Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Great Ocean Road

May 7, 2014 – The Great Ocean Road
Aireys Inlet, Australia
Day 113 - Distance biked so far: (7,785 km)
I spent 3 days in Adelaide and had the great pleasure of being shown the beautiful city by my friend Rhea. Rhea is a Filipina originally from Tacloban and I met her when we volunteered together at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage in 2011. She spent a year there with her parents to provide her 2 sons with some education in the Philippines. In November she returned to Tacloban after the typhoon and spent a lot of time and energy helping people recover. She also raised funds, and continues to do so, for the victims including Bella and Gemma from the Missionaries of Charity. Rhea took a day out of her schedule to show me around. Here is Rhea and I at a coffee shop.
Rhea and me
We caught up on her life back in Adelaide with her husband and children and her work at the Adelaide hospital as a nurse. She drove me around to a lot of the sights and it was a great way to catch up and see Adelaide. It is a perfect size and has an ideal climate and would easily win as my choice of a city to live in if I were to move to Australia. I love the combination of clean wide streets, cafes and coffee shops, bike lanes, green space and old churches. It is a perfect example of how a focus on the environment can pay dividends in terms of quality of life. You can balance economic growth and quality of life and Adelaide strikes that balance. Here is an old church in the center of the city.
Church in Adelaide
The River Torrens runs through the city and instead of piles of garbage that you might see in the rivers of many SE Asian cities, you get a view like this. It is amazing how little things like putting garbage in a trash can instead of throwing it on the ground can have such a positive impact.
Park in Adelaide
The Adelaide Oval is hailed as the world’s most attractive cricket grounds. I can’t say that I’ve seen many cricket ovals but this is nice and reminds me of some of the old baseball fields in the U.S.
Adelaide Oval
I headed out of Adelaide by continuing south to the coast. To leave you have to go up over the Adelaide hills and I picked a beautiful day to climb up the tree filled streets that wind up and out of the city. It is fall here and some of the colours are out in full force.
Fall colours in the hills of Adelaide
I was heading in a southeast direction and had days of passing through agricultural areas and slowly made my way down towards Lake Alexandrina and the wetlands known as The Coorong. The area composes the Younghusband Peninsula that separates the Lake from the Southern Ocean and is a sanctuary for millions of birds, particularly the Pelican. I had to take a short hop on a ferry to cross the Murray River that runs through here and saw my first Pelican casually drifting by the boat.
Pelican in the Murray River
I rode south about 100 km per day, camping each night as I inched to the bottom of the Continent. I passed the 7,000 km mark near Wellington.
7,000 km mark in South Australia
The city of Mount Gambier is the Limestone Coasts (as this area is known) major town with a population of about 25,000. It is home of the deep Blue Lake and crater that was formed from a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. The Lake is up to 75 meters deep and the source of drinking water for the town and region. Here are a few pictures of the Blue Lake and the trees filling the former crater.
Blue Lake in Mount Gambier
Autumn colours
After 3,500 km’s of cycling in this vast country, I passed the border into my 3rd State or Territory. I was now in the State of Victoria.
Welcome to Victoria
The weather has been slowly turning colder with a persistent wind and threatening rain. It is quite damp so it is difficult to dress as I sweat from cycling but then get chilled from the wind. My windbreaker jacket has been a constant companion and I have even slept with it a few times. The nights are cold and it is becoming harder to get out of my sleeping bag in the mornings but the day usually warms up nicely if the sun comes out. I was very close to the Southern Ocean and would get glimpses but it wasn’t until I reached Port Fairy and saw the Lighthouse that I realized I was on the southern coast. If I went south across that ocean, the next land or ice that I would hit would be I Antarctica.
Port Fairly Lighthouse
In my last journal I wrote about fear and how it is often something that stops us from doing what we would like to do. I asked myself if there is anything I wouldn’t do because of fear, or maybe because I have a little common sense, and I think there are 2 things.
