have been dog-tired, but Saturday morning saw us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the unearthly hour of five. Just goes to show the difference a positive and eager-to-discover mindset can make!
A couple of hours later we met up with our long lost college friends at Melbourne airport. Over 20 years had gone by with no contact but amazingly, it felt like we had never been apart. It was the same ribbing, comfort and camaraderie that we had always enjoyed when we were together in college. The catching-up and joking chatter continued through breakfast and in the car till we hit the Great Ocean Road, caught our first glimpse of the sea, and fell silent with awe.
The ocean was the most incredible blue that we had ever seen. It simply took our breath away, especially since the blueness was set off by the lush greens of the coastal mountains, which tapered down to the time immemorial, sometimes gentle, sometimes frenzied rhythmic dance between rugged cliff faces and the waves of the sea. Taking in the beauty and splendour around me, I wondered if the British had ever realized that they were sending their convicts to paradise!
The driving time from Melbourne to Apollo Bay is estimated to be just about three hours. It took us a little over seven hours since we made several stops along the way to marvel at the vistas unfolding around each twist and turn of the road.
Our first stop was at the Cape Otway Lightstation. One of the oldest in Australia, the lighthouse sits on top of a towering cliff overseeing the mingling of the Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean. Gazing out at the ocean, we were fascinated to learn that this part of the coast was full of shipwrecks till the lighthouse was built to guide seafaring vessels safely in.
Driving on from Cape Otway, we stopped at several vantage points that allowed us to soak in the masterful artistry all around us. It was a humbling and self-awakening experience, topped off with a lucky sighting of a pod of whales romping in the sea, totally at home. Here was the naked truth. We look for paradise in some unknown orbit, while disdaining and destroying the one we were gifted to begin with.
The Twelve Apostles
Every pilgrimage has a culminating point. As does the journey down the Great Ocean Road, when one reaches the Twelve Apostles! A collection of limestone stacks formed by erosion, these majestic rocks stand almost as sentinels protecting one of the last unspoiled places on this planet.
Magnificent creations are usually the outcome of inspiration and a great deal of blood, sweat and tears. In the case of the Twelve Apostles, Nature began her inspired task of forming these rocks 10-20 million years ago by using waves and winds to erode the limestone to form first caves and then arches. With continued erosion, the arches too collapsed, leaving rock stacks up to 45m in height, isolated from the shore. This process continues day after day, leading to just eight apostles remaining at the current time.
The creation of the Twelve Apostles is one of nature’s masterpieces. But, I guess not everyone feels that way. For, the reverie of a bunch of people looking out at the rock formations was broken when a disgruntled voice exclaimed, “We’ve come all this way to see a bunch of rocks?” I guess, for some of us, the only rocks that hold appeal are the ones that glitter from the satin-lined trays on display at jewellery stores.
This article was published in Jetwings International – October 2009 edition.