Flirting with disaster. (Great Ocean Road, Australia)

I’m trying not to develop a complex, but natural disasters seem to follow us everywhere we go.

I feel like our arrival in a new country should be taken as a bad omen as the power of nature will soon befall those in our path.

When we arrived in Quito (Ecuador) the nearby volcano Cotopaxi began erupting for the first time in nearly 140 years.

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Our view of Cotopaxi as we drove out of Quito to begin our hiking and biking adventures elsewhere in Ecuador.

Later, we were traveling down a road in Ecuador where days before 6 people had been killed in major landslides. As we drove along several sections of the road were beginning to slump and drivers, including ours, were hustling down the road trying to escape the same fate.

While in Chile a large earthquake struck just north of where we had been staying in Santiago…resulting in a tsunami that did damage on Easter Island where we had been just days before.

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Only days after this picture the tsunami came ashore and damaged a rock wall here in the area of Ahu Tongariki – the largest grouping of moai on Easter Island.

While hiking the Inca Trail in Peru we were pounded by a torrential downpour of hail that lasted for at least 30 minutes (and was then followed by rain and rain and rain). Many of the porters, some of whom have hiked the Inca Trail hundreds of times, had never seen anything like it.

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Glenn hiking through the piles of hail on the Inca Trail.

The day after we left Churchill (Manitoba) after walking with the polar bears a big storm hit, closing the airport and forcing the tourists that followed us to have to leave the remote eco-lodge early.

The snow started falling while we were dog sledding. More snow, cold temps and freezing rain soon arrived – stranding several folks in the town of Churchill (we snuck out on a 9:00 PM plane the night before).

Two days before arriving at Fox Glacier in New Zealand a helicopter crashed, killing 6 tourists and the pilot. Unseasonably bad weather prevented the recovery of the bodies for nearly a week.

Our arrival in Australia was met with a rare three-day heatwave (of course)…

Screen capture from my phone’s weather app. But it was a dry heat…

And as we toured the Great Ocean Road on the southern coast of Australia we drove past a wildfire that ultimately became a raging inferno that destroyed 116 homes on Christmas Day.

In looking back at my photos I realize I had purposely framed the smoke in the distance out of my pictures. A visual nuisance. As such, I don’t actually have any pictures of the fire myself but the tweet above will give you an idea of how intense the fire became.

I used to stress out in immigration lines about if my tourist visa paperwork was up to snuff.

Now I fear we may get flagged as harbingers of natural disasters. They’ll refuse us entry for fear of the destruction that will surely follow in our wake! I say that in jest…but at the same time I’m beginning to see a pattern here. We are headed to Tasmania tomorrow, so at least for now the poor folks on the Australian mainland should be safer.

Look out Tassies, here we come!

In the meantime, we had a lovely time touring the Great Ocean Road – one of the most picturesque coastal drives in all the world. Beginning just south of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road loops down around the southern tip of Australia and is a hot spot for international visitors as well as Australians seeking sun and time at the beach.

Surf Coast

We spent several days on a section of the Great Ocean Road known as the “surf coast” – an area of the coast with a booming surf culture. We spent the day hiking a section of the Surf Coast Walk, a nearly 30 mile trail that links between coastal towns and sites. We hiked the section from the town of Torquay to Bells Beach, Australia’s most famous surfing beach.

Jan Juc Beach, a perfect spot for beginners learning to surf. I may have to give it a try some day.

These boardwalks were a blessing when they appeared – as some sections of the trail were through deep sand which made for an exhausting outing.

While in the town of Anglesea we took part in a local 5k fun run.

Over half of the run was on the sand and the other half seemed to be up a hill that never ended. We clearly haven’t been running enough lately as this event nearly killed us! A good wake-up call to get back into our regular running schedule.

Glenn walking toward the beach near the town of Fairhaven.

The Split Point Lighthouse.

One of Glenn’s biggest pet peeves are rock cairns that serve no purpose (i.e., not marking a trail). Needless to say, he opted to stay in the car as I set out to explore this wonderful little beach that was covered with hundreds and hundreds of cairns.

Large rocked cairns were on one end of the beach and smaller ones like these were at the other. People tiptoed through them as if this was a sacred place. I’ll admit it had a certain peacefulness about it, even as the firefighting helicopters buzzed overhead.

Otways

The Otways are an inland hilly region covered in a beautiful rainforest. The backroads twist and turn through valleys of towering eucalyptus and tree ferns. We had a few adventures in this area including a unique tree-canopy walk at a place called Otway Fly.

Otway Fly is a hike that takes you high into the tree canopy on these elevated metal platforms. Glenn is working his way up into the canopy in this photo.

At one point you can opt to climb this tower which puts you nearly 150 feet in the air.

It’s hard to get a sense of scale in the pictures…but trust me when I say it was a long way down to the ground!

Old Beechy Rail Trail

We also took a bike ride while in the Otways down the Old Beechy Rail Trail.

Lined with eucalyptus trees, the trail smelled like heaven!

Some sections of the trail go through private property. This family had made lots of little wooden animals, like this kangaroo, that could be found in amongst the trees beside the trail as it crossed their land. It made for a fun game to see which of us could spot things first (I won).

