Culture Shock Navigating Clockwise Roundabouts in an Urban Area
We started our journey along the Great Ocean Road at the Melbourne—or Tullamarine—Airport in Victoria, Australia. We arrived after our adventure from Chicago to Beijing then Sydney and were ready to take on our next adventure of the trip! My partner, Luke, and I were meeting my family and my sister’s partner’s family in Melbourne, Australia for the holidays. My sister and her partner had recently moved from Japan to Australia for a year of working holiday, and my family always jumps on the chance to visit the next foreign destination my sister moves to!
Before we met up with my family, Luke and I had about a week of travel to ourselves. We chose to spend the latter half of that week renting a car in the Australian state of Victoria to cruise along the Great Ocean Road and explore some of the nearby parks. Luke had driven on the left side of the road at least a couple of times before, but the last time was on a motor bike in Southeast Asia where formal road rules are often merely suggestions. To say it was slightly stressful getting out of the city and into the country-side—or should I say outback—would be putting it lightly. But, with some deep breaths and two sets of eyes, we made it through all the left-hand exists and clockwise roundabouts alive and were ready to experience the magnificence that is the Great Ocean Road.
Getting on the Great Ocean Road
We didn’t have any plans, aside from where we’d stay for the night, so we hit the open road ready to take what came our way. At first, we took every pull-off we passed as an opportunity to take in another awe-inspiring view of the Bass Strait of the Southern Ocean, only to realize that there were too many views to catch them all. We decided to drive past our destination for the night, Torquay, since we got there in under two hours of driving and had at least six hours of sunlight left in the day.
As we drove along the road, the views only became more spectacular. The small beach towns lining the highway reminded us so much of the mountain towns lining I-70 through the Colorado Rockies of our home state, making us reflect on how this country on the other side of the world isn't so different after all. Yes, we were driving on the left side of the road past koala- and kangaroo-crossing signs, but in many ways, the Western world is the Western world, even if it's in the Eastern hemisphere.
We stopped at many beaches along the way to soak up the December sunshine and dip our toes into the refreshingly chill saltwater. One of the beaches we stopped at, Bells Beach, is world-renowned for surfing, and one look at the waves made it clear why. For every new beach we passed, there were at least two local fish ‘N chips joints luring us in for lunch. Eventually, we stopped at one that called to us and enjoyed a feast of fresh-fried fish and chips while soaking in even more of that December sunshine.
Cockatoos, King Parrots, Kangaroos: Wildlife Along the Great Ocean Road
After refueling, we hit the road again, this time with a goal to find a nice waterfall hike to explore. We continued heading Southwest on the Great Ocean Road towards Lorne where we stopped again to get a glimpse of some cockatoos, king parrots, and kangaroos along the roadside. This was our first experience with the exotic (to us) Australian wildlife, and we were stoked, to say the least! The kangaroos grazing reminded me of the deer I'd encounter regularly growing up in Colorado--except with pouches and wicked strong hind legs that could kick the wind out of you--once again, forcing me to see the many similarities between my experiences in the U.S. and my experiences in Australia.
Experiencing the Waterfall Showers of Sheoak Falls
Soon after, we made our way to a trailhead that lead to Sheoak Falls. We enjoyed complete solitude on the hike and let the journey feed our need for the adventure we had been lacking back home in the depths of a frigid Indiana winter. After the main attraction on the trail, the bottom of Sheoak Falls, we made our way up the trail to Swallow Cave, a higher tier of the same falls. Once we'd taken a couple waterfall showers and felt we had our dose of adventure for the day, we headed back down the falls to the car to make our way back to Torquay for the night.
Renting a Tiny House in Torquay along the Great Ocean Road
We rented a tiny house in Torquay for the night through Airbnb. Whenever we use Airbnb, we keep a couple of things in mind. First, we always try to rent a full unit, rather than a single room, if we’re able. We very much value our privacy, especially when we are traveling and jetlagged. Second, we always try to find a unique place to stay. This tiny house checked both those boxes, and we were sold pretty quickly! When we arrived, the place exceeded our expectations. The owners built the entire thing from the bottom up on top of what looked like a trailer bed. They had some beer and wine for us to enjoy upon arrival, as well as a secluded bathroom that was connected and equipped with hot water.
Tiny House Tour in Torquay along the Great Ocean Road
Our tiny house had everything we needed for the night, plus it made for a fun story once we met up with my family later that week. Based on the photos on the Airbnb site, it looks like the owners have made some upgrades since we stayed there, only making it a more appealing place for us to recommend over and over again! We loved feeling like our Great Ocean Road adventure continued through the night in this gem of a place. It gave us the privacy we wanted, and the novel experience we crave while traveling.
Getting back on the Great Ocean Road
When we woke up the next morning, we headed out for breakfast—one of my favorite meals to have while in Australia. Every restaurant we went to in our time in Australia served a plethora of poached egg breakfasts, and I was going through a poached egg phase, because poached eggs. We sat outside at The Pond Cafe sipping our long blacks and eating our breakfast—a “breaky burger” for Luke and a variation of a smoked salmon benny for me. As we sipped, we planned the rest of our adventure for the day. We had the rental car until 10pm that night and chose to head up north to visit Wombat State Forest and Hanging Rock before heading back to Melbourne, rather than continuing on the Great Ocean Road to Great Otway National Park.
And so, the journey continued for the day as we drove along the outback roads of Victoria to explore Wombat State Forest and hike up Hanging Rock for some impressive views. Our experience on the Great Ocean Road was one for the books, to say the least. In so many ways it felt like we were driving along Highway 1 on the Pacific coast of the U.S., yet we were on the other side of the world experiencing a country and culture brand new to the both of us. Visiting countries with Western influence as a person born and raised in a Western country can be a confusing experience. One minute you feel like you might as well be touring a city in your home country, and the next you're making jokes about "speak easies" to the cashier only to be met with a blank stare. Its moments like these that remind me how easy it is to view the world ethnocentrically.
For anyone visiting the Melbourne area, we highly recommend renting a car even if it’s just for the day to cruise along a portion of the Great Ocean Road! We easily made it to Lorne in one day, without feeling rushed. However, the journey to Lorne is only about a quarter of the full journey of the Great Ocean Road, which spans from Torquay to Allansford. Whether you have one day or a full week to explore this fantastical part of the world, it is worth the investment, both financially and timewise, to see some of the best sites the world has to offer.