Non-stop jour­ney of fun

Driv­ing through Aus­tralia’s Great Ocean Road in the state of Vic­to­ria is an ex­pe­ri­ence like no other. From nat­u­ral won­ders and his­to­rial sites to fan­tas­tic food trails, there’s just so much to do and dis­cover in the re­gion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By J. SE­BAS­TIAN star2­travel@thes­tar.com.my

BREATH­TAK­ING views of rugged cliffs, mas­sive lime­stone struc­tures, sandy beaches, wine tast­ing, a choco­la­terie and ice cream­ery, juicy mus­sels, swim­ming with dol­phins and seals, koalas in the wild, beau­ti­ful and friendly birds, a train restau­rant, a pic­nic in the for­est...

Th­ese are among the at­trac­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties you can do on a holiday in the Great Ocean Road re­gion – Gee­long and the Bel­lar­ine Penin­sula – in Vic­to­ria, Aus­tralia. We got to check out all th­ese dur­ing a seven-day trip or­gan­ised by AirAsia X and VisitVic­to­ria.

Na­ture lovers will love Great Ocean Road with its trails, look­out points and beaches that are good for walk­ing, hik­ing or just am­bling, or if you are into it, surf­ing. You can join group tours or go on a selfdrive jour­ney along the coast, stop­ping at many in­ter­est­ing places.

If you’re like me, then all you need are comfy walk­ing shoes, a wind­breaker, a cam­era and good weather. You do need to be fit to check out some places, though.

One of the high­lights for me was the 15-minute he­li­copter ride to check out the lime­stone struc­tures, the ma­jes­tic cliffs and the mighty ocean. Thanks to good weather, the views were sim­ply breath­tak­ing as the pi­lot flew us over the fa­mous Twelve Apos­tles and other sites with cute names like Bak­ers Oven, Mut­ton Bird Is­land, Lon­don Bridge and the Salt and Pep­per Shak­ers rock stacks!

We also went to Gib­son Steps to take a closer look at the mas­sive Ra­zor­back rock stack. We walked down some steps to the beach to mar­vel at the Gog and McGog lime­stone struc­tures. I was look­ing for surfers and found some rid­ing the waves. We also saw the beau­ti­ful Loch Ard Gorge, where only two sur­vivors made it af­ter a ship­wreck a long time ago. The name of the ship was Loch Ard.

Mean­while, the Red­woods Pic­nic Area at the Great Ot­way Na­tional Park is a good place to check out. It is sur­rounded by Cal­i­for­nia Red­wood trees that were planted in 1939. I have never seen such tall trees in my life and they al­most blocked out most of the sun­light, leav­ing the area quiet and serene.

And then there are cute koala bears. My fel­low jour­nal­ists and I found sev­eral of them sleep­ing on tall trees in the small ham­let, Ken­neth River. We were told they can spend up to 18 hours sleep­ing! I caught sight of some beau­ti­ful and friendly birds, too – the Aus­tralian king par­rots and sul­phur-crested cock­a­toos – along Grey River Road. If you raise an arm, chances are the birds will land on your arm, said VisitVic­to­ria me­dia & trade re­la­tions co­or­di­na­tor Anthony Po­letto, who took us on the tour.

Po­letto also took us to Teddy’s Look­out, lo­cated at the end of Ge­orge Street in Lorne, where we en­joyed more splen­did views of the Great Ocean Road.

Mem­o­ries are made of th­ese

The 243km-long Great Ocean Road, con­nect­ing Torquay to Al­lans­ford, was built by more than 3,000 World War I sol­diers who re­turned to the coun­try from the year 1919; the road was com­pleted in 1932.

There is a me­mo­rial arch at Eastern View to hon­our the feat of th­ese sol­diers. On the side of the arch, there is a sculp­ture of two sol­diers hard at work. The road it­self was built as a me­mo­rial for those who lost their lives in the war.

We also went to view the Split Point Light­house in Aireys In­let. It is quite a tough walk on a rather steep slope but I made it, thanks to my walk­ing shoes and maybe my stamina. It was worth the ef­fort as I got to know the his­tory of the light­house and en­joyed the beau­ti­ful views from the look­out.

