Australia

The Great Drive Down Under


We began our trip with a short flight to Kuala Lumpur for our adventure to Australia (illogically it is significantly cheaper than flying direct from Singapore which is nearer). We went through our itinerary to ensure we did not leave anything out. Satisfied with our preparations, we headed over to the ticketing counter to collect our boarding passes.

Little did we expect a frown from the Malaysian receptionist asking us that both our passport numbers were not included in the Australian Immigration database. We were taken aback and embarassed to realize we had make a rookie mistake which all seasoned travellers would avoid – not checking whether your passport needs a visa for your destination.

Thankfully, the AirAsia receptionist was very calm and helpful. She called up a few of her colleagues to help us think of solutions and in less than a minute gave us an online link where we could register our details and get our visa in a few minutes. Our nerves were so pumped with adrenaline to get over what would have been the biggest blooper of our ‘travelling career’. We should have written down her name and wrote an email to AirAsia Malaysia about her excellent customer service. We were so relieved to finally get on the airplane for our 8h journey.

We were greeted with a “How are you?” by the customs officer around midnight. This is a huge contrast from Singapore (and almost every other country we’ve been to except for Thailand) where the whole immigration staff would be better replaced with automated machines. Taken aback by this humane gesture we could only smile and hope that things would only get better.

We slept overnight in the airport so that’ll be easier to collect our car at 6am from the airport. 6am finally came as we saw the airport literally come to life with people bustling in at an exponential rate. Collecting the car from RedSpot (the cheapest we could find but for a reason that will be discussed later on) was straightforward with easy signboards pointing you to the right direction.

We were expecting a friendly smile from the gentleman at the RedSpot counter. Unfortunately, he just gave a monotonous rehearsed dialogue that implied he hated working there. We were too excited to collect our car that we made another rookie mistake about car rentals (driving off without checking the car condition).

Renting an automated Hyundai i30 was definitely a wise move to explore The Great Ocean Road from Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne. The roads were pretty easy to navigate with any smartphone (God bless Google Map). The first stop was Geelong but we only stopped for a while to fill up our rations at Coles before heading out to the first icon of Great Ocean Road – Bell’s Beach. We could feel the strength of the wind blowing in icy chills and was wondering how the surfers out there were not suffering from hypothermia in the waters. We were entertained by the mixtures of all of ages ranging from kids to senior citizens all happily running down the steps to paddle out to the middle to catch a wave.

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We thought those were dolphins but at 2nd glance, it was the surfers braving through the cold wind to catch a good wave

After Bell’s Beach, we went to the quieter and more serene Anglesea where we had a nice cup of coffee in a cafe overlooking a lagoon accompanied by a nice casual conversation with a local there. I am amazed at how easy it was for me to socialize with them compared to my own people back in Singapore. A short drive later brought us to Aireys Inlet in which we explored the surroundings of the Split Point Lighthouse which was perfectly maintained given its age.

We were greeted with sudden strong winds which threw us a bit off balance (yes it was THAT strong) with little bits of hail slamming down on us intermittently. It was such an exhilirating experience but it became worst so we had to run for the nearest shelter – The Aireys Inlet Lighthouse. Though we did not buy the tour package which was quite exorbitant given that it was only one light house and that it was just a short tour, the lady in-charge was so accommodating and friendly and we exchanged cultural views about how things had changed in both Australia and Singapore while waiting for the weather to simmer down.

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As we continued driving we passed by the symbolic Memorial Arch. If there’s only one picture you have to take to show that you’ve driven the B100 (a.k.a The Great Ocean Road), it would be at the Memorial Arch. After reading some historical facts about the construction and purpose of the Great Ocean Road we proceeded to Lorne.

As the weather was turning for the worst and the sun was dimming away (sunlight hours were much less during the colder seasons), we decided to call it a day and explore Lorne tomorrow. However we decided to be adventurous (and thrifty) and opted to rent a space in a caravan park. It was perfect but turned out to be a disaster given the icy weather. We wore 4 layers of clothes, a down jacket covered by thermal sleeping bags and double-layered gloves and we were still shivering like mad in the later hours of the night. I guess some money should not be saved as it would be counter-productive to your travels. I would highly recommend this alternative in the warmer seasons though.

We woke up at the first sign of sunlight and began with a much-needed warm breakfast which we microwaved the foodstuff which we bought from Coles yesterday. The pantry is designed for the convenience of travellers just like everywhere else in Australia. We then took a 30min stroll up and around Lorne’s beach where there is no awkwardness to just shout out “Good Morning” at random strangers knowing they’ll reply it to you with as much enthusiasm.

