Port Fairy to Apollo Bay (Vic), via The Great Ocean Road – Day 15 of Road Trip March 2020

Friday 20th March 2020

Driving distance approximately 230 klm / 140 miles

Warning! Photos galore in this post. And I think it’s a MUG of coffee read.


I usually do the first driving shift of the day, and after leaving the motel I was about to head for highway out of Port Fairy when Bill reminded me wanted to walk over to Griffiths Island. So I turned around and back we went.

Griffiths Island is situated at the mouth of the Moyne River and is linked to the coast via a low pedestrian causeway. I’d discovered a filter button on my mobile phone camera, and must have had something still switched on when I took this shot. Hope you get the idea.

rs Griffiths Island Port Fairy filtered

The island is home to a large colony of short-tailed shearwaters, or mutton birds. The Port Fairy Lighthouse is at the eastern end of the island. A walking track circumnavigates the island, or you can do it in two parts. The one we chose (turn left) is a leisurely twenty-minute each way stroll to the lighthouse on mostly cemented, even ground. Others might choose the forty minute (turn right) route over rougher ground and sand.

According to the explanatory boards, the nesting shearwaters return within three days of the 22nd September. Amazing inner clocks, don’t you think? The single egg hatches around mid-January. Apparently during summer, the sight of the parents returning at sunset to feed their chick is quite spectacular. That explains why, the evening before, we’d seen many people in parkas heading out along the causeway. At the time I simply thought them two sandwiches short of a picnic to want to go for a walk with a strong and increasing wind carrying the threat of rain. So we missed that experience in favour of dinner at the local Chinese restaurant. Every so often when travelling we start to feel as if we are not getting enough vegetables, and a Chinese stir-fried mix is the easiest fix.

After fussing over and feeding the chicks for some time, the adults take off in mid-April (about now) and leave their young to sort it out for themselves. After starving for a while, the young decide the best course of action is to follow their parents on their 15,000km (9300mi) northern migration. No doubt one of my northern bloggers can take up the story from there.

At 8.30am on a cool and blustery morning, we had the walk almost to ourselves. We heard lots of birdcalls, but only a little wading-type bird showed its head. (ps Paol Soren suggests it is a sandpiper).

rs wader Griffiths Island Port Fairy

What did pop up, unexpectedly, was a little wallaby. I got some good angles, but still had that filter on, so the poor little fellow looks quite green in my photos. This is Bill’s shot. Ever so slightly out of focus, but at least he looks a normal colour~

rs wallaby at Griffiths Island Port Fairy

We inadvertently walked to the end of the causeway, instead of veering off to the lighthouse. We could see it off at a short distance, shrouded in low-hanging cloud. Instead, we found a channel marker.Channel marker Griffiths Island Port Fairy

After our “bracing” walk, we were happy to head on to our main order of the day, the Great Ocean Road. We’ve done this once before, in 1986, in the opposite direction. Leaving Port Fairy, the first pointer is Warrnambool, the main town of this region, where we were stopped several times at traffic lights – the first we had seen for a while.

On the way, we passed the turn-off to Koroit. We’d seen this town on a television programme called “Backroads” (episode 13 in the link).  The episodes are only thirty minutes long and give a great insight into Australian country towns. Koroit was settled by Irish immigrant farmers in the 1840s/1850s and retains its heritage. At 89, Geraldine Ryan still travels from Melbourne to teach the local children Irish Dancing. A visit to this quaint town is something we keep in mind for a future road trip.

The Great Ocean Road begins (or ends) at Allansford, a small farming town with a cheese and butter factory, and then weaves 35km (22mi) through pastoral country towards the coast. We stopped here at Peterborough for coffee before launching ourselves into sight-seeing.

It was 10.30am by this stage, but the day had not brightened. In fact, it turned out to be the worst weather day of our trip, which is not really what you want when doing this leg, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. You can’t control the weather. Just imagine how the photos would look under bright, blue skies!

The Great Ocean Road (B101) is an iconic drive, known for its cliff-hugging curves, amazing limestone rock formations, and outstanding views over the Southern Ocean and Bass Strait – the treacherous stretch of water that separates the Australian mainland from Tasmania.

What I didn’t know – and should have – is that it is Australia’s largest war memorial. It was built by more than three thousand returned WW1 soldiers using picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and explosives. Work commenced on the 19 September, 1919 and took thirteen years to complete. The road connected isolated coastal towns which had formerly been accessible only by sea, provided much-needed work for returned servicemen, and was dedicated to the memory of those who did not return.

Men working on the construction of the Great Ocean Road.

Men working on the construction of the Great Ocean Road.
Sourced: Australian War Memorial 11 Apr 2020 Photo: Courtesy visitgreatoceanroad.org.au

The Bay of Islands stretches for 32 klm (20mi) between Peterborough and Warrnambool. There are two viewing platforms, several hiking trails, beaches, coves and a cormorant nesting site. Craggy limestone cliffs stretch way into the distance, and the water is dotted with eroded rock formations.

