I always sort of thought of Australia as a giant desert, full of poisonous snakes and crocodiles and spiders and whatnot. Which I guess it is, maybe up north. (I didn’t go north of Sydney, so I can’t really say.) I guess I just thought the whole place would be a lot redder and dryer, forgetting that Victoria is pretty far south. But the state of Victoria, much like my native California, is surprisingly lush and green.
I stayed in Melbourne for most of my holiday in Australia–I have a lot of cousins in Melbourne, and it’s surprisingly difficult to see them all in between the normal engagements of the daily lives. I also heard that Sydney is more expensive so I wasn’t particularly anxious to get there. But I did plan to drive from Melbourne to Sydney, and I was super worried about being able to drive on the left side of the road, so I wanted some practice by driving a bit closer, where someone could conceivably come pick me up in case of disaster. (It turns out driving on the other side really isn’t that hard, save that one time I pulled onto the right side of the road because there were no cars and I totally forgot where I was. Shoutout to my road trip buddy, Jessie, for yelling at me that I was on the wrong side of the road. Cheers to not dying in a car crash.)
So I decided to borrow my cousin’s car and give it a go on the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road, as its name suggests, is pretty great. However, those twists and turns get pretty nauseating pretty fast, so instead of driving all the way to the Twelve Apostles, I settled on Lorne, about two hours away from Melbourne.
Lorne is great because there are some lovely beaches, if the weather is bright and sunny. If you’re catching Victoria on one of her moodier, late-summer days, the beaches are a bit grey and windy and melancholy, but in a good way. Luckily it’s also a great place to go hiking through eucalyptus forests and dinosaur canyons, which I certainly wouldn’t want to do in 30+°C and sun. Being in Melbourne at the end of summer means you really can’t predict which one you’re going to get, so Lorne was the perfect option for any contingency.
Our first stop (after the Visitors’ Centre and a coffee) was Teddy’s Lookout, slo-mo-ed above. You can park at the top of the hill and it’s a quick jaunt to the lookout. We later went down to the estuary at the end of the day and it was beautiful in a very contemplative way, in a way I have a hard time explaining to people who are not prone to listening to melancholy songs as an enjoyable pastime. Yes, it’s cold, but also somehow more profound? Sorry, I’ll shut up now.
Next we went to Erskine Falls, which is a quick hike down a lot of stairs from the carpark. (The real fun part is coming back up.) I’m sure it’s a bit more spectacular in the rainy season, but it’s still beautiful and lush at the end of summer. It was too cold to go swimming that day but you could definitely have a nice time in the pool on a hot day.
After the easy trails, we decided to tackle something more difficult since a beach day was a no-go. We picked a hike that wasn’t rated too strenuous, because I like to think of myself as being in decent shape and having pretty good hiking experience (my mother always was keen on dragging me out into nature as a child) but I never know, these super outdoorsy types can really fuck with the bell curve. So we choose a medium-level loop, thinking we could do the most difficult part if we had lots of time to spare and just turn back if we didn’t.
Our first stop was Phantom Falls, which it turns out is very aptly named, as it was a ghost town water-wise. (Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.) We continued onto the next part of the loop, mysteriously and somewhat ominously name “The Canyon”. Um, excuse me, which canyon??? Anyway, the trail marker for the entrance to “The Canyon” was, no joke, just an arrow pointing straight down. We were a bit skeptical, but we followed a path down, under a rock bridge into an amazing Land Before Time-esque wonderland, complete with canyon walls made of rocks that seemed to take on the shape of faces and animals, and giant dinosaur-food ferns.
The eucalyptus trees towered overhead so from the entrance you could barely tell that there was a strange, almost subtropical-looking canyon forest waiting down below. I know it’s not the Grand Canyon, but the use of the definitive article definitely seemed less ominous and more appropriate after walking through the place. It was actually hard to get pictures, because nothing looked as good on camera as it did in real life.
We could have kept walking to Henderson Falls and Won Wondah Falls, but it was getting late and we literally had not seen another soul during our two hour hike which was starting to feel a bit spooky, so we turned back. Plus, we feared another repeat of the Phantom Falls episode. (Hiking all the way for a dry waterfall, that is.)
Of course, being a summering spot, the town of Lorne is full of cute cafes and restaurants. There was a pretty good variety of food (Western, seafood, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, bakeries, etc) to choose from, so no chance of starving. We had burgers for lunch, and gelato as a snack before heading back and flipping through some truly bizarre radio stations (like one that played an English song, then a patois/Spanish reggaeton song, then revealed itself to be “Serbian Youth Radio” before starting with some 90s disco-polo Serbian pop hit) on our way back to the city.
Stay tuned for more of my fun Australian driving adventures, this time alone in a rented car belting out sad Billy Joel songs!