G'day from the Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road runs 285 kms along the southwest coast of the state of Victoria in Australia. It lies southwest of Melbourne, specifically from Torquay to Warrnambool. My trip includes this stretch along with the coastal sections southeast of Adelaide, where I begin the trip. Over 10 days I cover 1,139 kms.

In an Adelaide suburb I stay with a family whom I have connected with on the Internet, a resource that provides the addresses of people willing to host travelers. Although I have hosted cycle tourists in China, who found me on one of these servers, this is my first successful attempt at arranging homestay for myself. Most of my inquiries over the past 6 months have been dead ends. For your reference, information on host accommodation can be found on these URLs: http://www.travelhoo.com , http://www.stay4free.com , http://alumni.aitec.edu.au/HHB , http://www.eldertravelers.com, http://www.egroups.com/group/wsl_org-announce .

My host family is extremely hospitable and welcoming, which sets the tone of warmth and humanity I will experience in Australia. In all the countries I have visited the hospitality I find in Australia and New Zealand remains unmatched. The world over I've almost always found locals to be friendly, but the folks down under raise hospitality to the highest plateau.

On this first day of cycling, Saturday 8 September 2001, the weather is the worst I think I have as a rider ever encountered: wet, cold and windy. So windy in fact that I am tossed off the bike - or rather I am thrown to the ground with the bike on top. I hobble back on, but for the next few days I can hardly walk. Ironically, I feel no pain when I cycle. I slush across Adelaide Hills over Mt. Compass and on to Victor Harbor on this fairly miserable spring day.

As I am traveling in the off season, accommodation and meals are easy to arrange. Although I have my tent, I opt out for sleeping indoors in a hotel/hostel. Victor Harbor is one of a string of resort towns that dot the South Australia and Victoria coasts. These are great places for holidays, but in a few weeks when the weather dries out and warms up. I arrive at the hostel soaked and as I am the only guest in the backpacker section, I put my shoes, socks and cycling shorts into the oven to dry out. Fortunately, I wake up several hours after I go to sleep (an affliction that in this case is a blessing), remember the oven and rescue my possessions - for which I have no spares - before they char. I proceed the next week with the omnipresent aroma of grilled lamb.

Sunday. From Victor Harbor I travel across the Fleurieu Peninsula along the Surf Coast (each Australian state seems to have a surf coast), then around Lake Alexandrina. Several roads are flooded. The first one of these that I encounter I peddle-ford and get thoroughly soaked. At the next flooded section of highway a farmer in a ute (Oz speak for utility vehicle) kindly takes me and bike across to dry land. Later I ferry across the Murray (this river is always flooded and there is a permanent winch cable ferry for cars and people) and later in the day arrive at Meningie, a map dot that is not described in any of my tourist literature (the photocopied pages of several guidebooks and the maps provided by local tourist centers). Of course, Meningie has a hotel/pub, as should every respectable Australian map dot. Its rooms go for about A $30 and a pub meal offers hearty cuisine for about A $20, including wine. These prices seem equivalent to let's say rural US, except for the fact that the exchange rate is US $ 1 = Aus $ 2. Which means that a hotel rooms costs US $15 and a large meal only $10. We're talking US prices from the 1950s. From the pure monetary viewpoint, in this era of strong greenback and weak Ozzie notes, Australia may offer tourists the best value for money on earth.

Monday. I encounter the Princes Highway, a relation to the road of the same name between Sydney and Melbourne which I cycled in 1988. That road had a lot of trucks hauling forest products (logs, timber, poles, chips). The trucks were usually on their way to or from a port, for the products were often headed elsewhere in Asia for further manufacture. This Princes Highway is similar in this regard - a lot of truck traffic. The road runs through the Goorong National Park, which I speed through under a blue, cloudless sky, with a tailwind that enables me to average 23 km/hr. The prevailing winds in southern Australia are westerlies so one might think that I chose to go Adelaide to Melbourne rather than vice-versa for this very reason. Actually, my Star Alliance air tickets worked out better this way, allowing me stops in Melbourne and Sydney to visit with friends. Another evening of pub accommodation and feed, in Kingston. I notice on TV that Ansett, my Star Alliance partner for Australia, is having severe financial problems.

