Since we arrived in Melbourne, we had been told that the Great Ocean Road is one of the greatest adventures that you could experience in Victoria. We had not only heard this from backpackers and through reading tourist information leaflets, but through the locals and people who had experienced it first hand. Most tours advertise trips down the Great Ocean Road, followed by a visit to the Grampian Mountain ranges, but we didn’t quite fancy spending a couple of days travelling with a group of old biddies, stopping off for organised lunch breaks and photo opportunities. So we took it upon ourselves to organise a route to experience this with as much freedom as we wanted. The drive consisted of taking the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide, starting in Melbourne where we would spend several nights getting boozy, before returning to Melbourne via the Grampian Mountains. But what little did we know…
Our journey began with two friends from home arriving in Melbourne late at night after travelling from Sydney. All four of us thoroughly prepared ourselves by getting absolutely slaughtered and not considering the consequences of the 12-hour drive we had ahead of us the following morning. Waking up bright and early at 3pm, we quickly stuffed our clothes into our bags and set off on what we now know to be one of the greatest road trips that any of us has ever endured.
After briefly stopping of at Geelong for a “pisshead pit stop”(alcohol supplies) we headed on towards Torquay, the start of the Great Ocean Road, with nothing but a distant memory of civilisation behind us and the unexpected ahead.
The initial stretch of the Great Ocean Road was somewhat similar to the rural areas of greater Melbourne, a narrow winding road that crept through a dense forest adjacent to an ocean that none of us had yet witnessed. The Great Ocean Road gradually carried us higher along the cliff faces until the tree line abruptly ended, and for the first time we had all realised why the Great Ocean Road had been given its name. The road itself looked similar to Monte Carlo in a Bond film in places, completely untouched by humans other than the road itself. With 100ft cliff faces staring at us from the right and an unmeasurable drop to the rocky ocean floor to the left, we knew that any slight mistakes along this leg of our journey would end in complete disaster.
Tired, hungry and after we had finished arguing over who would be next to drive, we continued on towards Port Campbell, all the while appreciating why it is classed as one of the greatest roads to journey across on the planet. Expecting silver service at Port Campbell (where our first hostel was located) we explored the small town in search of our eagerly awaited dinner. Unfortunately our only option to avoid starvation that night was a dodgy omelette offered to us by a shifty looking man in a restaurant, which surprisingly enough, we turned down. We managed to make the best out of a bad situation by scavenging for surplus food left in the hostel fridges, which looked like something you would see on Ready Steady Cook! So without the help of Ainsley and using only the recovered ingredients, we managed to create steak and egg soup wraps with spinach and a side of noodles. Fairly standard meal.
The Port Campbell hostel itself was exactly as we had expected. Clean rooms, friendly staff and a perfect location for anyone who’s intending to visit the Twelve Apostles or any other sites along the Great Ocean Road in South East Victoria.
Day two of our journey, all showered, feeling fresh and ready for our final stretch to Adelaide, we packed up and headed down towards the Twelve Apostles. Our first glimpse of the landmark was as picturesque as we had imaged it to be, incredible stone formations climbing out of the clear blue ocean. All four of us stood there together and had a brief moment appreciating its beauty, helping us realise our desire to find somewhere just as incredible but untouched by commercialisation. And so we set of in search of our own Twelve Apostles.
The next leg of our journey was pretty straight forward as it included several "pisshead pit stops”, a brief sandwich at the cheese factory and a minor setback of getting pulled over for driving double the speed limit almost all the way. After a total of eight hours spent covering beautiful roads through forests, open country and small towns, we had arrived just outside of Adelaide. While stopping off for a quick break, we had lost our bearings and accidently took the wrong road up Mount Lofty (part of a huge mountain range which towers across South Australia). As we crept up the mountain in our well-travelled rental, we realised how fortunate we were to have taken a wrong turn as we were presented with an unbelievable view of the entire city of Adelaide. Sweaty and tired from the journey but glad to be back in civilisation, we headed back down the mountain towards the next beds of our trip.
Our next accommodation was at the Anzac Highway Motel. The complex looked as though we had parked up in one of the sets from Breaking Bad, although it did come complete with a hole in the ground full of water, or in other words a shitty 2ft swimming pool. We swiftly emptied the car and began preparing ourselves to explore this entirely new location. Making our way to the town centre of Glenelg (an inner city suburb of Adelaide) we decided to hit up a few bars. The bar strip was looking pretty lively for a Wednesday night, something that was unexpected as the suburb was fairly small in comparison with the rest of the city. After skulling a few stubbies and as most of the bars shut around 1 we had decided, in true English spirit, to go on in search of more alcohol, which to our amazement ended extremely well.