The first is climbing Mount Everest. Last year I hiked up to the Everest Base Camp at over 5,400 meters. I did the hike on my own and it is a physical challenge but I had the relative luxury of having an indoor place to sleep, even if the lodges are very basic in nature. In my rooms I would often be very cold at night in my sleeping bag with all my clothes on and it was at those times I would think about what it would be like to be climbing up to 9,000 meters while sleeping outside in a tent. I couldn’t imagine the hiking up into that cold thin air for weeks on end yet I am fascinated by stories of people who have done it. Better them than me.
The second activity is closely related to my arrival at the Southern Ocean. I have read numerous accounts of solo sailboat races around the world and it is the second thing I would not do, particularly on my own. I have read numerous accounts of people who have completed the Vendee Globe race, a solo and non-stop circumnavigation of the world and in each account, the sailors always talk about the Southern Ocean as being their biggest obstacle. In one account, during a race one of the boats flipped over while in a severe storm far out into the Southern Ocean. When you get below 40 degrees latitude, the strong westerly winds are referred to as the roaring 40’s. The waves are particularly dangerous because there is no landmass so they come from every direction. When modern sailboats flip over, they are designed to right themselves so the sailor can continue but with hurricane force winds and waves over 20 meters, the boat was staying upside down. The sailor escaped by swimming out and tying himself to the keel that was now on top of the water. At that point in the Southern Ocean, the only chance of being rescued is if another boat helps out as the distance to land is so great that a plane or helicopter capable of helping would run out of fuel before getting back to land. Another boat was in the race and turned around against those winds and managed to pull him aboard, only minutes before his submerged boat sank. I might do the race if you could be part of a team but I’m betting no one would recruit me for the simple reason that I’m not sure how much value I could add while hiding below in the cabin.
I was now on the shores of the ocean I have only read about and for me, it was a thrill just to look out into the vastness. I stayed in the nice small town of Port Fairy a few days as the weather turned nasty with very strong winds and heavy rain It was the perfect chance however, to see the Southern Ocean during a storm, even if it was from land. I walked to a hill behind the town and had some great views on a blustery day.
Southern Ocean waves
Rough seas in Port Fairy
The following day was a little calmer and that brought out a few surfers who struggled to stay upright but it looked like they were having a blast  There is a surfer in there.
Surf’s up
A short while after leaving Port Fairy I arrived at the world famous Great Ocean Road.
Start of Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road was built by returning soldiers between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to those killed during World War 1. It is the world’s largest war memorial and a fitting tribute to the brave men of Australia. The Road is 243 km long and in most places hugs the coast offering incredible views of the wild Southern Ocean coast. It is one of those places you simply can’t miss if you are in Australia, and particularly if you are riding a bicycle.
Some of the towns here are so popular that they have youth hostels and I started taking advantage of them to get a warm and dry bed at night. I was incredibly fortunate to be at some of the most photogenic places during the few periods of sunshine I would get in a day. The scenery though has really been outstanding.
There are more photos on my Flickr page.
One of the first famous rock formations is that of London Bridge. It was once a double-arched rock platform linked to the mainland and visitors could walk out across a narrow bridge to the large rock. In 1990, the bridge collapsed leaving two tourists marooned and eventually rescued by helicopter. It is only a matter of time until the waves and erosion collapse the remaining arch.
London Bridge
The views of the rocks, blue skies and seas make cycling very difficult and slow. You can’t help but look over while trying to stay on the road and then you just want to stop every few feet.
Windswept view of Southern Ocean
Looking west on Great Ocean Road
The famous 12 Apostles were next in line. The name is actually misleading because there aren’t 12 rocks. There are viewing platforms and from there you can clearly see 7 but some are obscured. The Apostles are technically called stacks and are made of soft limestone, constantly eroded by the never-ending waves. In 2005, a 70-meter stack collapsed into the sea.
12 Apostles
Here is the view looking east from the same spot.
View looking east from the 12 Apostles
I was dressed in most of my clothes that day but was very fortunate to get sunshine. A few hours later, I was cycling up a long hill in a steady and cold rain so the timing to get these views was perfect. It’s not often you can get your picture taken with the 12 Apostles.
