The Great Ocean Road is one of the most spectacular drives, view-wise, in Australia and is up there with the best in the world.
It stretches for hundreds of kilometers along the southern edge of the state of Victoria’s rugged coastline. This curvy drive is reminiscent of California‘s Pacific Coast Highway—except for one thing, here, you’re driving on the left side of the road… so you may want to take care when gazing off into the ocean that you don’t end up in the ocean. My friend Kay and I rented a car for two days and took to the open highway to experience it all for ourselves.
On one side we drove by the lush Otway Ranges and National Park, which is filled with rainforests and contrasts with much of the nation’s parched outback.
We spotted wild koalas sleeping lazily up in the eucalyptus trees. They weren’t too hard to spot—just look for a big round ‘lifeless’ ball. I’m not being facetious when I call them lazy—these marsupials sleep around twenty hours a day. For the rest of their busy day, they will be munching on gum leaves, which are so toxic that koalas expend most of their body’s energy on detoxifying their lunch. Also, they don’t actually drink water, but rather they get their hydration from these same leaves.
This sloth-like ball of fur has an unusually small brain for its skull, which is said to look like a pair of shriveled walnut halves and leaves about 40% of the cranial cavity filled with fluid. It is the only animal on Earth with such a strangely reduced brain. Perhaps this is why they move so slow and seem so polite? They simply have “nothing” on their minds.
The Koala needs large areas of healthy, connected forest and will travel long distances along tree corridors in search of new territory and mates. The ever-increasing human population on the coastal parts of Australia continues to reduce these corridors. Increasing agricultural and residential development, forestry, and road-building are marooning Koala colonies in decreasing areas of bush. Help save the koala here.
On the other side of the Great Ocean Road was exactly what this drive was named for—the Ocean. The sight of stunning limestone cliffs, gorges, and arches carved out by the crashing waves of the Pacific was awe-inspiring. The most famous and photographed of these scenic spots is the “Twelve Apostles.” These yellowish-orange rock stacks sit tall and ominous in the ocean and were once part of the mainland, but thanks to natural erosion they are now each their own sea skyscraper. Only seven or eight of the twelve are actually visible from the viewing points and no one seems to know for sure if there ever really were twelve—maybe it just sounded good.
We figured once we got out of the city, the ‘funny’ driving would be quite easy since we would just be going straight for several hours and we’d certainly try to avoid making right turns. Driving is usually second nature to most, but not when you’re not only driving on the wrong side of the road, but also sitting on the wrong side of the car!
There were some definite things that just felt plain odd. For example, as I normally sit on the left side of the car to drive, many normal habits were backwards now and it took actual concentration just to look up and to the left into the rear-view mirror (I ended up using the side mirror a lot more than usual). Reaching up and to the right to put on my safety belt also felt strange. This one was particularly funny because even though sitting on the right side of the car in the states means the seat belt is behind you to the right, since I was driving, my instant reaction was to reach back and to the left where I ended up playing “air seatbelt.” Also, when in a quick situation like parallel parking, I tended to immediately reach down with my right hand to throw the car in reverse, but, alas, the gear shift was to my left.
The biggest, and funniest, difference of all was the fact that every time either of us went to make a turn we would instantly put on the windshield wipers by mistake because the lever for them was where our turn signal usually is! This was quite hilarious and I have to say that by the end of our journey—we had the cleanest windshield around.