By Peter Ferry, Special to Tribune Newspapers
5:40 PM PDT, July 24, 2012
What sets the 150-mile Great Ocean Road apart from other scenic highways that combine seascapes, forested mountains and access to wildlife? It's distinctly Australian.
First, the forests are of eucalyptus trees.
Second, the wildlife includes the koalas that live in and munch on eucalyptus trees; every now and then you'll come across a knot of parked cars and tourists gazing up at the fearless little fellows. But it also includes southern right whales coming and going to Antarctica between May and November, fur seals and dolphins. Plus the ubiquitous kangaroo. There is even a colony of these on the golf course at Anglesea.
And the Great Ocean Road is remote like Australia itself. Though between Melbourne and Adelaide, it's not really on the way to either, especially if you are in a hurry. Allow lots of time for the scenery, the animals, the sleepy backpacking villages along the way, the stalagmite-like limestone formations just off shore called the Twelve Apostles and the one called London Bridge. It was a great archway before it collapsed in 1990, stranding two tourists on the newly formed island. (They were rescued by helicopter.) And if you need more time, look into the Great Ocean Walk that roughly parallels the highway for 56 miles.
Also Australian is the area's history. The rocky, rugged shore is called the Shipwreck Coast because some 80 vessels went down there in the first half of the 19th century. The road itself was hand-built by 3,000 veterans who came home from World War I as a monument to the 60,000 who did not. Until then the area was hard to get to and little visited.
Not too much has changed. The spring day we drove this spectacular road, it was, like the continent itself, largely empty. Dangling as it does from Australia's far southern coast, it truly is down under.
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