I am sooo glad we weren’t able to book the 7am trip for the 12 Apostles on New Year’s Day. Because New Year’s Day. In fact, the tour group we booked with didn’t even offer the 7am tour on New Year’s Day. Sensible, Australians are. And Yoda I am.
From Melbourne (pronounced MEL – bin) it’s about a 4 hour drive before we hit the 12 Apostles. We ran along some beach towns along the way on the Great Ocean Road. My mother said the drive reminded her of the drive along the Amalfi Coast, where we were screaming down hairpin turns on a one-and-a-half lane road to get into Maiori before dusk which was when they closed the gates to the town.
She says most drives along coastlines remind her of the drive along the Amalfi. Potentially because she’s not the biggest fan of heights.
Along the Great Ocean Road, we stopped at a place for lunch where we could go talk a walk with koalas in the trees. Me, I had dinner with the little beasts, so I walked across the road to the beach, snapped a few pictures and then found a nice grassy space near the bus to read…on my phone. First world problems, I guess.
I was more interested in the history of the Great Ocean Road than I expected. Apparently, the entirety of it is actually a war memorial. Was built by vets coming back after WWI (I believe, but don’t quote me) as a roadworks project. A New Deal type project inspired by Highway 1 along the California coast. Made me wish we could continue to improve the transpo situation in the States. It’s pretty poor.
After lunch, we kept driving. And driving. And driving. Finally, we hit the 12 Apostles:
It’s quite a stunning coastline. If you want to see it from above in a chopper, it was $99AUD for 10 minutes.
We explored the 12 Apostles from a number of different locations and heard about a shipwreck along one of the beaches, the story behind it, and saw quite the sunset – though not until after 9PM.
So I sometimes forget how lucky I am not only to live where I live, but in the time I live in. Walking along Loch Ard beach on the coastline which includes the 12 Apostles was one of those times I was vaguely reminded how lucky I am.
First off, if I wanted to get to Australia – even 100 year ago – I would’ve had to endure 3 months passage from England. 3 months, voluntarily, on a ship in rough seas. Likely wearing a corset and fainting all the time because I happen to have mammary glands. Secondly, most British navigators didn’t know a damn thing about the Australian coast line – for a long time sailors didn’t care enough to circumnavigate the continent and understand the entirety of the coastline.
So there were a lot of shipwrecks. A lot. According to our driver cum tour guide (who might have been exaggerating a bit) there were 800 shipwrecks over the course of 100 years on the Victorican coastline alone. And if you don’t know much about Australian geography, I’ll tell you this – the Victorican coastline isn’t much of the entire continent. Maybe 1/6 of it.
If I wanted to go to Australia 100 years ago, I wouldn’t have. Because shipwrecks. And at that point I probably would’ve been married off to some wealthy lord who didn’t want to let me travel.
And Loch Ard (which I originally thought was like Lockhart – like Gilderoy Lockhart) beach tells the tale of a ship sunk along the crazy coastline of Australian waters. It was misty, and the crew didn’t know where the land was…until they ran into it. Only two survived, a young crewman, Tom Pearce, and a young woman, Eva Carmicheal. They washed up into this secluded beach and parted ways.
It’s not one of those stories where because of this shipwreck of fate throwing the two of these young folk together they fall in love and have lots and lots of children – it’s not a Nicholas Sparks novel. The two parted ways, and funnily enough, Eva ended up marrying a sea captain after swearing she didn’t want anything more to do with sailing.
What struck me the most, looking out from the beach to the ocean was, ‘God that channel looks narrow and nasty.’ Cause doesn’t it? All that ocean bottled up and trying to get in through that narrow opening to wash up on the beach? Terrifying (And yes, that’s kind of what she said).
From Loch Ard, we climbed back up to the cliffs. I hate walking up inclines in the sand. I feel like I’m fighting gravity and usually tend to want to sit in the sand halfway up and just say ‘fuck it’. But then I reached the stairs and that was a small victory, so I kept going, and goddammit, I walked a LOT that day. I would just keep going and pray I wasn’t going to kill my lungs.
So we go up to the viewing point for the sunset.
Mind you, remember the context. New Years Day, after being on the road and traveling since 11am. And sunset didn’t happen until after 9PM. I think we were all kind of cheering on the sunset. I think at one point we all said, ‘JUST SET DAMMIT’ like the sun was an animate object that could hear us and respond.
The sun did eventually set, though.
I felt like I was on the edge of the Earth, watching the sunset. It’s probably the farthest South I’ve ever been, and I could understand how so many once thought the world was flat, with defined edges and how you could fall off the edge of the world. I felt like I could. I felt small, gloriously small and remembered what it was to stand in the face of beauty and try and be graceful. It’s a hard thing to come by, but those are moments I treasure.
After a deep breath and turning around from the sun which had already set, my parents and I walked back to the bus because it was getting DAMN cold. Coastal winds, and all. As we were walking back, we could still hear the group of Japanese friends singing J-pop songs punctuated with giggles and laughter.
We all tumbled back into the well-heated minibus and stopped off at about 10PM in a tiny town on the main way back to Melbourne and had a very late dinner at a noodle place in town which stayed open just for us. I will say, though, damn good noodles.
The place was family owned and operated, like most Chinese restaurants are, and the father was, as most Chinese men of a certain age, weathered, short and absolutely adorable. My father and I got noodles, my mom got soup. After I sat down to eat and finished my meal, I started listening in on the family’s conversation. I can’t remember what they were talking about, exactly, but I chimed in with some comment in Chinese and as per usual, everyone stopped talking to gawk at me a little.
Yes, I can speak some Chinese – though I’m losing it, I told them. And yes, I can understand what you’re talking about. I told them we’re (encompassing my parents) American, and that I lived in Qingdao, but that was 5 years ago – in a mix of English and Chinese when I forgot a word in Chinese, I’d swap in the English instead.
As we were driving home I tried, and mostly succeeded in staying awake, though I did the very adult thing of ‘resting my eyes’. My mom ended up chatting with the driver quite enthusiastically as we were getting closer to Melbourne, and it was nearing midnight – apparently it seemed like he was starting to lose energy and was fighting to keep himself awake. I mean, he had been driving for the majority of 14 hours that day, which at any time is intense, but on New Year’s Day particularly so. I learned he lives in Manly – or at least his family does; Manly is fast becoming one of my favorite places in Sydney to go and relax. If only Hemmingway’s had wifi I’d be set for life. Wouldn’t leave. But anyway.
We got back to Melbourne safe and sound and a bit richer in experience for it.