‘In a completely sane world, madness is the only freedom.’ I read this quote by English novelist J G Ballard on the internet some time ago. It had such a profound effect on me that one fine day, I not only decided to lose all my sanity but also my savings by deciding to travel to Australia on a whim. I booked my tickets rather impulsively, ignoring the desperate pleas of my credit card, and then flew to Sydney in early October. Why? To do what I had always dreamt of – watch the Phillip Island MotoGP from close quarters (read the full feature here: Off the Bucket List: I FINALLY went to the Greatest MotoGP Circuit to watch a race!) and ride a motorcycle on one of the greatest coastal roads in the world, the Great Ocean Road.
I found myself in Sydney on a cold and windy afternoon, and after indulging in a few typical tourist activities – like clicking awkward pictures in front of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge – I shifted my attention to my main adventure in Australia, which meant the very next day, I was on a flight to Melbourne.
After idling away a day in Melbourne, I contacted a motorcycle rental company only to be met with a disappointing response oozing with the Aussie accent, ‘Sorry, mayte. All the bikes are out for the GP weekend. There’s little chance of you finding a spare motorcycle anywhere, but I hope you find something. Cheers, mayte!’ Two things instantly became clear to me – first, Aussies can’t do without using the term ‘mayte’, and second, I was royally screwed, mayte.
With a heavy heart, I slept for a bit in my hotel room before going out to explore Melbourne – in other words, to fill my phone with more never-going-to-be-posted awkward pictures of myself than my phone’s storage allowed. Taking advantage of Melbourne’s free tram services, I meandered aimlessly around the city, eventually finding myself in St. Kilda, which turned out to be a very cool place. This vibrant, vintage-styled seaside suburb has a charming bohemian ambience and is full of life. I loved my time exploring the streets of Melbourne, although it wasn’t exactly cheap or reasonable, for every breath I took there seemed to cost me a dollar and then some.
On the weekend, I decided to attend the Phillip Island GP without any hopes of getting a motorcycle. Come Monday, I was all set to return to my base in Sydney, but for some reason, I felt an urge to give it one more try. So, I rang another rental company – this time, Eagle Rider Melbourne – to see if Lady Luck had changed her attitude towards me. I spoke with Richard and Phil – two gents whom I can’t possibly thank enough – who finally managed to arrange a stunning orange Triumph Trident for me on very short notice. My Great Ocean Road adventure was finally a go!
After I picked up the bike from the Eagle Rider store, Phil suggested that I take the ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliff instead of riding back to Melbourne, for it would reduce my travel time to Torquay – the starting point of the Great Ocean Road – by around two to three hours. As it turned out, it was a great suggestion. Not only did I end up saving time but also got the opportunity to enjoy the scenic beauty of the 40km coastal road from Frankston to Sorrento. It was a teaser of what was to come next. The cruise to Queenscliff was an equally spectacular and stunning experience, amplified further by the pleasant weather and the radiant Melbourne sun gleaming on the majestic undulations of Southern Ocean waves.
From the drop-off point in Queenscliff to Torquay, I covered close to 45km on the wide and inviting roads to reach the starting point. Aware that a speeding fine might cost me one, or perhaps both, of my kidneys, I was forced to hold the Trident’s 80 horses, though.
Torquay is known as the surf capital of Australia. You’ve got the world-famous Bells Beach here, which is home to the world’s longest-running surfing competition. Witnessing those awe-inspiring, waves rise up to nearly 20ft and crashing along the shoreline was a bit stomach-churning. Not to mention, I got a bit uneasy seeing some intrepid surfers brave the massive riptides.
When the clock struck half-past two in the afternoon, I had barely made it past Torquay, so it was time to up the pace a little. I zipped past the town of Anglesea, even though I was struggling to resist the urge to stop every five minutes to revel in the picturesque vistas. A few miles later, I was at the famous Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch – I had to make a mandatory stop here.
Built by over 3,000 servicemen of the Australian army returning from World War One, the Great Ocean Road was completed in 1932 as a war memorial for their fallen compatriots during the war. This monumental stretch, extending over 243km, stands as the world’s largest war memorial and perhaps also the most beautiful.
History lesson over, it was time to hit the road again. And, wow, what a road it was! From the Memorial Arch to my overnight stop at Apollo Bay, all I can remember now is that I was swearing profusely inside my lid as I and the Trident stitched the long sweeping bends of what is the most enjoyable section of the B100. This 60km of tarmac is pure bliss. It may sound like I’m getting carried away here but that ride between Lorne and Apollo Bay was like witnessing a vibrant, scenic painting spring to life. The sheer exhilaration of experiencing the mesmerising beauty of the coastline while riding a motorcycle defies the very possibility of any description.
When I reached Apollo Bay, the temperature had started to drop like a stone, and this was further accentuated by the increasingly gusty crosswinds and insidious encroachment of the sky by dark, foreboding clouds, all of which suggested that it was time to call it a day.
Throwing Caution to the Wind…
My plan for the next day was simple – head to the Twelve Apostles and bag the ultimate bragging rights, along with a selfie of a lifetime. Brimming with enthusiasm, I got out of bed early and by 8 a.m., I was already on the road. Little did I know that this decision would proudly earn a place in my hall of fame of ‘bad decisions’.
Unfortunately, the weather gods weren’t in a particularly good mood that day. What began as a dry and blustery journey morphed into something characterised by a relentless downpour in just about 15 minutes. Undeterred, I thought I could brave it all and continued to soldier on. But the more miles I clocked, the harder the rain fell, drenching both my body and my resolve. Soon, I found myself questioning the sanity of my decision to continue in the middle of nowhere – perhaps, near Cape Otway National Park. With visibility reduced to near-zero and the next town, Lavers Hill, still 30km away, I felt myself slowly succumbing to the icy grips of panic. I swear, I was convinced that I was about to freeze myself to death. I still can’t fathom how I managed to ride with my cold brittle bones that day.
As I passed Lavers Hill, the dark clouds had decided to bid their farewell, and my good old mayte, the shining ball of fire, the sun emerged from its hiding to cast a hopeful glow on the landscape. Given that the weather that day was as capricious as a toddler’s mood, I knew I had to gun it for my ultimate destination, which was now only 50km away. I jumped on the Trident with cat-like reflexes and rode at full pelt, with the Twelve Apostles in my crosshairs. Sure, I was on the verge of getting hypothermia, but I still couldn’t help but marvel at the enchanting picture-perfect scenery surrounding me.
And then, when I finally made it to the Twelve Apostles, my jaw was on the floor before I could even realise it. I mean, what a scintillating and goosebump-inducing sight it was. I have seen my fair share of beautiful places, but this one surely takes the cake for being one of the best, if not the best, breathtaking sights of nature. The colossal ocean waves raced towards those towering limestone stacks at the shore while the elusive sun played hide-and-seek in the background – it was a sight to behold.
All‘s well that ends well…
In retrospect, the whole journey was a cornucopia of silly screw-ups – indeed a result, at least partially, of bad planning on my part. However, paradoxically, it was precisely these blunders that made the whole journey so, so special – a memory that’s etched on my mind forever. As I sat there awestruck, revelling in the majestic views of the Twelve Apostles, I couldn’t help but give myself the proverbial pat on the back. What a journey it was! What an effort! What a conclusion!
In the end, all I can say is that the Great Ocean Road trip was indeed GREAT, mayte!
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