This is one of the world’s most spectacular coastal drives, and a great way to travel from Adelaide to Melbourne, or visa versa.
Once, well out of Adelaide, the landscape changes to the shallow lagoons and salt flats of the Coorong – havens for wildlife and water birds. The hay has long been harvested and the massive fields are just golden stubble. It’s windier here; the trees and bushes cluster together to protect themselves from the elements. There’s plenty of grazing cattle and sheep but no more vines or orchards as we’ve left well behind the coastal towns of McLaren Vale. In fact, towns are pretty much reduced to a large general store/garage/coffee shop.
Australia’s vastness makes you think about its first settlers and the enormity of their challenge when everything was so far apart and so different from home – wherever home was. We stopped for lunch in Kingston at what first appears to be an unprepossessing shack but I had high hopes because of the lobster sculpture out front. I wasn’t disappointed and we enjoyed a lobster salad for lunch in delightful cool surroundings. Their homemade cakes looked delicious but luckily none were vegan.
Mid-afternoon, we arrived at the first of our leisurely two-night stops, Penola in the heart of the wine producing Coonawarra valley. Tall trees shaded the road and the vines, planted in mineral-rich red soil were bordered with rose bushes, as they so often are in both France and Italy.
Penola was a quiet country town where everything had closed down for Australia Day, though thankfully not the large supermarket. A historic area, we rode around the marvelling at the huge forests, the impressive World Heritage Naracoorte Caves and the brilliant Blue Lake at Mt Gambier. We also rode around the 20-odd vineyards but weren’t tempted to indulge in any wine tastings. I have enough trouble staying upright on the bike as it is.
Refreshed from our two-night break in a delightfully spacious and well-appointed motel suite with a veranda, we set off on the next leg, past delightful old fishing ports to lunch in Portland, Victoria’s first permanent European settlement back in1834. The place was chock full sturdy stone buildings that reminded me of those in Scotland.
The countryside changed once we were back into Victoria. It was greener and wilder though there was still plenty of forests and herds of cattle. This section combined the rugged scenery of the “shipwreck coast” with hinterland forest.
We passed by Tower Hill Reserve, a wildlife haven sitting on an extinct (thankfully) volcano. Then it was onto the Port Campbell National Park, which included the Bay of Islands rock stacks with sweeping views of the Bay of Martyrs, the Grotto and London Bridge.
We spent two nights in Apollo Bay, between the lush foothills of the Otway Ranges and the white sands of the bay. As before, much of our exploration was conducted on two-wheels and finally the luxury of a selection of restaurants open for dinner. That said, our most memorable meal was lunch at a seashore shack serving fish caught that morning with what my beloved declared were the “best chips ever!”
On the final leg of our journey to the Yarra Valley, we witnessed the aftermath of the recent terrifying forest fires on the Great Ocean road that extended either side of the road for many kilometres. Amazing really when the area is so green, you wouldn’t imagine it could be so combustible.
The Yarra differs from Coonawarra in that it’s much more undulating, the vineyards are further apart and there are plenty of cattle, few sheep and lots of horses. It’s hard to believe that our trip will shortly be coming to a close.