We had been driving around for a while in search of our next venue, but after an hour we had come to the decision of calling it a night until one of us noticed two bright inviting lights in the visible distance. One of which was very familiar, a big yellow M ready to provide us with all the early morning drunken burgers that we could dream of. The other titled The Thirsty Camel, probably one of the greatest discoveries at 2am in human history. It consisted of a drive through (which was attempted to be hidden but in plain sight) just before McDonalds, shelves stacked with every brand of alcohol Australia has to offer and members of staff ready to not only collect our desired drinks, but to also load them into the boot of our car for us. So with our stomachs full of Big Macs and thirsts quenched with Canadian Club and Carlton Draught, we ended the night with a few drunken Facetimes back home before finally heading to bed.
For our first full day in Adelaide, we arose surprisingly early and headed down to the beaches to find some seafood breakfast. We came across a nice little restaurant directly next to the ocean, which was absolutely heaving with old age pensioners and stuffed our faces with a variety of fried sea creatures - not exactly a Wetherspoons fry up to settle our hungover stomachs.
The weather was some of the best that we had experienced since being away; 38 degrees, clear skies and a breeze that basically flushed our hangovers away. So after a brisk brekkie, we went in search of a decent beach to chill out on for the day. Although the beaches in Adelaide were unbelievable, it seemed that they were being kept a secret, as there wasn’t too much going on along them. There were very few shops, bars or even people for such a beautiful place.
After spending most of the day soaking up the sun, we decided on a trip to the city in search of a music festival we had seen advertised around Adelaide. However, this was short lived, as we didn’t take into account that we might actually need to have tickets to get in. As the night slowly started to creep in, we blared out some Wham! on our way out of the city like a scene from Zoolander, and had our traditional McDonalds and Thirsty Camel diversion, before heading back down to the bars for a few drinks in time for their unusually early closes.
Waking up on our last full day in Glenelg, we got speaking to the receptionist at our motel about where to find the best beaches in South Australia. He mentioned a location called Boomer Beach a few hours drive away, whilst stating very clearly “The beach is ideal for experienced surfers but DO NOT go there if you’re not!” So with the copious amounts of surfing experience we had between us, we obviously packed our bags and headed straight for the beach.
Travelling at the speed of light, we decided to research a little bit into our dodgy destination, finding plenty of reviews of how dangerous the waves were and how strong the current was, which only made us want to get there quicker.
Arriving just after midday, we packed up just around the corner to Boomer Beach and were greeted with perfect weather, which was quite hard to notice as the roar of the crushing waves was taking up most of our attention. We decided to check what we were up against by having a quick look at the beach itself before heading to the surf shops. As the distance between the roar of the pounding waves and ourselves decreased, the beach abruptly revealed itself and for the second time of our trip we completely agreed with the given title of one of our destinations. All four of us stood in a line and watched in amazement as the 10ft waves thundered down onto the sand, only to realize that not a single person was in sight anywhere along the mile long beach.
In preparation for our fight with the raging ocean, we decided to venture into the closest town, and have what could have been the last Subway BMT’s of our lives. Expecting to buy professional surfing equipment for cheap, we ended up strapping 2 poor quality body boards and an inflatable to the roof of our car, navigating back to the beach only by the means of the sound of the deadly crashing waves. Bellies full and slightly drunk, there was nothing left but for us to accept our fate and begin tackling the waves. We launched our belongings across the beach and found ourselves slowly creeping into the water, each with an unspoken fear in the pit of our stomachs.
When we had finally grown some balls, we charged at the waves, aiming our buoyant weapons of choice and ignoring imminent death. Within seconds the waves had swallowed us to the sea floor and dragged us so far across the beach that our possessions were no longer in sight. We aimed ourselves back into the waves only to receive the same treatment we had just so willingly received. We repeated this process for the next eight hours, only briefly taking breaks to have a beer, cigarette and regain consciousness. As the day slowly passed, we became drunker, louder and more sun burnt and could not have looked any more English if we tried.
Drained from the battering we had just received, we made our way back to the motel for our final night in a hostel located on a cliff directly next to where had just spent our day drowning. Without breaking our Adelaide tradition, we had ended our night with steak dinners and a variety of fruity, colourful but ever so manly cocktails.