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map closeup

Bay of Martyrs, which includes wide bays such as Massacre Bay, while not as visually stunning, is still very picturesque, and also a haven for birdlife.

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The Grotto is part-blowhole, part-archway, part-cave. You can either stay at the viewing platform above, or follow the tiered steps to explore it at eye-level, where The Grotto is filled with smooth boulders and a rock pool. This is another formation that is a blow-hole in the right conditions, and the rock wall at the base is there to protect people for when the water rushes in and sprays up unexpectedly. You may still get wet, but hopefully not swept out.

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 London Arch used to be London Bridge before emulating the children’s nursery song and falling down. The span closer to the shoreline collapsed unexpectedly on 15 January 1990, stranding two tourists at the other end. They were rescued by helicopter.

Bill and I had done that walk on our honeymoon in 1986. London Bridge 1985

Today, even allowing  I had the zoom lens on my film camera, the scene is quite different. The arch under the rock is still there, and changing shape, but that part of the rock stands as an island. It’s a reminder that all such rock formations we are viewing were once connected to the mainland.

rs London Arch

We continued in this manner, winding around the coastline, getting in and out of the car, rugging up, and dodging rain squalls. The Loch Ard Gorge is named after the ship that foundered here (more shipwreck tales of endurance), and formations in this area include The Razorback, and Island Archway (which seems to be labelled London Bridge on the above map).

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Then we arrived at the most well-known of all – The Twelve Apostles. Since our 1986 visit, a large tourist centre has been established here. The carpark layout attested to the volumes of tour coaches that pull in. Roadside barriers have been erected so that you cannot simply view the Apostles from the verge, you need to follow  a defined entrance and path – and it, and the tourist office were closed!

The Great Ocean Road, particularly this section of it, has become one of the “must do” things for overseas tourists staying in Melbourne. We’d been feeling lucky that the restrictions on entering Australia, combined with the lockdown in China, meant that we’d shared today’s visit with relatively few others so far. And, back in Port MacDonnell, we’d learned that the tourist offices were on a conference call discussing whether or not to close. In fact, on arrival in Port Fairy the night before, we found the office closed. All relevant brochures were left outside for a time until incoming visitors would have found accommodation.

So I think I was more surprised at how the area had developed, and how many tourists had congregated here, than I was at the facility being closed. But it was a portent for things to come. Some people were determined to straddle the barriers and do their best to get a glimpse, but we settled on our memories. And lo! Here is a photo from the honeymoon album. And a half-decent one at that.

Twelve Apostles

We’d been unsure about whether we would fit in a visit to the Cape Otway lighthouse, so the Apostles closure provided an opportunity. I rang ahead to make sure it was open, as we didn’t want a fruitless drive out to Cape – as pretty as the drive turned out to be. I also checked on the cafe, but by the time we got to the counter, precisely on 3pm, lunch was “off” – not even a pre-packaged salad or sandwich to be had. Nothing else gluten-free available, and our snacks were back in the car – so that’ll teach us to be more time-conscious!

I’ve read a few diaries of ship’s passengers, and most of them record the moment they sight the Cape Otway light. After eighty or ninety days in a sailing ship from England, or even after fifty in the case of the later steamers, the knowledge that you are finally within reach of your destination must have been a welcome relief.

rs cape otway map

Built in 1848, the lighthouse perches on the cliff where Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean collide. After leaving the Great Ocean Road and heading south, it’s a 12 klm winding, scenic drive through eucalyptus forest to reach the complex. Much of the roadway is lined with verdant, green, ferns which are not easy to photograph from a moving car. The roadway was slick with light rain.

A visitor could easily spend half a day at the Cape Otway complex. As well as the lighthouse, there are several 1850s keepers’ cottages and a workshop, a WWII radar bunker, an indigenous cultural centre, and an 1859 Telegraph Station. The keepers’ cottages are available as accommodation – two people were just booking in as we arrived at the front counter.

Under normal circumstances there are talks by volunteers on a range of topics, but these had been cancelled today. In fact, I now note the complex closed completely two days after our visit (on account of COVID-19) so we were fortunate to see as much as we did.

We walked out to the lighthouse, about 400 metres (450 yards) from the cafe, and climbed 78 steps circling towards the light. I was thankful for my recent exercise classes, as I did these easily without touching any railings. The final section, however, is a vertical metal ladder, so I definitely needed to hang on there!

