Milkshakes and Volcanoes: Australia’s Ocean Road

It was difficult to leave our homey Grampians cabin, but we had a full day of driving ahead of us before arriving at our next cabin in the small town of Forrest.

We hit the road at 10:00am, detouring about an hour later in a small town a few miles outside of Port Fairy. The town was small and suburban, with a coffee shop/convenience store where we stocked up on lattes and a public toilet that opened up onto an expansive lawn dotted with yellow flowers.

The people were friendly. Carl and Blair chatted with the cafe owner, who told them about a volcano we needed to stop at on our way. Holly befriended an elderly woman in the bathroom.

“What was she talking to you about?” Blair asked.

“Her orchids,” Holly replied.

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On the road againnnn

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All the clean air and spring colors!

On that note, we continued on toward Port Fairy, a colorful little town on a chilly wharf. Using a somewhat outdated Lonely Planet, we located what looked like a good place to stop for lunch: a warm restaurant right on the wharf with fresh seafood and reasonable prices.

It was under renovation.

Undeterred, we parked by a post office and walked across the street to a small restaurant called The Hub, serving up fish and chips and hearty soup.

We took a stroll around the main street after lunch, ducking into second-hand shops and braving the chilly wind. Port Fairy is certainly a charming town, and seems decidedly Irish. We would have stayed longer, but we weren’t sure how long it would take us to get to Forrest and didn’t want to be navigating forest roads in the dark.

Back en route toward the Great Ocean Road, we veered off toward Warrnambool, where Tower Hill was. The man at the coffee shop had told Carl and Blair that Tower Hill volcano was extinct, and one of only four inactive volcanoes in the world that you can drive through.

A cursory Google search hasn’t yielded much in the way of clarification, but it doesn’t matter. If you’re in the area, you have to check it out.

Lush with greenery and lazily sloping one-way roads, the park boasted a diverse ecosystem with lots to see.

Rosie, Holly, and Alicia opted for the summit hike, which began almost immediately with the stench of dead kangaroo somewhere on the path. (A TripAdvisor review I found today suggests the kangaroo is still there.)

Blair, Carl, and I opted instead to longboard. The hills were gentle and, where they were a bit steep, eventually sloped back upward so you could naturally slow down before hitting another and ending up in the spacious car park with its own rolling, paved hills. We did this until everyone else got back from the summit.

From there, we packed the boards into the van and drove back to the car park to use the bathroom and scope out the gift shop.

Good thing we did.

A man named Paul, wearing a Tower Hill uniform, approached Carl and nodded at his longboard.

“You board?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Carl replied.

“Want to see a koala and a baby?”

“Uh, yeah.”

We all followed Paul down a hill outside the visitor center to where two other people were clustered around a small tree. Paul selected a handful of low branches and pulled them down to clear our line of vision, revealing a rather frightened koala and her baby. It was simultaneously adorable and also a little sad, thinking how scared she might be.

We circled the tree once or twice to try to take photos, and then decided it might be best to leave the koalas alone.

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Carl cruising along in the caldera.

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First time longboarding AND you’re doing it in an inactive volcano. Hard to top.

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What a freaking awesome place.

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This trip is sponsored by…Arbor Boards!

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Spotted: one adorable koala.

Back in the van, we set our sights on the next stop. Alicia had been reading Bill Bryson’s book, and had been fascinated by Australia’s penchant for “big” roadside attractions.

“Apparently, there’s lots of random gigantic things all over Australia,” she told us. “The big banana, the big bagpiper.”

“Are there any on our way to the Ocean Road?”

“The big milkshake!”

As we followed the GPS – which had successfully located “Big Milkshake” under points of interest – we shifted topics and talked about other interesting facts concerning Australia. For example, there is evidence that the continent used to be a lot wetter and that sea levels may have been way higher at one point.

“There are these Aboriginal towers of seashells way up on mountains,” Alicia explained. “They think that people used to eat lots of fish and seafood and discard the shells. No one knows what they mean or why they’re significant, but they’re all over.”

This I found interesting, and consistent with climate change information I’ve been reading in Sapiens.

As we drove on toward the milkshake, we also began noticing signs for a place that seemed both curiously-located and heavenly: Cheese World. The closer we got to the big milkshake, the more frequent the Cheese World signs were, until we realized that, miraculously, the big milkshake was at Cheese World!

Never have you seen a van full of happier people.

Minus Rosie, who stepped out, confused, scanning the milkshake.

“Where are the shell towers?” she asked.

Apparently, the size of the van made conveying information to the back quite difficult and unreliable.

“I thought the big milkshake was a modern re-naming of one of the Aboriginal shell towers,” Rosie explained as we regarded a large plastic milkshake on a tilted axis. “I was going to say, that’s pretty culturally insensitive.”

“This is definitely not a shell tower.”

“But this is seriously the biggest milkshake in the world? It’s not that big.”

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How exciting!

