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Around Australia 2003

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Journal for 23-Nov-2003 : Peterborough

Warrnambool rather quiet on a Sunday morning. Same can't be said about the Great Ocean Road, with light - but still too much - tourist traffic for my liking. Again it was overcast and bitingly cold with - you guessed it - a stiff headwind.

We travelled some back roads down to Childers Cove. A scything southerly was seriously impeding our progress, at least until two dogs belted out of their yard and straight for us.

Met Taka, a Japanese cyclist travelling around Oz with 40ks of gear and almost half that many English words. We managed to convey our best wishes, I think.

Childers Bay is has a picnic table and a stair-case down to a small rocky cove. It's not actually on the Great Ocean Road proper, so we were almost the only tourists there.

An old station wagon (The 1966 Holden Special - the model of car I understand I was conceived in) loaded with surf boards passed with a toot and a wave. 2ks down the road we passed through the microscopic town of Nirranda. No shops or houses, just a tennis court and church. On this Sunday morning quite a few parishioner's cars were waiting patiently for their owners to return from worship. To my surprise that including that surfboard laden shaggin wagon.

This is variously the Limestone Coast, The Shipwreck Coast and the Surf Coast. It is indeed mostly limestone cliffs that are slowly dissolving into the southern ocean. It's occurring at an irregular rate with groups of islands that interface with the sea entirely with sheer cliffs. The bases of these are dissolving fastest with the help of the wave action from the huge surf bounding up from Antarctica. The result is a spectacular protrusion of tower like islands lining a very rugged coastline.

On the southern edge of Australia the signs explain that the coast is eroding away at a blindingly quick 1-10cm a year. In geological time this is like lightning, and over the tens of millions of years Australia has been an island, we must have lost thousands of kilometres of continent in this way. Well, not quite. The shallow limestone ledges (that help produce crashing surf) extend less than 100m off the current coast, to the point 6000 years ago during the last ice age when the sea level last changed significantly.

With all this surf, limestone reefs and cliffs and generally foul weather, it's not entirely surprising this is also known as the Shipwreck Coast. A century ago this treacherous stretch of coast claimed hundreds of ship and thousands of lives. Today there are plaques and monuments all along the coast. My favourite to date is to a ship called "The Schomberg". This vessel was the largest, sleekest, fastest most modern clipper ship of it's day, incorporating all the modern safety features 1855 had to offer, allowing the proud owners to declare this vessel "unsinkable". On her maiden voyage (does this story sound familiar?) in clear calm weather she ran hard aground on an unsubmerged sand bar (Peterborough beach actually) and was destroyed. At the time her captain James Forbes was found to be "entertaining" an 18 year old female passenger.

Ran into Chris and Jenny again.

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