The light­house was built in 1891 and has been open to tours since 2013. She still shines her guid­ing light every evening for pass­ing boats on their way to and from Port Philip Bay.

A sweet sur­prise awaited us at the Great Ocean Road Choco­la­terie and Ice Cream­ery. Lo­cated over an hour from Mel­bourne and just 20 min­utes from Gee­long, vis­i­tors can watch the art of cho­co­late mak­ing at this place.

We ex­plored the dis­play of thou­sands of hand­crafted choco­lates; we were told there were 250 dif­fer­ent types.

There is a col­lec­tion of 7,000 truf­fles as well as lots of ice cream and a cafe.

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ian Nee­land says about 2,000 peo­ple visit the place on week­ends with 1,000 vis­i­tors check­ing in on week­days.

Seal of ap­proval

In the Gee­long and Bel­ler­ine Penin­sula, we went on a four-hour ad­ven­ture, first board­ing a boat to Chi­na­man’s Hat in Port Philip Bay, where 30 to 40 young Aus­tralian fur seals were taking a rest or nap.

You could ac­tu­ally swim to en­joy the com­pany of seals, who were flap­ping their fins as if invit­ing us to join them. I also saw a big stringray swim­ming in the wa­ter.

The crew then set off in search of dol­phins but could not find any. We were told there was an 80% chance of see­ing them but I guess we were a lit­tle un­lucky that day.

Af­ter that we went on a taste trail. At Jack Rab­bit Vine­yard, we tasted sev­eral types of wines – I lost count af­ter the fifth round! The restau­rant of­fers con­tem­po­rary cui­sine with lots of healthy choices.

The Ad­vance Mus­sel Sup­ply is a fam­ily-owned and op­er­ated busi­ness that has been farm­ing mus­sels in Port Phillip Bay for over 30 years. We tried some fresh and juicy oys­ters and mus­sels there. Prawns, scal­lops, abalone and sea­weed are also sold at the premises.

At the Wer­ribee Open Range Zoo lo­cated near the Avalon Air­port, there are a range of in­cred­i­ble wildlife from the African con­ti­nent in­clud­ing rhi­nos, gi­raffes, ze­bras and an­telopes.

I have never been so close to wild an­i­mals un­til I was at an of­froad sa­fari at the zoo. We were in an open-sided ve­hi­cle that pro­vided un­re­stricted views of all the an­i­mals.

I par­tic­u­larly liked the six gi­raffes there. Their ears and eyes were peeled on us as we stood and ad­mired them from the ve­hi­cle. One ostrich came very close to our ve­hi­cle as if to say hello.

Rid­ing high

A new at­trac­tion in Vic­to­ria is the Q Train, a unique culinary ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Q Train is a restau­rant that trav­els along the historic Bel­lar­ine Rail­way be­tween Drys­dale and

Queen­scliff. It usu­ally de­parts from, and re­turns to, Drys­dale Sta­tion, just an easy 15-minute drive from Gee­long.

We got to eat de­li­cious food and drank fine wine on the rail jour­ney while en­joy­ing the views of Swan Bay and the Bel­lar­ine.

Gee­long, with its beau­ti­ful coast­line, is well-known for its Bay­walk Bol­lards. There are 104 painted wooden sculp­tures and they rep­re­sent a fas­ci­nat­ing and fun chron­i­cle of the city’s past.

Among the sculp­tures in front of our ho­tel at Eastern Beach were the par­tially dressed life­guards and bathing beau­ties from the 1930s.

We were lucky to catch the first-ever White Night fes­ti­val in Gee­long, which saw more than 70,000 peo­ple flock­ing to the city cen­tre for a com­ing to­gether of art, cre­ativ­ity and com­mu­nity.

We joined the lo­cals walk­ing along the streets to check out the event that fea­tured light pro­jec­tions, in­stal­la­tions, per­for­mances, exhibitions and live mu­sic acts. The sights and sounds on that night were sim­ply amaz­ing.

