Overnight stays: Aireys Inlet Private Acres, Aireys Inlet (2 nights); Wonky Stables Holiday Park, Forrest (3 nights)
Our introduction to Victoria was frustrating. Crappy roads, stacks of slowing for necessary roadworks, and a total of six hours to travel a measly 400km in an arvo.
But when we eventually rolled into Airys Inlet, to our private campsite with our friends, the Percies, all was good in the world again.
Reconnecting with the Percies
We first met Scott, Heidi, Eden (4) and Jack (2) on Stradbroke Island earlier this year, and hit it off almost immediately. From there we caught up with them again in Noosa, the place they enviously call home, and now they were travelling through to Tassie, so we were able to swing another rendezvous.
After seven months apart the kids were back at it immediately, like a house on fire, as were us adults, sharing stories, insanity burgers, and a few cheeky glasses of McLaren Vale Tawny.
The following morning we convoyed into Torquay for a wander around and cracking lunch, while the kids collected more sandpit sand than a Venician glassmaker. Torquay is the home of Rip Curl, and by default, Australian surfing, so Scott and Heidi, being the keen surfers they are, were in their element, soaking in the history and vibe of the town also famous for its’ proximity to the pretty Bells Beach.
The surf was pretty calm so there were no surfers around, but with the wind starting to pick up it felt like the mythical 50-year Point Break storm could arrive any minute.
Surprising the Stroms
Loz’s parents, Deb and Stu, whom we had planned to travel with post Percy, were only a stone’s throw away, in Geelong, so we split with the Percy’s for the arvo and surprised the Stroms, after several months apart.
Needless to say they were excited to see the three of us, especially the final and smallest point in our triangle, who seemingly has grown up quite a lot since February.
Starting the Strombatical
Bidding farewell to the Percies the following morning, Deb and Stu came to meet us, now together heading west on the Great Ocean Road, for the beginning of the Strombatical Downunder.
Bells Beach was absolutely massive, only 24 hours after sitting stiller than a flat-earther’s misguided beliefs, I reckon around 12ft; only challenged by the brave and insane following Suazey and Reeves’ boardlines.
Sweet-tooth (Loz has since nicknamed her ‘Spoons’) Deb has an eye for ice cream, so didn’t miss the sign to the nearby chocolaterie, where we watched chocolate churn through a complex convoy, and inhaled some of the silkiest and succulent ice cream on earth.
Split Point Lighthouse offered a nice view before our energy focussed on finding somewhere to settle for the night.
Finding a free camp fail
While our friends the Clohesies, whom we met on the road were celebrating their horse Extra Brut’s magnificent Derby win, the Strombatical tension was rising when we pulled into our desired free camp, filled to the seams. It was effectively an extra long weekend in Victoria as the unions somehow swung an annual public holiday for Melbourne Cup each year. It seemed this meant plenty of Melbournians escaped the city for the weekend, and naturally filled campsites and caravan parks covering one of the most popular destinations in Australia, The Great Ocean Road (GOR). Hmmm.
We didn’t have a plan B at this point, and with four cooks in the kitchen we were getting nowhere, fast.
Eventually Loz took charge and got us back on the GOR, bound for a hinterland hideaway called Wonky Stables in Forrest. Compared to the exhorbinently priced parks on the coast, this relaxed retreat was beautiful, tucked away in the hills, ideal for a base for a few days.
With powered sites booked out we were forced into the unpowered overflow area, given free roam over where we wanted to park in a pretty large area. Most punters were locked in on the bottom side of the ridge, next to the small forest, leaving a large opening on top of the ridge looking ripe for the Strombatical to settle.
Like a bull at a gate we roared in, over the ridge, headed for the nice looking corner spot. Everything was going well, albeit a little damp underwheel, until I started to feel the WomBatmobile sinking, sinking, sunk. Oh damn. We had failed to check the ground cover, and it had become bleedingly obvious we had driven straight into a mud trap, with our rear wheels now only semi-visible. We were proper stuck, spinning the wheels while fellow campers looked on with empathetic yet embarrassing eyes.
