Having just seen the story retold on ‘Coast, Australia’, I couldn’t resist retelling our own experience on The Great Ocean Road when we visited in August 2014.
Gusts of freezing wind whirling around tombstones and biting into flesh might seem a strange choice for a travel tale. Yet when we overshot the tourist viewpoint for the limestone stacks of the iconic Twelve Apostles, we stumbled upon a place of haunting spirituality instead.
Leaving the city of Melbourne far behind, our hire car deftly hugged the curving bends of The Great Ocean Road whilst our Aussie based son shrugged off his hangover, distracted by the stunning coastal views of the Pacific. Apollo Bay – white sands, rolling surf, curving shoreline and pathways through gentle dunes – had been the perfect overnight stop for our road trip before continuing east that wintery August dawn. Refusing to turn back after our mistake, we turned left into Broken Head Walk car park, halting by a solitary campervan. We bundled out, added yet more woolly layers, and lurched towards Thunder Cave with our heads bowed against the onslaught.
Preferring to travel out of season as this makes me feel like a ‘traveller’ and not a ‘holiday maker’, the solitude of our stroll along the unsealed track added to the sense of adventure. We quickly gave up trying to converse against the howling wind, separating and walking alone with our thoughts, all vaguely headed towards the cave so clearly and efficiently signposted. With the intrepidness of youth that had brought him to Australia in the first place, junior strode off in front before coming to a sudden stop, gazing into the middle distance. Had the headache bitten again? As his concerned parents ambled to his side, words froze on our lips as we saw what had stalled him at this place – the rear view of the Apostles, with the golden clouds racing beyond; shafts of vivid sunlight piercing through and stabbing the tide surging through the spires. Totally alone, this view was ours.
For a while we stood in awe, before finally admitting defeat as icy paralysis took its hold. Turning as one, we continued towards Thunder Cave where the ocean repeatedly and forcibly ejected itself through the bore hole, our senses clouded by a gentle mist seemingly stretching its fingers into our very souls. But it was the souls of others that truly made this walk so special. That winding path led to one of the most isolated cemeteries in the world – just four bodies were recovered from the 1878 shipwreck of the iron-hulled clipper, Loch Ard. Here they lay at peace, interred in coffins crafted from their ship’s timber.
Unforgotten and unforgettable.