I spent the morning at Lakes Entrance crossing the footbridge and walking on the surf-side beach. It was lovely, but the majesty of this place, where two long spits of land nearly meet providing a narrow sea entrance to Lake Victoria, can only really be seen from above – most photographs of it that I had seen were taken from the air, but as a second best, there are a couple of good lookout points next to the Princes Highway on the climb up the hill heading out of town towards Melbourne. I savoured the view for a while, then set off on the drive to Mornington Peninsula. The forests of the drive across the border from New South Wales had given way to undulating farmland of lush (for Australia) green grass and cattle happily grazing in meadows full of pretty yellow spring flowers. This leg of the drive was punctuated by groups of motorcyclists – many high performance sports bikes and pockets of spluttering Harleys – all returning from the weekend’s MotoGP meeting on Philip Island. I caught up with more bikers heading in my direction once I had passed Philip Island, but lost them as I headed away from Melbourne and down onto Mornington Peninsula. Half way down I left the highway and joined the bay-side coast to drive along the front past lines of brightly coloured beach huts in the seaside towns which all merge into one as they sprawl along the coast right down to Sorrento where I booked into the Golden Chain Sorrento Beach Motel, which is decked out like a set of brightly coloured beach huts itself. It’s very nice, and I picked up my handy Golden Chain membership card (10% discount) along with the gen on the ferry times across to Queenscliff for the next morning.
I was up and away at 8am having foregone the motel breakfast, assuming I’d pick up a coffee and muffin at a café before getting a mid-morning ferry. However, Sorrento seemed a bit sleepy for that this early in the season and nothing much seemed to open before 10am. I drove along the coast to Portsea (same story there) and to the national park at the tip of the peninsula (closed with the gate locked until 10am). I knew that the ferry would take 40 minutes and so was likely to serve breakfast on board, so I headed back to the terminal in Sorrento in time for the 9 o’clock crossing and drove straight on. Coffee and cakes awaited on the passenger deck, and the steward gladly relieved me of the huge pocketful of Australian change that I had accumulated. I sat happily gazing out of the window at the bay for the rest of the trip, and presently the call came to return to vehicles, so I was soon setting off into Queenscliff, along with a few straggling bikers from the MotoGP meeting. I picked up the signs for the Great Ocean Road almost immediately, so eagerly followed them through Queenscliff and down to Torquay. From here the Great Ocean Road (or B100) became very windy as it hugged the coast, providing numerous places to stop and admire the dramatic views. The Sorrento Beach Motel owner reckoned a good three hours drive from Queenscliff to Port Campbell where I wanted to stop overnight, so I had to avoid stopping at every single turnout or I wouldn’t have made it! So, by mid-afternoon, I arrived at the Twelve Apostles, the main reason for my drive down the coast. The huge car park, visitor centre and wide path back under the highway to the cliff top revealed the popularity of this place (which fortunately was not packed at this time of year) and as I arrived at the cliff’s edge and saw the sea stacks for the first time it was not difficult to see why. Even in hazy afternoon light it had to be the most dramatic coastal view that I’ve ever witnessed – truly breathtaking. I took some initial shots, but the headed off to Port Campbell so I could check into a motel and get back in time for sunset. En-route I stopped at Loch Ard Gorge, where there are steps down to the beach to view the waves crashing through the narrow inlet between towering cliffs. This was a bonus – before arriving in Australia I’d only really been familiar with the views of the sea stacks from the main Twelve Apostles outlook, but there are enough viewpoints of lesser known stacks, coves and arches along this stretch of coastline to keep a photographer busy for many days, not just the one sunset and sunrise that I had to spend here.
Fortunately, when I peered out of the motel room window at 04:45 the next morning I could see clear sky and stars, so I ventured out and headed back to the Apostles for sunrise, which occurred at 05:34 sharp, straight into a bank of cloud on the horizon. After a few minutes, though, a few rays of light peeped through and eventually the sun rose above the cloud and the sea stacks were illuminated from the front and side, giving a completely different feel to the previous evening. I worked around the viewpoints again, one giving a shot of the dagger shaped formation in shadow in front of a larger well-lit stack which was quite unusual. As the sun got higher and the light less interesting I returned to the motel for the breakfast I had booked , then checked out and headed back to spend the morning exploring a few more viewpoints before the drive to Melbourne. I continued along the coast to the Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs and walked on the beach. Here the rocks were redder in colour and the coast was splintered into hundreds of islands and stacks, giving a completely different landscape to the Twelve Apostles National Park. This was the furthest point of my coastal drive, so at last I started to wend my way back, looking at the splendid London Bridge on the way and stopping at the twelve Apostles for a fourth and final time to see how they look in late morning light, having seen afternoon, sunset and sunrise. They still looked dramatic, but the earlier light was of course better, so I just took a few shots before heading a little further back down the coast and tuning inland toward Colac to pick up the highway back to Melbourne, where I found a motel on Sydney Road in anticipation of the next day’s long drive on the other side of the mountains along the Hume Freeway toward Sydney.
See more of Mark’s Great Ocean Road images on marksunderland.com.