Alicia re-explained the random “big” things in Australia to bring Rosie up to speed, while the rest of us made our way into Cheese World. The back of the store offered free cheese tasting of 6 different cheeses. My favorite was a smoky cheese with maple and bacon flavoring, though two bites was enough to satisfy my palate.

In the end, I didn’t actually end up buying any cheese, but walked away with a $33 6-pack of Rogue Wave Moby Pale Ale. “Save a whale pale ale!” read the side of the box. Proceeds from each bottle went to the Sea Shepherd and supposedly saved a whale. I will certainly drink more beer to save the whales.

We took the standard tourist photo by the big milkshake, as well as near two other milkshakes that lived under a large canopy outside the cheese museum, which was an odd little assortment of cheese and non-cheese-related objects that people seemed to have donated simply because they had no room for them at home.

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Sipping little milkshakes by the big milkshakes.

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Alicia snapped this photo in the cheese museum. It is a baby, and it is not made of cheese. Why is it there?

Then it was off to find the Ocean Road.

Alicia had read that Bill Bryson’s experience on the Ocean Road was full of hairpin turns and steep switchbacks. The portion that we drove along was entirely different, with lazy, wide curves and smooth paving.

It boasted unparalleled views of cerulean, aqua, and turquoise ocean off to the right, with foamy white-crested waves and jagged rock formations. We stopped once, and then vowed not to stop again until we hit 12 Apostles.

I don’t know what we were expecting, but we were a little disappointed to find 12 Apostles so packed. A large parking lot on the left teemed with people. The bathrooms were under renovation, so newer toilets had been put in temporarily. Once out of the lot, we walked beneath the road and out the other side to wooden viewing platforms crowded with families taking photos.

The 12 Apostles were beautiful, and stark in their rusty-orange contrast to the sparkling blues of the sea, but the first rock formations we’d seen were just as lovely.

Holly explained that the 12 Apostles had once been called “Sow and Piglets,” but a tourism board thought more people would be attracted if they renamed the rocks something more enticing.

“Do you think people would still come here if it was called the 12 Antichrists?” Blair wondered.

It was an idea worth pondering, especially since the name is a slight misnomer. There are not actually 12 rocks, but there’s something a bit less remarkable and poetic about the 7 Apostles.

We took the tourist photo and left quickly, eager for more open road and less people.

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Behold! Blue skies, blue seas.

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OK, this is definitely worth stopping for.

Our GPS estimated we would arrive in Forrest in an hour and 50 minutes. We hadn’t connected with the AirBnB hosts in days, and all Alicia knew was that the cabin was in walking distance to Forrest brewery. This was important, but not useful when navigating.

It didn’t help that we hadn’t been watching the fuel gauge closely enough. As we turned off the Ocean Road and headed down more remote, wooded areas, towns became scarce – and so did gas pumps.

Luckily, we found a pump in a “town” about 30 minutes outside of Forrest and refueled. $104 later, we were back on the road, though unsure of where exactly it was taking us.

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Blair pumps gas into the Imax. Thanks, Blair!

For whatever reason, it opted to put us on dirt and gravel roads rather than paved ones, making for an interesting, kangaroo-filled, bumpy drive. When we finally came upon Boundary Road, where our cabin was located, a hesitant cheer went up in the van.

It was reassuring to find our road, but there was no brewery in sight.

We drove along, looking for our cabin number, until we passed a mailbox numbered 500. We’d gone too far. Ahead, we saw Casper’s Access Road and the foreboding Cemetery Road.

Manuevering an awkward K-turn, we headed back to 500 and reluctantly dropped Blair and Carl at the edge of what looked like a dirt driveway so they could walk up to the door and ask for directions.

Seconds later, we decided rural folks might not be warm to intruders, so we whipped the van around again and drove in after them. This was good, as there was no house there in the end – just a fence.

Back in the van, Alicia managed to get in touch with the owners on Carl’s cell phone. The cross road we’d passed a while back was actually their driveway, they explained, and if we turned down it we would find our cabin.

Talk about gorgeous. The “driveway” wound down a hillside, in and out of woodlands, all the way down to a glittering lake with its own private dock. The cabin itself was more of a ranch house, with stables out back (no horses, though) and lots of antique Australian rancher gear inside.

I’ll admit, it was a little scary, but after flipping through the guest book and reading all of the warm and wonderful entries of past guests, I felt at ease.

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Home sweet home!

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What a view.

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Our own private lake. I could live here.

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Cozy chairs by the fire

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Alicia snapped this awesome shot of the inside of our cabin.

In the twilight, I went outside to help Carl chop wood. He taught me how to swing an ax, which I have always wondered about, and I’ve decided that the feeling of splitting a stump decisively in half is just as enjoyable as the feeling of sitting in front of the fire you build with it.

It was another splendid end to a splendid day. The only cause for sorrow was knowing we only had one full day in this majestic little hideaway. (And we weren’t sure where the brewery was.)

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Carl chopping firewood.

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And I was there too.

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