Every fairytale needs a hero and ours arrived just in time, with a brand new Land Cruiser, excited to put it to use. He pulled our 4.5 tonne sunken brick out with ease until we had enough momentum to accelerate solo, now opting for a dryer part on the cusp of the ridge. For a family who have travelled for almost a year in this vehicle, we looked like absolute amateurs, inner-city Melbournians who had hired a home for the long weekend, only to get stuck on our first night. Oh well 😔.
It was Stu’s sixty-ninth birthday the following day, and with the weather forecast to come in hard in the coming days, we agreed that there was no day like the present to check out the famed Great Ocean Road.
Falling in love, again
First stop, staying high, was Erskine Falls. We hit waterfalls hard early on the Wombatical, and fell (get it?) a bit out of love with them after being spoiled for choice, size, and ability to swim under them in northern Australia. But I was keen again, so managed to drag everyone else along. These falls were marginally impressive from the top, but down the 300 or so stairs, were pretty stunning, restoring some faith that we could still see beauty in water.
Next we settled for a cuppa at Teddy’s Lookout, which was a great spot with an endless outlook over the ocean, and the winding GOR in the immediate foreground below.
I love Lorne. When Loz and I first visited it last year briefly, we agreed we’d love to spend some serious time there on our trip this year. Turns out time and timing were against us on this account, so we had to settle for an hour or so passing through.
It reminds me a bit of Byron, with lots of cafes and restaurants, nice beaches, and a young bustling vibe. We will 100% come back to Lorne, perhaps next time for a weekend or so.
Not knowing exactly what to expect, we arrived at Cape Otway Lighthouse to a packed carpark and no light house in view. Given we’d visited a thousand lighthouses and they were charging $20pp to see it, we assumed it would be a waste of our hard-earned, so instead found a spot on the side of the road for lunch to eat uncomfortably with thousands of flies.
Oceans on the left and mountains on the right, GOR driving was beautiful, as we passed stacks of spots that would take weeks to see them all. It was also a luxury being a passenger on this famous drive, as we had all piled into the StromBatmobile Prado of Loz’s parents, giving me pole position for pretty views.
The Twelve Apostles
Deb mentioned that her parents travelled the GOR many years ago and returned with photos of twelve clearly visible apostles (whatever ‘apostle’ means). Those days are long gone, as winds and water have eroded them to just-visible remains.
But what is left is beautiful, stunning. It reminded us a bit of the Nullarbor cliffs, but with giant rock natural statues petrifying from the ocean depths.
Turns out we weren’t the only ones who had heard of these rocks, as we wound through the biggest crowds we have seen in the entire country, even busier than Blackhall 😜.
It’s a long way to the shop if you wanna rock
Further along the coast we stopped seemingly every seven-hundred metres, to a different yet impressive rock or formation, including Loch Ard Gorge, The Razorback, The Arch, London Arch, The Grotto and Bay of Islands. It was one of those days where you drive all day and feel like you’ve gone five hundred miles, but realise you’ve actually gone the equivalent to the corner shop and back for $10 worth of hot chips; except you stop on every corner to buy a piece of watermelon, lemonade, and a bag of chook poo. Every stop was well worth it, and although it was a massive day looking at a bunch of rocks, it was an absolute ripper, another for the memory bank (unless they somehow drag memory banks into the Royal Commission).
The drive back to Forrest, on empty country roads, through dairy farms, mountains and spectacular scenery topped the day off wonderfully.
We were all totally exhausted by the time we got home that we decided to add another night to our bookings we could chill the following day.
My version of chill is remarkably different from many. Most people would associate chill with reading a book, floating on the water, or watching Netflix and seeing where things go. But I was lucky enough to convince everyone for a few hours of ‘Davo chill’ the following morning, dragging us on the waterfall route in Otway National Park.
We looped around to some ripping falls, most of which required walking somewhere between a hundred metres and four kilometres to reach, to the impressively scattered Stevenson Falls, beautiful Beauchamp Falls, and hard to access Hopetoun Falls.
Prior to visiting the area we were completely unaware these falls actually existed. But they are a wonderful addition to the already impressive GOR, and a great way to mix things up in one of the most popular places in this diverse land we call home.