Tuesday, 11 September 2001. I take what is called the Southern Ports Highway, past Robe and Beachport to Millicent. Along the way on a half dozen separate occasions I am attacked by magpies, an especially aggressive bird that dive-bombs me. The magpie is known to be quite territorial and bellicose especially during nesting time. I overnight in a cabin in a Millicent caravan park, which has cable TV. I watch the news, the Weather Channel and the film "Being John Malcovich" which is on the campground's closed circuit TV. I go to bed without watching the late news.

Wednesday. The placement of the International Date Line means that Australia is about one half day ahead of the US. I rise at 4 am (afternoon, 11 September, New York time), which is my custom and take my daily dose of vitamins and cholesterol/thyroid medication, which should be taken on an empty stomach. I usually go back to bed for an hour, but this morning I decide to check the Weather Channel. I am a bit groggy. I find a station which seems to be playing some sort of Bruce Willis disaster movie, planes crashing into skyscrapers in fireballs. But this is in CNN format. And the Australian Broadcast Company is switching to live CBS and CNBC feeds. Then the mayor of New York appears, grim, talking about what I will eventually learn is the murder of 5,000 people, mostly my compatriots. Later, I hear this day, actually yesterday, referred to just as 'the day of.' Even at this early hour, there is not much doubt about who is responsible. I wonder if this is the start of a century of religious wars. This seems to be a pattern that this planet is quite comfortable with. I am stunned, too stunned to weep just yet; that will come in a few hours, under eucalyptus trees where there seems to be not another soul on earth. I feel a lot of emotions this day, but none of them is anger. Sure, I am angry - I am always angry - about the miserable conditions much of the world endures, the bounty of poverty, injustice and inequity on the planet, things that give easy root to terrorism. I feel sad, very sad, but I don't feel angry. I can watch no more TV. I ride off at 6 am, along what is called the Limestone Coast to Mt. Gambier. A lot of chip and log trucks rumble through an area that is periodically harvested for forest products. But there is much reforestation here, also, some dating back to the 1940s. I cross the South Australia - Victoria border and decide to stop in Nelson after only 88 kms. My heart is not into cycling. I select the Nelson pub for accommodation and spend the afternoon watching the news. From now for the next week, every Australian I talk with (and I mean every single one) will relay his/her condolences. I am touched by the grief Australians share with America. On the news I watch an interview with the Palestinian representative to Canberra who, while condemning the terrorist action, basically comes out and justifies it and warns the US it better change its mideast policy unless it wants more of the same. The television shows Palestinians dancing in the streets over the NY tragedy.

Thursday. I continue on and overnight in Pt. Fairy, along the Shipwreck Coast.

Friday. I begin the Great Ocean Road, which was built following the "Great War" (WW I, 1914-18), to give veterans jobs. The western part runs through the Port Campbell National Park and features wind and water sculptured rocks with names like London Bridge, the 12 Apostles, and the Arch. My camera breaks when I attempt to photograph the first of these. It is very windy here and I decide to stop at Princetown, which is not much more than a map dot.

From here, Saturday, the road cuts inland and offers some challenging climbs and downhills until it reaches Apollo Bay, where I spend the night. Sunday offers the best cycling section of the Great Ocean Road, all along the coast, up and down through rain forest and along surf beaches. The 75 kms from Pt. Campbell, past Lorne, to Anglesea is probably the prettiest piece of road I have every cycled. Even though it is the weekend, when there is most traffic from day trippers from Melbourne, it is still extremely pleasant cycling on this warm, sunny, spring day. A few motorcycles, a few tourists in cars or caravans (motor homes). I end the day in Torquay, as the weather suddenly turns foul. I now have to sort out my travel plans as Ansett has collapsed, taking my two remaining tickets with it. I may not be able to cycle around Perth and may have to fly directly back to Hong Kong.

I end the trip in Melbourne (train from Geelong). I pass by the US consulate. In front are thousands of bunches of flowers with handwritten or typed notes attached. The standard condolence book (black with a golden embossed seal) has had to be supplemented by a dozen other notebooks, so great is the demand of Melbournites to leave messages of sympathy to their friends across the sea. I am deeply touched, staying for an hour to read some of the messages. At this time of world crisis I find Australia to be a rather comforting place. Thank you, Australia.