Tour Down Under over and it’s time to return to Melbourne for the last leg of our holiday. Like last year, time has just flown by. The sun was shining as we pointed our hire car in the direction of Portland, back in Victoria. Last year, we stopped here for lunch and found the place and area charming so, this year, we’re back for a second bite of the cherry. But first, we had a five hour drive to reach Portland.
The views from Adelaide as you descend to the Murray River Plain are magnificent. It’s a rich agricultural area and I remember covering it in Geography at school, many years ago. It’s odd how some things stick in the mind, isn’t it? But needless to say those rich alluvial plains are pretty fertile, the food basket of Adelaide. We stopped for lunch at a roadside tavern and enjoyed oysters four ways before driving in the direction of Mount Gambier – which we visited last year – and Padthaway. The grazing land suddenly gave way to massive vineyards and then, five miles up the road, and we’re back to cattle country.
We try not to traverse roads we’ve driven before but some duplication is inevitable. However, our GPS decided to send us cross -country along C roads. A welcome diversion where the countryside was beautiful but we only passed two cars in over 200km. Lucky that we’d already eaten lunch, had plenty of drinks and a full-tank.
The weather was glorious as we arrived into the coastal town of Portland whose claim to fame is that it was the first city in Victoria, established ahead of Melbourne. Where we were staying overlooked the bay and was a five minute saunter into town. Sadly, the next day it poured but not before we’d had our daily ride/run. Still, you don’t mind having to do a spot of work when it’s blowing a gale outside. The great restaurant we’d eaten in last year was closed, but there are plenty of alternatives in town along with an interesting selection of galleries and gift shops.
From Portland, it’s just a hop skip and a jump to the wonderfully scenic Great Ocean Road, one of the great roads of the world. Yes, we drove along here last year but you can never tire of such scenery. The road undulates and, every time you crest a climb, there are magnificent sea views – turquoise sea, foaming white against the red and yellow ochre cliffs. Much of the surrounding countryside is akin to moorlands, dotted with grazing sheep and cows, plus some arable pasture, already harvested and in bales.
The road skirts the Great Otway National Park which is thickly wooded and carpeted with ferns. The smell of eucalyptus is heady but I still haven’t spotted a koala in the trees. Naturally shy, they must avoid the trees fringing the roads through which you get tantalising glimpses of the bright blue southern ocean.
I’d built into the programme lunch at the Apollo Bay fish shack where last year we’d both eaten the best fish and chips ever under the watchful gaze of loads of marauding gulls, ready to do battle for any leftovers. It didn’t disappoint. The lobster tempted me until I realised it was large enough to feed a family of four, and then some.
After lunch we headed through the Park and inland for an hour or so to Birregurre, home to a restaurant of some repute which sadly only serves a tasting menu. We were staying in a delightful historic homestead which is a national heritage property built in 1865, wonderfully preserved and maintained by the current owners, and sitting in splendid gardens. Sadly, the owners are shutting up shop at the end of February, so we were just in the nick of time.
With no dining options in Birregurra, we drove 20km to Colac and dinner in the only restaurant in town with white tablecloths and napkins – delicious. Sated we returned to our cosy B&B and watched the first BBL semi-final – a bit of a whitewash for the Perth Scorchers against the Melbourne Stars. After a delightful homemade breakfast we were back on the road and heading for Seaford, the final stop on our Australian adventure, just a few hours away, and where we’d be spending Australia Day. We learnt last year when in Coonawarra that most small towns totally shut up shop on their national holiday, we’re not going to repeat that mistake this year.