Melbourne, Day 4: The Centre of Warrnambool is a Home with a Caravan Out Front

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Loch Ard Gorge

Of all the mystery surrounding this trip, I knew at the very least that Sunday is the day where we slept in a stationary train car. That in and of itself is an odd situation that merits plenty of questions, but those questions would not be answered, because Bill was tight-lipped about the secrecy of the trip, and I was all for the surprise.

I ask Bill what I needed for our overnight trip, and his vague response is, "pack for one night." Helpful.

We have another late start to the day, but once we get in the car, I catch up on blog writing, as I am already falling behind. Writing a blog on vacation is stressful and time-consuming...I don't recommend it.

We make a quick stop to see Bells Beach, a renowned surf beach. We take a moment to watch the surfers catch some waves, but some onlookers tell us that the tide is a bit low today and not ideal for the 40 or so surfers out there in the water.

Bells Beach

We jump back in the car and I'm back to blogging.  I'm grateful Bill allows me to be antisocial in these first couple hours of the road trip, but once we get to the destination, he's all, "Ok, put the damn laptop away already."

The destination, however, is really just the start of a journey...we have approached the Great Ocean Road, a scenic road that runs along the coast, connecting smaller coastal towns. It was built after WWI, a project designed to give work to returned servicemen. Once completed, it measured 241 kilometers, and has become a tourist attraction for its scenic views and easy access to several naturally-occurring tourist attractions. The road itself is also the largest enduring war memorial in the world.

Our long drive along the winding coastline is punctuated by stops to see the gorgeous scenic viewpoints. Our first stop was the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch, which is precisely what it sounds like.

I thought I was clever with "thumbs up" being the universal sign of "great."

statue depicting the construction of the road

We hop back in the car and off we go on a stop-ridden journey along the road. Just outside of the town called Lorne, we stop at Teddy's Lookout, with a view of the ocean breaking into the mouth of the Saint George River and rainforest-covered gorge. Of the few things Bill did actually inform me to pack, it was a jacket, and I am starting to feel the cold sharp ocean breeze along this road.

Teddy's Lookout

Bill was quick to point out that Chicago wasn't listed.

After feeling like I've eaten tons of rich food in the brief time I've been here in Australia, I decide that a smoothie is a healthy snack for me to get some fiber. Don't judge me.

We stop in Lorne at Fruits of the Forest where I get a much-needed smoothie and Bill gets a milkshake. One of the reasons Bill is so great is his willingness to indulge in milkshakes/blended drinks with me at any and all times.

ice cream pit stop

Vanuatu has had a shortage of honey in the, well, the entire time I've been in Vanuatu, so the idea that I can get FREE honey added to a smoothie is quite the novelty. One tablespoon of honey probably costs like $5 in Vanuatu. I choose fruits I never would get in Vanuatu: kiwi and strawberry. They end up adding so much honey to the smoothie that it's practically honey flavored. I'm not complaining.

On our way back to the car, Bill points out some cockatoos digging through the rubbish. I'm always fascinated by the different rats of different countries. New York City has rats. Kuala Lumpur has monkeys. Australia has cockatoos! I'm pretty sure I've known three or four people in my lifetime who have had pet cockatoos. I wonder if Australians equate that to having a pet rat.

cockatoos and fine dining

Along our drive, we get a call from George, the owner of the accommodations for the night. He asks our approximate arrival time, and Bill estimates after 8pm. George is British and cheery, and says it's no problem at all. He tells us he'll leave the key in the door and gives us instructions on the location of our accommodations from the driveway of the grounds. After the call, Bill looks at the map on his phone and realizes we should speed up a little, as we still have hours of driving ahead of us.

We drive onward until we get to the Twelve Apostles, one of the main attractions of the Great Ocean Road.

view of  most of the 12 Apostles

view of other two apostles to the east

view of me and Bill

The Twelve Apostles are located in Port Campbell National Park and are comprised of seven limestone rock formations along the coast (one collapsed in 2005) created by erosion. Oddly, it never consisted of 12 formations. As it's a major attraction, there is a nice slatted path leading to a few viewpoints, that were crowded with people.

the collapsed apostle can be seen in the middle, appearing as a crumbled pile of rocks

A short distance away from the 12 Apostles is the Loch Ard Gorge, a majestic site that is so named for being the site of a 19th century shipwreck of a clipper named Loch Ard. The ship had 54 passengers, but only two teenagers from the ship survived when it ran aground in a heavy fog storm in June 1878 after a three-month journey from England to Melbourne.

Loch Ard Gorge

Bill hates me

a nearby cave, roped off for zero exploration opportunity

It's getting late and the sun is starting to go down. We decide our next few stops will be speedy: park the car, snap a pic, jump in the car, repeat.

We stop in a surprisingly empty parking lot (all the scenic points have been packed with buses and people up to this point) and snap a picture of The Arch. The absolute power of the ocean waves smashing against the side of this formation makes me nervous. The ocean calms some, it terrifies me.

The Arch

We drive onward and stop at London Arch, which was formerly known as London Bridge before it collapsed in 1990, stranding two tourists on the arch but injuring no one. Can you imagine just wanting to snap some pics on a scenic formation, then being stuck there until a helicopter can rescue you?

