Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Grand Slam Plan - Drama in the Winery

Up early with the intention of doing a nice long swim in the infinity pool because although the 'run with roos' was amazing, it was hot, lots of flies and lots of tiny burrs which it has taken me ages to remove for my socks and trainers. Walking the few yards to the hotel proper, I discover there are no signs of life and the pool cover is still on. Go back to the room and wait until 8.00am when there are signs of life and the pool cover is off. The infinity pool is beautiful and after a respectable number of lengths I can eat a cooked breakfast with a clear conscience.

Before we leave the beautiful Grampian Highlands we take a few tourist detours to MacKenzie Falls and The Balconies. Stunning views but ... rant coming here... as we are increasingly to discover, the better the vista or attraction, the more Asians are standing with their backs to it in the optimum viewing position and taking pictures of themselves.

Our road to Port Fairy is relatively easy through fields of fat beef and dairy cows and we find ourselves in the Victoria equivalent of Salcombe. Painted houses, bistros and nice shops lining the high street, boats - leisure and fishing - on the estuary and a stunning beach which runs for miles and is sparsely populated. We have made a rookie error... we have no beach towels so we buy one rather than two (because they're not cheap) and I agree to share. Mine during the day, his at night. Seems fair to me. Then we head to the beach because it's too early to check in at the b&b, The Merijig Inn, as recommended by Mrs and Mrs O'Polo. The sea is the perfect temperature for a swim or two and we've never seen so many cockle shells. Lying on the beach, we make a plan to stay here till midday tomorrow before setting off to the Twelve Apostles.

As the wind starts to cool, it's time to check in to our quirky b&b, complete with casual, but fun and tasty, restaurant, beer garden and a bar in a shed. There's a well-stocked kitchen garden and our starters and mains are garnished with herbs and vegetables straight out of the ground and so deliciously fresh. Our room is a suite with bedroom, sitting room and bathroom - and a television so we can watch Nadal and Federer in the Final - perfect. Everything not actually moving is decorated with knitting, crocheting or hand sewing. It's definitely a bit alternative but the welcome is warm and genuine. Good find.

I wake up to the sound of rain - not good and definitely not in the plan. By the time I've made a cuppa and checked that Federer did indeed win (I didn't quite make it to the end), the rain has just about stopped and I can go for a run. I set off along the harbour's edge where the fishing boats are making their way back in with lobster pots, and over to Griffith Island where the lighthouse stands. Once the home to Aborigines, it is now a nature reserve with plenty of bird life and apparently wallabies though I didn't spot any.

Back at The Merijig we have a delicious cooked breakfast and Bertie sends a message to our friends from North Rigton who are doing the camper van thing and who are due here later in the week, to recommend The Merijig - and they're already here though in a different b&b down the road! So after we've packed up we join them for a quick chat before they set off for Adelaide and we for the Twelve Apostles. See you in Yorkshire! Our paths won't cross again.

We pass through a number of one-horse-towns but before we've gone far the weather has turned properly wet and we decide to stop for lunch at Port Campbell (two-horse town perhaps) because there seems to be little point in continuing to try to enjoy the beautiful views along the Great Ocean Road in a sea fret.

Even the menu in Forage, which turns out to be a nice organic restaurant, is written in English and Chinese and we are almost the only folk in there, apart from the staff, of non-Asian persuasion. Indeed as we are to discover all day, virtually all the tourists down here are Chinese.

The road is busy - but perhaps not as busy as it would have been on a sunny day - and we decide to carry on past the Twelve Apostles which has a massive and very full car park - to the Otway National Park. I've read about this place and as well as zip-wiring which I'm not prepared to do and has to be booked in advance, it has a tree top walk which I really fancy. By the time we get from the car park to the visitor centre we are soaked and because I am wearing flip flops (thongs out here - ha ha!) the back of my trousers are pebble-dashed! We buy ponchos! Like carrier bags but bigger!

Anyway, the tree top walk for tomorrow is definitely on - the forest looks stunning with amazing tree ferns that reach 20 feet or so. On our way back to the Great Ocean Road we do a bit of a detour. Following signs that say Moonlight Head, we head off down a little road, that becomes a track (makes our drive at home look good) that becomes increasingly more perilous till 15 minutes later we get to a car park which is almost deserted and, oh joy, it has stopped raining for the first time in about 8 hours! The view is breath-taking and we are alone - result!

Back on the Great Ocean Road, it's six pm and sunny but we were hoping that the Twelve Apostles might be quieter, thinking our fellow tourists might have gone off for chow mein or whatever. No, the place was heaving with 'look at me in front of the Twelve Apostles' tourists cluttering up every
viewing point.  But it is indeed stunning and quite rightly a must-see.

Then it's time to make our way to our hostess for the night, Robyn, whose b&b is just a few kilometres from the Twelve Apostles and is called The Secret Spot. It's quirky and Robyn herself is absolutely charming. We could have chatted all evening but we need to eat and she wants us to see Loch Ard Gorge and Mutton Bird Island. She's right, of course, because half an hour before sunset the cliffs are lit up with with the day's last rays and the waves crash against the rocks. This is called The Wrecking Coast because so many ships were lost here and the story of the Loch Ard is especially poignant. In June 1878, the clipper, the Loch Ard from England was approaching her destination of Melbourne with 54 souls on board including Dr Carmichael and his family. Celebrating nearing the end of their long voyage, the crew failed to notice the rocks and the ship went down with only 15 year old Tom Pearce, the cabin boy, who swam ashore and 17 year old Eva Carmichael who clung to the wreckage until Tom swam out to rescue her, both surviving. There is a cemetery above the Gorge where the bodies washed up from the wreck were buried and we visit their graves, their coffins made of wood from a piano which washed up too.

