Thursday, August 21, 2008

That's not a wave

We rounded a bend, and stretched out before us was the genuine south coast of Australia. We were on the Great Ocean Road, on a Saturday afternoon in April, and a breathtaking array of massive limestone cliffs and wild, wild sea stretched before us to the horizon. It was spectacular enough to make you weep deliriously with pure, Coleridgian joy.

"Stop blubberin', ya big girl," Leigh commanded, as tears of amazement poured down my cheeks, "anybody'd think you'd never seen a cliff before."

"But Leigh, look at that," I responded, "it's a sight so perfect it's almost holy."

"Bloody hell, you could have told me I was going on a month's tour with a religious lunatic before we left your place, Loz."

"It's just my poetic soul coming to the fore, Leigh. You see, I have that romantic vision of our souls being a part of that living, breathing thing called Nature." He didn't respond, and when I turned to look at him, I noticed he was vomiting out the window.

We arrived at the Twelve Apostles, these great stacks of limestone formed over tens of thousands of years as the sea eroded the base of the cliffs. As we arrived at the car park at the beginning of the track to the Apostles, two huge buses filled with Japanese tourists arrived as well. They poured out of the buses and immediately began taking photos - of us, the car park, each other, our car and even the toilet block. We were swept up in this enormous throng of young, happy Japanese kids, and carried along with them towards the viewing platforms.  

The Apostles were spectacular, but having to take dozens of photos of Japanese people with their cameras, as if we were a couple of Aussies who had just come down there to provide that service, started to wear thin, so we booted off and drove to Port Campbell.

We arrived in a beautiful little sea-side village, where the only natural harbour along this stubborn mountain of rock existed. We drove into the picturesque camping ground, paid our fee and found a campsite. As usual, the Grey Nomads turned up in a convoy that amounted to a sizeable proportion of all of the aluminium produced in Australia in 2007. We watched, enthralled, as our nearest neighbour spent half an hour guiding his wife, at the wheel of the Landcruiser, into the place which exactly aligned the caravan with the little brown lines demarcating each camping spot. (This is true; we timed it.) Nothing less than perfection would do. Mission accomplished, after much gesticulating on the part of the husband, and with tears of merriment streaming down the faces of Leigh and me, he went to the back of the van and pressed two buttons, which sent the sides of the thing outwards, until the caravan had almost doubled in size.

"Stone the crows, Loz, this guy's getting set up for a rave party tonight. I bet he's got a dance floor and a mirror ball inside that thing."

To our amazement, another button sent a television antennae mast up on a hydraulic ram, until it towered over the entire edifice. He then pulled an electric cable, about the thickness of an adult boa-constrictor, out of a side compartment and plugged it into the power outlet. There was an audible "clunk", as the local power station's auxiliary generator kicked in to accommodate the massive load, and spotlights, strategically placed on all four corners of the Taj Mahal, came on and bathed the entire camping ground in a brutal, intense light.

"Jesus," cried Leigh, "he must think the place is gonna get invaded tonight! He must be pulling thirty thousand ergotrons out of the grid."

The old couple stood there for a couple of minutes, bathed in the glow, looking proudly at the magnificence of an entire superannuation scheme thrown into one piece of hideous post-modern mobile sculpture, then hurriedly disappeared inside. We never saw them again.

By this stage, of course, we were getting hungry and thirsty, so we ambled up the road into the village's main street. Port Campbell was a delight - an old fishing village that, because of its proximity to the Apostles, had naturally gone all entrepreneurial with trendy restaurants and nick-knack shops. We ignored these, and (wait for it...) hit the pub.

We had a great night at the Port Campbell Hotel meeting the locals, who were cheerful and interested in where we were from.

"Oh, the Blue Mountains?" said Phil, a big dairy farmer. "That's an amazing, beautiful place, Laurie. You blokes are lucky to live there."

I thought this was ironic, coming from a guy who lived in one of the most spectacular places I've ever seen, and I told him so - the Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, the mountainous oceans, etc.

"Oh, here? Yeah, I suppose it's pretty good. Sea's pretty calm, actually; you should see it when you've got hundred foot-high waves bangin' into the cliffs. That's pretty spectacular."

I thought hundred foot waves were probably stretching the truth just a little, but it made a good story.

A couple of days later, after a brilliant stopover in the Port Campbell area, we struck camp and headed west. A few miles down the road we pulled into a little beach called Massacre Bay for a bite to eat. I was down on the beach having a look at some superb limestone rock formations, when I heard Leigh calling. I jogged back up to where he was standing, which was at a National Parks information board.

"Check this out, Loz," he said with a grin.

On the board was a notice in large, bold type:

"Warning: swimming and surfing at this beach are not advised. Waves of thirty metres in height are common."

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