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Driving a Useless Camper Along the Great Ocean Road of Australia

After our three great adventures in Uluru, Fraser Island and the Great Barrier Reef, we decided to go on a road trip for a few days and discover the roads and back roads of Australia.
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After our three great adventures in Uluru, Fraser Island and the Great Barrier Reef, we decided to go on a road trip for a few days and discover the roads and back roads of Australia. From Brisbane, we flew to Melbourne, skipping one more time the great city of Sydney, as we wanted to keep the dessert for last and spend our last week in Australia there. And since we were to fly back to California via Sydney, it made sense to save it for the end of the journey.

The intention was to pick up a camper in Melbourne and drive along the Great Ocean Road (GOR), sleeping at outposts whenever we felt like stopping and enjoying a life on the road. I am not a camping person but the idea to take my kitchen on my back for a week was quite appealing to me for some reason. I had never driven a RV in my life and the thought of doing this on the wrong side of the road, no less, made it even more attractive.

We will need to drive from Melbourne to Cape Jervis, at the very end of the Fleurieu Peninsula, so we can take the ferry to Kangaroo Island, where we rented a cottage for a week by the beach. Melbourne is a lovely city, very Victorian in style, with an amazing aquarium and some excellent Nepalese food. The second largest city in Australia, it has a great free tram system we used to tour the city without looking too much like tourists.

Off we go to pick up our camper outside of Melbourne. The local Britz company employee explains in details where every fork is and how to make the folding beds. Showed us where the gas goes, and how to call for help with the integrated cell phone in the cabin. It's an automatic van and he stressed the importance of not driving with the parking brake on. The cute little camper supposingly sleeps six, but really I find it just right for two.

The Great Ocean Road technically starts after the port of Torquay and meanders along the mighty ocean for about 155 miles of slow driving on a two-way lane hugging the cliffs. The plan was to stop each night in one of the numerous camping parks along the way - Australians are very big on camping, barbequing, and all things outdoors in general. The view along the ocean road is magnificent, it reminds me a little of the highway alongside the coastline at Big Sur, wild and majestic, dangerous and unexpected.

The temperature is in the 90s. We stop every occasion we can to walk on a bit of beach or on flat rocks. The ocean here is furious and lashes at the rocks with force. We are so very hot in fact that we decide to stop in a hotel and have a nice air conditioned room with a cool shower for the night. Forget sleeping in the camper, it's too hot. Our first stop is in Lorne, a ravishing town hanging by the ocean, high pitched on the cliffs, with a view to die for.

The Lorne hotel offers us a nice suite facing the beach and the ocean. We only drove 75 miles so far, but it took us some five hours with all the stops on the way. The receptionist informs us that even though there is a wedding ceremony in the restaurant, we are still welcome to have dinner there. The chef has prepared a special menu for the event's guests and he will serve it to all diners that night. Which means us, the only non-wedding passer byes.

We feel very welcome in the packed dining room, all lit up in candles, with balloons and even a cracking fire in the fireplace. Everyone comes to say hello, and once we told one of the guests we were from Miami, an endless procession of friends and family stopped by to chit chat for a minute, we felt like we were invited to the happy reception.

The menu was definitely Australian, lots of meat and potatoes dishes, some Carpaccio-looking thin slices of dark red meat looked unfamiliar, and when our waitress said it was kangaroo meat, I said I'll pass. My daughter shamed me into trying though, saying this was the local fare and I should not be picky. The server made me feel better by adding that they don't kill the kangaroos for their meat, they only serve road kills.

Well, that made me feel a lot better, so out of respect, I tried. And it was quite good, I was kind of expecting some rough hard to chew meat, but the flesh was melting and savory in the mouth. My first meat in over 25 years! My guilt was a little tempered by the fact that the poor animal was not killed for the purpose of feeding me. Well, that's what I convinced myself of anyways.

When we checked out the next morning, the hotel manager told us that the wedding party had taking care of our meal of the evening. Back to our little camper, we continued to follow the cliff road. Some weird flat rock formation, blue and green in color with perfectly round shapes carved in them looked like a film set on the Moon. The strange looking floor resembles something man-made in its perfection; the rounded holes seem cut out with perfect machines. And just like my daughter pointed out, it's not like I know what the surface of the Moon looks like. Moving on, we reach the rock formation called the 12 Apostles, strange tall needles that separated from the coastline in what must have been centuries of slow erosion.

The Apostles look like sentinels guarding the continent. The landscape looked like the white eroded cliffs in Etretat off the coast of France. The savage force of the wind and the incessant burn of the high sun make it hard to walk on the rocks. We were now on the top of the high cliffs, and to try to descend onto the beach below seemed like a difficult enterprise. There is no reaching the tall broken parts though. The bridge of one of the Apostles broke free some 20 years ago while some tourists were trapped on it. They had to be rescued by helicopter, one by one in baskets, as the rock was too small and irregular for a chopper to land. I bet they remember their trip.

The road was originally built by returning WWI soldiers between 1919 and 1932 as a war memorial for those killed in the Great War. Winding through rough terrain along the limestone coast, the sparsely populated area was once only accessible by sea or via rough bush tracks. To this day it's a very isolated region, very few people live here and the striking force of the ocean makes it quite inhospitable to develop. Hanging over the Great Australian Bight, part of the Indian Ocean, the road has very little traffic and we encountered only five people in three days on the road. Two were surfers attempting to break though the rough seas, hoping for big rollers and maybe spot a few whales. No swimming for us though, too rough, too wild, we only dipped our feet in the surprisingly cool water.

We reached our second evening on the GOR and decided to head to the end of the Fleurieu Peninsula to catch the ferry to Kangaroo Island. We did make it to the end of the road, we reached the dock, and saw the ferry ahead in the waters between the cape and the island on the horizon. We had just missed the last ferry of the day. Oh well, we'll stay the night in our camper. We had to backtrack for about 50 miles to find a small town with food supplies, and by then we were so tired and discouraged, we stopped at the local B&B and asked for a room. Well then, one more night we won't be using the camper.

I know now the perfect location to open a B&B for weary tourists: at the ferry landing, as nothing is there for people to sleep or to eat if awaiting for, and missing a ferry, like we did. It's decided: this is where I will open a B&B one day, with perfect views and no competition, I'm sure it will do very well. I can already visualize the menu I will offer for breakfast. Tomorrow we'll get to the island after leaving our camper on the continent side, as only residents can take their private cars to Kangaroo Island, a natural preserve for native animals such as koalas, seals, large birds and tiny penguins, and of course kangaroos.

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