We were greeted by a volunteer at the top, who was reminding anyone intending to go outside to admire the view to stuff their caps somewhere safe. It sure was windy! And cold. We circled the lighthouse balcony, took a couple of snaps, and then ducked back in. Inside, the guide was busy explaining some of the equipment to another visitor, so we listened in on that for a while, before descending the stairs backwards. It was at the bottom we met the mature-aged couple who were doing the Great Ocean Walk, 100klm (60 mi) in total – depending on your itinerary, it can take between two and eight days. Tour operators transport most of the gear. This couple were loading up with their parkas and day packs, which looked bulky enough to me. This is a different walk to the Great South West Walk that I mentioned a few posts back, but a similar idea.

rs walk to lighthouse

Walking out towards the lighthouse, then, up the stairs for the view, and back to the cafe

rs Cape Otway Lighthouse Signal

For my seafaring followers (ANS = Australian Navigation Station ??? )

The Cape’s Telegraph Station was built in 1859 and housed operators, their families and the telegraph operations rooms. Each room is now jam-packed with information, and another Morse-code station to try your hand at. Some of the rooms are furnished as they would have been at the time. One telegraph operator had a family of nine. They must have stacked the children floor to ceiling.

rs Cape Otway Telegraph Station established 1859

Cape Otway Telegraph Station established 1859

Telegraph revolutionised our communication but – like today – depended on connection. An overland telegraph line had been built between Melbourne and Geelong by 1854, and there was an attempt to lay submarine cable to Tasmania, but this quickly failed.

Cape Otway played the major role of receiving messages from passing ships, and relaying information to Melbourne.

rs Signal Flags

Q, aka, ‘The Yellow Jackie”, used to mean there was fever on board. Now it means the exact opposite!

I’ve already mentioned how delighted passengers were to sight the Cape Otway lighthouse. Mary Anne Bedford, 1864 passenger on the Champion of the Seas, tells us –

rs mary ann bedford

And, in a poignant postscript to the sad sinking of the SS Admella mentioned in previous posts, one of the first messages sent in September 1859 was to advise that one of her mailbags containing 200 letters had washed ashore nearby.

After a big day, and no lunch, we decided it was time to drive on to Apollo Bay and find our bed for the night. Light rain was falling as we drove back through the forest. This area is noted for koalas but we didn’t see any in the dull afternoon light. You have to be lucky to spot them anyway, usually high up in the fork of a tree.

The road mostly leaves the coast at this point, and winds (a lot!) through the attractive rain-forest hinterland of the Great Otway National Park. We saw what looked like a timber plantation, but on checking the internet today, I think perhaps it was a stand of Californian Redwoods planted for experimental purposes in the 1930s.

It was no great surprise to discover the Apollo Bay Tourist Information office closed. They had also left their brochures outside. This attractive coastal town is only three hours’ drive from Melbourne, and a popular weekend away. There is a lot of accommodation to choose from. The first we tried was full, but perhaps many people were cancelling, as, at the next, we somehow ended up with a family room all to ourselves!

rs Apollo Bay accomm.

Tomorrow we head to Lakes Entrance, Victoria.

21 thoughts on “Port Fairy to Apollo Bay (Vic), via The Great Ocean Road – Day 15 of Road Trip March 2020

  1. The Great Ocean Road looks fantastic and can easily compete with the Pacific Coast Highway from all the photographs. I am surprised as it’s considered number one on the best beach road trips that it is not such a ‘must do’ for overseas visitors as a trip to Bondi Beach or Sydney Opera House. Or, maybe I just know people who only visited New South Wales.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s the distance thing. 500 miles separate Sydney and Melbourne, and the latter is in Port Phillip Bay so doesn’t have any surf beaches. A long-day, or short-stay trip to Great Ocean Road, at least as far as the 12 Apostles, is extremely popular among tourists to Melbourne, and many combine it with a trip to Phillip Island to see the fairy penguins come in at dusk.
      If the COVID-19 restrictions go on for a long time, I might even get to blog about our road trip on the Pacific 101 from San Fran to Astoria. That’s only been waiting since 2018 🙂 . . . or was that 2017? hmmmmm

      Liked by 1 person

      • At the rate things are going virtual tourism maybe all we’ll have in the short term so San Fran to Astoria from Ms Garrulous Gwendoline will be a welcome addition to the virtual global tour not least as various airlines appear to be biting the dust. I see Virgin Australia has just gone into administration.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, voluntary. Not unexpected I feel. A week ago I was commenting with the blogger “Little Miss Traveller” about the likelihood. The government declined to bail them out, and I feel that’s justified, even though it puts Qantas in a monopoly position. Now let’s see who swoops in for a bargain buy.


    • Thanks for your comment! I checked a photo of a Ruddy Turnstone on the internet, and it looks rather brighter than our chap. Of course, it could be a male/female thing. But I found something called a Dunlin. What do you think?


  2. You make it sound so real Gwen that Rob says “we don’t need to go”! The flags brought back some memories as we had them all on our boat. We always had to fly a Q flag for quarantine when we entered any port. Plus a country flag was desired so we always made one – on my trusty Singer in the forecabin!


    • Glad to be of service! I was thinking of you two and a couple of other followers when I included the lighthouse data and the signalling chart. I chuckled at your Singer in the yacht. How many reels of different coloured cotton did you take with you? J


    • Wikipedia tells me that Cape Otway light was decommissioned in January 1994, replaced with low powered solar light in front of the original tower (three white flashes every 18 seconds). Would that mean they upgraded the signal frequency as well? Do you often communicate with lighthouses? (reminds me of that famous joke where an American naval ship was ordering the lighthouse to get out of its way).


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