London Arch

After our final scenic point, we are on a race against the sun to get somewhere to eat before they close. Bill sets our destination as Warrnambool, a town west of the Great Ocean Road, with a population of just under 40,000.

The map app that Bill uses takes us on the strangest routes, one of which takes us on a detour from the highway to Devondale Road, a farm road in the middle of nowhere. I can say that I have taken an unofficial grand tour of the outskirts of Warrnambool, following the dirt roads past sleeping cows.

After getting back on the highway, we pass the Sungold Milk Stadium, a premiere racetrack. I am excited to see Warrnambool, since Bill keeps building it up as basically the heartlands of Australia, where the equivalent in the USA would be the home to flag-waving blue-blooded Americans.

Our quest is to find food. Stupidly, we continue following the map app, despite our better judgement of thinking to follow the signs that read "TOWN SQUARE." We dutifully follow the app to the dead middle of Warrnambool, through a clustered residential suburban route, until it tells us we have arrived at our destination.

Our destination, it seems, is the front yard of some house that has a caravan out front. I tell Bill we should ask them to cook us some dinner.

We're here!

We shut the map app off and decide to follow signs to the center of town, which ends up being far larger and more diverse than I'd anticipated. As Bill only knows Australia, and I only know the USA, our perspective on what is and what could be a small town are restricted to our experiences. Firstly, the size of this place is the same as the suburb I grew up in, not quite the size of a "small town" in my head. For me, a small town is just quaint. A small town in the USA would have a diner, a little hole-in-the wall that offers eggs, bacon, biscuits and chicken, everything cooked in copious amounts of grease for under $10 a meal. A small town has architecture dating back to the 50s or 60s, when it was a booming town, but now in comparison to its neighboring cities, is tiny and quaint. The dining options in a small town mostly fall under "American" with the exception of chain restaurants. There's an antique shop and a florist and a farm tool repair shop and a local hardware store that's been owned by the same family for over 80 years.

We pull into Warrnambool, and it's none of that. It does have the quaint 50s/60s architecture and layout of a small town, yet it feels new and flashy and hip.

downtown Warrnambool

It's nearing 9pm, and we jump on Bill's phone to see all the dining options. This place is packed with diverse options, similar to a cosmopolitan area in the USA. There's a tapas restaurant, more than two Thai restaurants, more than two Indian restaurants, Mexican, Italian, and cocktail bars.  There's even an art gallery in town! This place has culture and style and diversity, something that towns outside of major cities in the USA rarely have. This is the kind of place where you could request gluten free or vegan options and not be stared at like you're an alien.

We quickly decide on Indian, and stop into Western Pendu Indian Cuisine, a tiny little restaurant that is gracious enough to host us despite it nearing the closing hour. There are a few couples inside, still in the middle of their meal. Bill, a fellow world traveler, quickly notes that the two artworks on the wall are not fitting for the environment: Hong Kong and some European city.

As we skipped lunch earlier and instead opted for a tray of french fries covered in gravy around 2pm (I stand by this decision), we were starving. Despite my small stomach, I insist we order a ton of food, comprised of garlic naan, regular naan, a chicken curry, a lamb curry, and rice. The waitress brings out all of this, plus an extra platter of coconut rice that we didn't order. It's a huge quantity of food, but I'm thrilled. The waitress had asked if we wanted it hot or mild, and Bill orders hot. She told us we were "brave." I got scared, but then, in the one tiny proof of small towniness, the curry is pretty mild. If this were a big city, they would deliver on their promise of spiciness. The other proof of the small town atmosphere? The entire meal only sets us back 40AUD, approximately $26 USD. Amazing.

After we bloat ourselves with curries and starches, we roll into the car, fill up on gas, and drive off to our final destination for the night, our accommodations. In a happy food coma, I fall asleep on the 45 minute drive until Bill wakes me up. We have arrived at Codrington Gardens Bed and Breakfast.

It feels a bit like a campground, pulling in on a gravel driveway in the darkness. We follow the instructions George gave us on the phone earlier, to the Port Fairy Flyer #2. The place is quiet, as it's nearly midnight (four hours after we told George we'd arrive...oops). Our spot is a train car on a small foundation, and in the window, I see a grandma vase. I can already tell I'm gonna love it.

our accommodations in the morning light

We park the car and quietly unlock the door to our abode. Inside it's so grandma and quaint and old-fashioned and I LOVE IT. There's carpeting and old brocade fabrics and peacock feathers and embroidered pillows and just overall fabulousness. We entered through one door of the car, but the opposite door opens up to a modern bathroom that has been built into the side of the car, so you can use a modern toilet, shower, and sink without stepping outside.

the burgundy! the grandma vase! the peacock feathers! the fabric patterns!

this is definitely the place for sexy photoshoots

There's a little laminated card on the table that tells the life story of the train car, from its construction in 1804 to its life as a first-class train carriage, to its life in storage and disrepair, to George's renovation in recent years (he had to gut it and put every screw and wood panel back in by hand) to its current life as a place to sleep.

I have not used heat in approximately three years, so it was unfamiliar to me to use the over-bed heater to keep us warm in the chilly night. Once we settled into our stationary train car for the evening, it was time to shut off the lights and dream of my final day in Australia tomorrow.