As the road south from the climbing and trekking Mecca of Grampians National Park spilled out onto the ocean a few hours later, we knew our World Nomads Ambassador adventure was coming to an end. But it wasn’t a sad moment, because we plan to go out with a bang!
Australia’s Great Ocean road meanders from Warnambool on the western end to Melbourne in the east. In the next few days we would see an array of spectacular vistas covering the gambit from raging ocean on eroded limestone cliffs, to serene fishing villages, to surfing towns with the merchandise and awesome off-shore breaks to prove it. Although you can technically drive Great Ocean Road in a day, you’d miss almost all of it to stay on the winding road that some locals have dubbed the Great Bitumen Sea Snake for all its twists and turns.
We were sure we saw other couples in passing cars doing exactly what we were doing: gaping from the awesome scenery to the local guidebook (Lonely Planet of course) and maps, then frantically pointing at the nearest turn-off to snap a few hundred more picture-perfect moments.
Interestingly though, there weren’t too many other couples in other cars to identify with. Why, you ask? Well, characteristic of the drum we march to that nobody else can figure out, we’re here in the off-season. Yes, in the south of Australia, the winter weather does not make for plentiful tourists.
But we also like it that way thank you very much. Rolling into towns such as Apollo Bay is a treat when you can:
A) find parking
B) nab an ideal place to sit at the local waterfront café
C) take a picture of the scenery without a dozen wandering people unwittingly getting in the shot.
Sure, we had to wear a few extra layers, and swimming was on the very outer edge of possibility without hyperthermia kicking in after about a minute. (We chose not to test that theory). But at least we had lots of sunshine and none of the rain that is characteristic of the region at this time of year.
And sure, the towns didn’t quite have the life and energy you’d feel if it was peak-season, but we actually got a chance to chat with the locals more so than we might have otherwise.
While chatting with one such local shopkeeper in Apollo Bay, we asked him about what it is like to run a business in such a seasonal town.
“It’s getting to be a year-round thing, slowly. We’re seeing more and more tourists in the off-season, and the actual off-season is getting shorter every year,” he said. “But for avoiding crowds, you’ve come at the right time. We have a permanent population of 1,200 that swells up to 10,000 in the summer.”
Great for business, bad for nature photography and hermits.