Glenn:  “You know what they call his kid? Son of a beechy!”…ba-dum-bum-CHING. I married a comedian. 

Shipwreck Coast

There are nearly 630 known shipwrecks along the southern Australian coast and many of them are on a stretch of the Great Ocean Road aptly named Shipwreck Coast. We spent one afternoon hiking down to one section of the beach in search of old anchors. We didn’t find any evidence of wrecks, but we did come across some of the most fascinating rock formations I have ever seen.

So many different types of rock where exposed on the beach, all jumbled together with different textures and colors. My never-used degree in Geology was of no help in figuring out where the formations had come from.

This section of beach was covered with round rocks that looked like piles of old canon balls.

Some of the sandstone had old burned trees embedded inside of it. Very cool.

There were also lots of little cracks and crevasses that would be filled with water at high tide.

While in the nearby town of Warrnambool we visited a funky little tourist attraction called Flagstaff Hill, a mockup of an 1870’s coastal village complete with period actors, a museum, etc. We went at night to tour the village by lantern and attend a laser light show about the locally famous shipwreck of the Loch Ard.

The full moon came out and helped set the scene in the makeshift maritime village as we waited for the laser light show to start on the pond (they spray pond water up into the air to make a screen for the laser show).

The laser show was a full sensory experience. The outdoor theater chairs bumped and shook, the wind blew and rain fell from the sky as the (laser) ship sank. The heroes of the story included the captain (who’s fake beard seemed to be on the verge of falling off) and the survivors – a young man and woman (in a very Titanic icy water scene) and a peacock that was washed up on shore days later (and is now stuffed in the museum atop the hill for your viewing pleasure). There was even a bit set to dramatic music with these weird T-1000 Terminator looking characters meant, I think, to be the spirits of those that perished. Good times.

Twelve Apostles

The highlight of any trip along the Great Ocean Road is most likely the Twelve Apostles, Australia’s most famous coastal scene. These rock formations are constantly being eroded by wind and water. Several of them used to be connected, forming what looked like bridges. Those structures have since collapsed leaving these pillars as the ocean begins carving new formations out of the cliff faces. It was interesting to see pictures of how much they have changed in just my lifetime.

A view of the Twelve Apostles, looking west………..

…and looking East.

Nasty, big, pointy teeth!

“The wildlife in New Zealand just wanted a bite of my breakfast toast; The wildlife in Australia wants to eat my face off,” said Glenn as we walked past yet another sign warning us about the area wildlife, especially snakes. He may have been right as we did come across a carnivorous snail.

A cleverly modified road sign. Clearly someone shares Glenn’s sentiment. Can you figure out what the animals are?

We didn’t come across anything especially dangerous along the Great Ocean Road, but we did find some of Australia’s more friendly and iconic wildlife.

There is a very large resident kangaroo population that lives on the golf course in the town of Anglesea.

For about $7.50 (U.S.), golf course volunteers will take you out in a cart to see the kangaroos in person.

We were also lucky enough to find koala bears in the forest off the road to Cape Otway.

By my estimation we still have several natural disasters to narrowly avoid.

For example, we have yet to experience flooding, hurricanes or tornadoes. Asteroids or gamma-ray bursts, too, for that matter. So who wants to invite us to come visit them next? We could always use a couch to sleep on! (Natural hazard insurance is recommended.)

In the meantime, the people of southern Australia are lucky to have Keith looking out for them. Keith is the partner of our high school friend Paula. He is stationed in Australia for part of the year piloting the helicopter behind us – fighting fires, including the devastating fire described above. We got the chance to visit him on our way back to Melbourne. Small world!

2 comments on “Flirting with disaster. (Great Ocean Road, Australia)

  1. Randy and I felt the same way when we lived in California. We were living in Livermore in 1980 when there was a 5.8 earthquake. The school where I worked was the closest building to the epicenter. Fortunately there was limited structural damage but items with the classroom were sure tossed around. And except for a child hitting her head really hard on her desk as she dived under, there were no injuries.
    We moved to Richland, WA in 1984 but then moved to Santa Rosa, CA in time for the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. My sister was working in a high rise in San Metao, I just happened to call her a little after 5:00. When she picked up the phone she said “Oh, my God!” I replied, “No, it’s not God, it’s me Gwen.” Then I heard the noise of glass breaking , objects falling and the phone went dead. A few seconds later our home began to shake, though there was no damage.
    In 1994 we were living in LA. It was before dawn that the Northridge earthquake woke us up. We were sure that the walls were going to collapse. Significant damage was done to our townhouse and we had to move out while repairs were made. Earthquake insurance was one of the best investments we have made. We later moved to Half Moon Bay – and for awhile held our breath. HMB would not be where you want to live during an earthquake.
    In 2004 we moved to OR. There is talk of potential earthquakes here.. So, when you get home prepare your survival kit.

    • Hi Gwen – Sounds like you’ve had quite the ride in the earthquake department. We have a variety of survival kits (home and cars), but they likely need a good review and restocking when we get home. We also need to get our house bolted to the foundation (they didn’t think to do that back in 1914 when it was built). Thanks for the reminder to be prepared…our luck is going to run out sooner or later.

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