For our final morning in Adelaide, we loaded up the car and once again charged down to Boomer Beach for a final day on the waves before our journey took us further inland to the desolate outback of Victoria. It was the perfect end to our trip to Southern Australia, clear skies, good waves and schools of wild dolphins gliding along the coast. To top it off, we each had a single moment when we perfectly caught a wave and understood what an incredible place it really was. We spent a good six hours pissing around in the sea with our inflatables and swigging beers in the sun before finally admitting defeat, despite our two entire days of 'professional surf training’. Curious about our beds for the night, we moved onto the next hostel to see what surprises we were in for.
The accommodation felt more like a beach house than a standard hostel, which came complete with a pool table, bunk beds and an almost 360 degree view of the small town and roaring beach we had spent the last few days exploring. After cleaning the sand and dirt off ourselves, we went in search of a pub for dinner only to find a single venue filled with locals in the small town that we were staying in. Not knowing what a quite drink with dinner was, we began funnelling through the local beers and carefully scanning through the menu, settling on the cheapest steaks as we had spent most our money on inflatables. As we were presented with our dinner we noticed a crowd forming behind us and slowly growing either side of the rail crossing, which was positioned next to the pub. At first we took little notice but as the crowd began to stir and music progressively got louder, it started to absorb our attention.
Within a few minutes it had gone from a nice quite little pub to a rowdy, eager mob flooding over most of the street. We began to think we had stumbled across an absolute gem that only the locals knew about, and we wondered if we were in for another night of continuous drinking and maybe even more. Whilst at the core of the crowd, clutching onto our plates, we heard a faint whistle in the distance as everyone cheered and began taking photos of what was about to present itself. We could see the excitement on each of our faces as the mob grew louder, gazing into the direction that everyone was pointing; only to find out it was a just train pulling into the station.
We couldn’t believe all the excitement over something that we see every single day in the city and it was at this moment we realized we were actually in the middle of nowhere. After all the disappointment, we finished off our meals and headed back to the hostel to get some sleep before driving to the final location of our trip.
Rising bright and early, we decided to make the most of the small town after seeing a poster advertising a wildlife park just around the corner to where we were staying. The park itself was a representation of Australia’s most iconic animals. Friendly kangaroos that would come right up to you, koalas, crocodiles and huge emus that looked somewhat similar to prehistoric dinosaurs. We spent hours petting some of the most cliché animals from the country before setting off, which only added an extra bonus to an already unbelievable trip. We finally set off on our next route into the desert around 4pm, covered in fur, spending the remainder of the day and a majority of the night driving. We did however stop off to collect some camping supplies for a spur of the moment decision for the following night, which consisted of a BBQ, a boot load of meat and of course another library full of alcohol. Our next location was a small motel next the Grampians called Little Desert Nature Lodge, which we intended on using to relax and gather ourselves before conquering the mountains the very next day. However, this fantasy was short lived.
Arriving just after midnight outside some sketchy looking metal gates, which slowly opened as we approached, we wondered if we were in the right place. We entered regardless and followed a dirt track towards a dimly lit lamp, swaying outside of a cabin. This is when we came to the conclusion that we were either at the correct motel or at the desert headquarters of a satanic cult. A freaky looking innkeeper scurried out of the woodwork, brandishing some keys. He mentioned to us that we should have brought our own bedding, which instantly translated to us that we were in for an experience. We were sentenced to our room, where the mattresses were covered in a condom-like material and that alone. The innkeeper, before leaving us to our fate, explained that if we wished to cook, the only facilities available was a small kitchen that was unfortunately coated in insects as someone had left the door open the previous night. He explained that an outside BBQ area was also available but it would of course be swarming with flies, moths, spiders, possums, dingos etc. but also a 6 and a half foot Emu called George, who would attack us if he realised we had food.
As we made our way to the BBQ area to cook a not so practical fajita dinner, we realized how unprepared we actually were for life in the desert. Huntsman spiders the size of a human hand, along with other red and white crusty spiders of similar stature crept around us. More noticeably was the uncountable amount of moths and flies, which managed to block out our phone lights and the small bulb that swayed from the ceiling. It was basically a bush tucker trial but out of choice.
After finishing our dinner, we “skulled” a couple of beers and sat listening to Ronan Keating in the hopes of comforting ourselves for the night ahead. So at this point you could say life was a rollercoaster as we set off to bed. It didn’t take long for one of us to break down because of the creature-infested shack and deciding to spend the night curled up in the driver seat of our car in the 40 degree heat.
