Great Ocean Road, Australia – Great War Legacy (21.12.13)
This year’s New Year brings in the centenary anniversary of the First World War, a landmark that will rightly be observed across the globe – and as the world reflects on the appalling suffering and loss of the Great War generation the chance to celebrate their legacy will be as important as respecting on their sacrifice.
Ironically the world’s biggest war memorial and most remarkable of legacies from returning WWI soldiers – The Great Ocean Road – lies 12,000 miles away from the trenches of Ypres, or beaches of Gallipoli.
This road was erected between 1918 and 1932 by returning First World War soldiers in honour of their fallen comrades. Built by hand it is splendid and spectacular, offering anyone who has travelled any stretch of its 255 kilometres, an opportunity to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice of so many young men and women.
In creating this most spectacular of coastal routes, the surviving servicemen and women have given millions of people access to an otherwise all too difficult to appreciate coastline. A coastline that leaves you open-jawed at its variety of landscapes, rainbow of colours and sheer volume of flora and fauna exhibits.
This week, travelling from Adelaide en route to Melbourne, my family and I have been lucky enough to see it in all its glory. We have been enthralled at almost every turn as we have made our way from Allansford, in the West, to Torquay, in the East. Despite searing 38 degree temperatures, a non-air conditioned van and variety of great tunes we have been stopping at every view point with shrieks of excitement as yet another crystal clear turquoise swell pounds into another golden sand beach. In every direction colossal cliffs dominate as they march as far as the eye can see into a distance punctuated by towering giant rock stacks, swirling waters and pristine paradise beaches.
Indeed the further we have driven the more awe-inspiring it seems to get, with the whole region appearing to jump from the pages of a fairy-tale. Not least as the dramatic scenery stretches across seven Victorian Marine Parks & Sanctuaries (Discovery Bay, Bay of Islands Coastal Park, Twelve Apostles Marine Sanctuary, Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary, Pt Addis Marine National Park and Pt Danger Marine Sanctuary). In addition the Great Otway National Park covers 103,000 hectares, offering tall lush ancient rainforests, heathland and rock platforms, interspersed with dramatic waterfalls and calm lakes. Coastal villages also abound with sweeping views across pristine beaches that double up as perfect surfers’ paradise spots.
Adding to the rawness of the Great Ocean Road’s scenery the weather appears to change at will too, thereby giving a changing ambiance to each day. For example over the last five days we have experienced searing heat, sun-drenched turquoise-blue rollers, hazy horizons, morning sea mist, gale force winds, drizzle, driving rain and array of sublime sunsets.
History is never far away either – with the Shipwreck Coast aptly gaining its name from a number of historical high profile disasters that reinforce quite how dangerous such a coastline can be. As I write this blog from a stunning vantage point above Fairhaven Beach, with waves below rolling-in with a strong Southern breeze, the Split Point Lighthouse stands guard behind my left shoulder. One of four lighthouses, in addition to those at Cape Nelson, Griffiths Island and Cape Otway that have historically protected sailors from the often wild and forbidding 300km+ stretch of coastline.
If the drama of the coastal routes is not enough, the region has an abundance of wildlife, which we excitedly came face to face with on Day One as a kangaroo bounced along the roadside, shortly before a snake (that we think was a ‘black red bellied’) slithered across our path. Koalas, platypi, seals and even whale watching opportunities abound – with Great Ocean Road Visitor Information Centeres flying flags to confirm recent sightings (particularly in the winter months when the mothers swim with their newly born calves).
The bird-life is also prolific. Capped by a serene moment yesterday, when an Ospray flew past with a fish firmly gripped in its claws.
Walking trails take visitors through a variety of sceneries and national park areas with endless continuation of breath-taking views, landscapes, flora and fauna. From the famous Twelve Apostles cliff stacks to the Surf Coast Walk, Kanawinka Global Geopark and Great Otway National Park – with Erskine Falls, Sheoak Falls, Henderson Falls, Phantom Falls, Kalimna Falls and Cora Lynn Cascades.
Returning, after thirty years, I am delighted that over the last twenty-six years we, at Nomadic Thoughts, have arranged many a client trip along this coastline. It cannot fail to impress. Like so many world wonders, as a returning visitor I was still unprepared for quite how remarkable such a return visit would be. My 1980s photographs (as much as today’s) with views across the Twelve Apostles coastline frankly, do not do justice to the variety and magnificence of this coast. As we continue to travel along the Great Ocean Road this week I am reminded of many different worldwide coastal landscapes – from Oregon, Norway and New Caledonia to Pembrokeshire, Phuket and Patagonia. The fact being that this stretch of coast (no more than 200 miles) seems to encapsulate so much in such a short distance. Certainly it is erosion at its most beautiful – breath-taking, thrilling and colourful in equal measure.
In addition, they don’t do too bad a bottle of wine, scoop of ice cream or selection of seafood around here either, which, thanks to Australia’s First World War veterans, are enjoyed to the full across the length of their coastal-road-creation in honour of their fallen comrades