The 12 Apostles and Me
As mentioned, the road turned inland for a 30 km detour into the hills. In a matter of minutes I was away from the ocean and into a deep forest of thick trees. It was spectacular and shows the incredible variety of the landscape here.
Lavers Hill
One of my favorite towns along the coast was Apollo Bay. I found a great hostel with a cozy living room and fireplace and stayed 2 nights to enjoy the scenery and relaxed lifestyle of a beach town in the slow season. One day I walked along the beach and saw a nice dog just sitting on the sand looking out at a group of surfers. I sat beside him and he cuddled up beside me to let me pet him, but rarely took his eyes off the surfers. One of them came out and told me it was her dog and when she instructs him to stay, he simply sits on the beach until she returns. Here is my new friend Jessie, a very good dog but who couldn’t be bothered looking into the camera.
Jessie and me
Here is the nice beach in Apollo Bay.
Apollo Bay
Apollo Bay is also home to a great café. On the morning I left, I biked down the street looking for a cup of coffee and found a comfortable looking place. I was tired of eating my oatmeal so decided to try something new and asked for the pancakes, berries and maple syrup and it tasted just as good as it looked. I even thought about staying another night to get more the next day but pulled myself away to see more of the Great Ocean Road, not an easy decision at all.
Breakfast in Apollo Bay
The stretch of road between Apollo Bay and Lorne is spectacular because it follows closely to the Ocean. Here are more pictures along this stretch.
Great Ocean road near Princetown
Sweeping panorama
Ideal cycling
I stopped for a brief break at a small town called Kennett River and noticed a few buses of tourists all gathered around a few trees with their cameras in hand so I knew it must be a well known spot listed in the guide books. I joined the groups and saw some beautiful birds.
Colorful birds
The main reason people stop however is to see the Koala bears sleeping in the trees. I managed to find one. I tried to wake him up but you know how it is with young Koalas these days, they just stay up too late and sleep half the day away.
Sleeping Koala
I also saw a pair of look-alikes. They were perfectly still but definitely alive. I think they were having a contest to see who would blink first.
Here is a view of some of the fall colours and the ocean.
Fall colours
This is how you build a house to get a great ocean view over your neighbor’s home.
Quite a view
The Angel House Orphanage had their second adoption last week with the young boy K being adopted by a couple in Norway. That is the second one in short order and a time for celebration. For the children left behind without parents, life continues with a few new faces and the constant attention of the workers trying to fill the gap of parents. It is very important for these children that were abandoned and with a relatively large group of other kids around, to get some special attention, something that would make them feel special even for a short time. Think back to the time you were a child and how important it was to be singled out by your parents or to be recognized for something you did in school or other activities.
The thing I love about the Angel House is that they try their best to give the children a sense of stability and to create a home environment where the children can feel safe and secure. A perfect example is when they make the special effort to celebrate birthdays. It is a simple thing that we all experienced but it is easy to forget that for millions of kids around the world, they never get a birthday party.
When I volunteered at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Tacloban, Angelina was one of the children. She would be one that many of you helped later after the typhoon but at the time, she turned 13 and I decided that we would have a birthday cake. I bought a cake with her name on it and some candles that you can’t blow out, and all the workers and children gathered together to sing Happy Birthday. It was a simple gesture and at the time I never really gave it much thought but later Angelina told me that it was the first time she ever had a birthday cake. To this day she reminds me of that day because she said it made her feel special. It was one thing she didn’t have to share and for that day, she was the center of attention. It is easy to dismiss how important those small things are to children because we all had it but for the millions of street children around the world, it is something they will never experience.
I think that experience with Angelina made the following photo my favorite. I look at this picture every time I open Facebook. It is of Boy J celebrating his 3rd birthday at Angel House. I look at his face and you can see that he is reveling in the special attention given to him. I love it because I know how important it is for these kids to feel loved and to feel that they are part of a family. The Angel House is their family for now and the work that David and his staff are doing is changing each life for the better. Boy J was the center of attention at Angel House on this day, and it made him feel like a Kiing.
Birthday Boy J
If you are interested in supporting the work that David is doing with those children in the Philippines, please contact me.

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