We awoke from our slumber, and readied ourselves to get as far away from this Wolf Creek wannabe as quickly as possible. After getting ready and collecting our belongings, we headed out to load the car only to notice our fallen man had spent the whole night with the air con on draining the battery and receiving a jump start by the innkeeper. At this point we were certain that we might never be able to leave, destined for a life in the desert living alongside the sand people. Fortunately the innkeeper managed to repair our car and we flew out of the compound heading on our way to the final destination of our journey, the Grampian Mountain ranges.
On our way down to the ranges, we managed to arrange kayak rental for one of the lakes at the top of the mountain. As the mountains came into sight, we received a disappointing phone call explaining that the weather conditions had become far too choppy to take boating equipment out into the lakes. This was probably for the best, as we didn’t want to get blown off the top of a mountain in a boat anyway.
McKenzie Falls was to be our first stop in the Grampians and after spending a good hour with poor GPS connection, we managed to find the right route and headed onwards into the mountain. Driving along a small winding road that crept along the top of the valley, we had realised that once again our lives were in the hands of the driver, of whom we had been annoying all week. Luckily enough we managed to get to the top of the falls in one piece, where we took a moment to appreciate living, then headed down the narrow steps towards the base of the waterfall. Rather than being a single giant drop, it was split into several gradual drops similar to river rapids that you would take a dinghy down in a theme park. As we followed the steps down we had noticed that there was one huge finale where the waterfall plummeted down a 50ft drop into a small swimming hole at the bottom. The river then fed its way through several boulders and formed a creek that disappeared into the valley. We didn’t dare venture past the falls, as we knew it was too dangerous, even for us.
Other than the one couple that we passed on the way to the swimming hole, there was no one else in sight. As soon as we reached the bottom and had maneuvered around the slippery, jagged rocks, we piled our belongings up and threw ourselves into the water. We spent the next few hours pissing around in the waterfall, enjoying one of the most iconic experiences of our year away so far. As much of a disappointment it was to be leaving McKenzie Falls, we headed back to the car and set off to the Balconies, the pinnacle of the mountain and our whole trip.
As we parked up we caught a glimpse through the tree line of the horizon we were soon to witness, however we ensured we didn’t spoil the view until we were at the highest point. As we followed a narrow, dusty mile-long trail towards the summit, we reminisced on the highlights of the journey so far, all aware that it was coming to an end. Filled with excitement, we noticed the clearing in the trees begin to slowly expand, revealing a view that was utterly breathtaking. It doesn’t matter how many photos you take or how well you word it, you would never fully experience this view unless you were there seeing it with your own eyes. The mountain tops circled for hundreds of miles, looming over thick forests that covered the basin below before returning and creating a perfect natural coliseum. Some of the peaks in the ranges were so high that they disappeared into the clouds, leaving little idea to where they ended. The ranges were so vast that we could see the clouds splitting in the distance, revealing rays of sunlight all within the perimeter of the basin, leaving us in absolute awe over the enormity of the view.
We wanted to take it one step further and fulfill the moment by climbing that little bit higher onto an overhanging ledge. Until we had reached this point, we were unaware of the power of the wind at over 3000ft above sea level, but despite this, we continued in true pioneering spirit. As the four of us sat, dangling our legs over a 300ft sheer drop, we ignored the fact of how dangerous the situation was that we were in, until an angry German family began screaming us at, begging us not to jump. After exchanging kind words and pleasantly telling them to “fuck off and mind their own business”, we had one final glimpse of a view that summed up our entire trip, perfectly capturing the sun as it slowly descended behind the mountain. At this point we were completely content with our trip and ready to set up camp.
We drove around the mountain in the dark for an hour until we found a perfect location to set up camp, the entrance to someone’s ranch house. This would be the second night in a row that we were to have a BBQ, however it was much nicer without all the insects, instead having an unbelievable view of the mountains that we had just conquered. We began our last supper by laying down our picnic sheet, putting on our party hats and cranking up the long requested Chris Brown – 'Beautiful People'. We then threw a few shrimps on the barbie and opened up a few stubbies, before going in search of some twigs to roast our marshmallows on.
Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worst and we decided against camping, which actually would have been sitting upright in our anyway. After folding up our party pack, we clambered into the car one final time, and set off back towards Melbourne. As the distance gradually shortened between ourselves and Melbourne, we began to notice the gentle glow of the city lights in the horizon. It wasn’t until we could see the skyline of the city that we felt comforted and safe knowing that we were returning home. The trip had finally ended, as we stepped out of the car one last time in the city where it had all begun.