Our deep drunken sleep is shattered by the sound of microphone feedback right outside the bedroom window. It’s 5:31AM, pitch black save for the face of the clock radio. I bolt out of bed to crank shut the window – the sound is coming from some freak bird in the tree by the corner of the building. It really does sound like somebody swinging a microphone in front of a PA speaker, a hollow screech that cuts out just before losing control. But why now? There won’t be light for another hour. Thanks for nothing, feedback face.
The morning drive east follows the “most photographed stretch of road in Australia” – the sandstone cliffs along the Great Ocean Road. For hundreds of thousands of years the salt spray from the Southern Ocean has been slowly eroding the soft rock, leaving behind spectacular hundred-foot cliffs and lonely pillars.
We also get acquainted with the famous Austrlian flies. The buggers are everywhere.
This stretch of shoreline is known as the Shipwreck Coast for good reason – some ungodly number of ships ran aground here in the nineteenth century. One of the most famous was the Loch Ard, celebrating the end of its arduous three-month journey from England only to wreck that night in rough seas, leaving two survivors. There’s a viewing area with observation platforms pointing out the spot the ship ran afoul of the coast. A lone redheaded tourist has a tripod and clears each viewing platform of people so she can set up unsmiling self-portraits. Hope they turn out.
We break for lunch at the Loch Ard Museum, the farmhouse where the two young shipwreck survivors recuperated. We finish off the Skilogallee wine and some excellent cheese and salami purchased back in Mt. Gambier.
Cindy’s at the wheel as the road turns inland to the rainforest of the Otway National Park. The road is steep and winding, and we back-seat passengers are getting a little carsick. Soon enough we break back through to the coast, and are rewarded with a spectacular view – the blue-green Southern Ocean dashing itself against the rocky coast to the right, and sheer rock cliffs immediately to the left. Waterfalls plummet quickly to sea level only to meander the last few yards to the ocean in wide curving streams.
We pass through Lorne over Eric’s objections. This is a busy beachfront town built by the road along a wide sweeping cove, but Melanie’s got her mind set on the town of Torquay, about a half-hour further east.
Torquay (tor-KEY) is one of the few towns outside of Hawaii based solely on surfing. There’s one particular corner (Bells Beach) that boasts world-class waves, and the town hosts a surf-and-rock music festival every year at Easter. There are plenty of stringy-haired surfer dudes in the camper parks that line the main road, setting up little backyard barbecues. All the recommended hotels are booked, so we drive to the Tropicana, a motel about a mile up B-100.
The Tropicana handles some of the rock festival overflow each year. Blink-182 stayed there last year – there’s an autographed photo on the wall. Rosie Lucky, the innkeeper, sports a Blink-182 t-shirt and tells Cindy and Melanie all about the band as she fills out the guest check. I pull the car to the little courtyard to start unpacking.
There’s a squeal of tires, and a Mustang screeches to a halt a few spots away. Immediately a tall Australian gentleman in shorts and polo shirt emerges from the office and strides toward the courtyard. He points at me.
“I didn’t do it.”
“Bard Lucky. Your wife’s coming with the key.”
He continues on to the Mustang. There are two surfer dudes, maybe 20 years old, gathering their belongings in the front seat. Bard opens the passenger-side door, surprising the passenger.
- This is an aggressive move on any continent.
“Speed limit’s five miles an hour.”
“Don’t be sorry.”
I miss the end of the conversation. Eric and I unload the station wagon with frightened grins on our faces.
The sun’s setting on another day. Melanie, Cindy and I leave Eric to his movies and pizza delivery and drive across B-100 into the little town, to find just about everything closed. Shut out again, at only eight o’clock. A Mexican place on the Esplanade will feed us if we order right now, and we comply gratefully, getting some decent nachos and enchiladas in the bargain. I make the mistake of ordering a Cascade lager – it’s a Tazzie beer that’s got less to offer than the mainland beers like VB or four-X.