Australia: forever tied to the sea
o you fancy visiting ‘The Sow and Pigs’? You have to admit that the name isn’t very appealing and that’s exactly what the Australian government thought in the 1950s, which is why they decided to change it to ‘The Twelve Apostles’. This marketing trick converted a rocky formation into one of the main attractions on the south eastern coast of the country. Very near Port Campbell there are eight huge, majestic limestone stacks that emerge from the Antarctic Ocean, reaching a height of up to 45 m. There used to be nine –one collapsed in 2005 – but the name needed some poetry.
The rocky giants are the main attraction of the Great Ocean Road, a 240-km route that winds along the coastline and joins together the most enduring Australian clichés. Wild waves with surfers riding them, natural parks inhabited by koala bears and kangaroos, vineyards and little fishing villages. The road begins about 100km away from Melbourne, in Torquay, the home of brands like Rip Curl and Quiksilver and a place where surfing is a religion. After a few minutes, you arrive at Bells Beach, a sanctuary for devoted surfers, with waves up to five metres high. Throughout the route there are other beaches, including Fairhaven and Eastern View, which offer you the possibility to conquer the sea.
The memory of the asphalt
The road was built between 1919 and 1932 by the 3,000 soldiers who returned to their country after the First World War. The only tools they had were picks, shovels and carts. The route was dedicated to those who died in the conflict, which makes the road the longest war memorial in the world.
The wind, which relentlessly lashes the coast, has been the cause of numerous shipwrecks. So far, around 240 wreckages have been discovered, though more than 600 ships have sunk while attempting to reach this rugged, cliff-packed coast. As a result, the 130km that separate Princetown from Peterborough are known as ‘Shipwreck Coast’.
This same wind has also been the area’s main benefactor. It causes the huge waves that draw surfers and it is responsible for sculpting the solemn stacks in the water, the famous Twelve Apostles, which 20 million years ago were joined to the cliffs. If you want a perfect photo you must either take it at dusk, with the playful light adding to the scene, or from the sky, in a helicopter flying over the area.
Driving along the Great Ocean Road, listening to folk songs by the surfer, Jack Johnson, the scenery beckons you to stop the car and immerse yourself in your surroundings. However, you mustn’t forget that at any time you can come across another two Australian clichés, ones that look misleadingly like inoffensive furry toys: the kangaroo and the koala. As an Aussie would say, ‘No worries, mate’; the traffic signs remind you every few kilometres.
While the sea laps over one side of the road, officially called the B-110, the other side is flanked by national parks. In Great Otway there are huge waterfalls that hide caves full of glow worms. The walkways over the eucalyptus forest, suspended 30m above the ground, are the highest in the world. Despite the strong scent of these trees, the smell of saltwater never disappears.
Technically, the Great Ocean Road ends in Allansford, but many people add a few kilometres to this scenic route and go as far as Warrnambool. Between May and October, Southern Right whales go to Logan Beach to give birth to their calves. Or you might prefer to go to Cape Bridgewater, where you can see hundreds of sea lions resting on the beach.
‘Australians all let us rejoice, For we are young and free (…) Our home is girt by sea; Our land abounds in nature’s gifts’. The poetic lyrics of the Australian national anthem could easily refer to the Great Ocean Road. Much better than ‘The Sow and the Pigs’, which never came close to doing them justice.