I was ready by 6.30 am to leave; the night rest was not adequate owing to incessant cough and feverishness. Despite a hot water bath I felt cold and thought that the chest congestion is taking a turn for the worse. Ashok gave me a hot cup of tea to get started. With all the bags in and google navigator in its usual position I was all set. Then came a flask of hot water, which Ranjana had got ready for me. What can you say of such acts of compassion and support? Such people make one’s life meaningful.
The early part of the day’s drive was all about glitches. The first was when I took the wrong turn as I departed from the house and had to take a long detour to get back to the main road. The caddie on which I had kept the mobile phone with google navigation came loose at a bend in the road and went missing inside the car. I had to stop the car and make a virtual hunt for it before retrieving the mobile. That was the second glitch. The third could have been fatal. Not far from Williams Landing I had to take a right turn for which I saw the green light ahead. I signaled and turned, not noticing the car that was hurtling from the opposite direction. The gap was too close to call. On another day, I could have been a body bag. But this day, abundantly blessed by Our Lady, to who I was praying at the time, I continued on my journey thanking Her for an extended life.
The first part of my drive this day would be the 245 km Great Ocean Drive that begins from the world famous surf town of Torquay and ends near Warrnambool. The Great Ocean Road is also known as the largest war memorial since the road was largely built by war returnees of the two world wars. The entire stretch of this magnificent drive is a two way road with speed restrictions ranging from 50 to 100 kph. I was in doubt that I would make the longer detour from A1 to enjoy the magical drive. And what a day it panned out to be. I was tempted to stop every 100 meters, such was the beauty of the place. My first stop was at the postcard perfect town of Anglesea and its pristine beach. If one were to go by the lookout points it will need a few days to cover the entire drive one way. With a heavy heart I skipped many because I had to get to Mount Gambier by the end of the day. I did not take the spots less travelled for want of time. I just marveled in the drive on the road hugging the cliffs, where frequent warnings are placed to beware of rock falls.
The Gibsons Steps is a steep set of steps by the side of a cliff down to the beach in the Port Campbell National Park, very close to the 12 Apostles. The latter is arguably the most visited site on the Ocean Drive. They are limestone stacks that have formed over the years due to wave action and erosion. It is said that there were never 12 stacks, but somehow they were known by that number. One of the stacks collapsed in 2010 and now there are only 8 visible stacks. Erosion goes on unabated and fresh bridges, hollows and stacks will form over the years. But, without a doubt the Pacific Ocean on this stretch is one never to be missed. The London Arch was formerly part of the London Bridge. The centre portion of the erstwhile bridge collapsed leaving the present arch. I heard that a couple of tourists were stranded when the collapse happened and they had to be rescued by a police helicopter. The Bay of Islands is a large area of panoramic geographical delights; cliffs and limestone stacks with pristine, sandy beaches. The Cape Otway Lighthouse was first lit in 1848 and is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Australia. It is documented that 8 ships were wrecked along the Cape Otway coastline.
It had become incredibly hot by mid-afternoon. Nevertheless, the delightful sights that made one marvel more and more at nature’s magic and palette made me labour on and on from one stoppage to another. A highlight of all the attractions is the generous parking space, drinking water facility, toilets and rest area. Despite being crowded due to the long labour weekend the facilities were not strained. Once I had reached the end of the Great Ocean Drive I had to be careful in observing the speed limits. I had been warned that checking would be intense f the long weekend. Mercifully, I reached Mount Gambier without any hitches.
The Federal Hotel in housed in a 150 year old building owned by the Dan Murphys group - the liquor store chain. The bar was busy and Gavin Robertson, the young man who eventually attended to me at the hotel reception, was engaged in attending to a few customers there. while checking in he asked me if I would like to have a cereal or muesli breakfast. I was quite taken in by that enquiry, for I expected breakfast to be served the next morning when I would exercise my choice. Though a bit puzzled I settled for the muesli option whereupon Gavin handed over a box that contained an assortment of breakfast items. I was also instructed to leave the key in the room and look it in case I wished to depart earlier than the opening time of the reception. Gavin, on being asked, told me that I could visit the Blue Lake and the Umpherston sinkhole, if I wished to stick to the two best attractions the city had to offer.
I had booked an economy twin room with shared toilets and bath. The facilities were excellent. After keeping the luggage in the room I decided to visit the attractions before it got late. As it turned out the Blue Lake was hardly 5 minutes’ drive from the Hotel. The Lake is one of the four crater lakes located in a dormant volcano in the Mount Gambier area. Two of them have dried up over the past few decades due to the drop of water table. Blue Lake changes colour depending n the season. Between November and March the Lake becomes cobalt blue in colour giving the lake its name; it becomes deathly grey thereafter. The Umpherston sinkhole is a limestone cave formed by the corrosion of limestone by water. The cave was created when the roof of the chamber collapsed after many years of erosion. This natural formation was converted into a garden in 1886 and continues to bewitch visitors to this day.
By the time I got back to the hotel room I was feeling extremely feverish and the blisters on my feet were acting up. I wanted to have a light meal and go to bed early. I went down to the restaurant, where Gavin took my order for a small portion of beef Schnitzel. He happily announced a 25% discount for house guests and suggested that he would get me the meal in the room very soon. When he brought the order I couldn’t believe my eyes. The portion was so huge that I was sure I would waste most of it – something that I hate to do. The huge slice of beef with fried batter and mushroom sauce on it and a humongous portion of fries would have been par for the course if my health had been alright. But, this day I barely had a couple of mouthfuls of the meat and a quarter portion of fries before calling it quits. I felt miserable about it; but such was the condition of my body. I swallowed a couple of Panadols, drank some cough syrup and turned in for the night hoping that the next day would be different, health-wise.