After packing up our gears, we explored Lorne and bumped into the first ‘Brown Signboard’ of the day which indicated sightseeing spots – Erskine Falls. All waterfalls are somewhat familiar including Erskine Falls BUT we seem to never get bored of them. There’s just something majestic about waterfalls especially if you start to ponder about how they are created. After a nice walk down to take some nice photos, we went back up the flight of stairs gasping (quite high) but excited to proceed on yet again on our scenic adventure.

We ended up at Kafe Koala for lunch and were attracted to the numerous amount of parrots perched on the trees. However we only saw a 2 koalas when the brochure indicated there should be hundreds. We confirmed this with the cafe guy and he replied with a laugh that we should drive inwards off-road through the gravel tracks. True enough we saw what we came for, got carried away and 2hours later were still driving through gravel (we didn’t realize that this was also part of the gigantic Great Otway National Park).

The tall rainforest trees were covering much of the sun and we began to wonder if we should turn back and drive another 2h back to Kafe Koala. Instincts told us to drive through as indicated on the map (which should have let us out on the main tarmac road about 1h ago). By the time we finally got out to the main road it took us another hour to get back to B100 and we got Apollo Bay safely half an hour before dusk. We inspected the car to be in a terrible condition with mud scattered everywhere.

After a nice dinner of fish and chips, we had our first experience of a warm room in Australia and was totally exhausted in deep sleep. Day 3 began with a nice breakfast late morning. We gave ourselves some leeway for not having proper sleep since our arrival in Australia. We began our scenic drive yet again, this time round to stop at Cape Otway Lighthouse where we went for the tour (a bit on the pricier sight but we would do it all over again).

They changed one of the houses into a mini museum where they explained how lighthouses and morse code works. Also a little information about dinosaur fossils found in Cape Otway area and other miscellanous stuff about radar operations during WWII. The highlight would be the climb atop Cape Otway Lighthouse where just standing there pushed by the violent winds was enough to pump up your adrenaline and mess up all your hair.

We headed back after about an hour or so as it started drizzling and got to the car in time as it rained down. The winds were so strong that it pushed out car forward to the curb even when parked on hand brake. Thankfully no damage was done and we resumed our road trip and stopped for late lunch at Laver’s Hill.

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Setting up for the timelapse video

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After a long scenic drive, we arrived at the icon of The Great Ocean Road – The 12 Apostles. We got there at a perfect timing where there was still enough light to take nice pictures. It got packed with tourists really quick rushing in for the sunset pictures. This was low season so we could not imagine the carnage if we were to go during high season. Since the clouds were blocking the orange horizon we decided to go off, check-in early and return tomorrow morning for a sunrise shot with a time-lapse video before anyone else would wake up.

We checked-in into our most favourite accomodation during our entire stay here in Australia – Port Campbell Hostel. The owner was super friendly and gave us a 6-bed dorm room all to ourselves since it was low season. We were so thankful that we vouched to return back here on our return drive (which we did). We woke up at dawn amidst the blistering cold and with hardened discipline got in to the 12 Apostles before anyone else was there. We set up our cameras for a time lapse and sat down in meditation waiting for time to pass by and watch minute by minute how the southern coast of Australia was gradually coloured. We were rewarded with what we want, packed up and left before the tourist coaches came in throngs.

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Not soon after, the much loved B100 road ended and we entered Princes Highway to head to Warnambool where after 3 days of country driving, we found it hard to adjust to traffic lights in this big town. We restocked our supplies at Coles and headed out as soon as possible to the next stop – Port Fairy. We were going to stay here overnight but there was this eerie feeling about the first hostel we entered. It didn’t help that there was no one at the reception and all the lower rooms were unoccupied. There were sounds of marbles rolling and doors creaking. It looked and sounded like a horrow haunted house borrowed back from the 60’s. We were so freaked out that we continued driving away from Port Fairy and off to the next town despite dusk approaching in a few minutes (not recommended to drive at night in small town and countryside due to lack of lighting unless you’re a local).

We found a motel at Portland with a grumpy old man at the front desk. He however, gave us a reasonable discount given the fact that there were no one else and that we checked-in late so we were happy with him. While loading our supplies to our room, I saw a small but visible dent near my rented car which was not reflected on the log card. The whole night was basically spent researching on damges and claims about our car rental company Red Spot (which we should have done as our pre-travel preparations), and it basically spoilt our mood entirely (read the forums on TripAdvisor and you will know).Next morning began with me trying to ‘undent’ the dent but to no avail. We checked out in low spirits and headed out for Mount Gambier where we were ready to release all our frustrations on rock climbing one of the much touted spots in the State of Victoria.