A new day and, well, there was bound to be drama at some point, apart from Big Foot, and this is the day. Actually it was enough drama for me so fingers crossed, that's it!  But first, the good stuff...

We wake up to a stunning view across the fields and cliffs to the sea at our b&b at the Twelve Apostles and after the breakfast of champions, we hug Robyn goodbye and drive straight (or as straight as the windy road allows) to Otway National Park and The Fly. Named the Fly after the zip wiring which we are not doing (tempting, but no) but also famous for the Treetop Walk. We get there impressively early and we have the whole forest to ourselves. I had read about this in the Daily Telegraph and it certainly lives up to its billing. First we walk through the thick vegetation and beneath 100 metre high Mountain Ash along a path until we reach the steel walkway which takes you on a gradual incline over half a mile or so until you are at the bottom of a steep tower but at least 50 metres off the ground. All we can hear is birdsong as we climb the steep steps to the top. This is genuinely a bird's eye view of the forest and still the Mountain Ash tower another 10 metres above us. It will remain one of my high spots (no pun intended) of this extraordinary trip. I'm definitely going to try my hand at growing a tree fern or two in my garden.

Back down to earth and back on the road but we're skipping a bit of the tourist trail to call in at Hopetoun Falls and then take the Binns Road through the forest for 20k of dirt track and peace, passing nothing more than the occasional wallaby and spotting rosellas in the trees. Eventually the track leads us back to the Great Ocean Road and the hoards of tourists. Apollo Bay is, as billed, not worth the stop and we press on but now the Ocean Road is as we had imagined it - not high cliffs and sheer drops but beaches and white-tipped waves for as far as the eye can see. Quick sandwich on the beach at Lorne with a dip for my feet in the sea. The weather is up in the twenties after the miserable day yesterday and we get back on the road for what turns out to be a long haul.

When we eventually arrive Bowan Head I'm borderline grumpy but Oakdene where we pull in for our night's stay looks fab. It's a winery with a cellar door, cafe, highly rated restaurant and three eclectic bedrooms. After a bit of a search we find someone who is prepared to let us into our room and she's another Robyn. The room is stunning and full of Marilyn Monroe-themed ephemera. Robyn says we can get a cuppa in the tea rooms and that there is no password for the wifi. She tells us (alarm bells starting to ring at this point) that the restaurant is closed on a Tuesday and we will have eat out, and breakfast is not available until 9.30 so even though we've paid for it, it will be too late for our early ferry. Also nobody will be on the premises but our two keys open the front door and our Marilyn Monroe room. Ok. A little weird but ok. Straight down to the tea room where, despite saying we have been on the road since 8.00 am and it's now 3.05, we are told they closed at 3.00 and shut the door in our faces. Back to the room to make tea where there's a selection of every tea known to man - except English Breakfast. Nooooooo! Back downstairs to the chef who's doing prep in the kitchen and who is the only person I can find and I explain the problem. She's really nice and promises us English tea in the garden and cake because we have been not as warmly welcomed as we should have been. Big Foot asks if I've been stroppy but I have not - just icy calm and therefore at my most dangerous! Also the Robyn said there was no wifi code and the so lovely chef lady got that for us too and tea with spectacular cakes arrive. Happy me! Also happy Big Foot because he does a quick wine tasting at the cellar door and comes back with a couple of nice bottles.

A couple of hours later and our tums require attention (wisely didn't eat all the cake!) so showered and changed and with a nice beachfront restaurant recommended we go downstairs from Marilyn. Our front door key won't work so we go and find a young chap who checks with the aforementioned Robyn who says the front door will be left unlocked for us. OK.

Dinner is delicious with a view across the bay but we're tired with an early start ahead of us so we get back to the winery/b&b just after 8.00pm. The door is locked. The key won't work either in the front door or any of the other doors. Big Foot phones hotels.com and I go searching. Surely someone else lives on this huge estate? Apparently not after a 20 minute search of all the outbuildings, cafe, winery and offices and hotels.com don't have an out of hours/emergency number. And it's getting dark.

Whilst Big Foot hangs on the phone (the hotel/winery number just goes to answerphone) I suggest we try one of the two properties opposite, both of which are down very long drives. The first one has no occupants except a large number of horses and dogs so we try next door. Down another long drive and I ring the doorbell. There are lights on but nobody is answering. Meanwhile hotels.com suggest booking in somewhere else but all our luggage is in Oakdene and the ferry goes at 9.00am. No good. Then I notice the lights on in the flat above the garage at the house and I bang on the door to be met by a very large lad in his underpants. Whilst he swiftly puts his shorts on, (relief, because not attractive even to middle aged ladies) I explain the problem and he takes me (and Big Foot) who has given up on the phone into auntie and uncle's kitchen. Luckily Jacky knows someone who knows someone who works at Oakdene and after a tense 45 minutes, Marty of Oakdene agrees to meet us at the stubborn front door with a master key. And finally we are in, with thanks to Jacky and family and scant apology from Marty. Hell on TripAdvisor to follow!

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