I will always maintain there is something magical, even healing, about Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
I went to Melbourne for a few days in Spring 2014, nursing a semi-battered heart and on a quest I thought might help me forget the feeling of rejection hanging over me – to take the iconic drive from Melbourne to see the 12 Apostles.
A wonderful friend and I saw all four seasons in those hours on the road. By the time we reached the Apostles they were shining a dusty gold in the afternoon sun. High on the sight before me, I skipped about like a puppy who’d been slipped a biscuit under the table for the first time.
My delight couldn’t be contained. It was one of those perfect days I’ve spoken about ever since.
I returned again in Summer 2016, this time my heart humming a happy love song, with partner Nat (who you all know) in tow. It was my turn to show her this most special place. In my head, I was almost bestowing a gift.
This time, the monoliths didn’t shimmer in the light. Instead, their colour was dulled by set-in rain. The limestone stacks didn’t pop against an electric sky, they faded into the grey oblivion. The tourists milling about in the rain in plastic ponchos taking photo after photo looked foolish.
I didn’t admit it, couldn’t admit it, but I felt disappointed and silly. Where was that initial hit of wonderment and insignificance I felt the first time? Did I imagine it?
Anyone will tell you it isn’t hard to find a jaw-dropping scene on the Great Ocean Road, but perhaps you won’t find it where or when you expected.
Ours was on a cold windy and rainy morning on the road between the 12 Apostles and Port Campbell. Drive west from the 12 Apostles and there are many mysteriously unsigned driving tracks to your left, beckoning you towards the ocean. If I can encourage you to do one thing, it’s take a drive down one of these tracks, park the car and head towards the cliffs.
It’s more than likely you’ll be here by yourself. The 12 Apostles on any good day are filled with tourists (for excellent reasons, they are absolutely breathtaking), so the contrast of being on the cliffs solo is quite overwhelming. Here, no wooden structure facilitating visitors blemishes the landscape, which resembles what Mars might look like – red clay covered in tiny rocks of the same colour like miniature natural cobblestones and yellow limestone covered in strange hooks, knobs and bumps like Mother Earth has laid out booby traps. Small crops of low-lying green desert shrub and succulents are the only reminders we’re still on Planet Earth.
To look directly down and out to the ocean here is to feel your stomach drop and lower gut contract. The Mother Nature you’ll find here is a matriarch who knows no mercy. To your left and right are those incredible cliffs, extending out righteously over the ocean like a huge invincible battleship fleet stamping its authority over the rolling mass underfoot. Gandalf would be at home here, howling into the wind out to sea: you shall not pass. We could have spent all day watching the waves form and foam, counting 50 shades of blue, aqua, navy and turquoise, and then some.
I often lament Australia for being too same-same, too familiar, and lacking the diversity in people and landscape that other countries seem to have in spades. I know this is completely ignorant and unreasonable, because this country’s natural beauty is insane, varied and the envy of the rest of the world, but sometimes a pang creeps up without warning. Perhaps it’s more a longing for foreign accents, eyes, smells and sounds, but I’ve climbed the Glass House Mountains and longed for Yosemite, dived into Bondi’s waters and dreamed of surfacing in Kauai, strolled Melbourne’s laneways wishing they were Berlin’s. But here, on an abandoned clifftop of the Great Ocean Road with my love, all at once, I was home, and I was somewhere terribly far away.
At last, my craving fulfilled – a foreigner in my own land. In the most Australian of places.