Mayur recently went Down Under to Melbourne and the beautiful region of Victoria. With limited time in hand he booked with Compact Travels for a self drive programme along the Great Ocean Road merely 48 hours prior to departure. Besides, the Great Ocean Road, Mayur also visited Yarra Valley and participated in various adventure activities including Skydiving and Hot air Ballooning. Here he narrates his experience of driving down the Great Ocean Road on a very stormy day. I was on my way to Australia, rather just Melbourne with no itinerary in mind as to what should I do out there for the next 10 days!
All I was told by my girlfriend is that a common friend of ours had suggested a self drive down to the Great Ocean Road. I had no clue what it meant and what was I going to experience on the drive but the sheer thrill of driving in a foreign country was good enough for me to fantasize about it for the next three days before the D-day came by!
It was a Saturday morning when we left to pick up the rental car. I had requested my fellow travel agent friend to give me a good car to drive, probably a convertible, considering it was suppose to be summer in Australia. But like all good things come at a price, I had to suffice myself to a Toyota Corolla (what the heck, it still is a European version and not the Asian model as we have it in India!) and forget about the convertible that would just make matters worse for me financially!
Hertz was our car rental partner in this great drive. Like I said earlier, the thrill of driving a car in a different country was the exciting part. Guess I spoke too soon about it; the minute I got the car out of the parkway onto the street; it was complete mayhem, as we didn’t have a proper map to guide us out of the city. We asked for a detailed map from Hertz; all they could do is to guide us on the map that we had. Luckily, we had borrowed the Melbourne city map book from an acquaintance of ours and that helped us queer our way out from the city, even if that meant skipping a right turn and heading onto another suburb instead of heading for the freeway! Once on the freeway, one has to be careful of speed limits. Surprisingly, inspite of speed limit boards stating 80kms through the freeway, most drivers were speeding around 110kms.
On a freewheeling chat with a local at the next stop (Ballarat), I did find out that travelling at the latter speed was of no problem. Talk about taking unwanted risks in life, this was a life saver as Hertz had noted down my credit card details in order to anticipate speed fines and other rules broken through my drive.
We reached Ballarat through Bacchus Marsh in record time and were in two minds whether to stop by this place (known for housing the maximum number of Indians in and around Melbourne and known for its replica of an old-gold mining town, where you can pan for gold, explore an underground mine and watch a gold ingot being poured). On a second thought, we just didn’t want to do anything but enjoy the drive, coz that’s where we put our money worth its weight in gold, I guess! As a traveller, it’s very important to have like minded people of similar interest and I was fortunate enough to have one!
Mind you, everyone had told me that it would be summer in Australia, but much to our misfortune, since the first feel of touching base on the freeway, we have been experiencing rain. No mild showers but rain that hits like pellets and that too on a windscreen that had not been insured by us. It so happens, that I opted for a cheaper car insurance scheme for the two-day period as I was on a shoe string budget. I avoided the most trust worthy components of the car that should not fail me during my drive, i.e. windscreen and tyres. However, during the drive, my girlfriend did mention that her colleagues had often heard of windscreens getting cracked due to these rain pellets. Found it surprising but nevertheless just kept me more alert to maintain my speed and not push it further.
Talk about hidden costs, this one took the cake, however I must mention that contrary to the beliefs of petrol being more expensive if bought from the car rental company is a myth; in fact Hertz was cheaper by 28 cents to a litre in comparison to the petrol available at the nearest petrol station! From Ballarat to Halls Gap, the drive was quite lonely- The small towns that we passed by like Ararat and Stawell were quite dead, literally speaking! All these towns look more or less the same. Each one of them is self sustained with all the amenities that any family is expected from a small town. Blame it on the weather which made it look even worse but it just compelled us to carry on with our journey to the next destination- Dunkeld. The road from Halls Gap to Dunkeld was the best time of my drive. It was sans speed cameras, a straight drive with minor curves that involved driver involvement and yet helped me maintain an average speed of 110kms. It just brought out the best of me and my car! Sheer driving pleasure I would say!
The road from Dunkeld to Port Fairy was quite lean and though it may look long on the map, it was quite a straight one. Moving on to Warrnambool i.e. the end of our destination for day 1 was that of reaching the destination in a hurry. It was post 3 pm, we were hungry and yes as decided earlier, we wished to reach the place as early as possible so that if the weather permits, we can get a slice of the local town by checking out some of the nearby joints. However, there were hurdles. First and foremost, we saw a Mcdonald’s outlet on the freeway; as we were hungry and it also happens to be our favourite joint, we invariably had no choice but to take a halt.
Post lunch, we were able to get to the ‘Comfort Hotel’ (our stay at Warrnambool) during brunch time! Unfortunately, due to strong winds and heavy rains, it looked as if it was 7pm. After a well deserved dinner and an early crash to bed, we were up and going by 7.30 in the morning sans breakfast! We were keen on appetizing the view that the forthcoming ocean drive would have given us! Our drive to the next destination i.e. Port Campbell was a scenic one and a starter for better things to come.
Unfortunately, the strong winds and heavy downpour the previous evening was just going to turn the tables on the other side. We were caught up at Lavers Hill, after passing by Port Campbell. Weather broadcasts were not suiting our road travel and local people strongly asked us to detour to Colac and head straight back home to Melbourne. I just couldn’t fathom this and the long travel was taking a toll on my fellow passenger. Understanding each other is a valuable asset in long road drives and this one definitely took the cake. We did head back to Colac that was a long travel distance of one hour. On reaching the destination that was far away from our original route we wanted to give our last try at a possible re-connect on the main route and enjoying the drive that we had come for.
It was a run downhill back to connect back to Apollo bay and beyond. Call it good fortune for the good deeds done earlier or just call it plain and simple good luck favouring us, we managed to connect back on the great ocean road and much to our surprise, the road was amazing as the weather was sunny, with blue skies adorning the whole topography! Was just too happy to know that luck was on our side and the whole experience of going off track and getting back on-line was worth it.
To top it all, we saw a white Lotus Esprit, the same car that was in one of the James Bond flicks. Trust me I couldn’t help crossing my fingers praying that it would be Mr. Bond (Roger Moore) himself or wouldn’t mind anyone of his beautiful women either!
The drive was so scenic and romantic that we had no option but to find excuses just to stop and have a look at the beautiful ocean. It was so beautiful that we lost track of time, heading back to the main freeways, connecting to the beautiful town of Geelong and heading back to Melbourne, the trip was nothing else but satisfying!