A Bison Abroad| Exploring the Beauty of Australia

The Great Ocean Road has many experiences that need more than a day to explore

PHOTOS BY ERIN THOSTENSON | THE SPECTRUM a trip to the Great Ocean with friends will give you a bond with people you would never expect.

The Great Ocean Road is over 150 miles of highway that winds around Australia’s southeastern coast, showcasing new natural wonders at every turn. Whether it’s expansive beaches with turquoise surf or waterfalls hidden within rainforest hikes, the Great Ocean Road has so much to take in that it is impossible to see it all in one trip.

Australia’s smallest state of Victoria is bursting with so much life that it is easy to be in awe, stumbling into a new world that feels much bigger than yourself.

I spent an entire weekend exploring what the Great Ocean Road had to offer from Anglesea (the eastern start) to Apollo Bay (roughly the halfway mark) in the company of other international students from my host university, and these are some of the highlights we experienced, just a fraction of what can be found on the Great Ocean Road.

Erskine Falls

This particular marvel is a 10-minute drive from the nearby city of Lorne and a 15-minute walk down over 200 stairs and across a river. 

During the heat of the Australian summer, it might be tempting to skip Erskine Falls altogether, but this would be a huge mistake. The trek down those stairs and across the river is a journey from a beach town into a rainforest, with brown spindly trees turning into verdant ferns and the heat transforming into a cool mist from the falls themselves. 

The hike takes you directly to the point where Erskine Falls plunges from its nearly 100-foot height into the smooth river below. The sight of the falls combined with the surrounding forest, the sun filtering through the leaves and reflecting off the mists, the sounds of strange birds calling to one another in the trees, lays the entire area in a sense of calm. Despite the arduous climb back up the many, many flights of stairs afterward, visiting Erskine Falls is refreshing and even invigorating.

The Twelve Apostles

If the Great Ocean Road had to be distilled down to just one site to represent itself, it would be the Twelve Apostles, without question. Created by steady erosion from the Southern Ocean against the coastline 10-20 million years ago, the Twelve Apostles are large pillars of limestone that rise out of the waves, with the tallest towering nearly as high as a 15-story building. 

Having weathered millennium after millennium, the Twelve Apostles remain, cutting against the foam-green waves in a rich ochre of layered rock. The ocean stretches into the horizon before them, fading from the white of the breaking waves into aquamarine and then into a deep blue where it meets the sky. 

Even from the highest lookout-point, which is level with the pillars, they still seem vast and untouchable, pointing into the sky in defiance of something unknown.

Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay is a small town nestled where the edges of the Great Otway National Park meet the coastline. After long days of traveling as far up and down the Great Ocean Road as we could, my group and I took solace in the quiet of Apollo Bay to relax and rest. 

Apollo Bay’s beach does not stun like some of the others along the Great Ocean Road, with its impressive waves crashing against the shore relentlessly. Instead, the beach at Apollo Bay is a different kind of beautiful, with smooth sand and a steady, almost gentle tide. 

At sunset, the whole waterfront turns into a pastel dream: the sky blending from pale periwinkle to cream to pink, as it reflects the same soft colors onto the surf and sand. A cool breeze drifts from the ocean, relieving the heat from the day.

My group and I visited this beach at sunset on our last night before returning to our host university in Melbourne, and as we crossed over the dunes to get a glimpse of that particular stretch of ocean for the first time, I heard one of my friends say, “Man, people really just get born here.” I, too, marveled at the fact that the people of Apollo Bay wake up every day and get to experience what is so dazzling, beautiful and strange to me. 

I wonder if they would find exploring a place like North Dakota as equally exciting. 

I think there is something so incredibly special that myself and all of the international students have had the opportunity to visit places like the Great Ocean Road together. From as close to home as Canada to as far away as Norway, everyone on that trip was able to enjoy each other’s company and share in a small fraction of what some Australians call home.

Starting from the tiny butterflies that flutter around Erskine Falls, all the way up to the tops of the Twelve Apostles that cut against the sky and even down to the countless Australians and tourists who take the time to look at them and say they are beautiful, these are the essential elements that combine to make the Great Ocean Road its inspiring entirety.

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