It was a long drive in which we were already missing having the ocean to our left. Driving became more monotonous after the B100 and before long we had crossed the border state from Victoria to South Australia. We reached Mount Gambier’s Information Post to ask around about interesting things to do around town especially rock climbing. Unfortunately we were greeted by an unenthusiastic old lady (the ONLY unfriendly person we met in the State of South Australia) who told us that rock climbing was not in season and basically hinting at us there is nothing much to do except exploring more forests. I’m sure there was more interesting places but her attitude shunned us away and we proceeded with the longest drive of my life, 440km of pure tarmac.

The guide indicated no interesting things to see along the way but we were taken aback by what was one of the most intriguing sights we’ve seen in Australia – a huge pink lake by the Dukes Highway in an area called Dimboola. We wish we could stay longer to absorb the magnificence of the lake but we had to rush to try get to Glenelg before it gets too dark but still I was surprised that this was never mention in most self-drive guides from Melbourne to Adelaide Great Ocean Road tour.

After the Pink Lake there was nothing much else to pique our interest for a stopover until we began nearing the hills of BEAUTIFUL Adelaide as the sun is showing its first signs of setting. Though the traffic was heavy, there was a certain sense of calm between the drivers and the whole energy of Adelaide was so positive and welcoming.

We reached our dorm in Glenelg about one hour after sunset but the roads were clean and well-lit. After checking-in, we tasted the most juiciest kebab I’ve ever had in my life (or maybe i was severely hungry after the 440km drive). After sleeping in late the next morning, we proceeded with our adventures in Glenelg and Adelaide using the tram. There is nothing much to write since Adelaide is basically another city BUT you can just feel the positive and welcoming energy amongst its inhabitants. Our hearts felt home and if there was ever an opportunity for us to work and stay in Adelaide, we would grab it in a heartbeat.

We ended the 2nd day in Adelaide watching the sunset at a jetty in Glenelg while lifeguards were racing one another on their paddleboards to the middle of the waters as their shift was ending. We planned for our return trip back for Melbourne and decided to go through the slower scenic B100 again instead of taking the shortcut via the highways. Great Ocean Road was that magnificent to give it multiple trips.

After a nice breakfast at the Glenelg dorm we started our engine for the long drive back but decided to make a stopover at Naracoorte to marvel at the limestone caves and an exhibit about prehistoric animals and fossils. It was quite worth the time and money and I could envision it to be fully packed with tourists during the peak season.

What came next after Naracoorte was our #1 spot to visit in South Australia – Umpherston Sinkhole as were driving back near Mount Gambier. You would have to see the pictures for yourself below because words cannot do justice to this landmark.

We then reached our favourite accomodation late at night – Port Campbell Hostel and the owner was so sweet. Not only did she remember us, she gave us a 6-bed dorm just for ourselves (again) even though she could choose not to. With this kind of hospitality, it would be no surprise that Tripadvisor ratings are extremely high for Port Campbell Hostel.

Driving back B100 from the other side gave another point of view of the Great Ocean Road as the ocean was to our right this time round. We looked at all the landmarks that would fill our memories for life and smiled from the heart.

We pressed on with minimum stopping time and reached Melbourne not long after. After visiting Adelaide, we were expecting a better experience in Melbourne from word of mouth back from the people in Singapore who has been there. Never had I been more wrong and taken aback.

The traffic was horrendous and the drivers were emitting a very negative and sombre energy altogether. The city streets looked gloomy and after almost crashing into another vehicle in just the 1st hour of reaching Melbourne and sweating in my car even though it was very cold, I decided the best course of action was to return the car 2 days earlier even though we had already prepaid it and would get no refund.

I took the initiative to clean the insides and outsides of the car which was badly seasoned with mud and other debris in hopes that the inspector would miss the small dent by our door. We reached Tullmarine Airport to return our car and was crossing our finger expecting a negative reception judging from most of the articles in Tripadvisor about RedSpot. To cut it short, it couldn’t be further from the truth because the reception lady was so friendly and enthusiastic, the exact total opposite of her male counterpart from whom we collected the car from.

She noticed the dent, made a measurement and let it pass. I was so thankful and happy that I did not have to experience what the other renters did in the Tripadvisor forums. If anything, I would highly recommend RedSpot to rent your car from but I’ll buy the comprehensive insurance coverage next time time round though to minimize any unexpected expense that might unfortunately appear.

We spent the next 2 days in Melbourne sightseeing using their well-connected public transport system but in all honesty, was disappointed and bored except for the amazing indoor rock climbing wall. We ended our journey sleeping at the airport to catch the dawn flight to Kuala Lumpur before a return flight to Singapore where Nasi Lemak never tasted so heavenly after 10 straight days of fish & chips.
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