Ex­por­ing Mel­bourne

For those who like the big city life, there is Mel­bourne, the world’s sec­ond most live­able city.

There is street art al­most ev­ery­where in Mel­bourne. We went on a “hid­den se­crets tour” where our guide Rachael told us there were seven laneways ded­i­cated to street art.

At Hosier Lane, the walls were cov­ered in colour­ful mu­rals, posters and stick­ers.

The ar­cades in the city are also in­ter­est­ing. The Royal Ar­cade, which opened in 1862, is the old­est one in Aus­tralia and it con­nects Lit­tle Collins, El­iz­a­beth Street, and the Bourke Street mall.

Watch the myth­i­cal stat­ues of Gog and Ma­gog strike the bells every hour at the ar­cade. Then, treat your­self to a Bel­gian hot cho­co­late at one of Mel­bourne’s best cho­co­late cafes, Koko Black.

You can also go on a “cof­fee lovers walk” to check out some of the 2,000 plus cafes in the city. We only vis­ited four cafes. I am more of a tea lover but learnt so much about cof­fee on this tour.

I have al­ways liked art gal­leries so I was happy that we got to visit The Ian Pot­ter Cen­tre at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria. We met soft-spo­ken se­nior cu­ra­tor David Hurl­ston who gave us de­tailed ex­pla­na­tions of the var­i­ous sculp­tures and art pieces. The cen­tre is ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to Aus­tralian art.

Among the art pieces I liked was John Brack’s oil on can­vas ef­fort,

Collin Street, 5pm, which de­picted Mel­bourne’s fi­nan­cial cen­tre hub at the end of the work­ing day, uni­formly dressed of­fice-work­ers stream­ing home­ward.

Next was a visit to the 151-yearold South Mel­bourne Mar­ket which houses stalls run by small busi­ness own­ers. The mar­ket along Coven­try Road is per­haps the best place to get some sou­venirs.

For a 360˚ view of the Mel­bourne sky­line, head to the Mel­bourne Star at the Dock­lands wa­ter­front. The gi­ant ob­ser­va­tion wheel is 120m high and has 21 cab­ins.

New air­port

AirAsia will tran­si­tion its twice daily Mel­bourne (Aus­tralia) ser­vices from Tul­la­ma­rine Air­port to Avalon Air­port from Dec 5 this year.

Op­er­ated by AirAsia’s long-haul af­fil­i­ate, AirAsia X, the dou­ble daily re­turn ser­vices de­part­ing Kuala Lumpur’s KLIA2 will de­liver guests from Malaysia and Asean closer to the Great Ocean Road and the sur­round­ing ar­eas of Gee­long and the Bel­ler­ine Penin­sula while con­tin­u­ing to pro­vide con­ve­nient and af­ford­able ac­cess to Mel­bourne.

Ac­cord­ing to VisitVic­to­ria, 138,500 Malaysian vis­i­tors spent 3.2 mil­lion nights and A$424mil (RM1.3bil) on trips to Vic­to­ria in 2017, a year-on-year in­crease of 11.1%.

Malaysia is ranked Vic­to­ria’s third largest in­ter­na­tional mar­ket in terms of ex­pen­di­ture, be­hind China and New Zealand.

An AirAsia spokesper­son said both AirAsia X and VisitVic­to­ria as well as air­port au­thor­i­ties and key tourism play­ers are work­ing to ed­u­cate vis­i­tors that there is more to Vic­to­ria than just the city of Mel­bourne.

For more in­for­ma­tion on flights, visit airasia.com.

— VisitVic­to­ria

An aerial view of the lime­stone struc­tures, 12 Apos­tles, and the coastal Great Ocean Road in Vic­to­ria.

— Pho­tos: J. SE­BAS­TIAN/The Star

Bathing beau­ties of the 1930s on the Eastern Beach in Gee­long.

The gi­raffes at the the Wer­ribee Open Range Zoo cu­ri­ously look­ing at vis­i­tors.

A sculp­ture of two World War I sol­diers work­ing on Great Ocean Road.

The Loch Ard Gorge, named af­ter a ship which sunk in the place, seen at Gib­son Steps.

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