The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road
I love Aussie meat pies. Like Vegemite, they're a staple in the Australian diet. But I also discovered recently from Food Standards Australia New Zealand that the ubiquitous pie may contain any of the following: beef, buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit, sheep and/or kangaroo, including snouts, ears, tongue roots, tendons and blood vessels!

As I sit onboard the spacious catamaran Sorrento motoring across Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, with the Aprilia Futura safely stowed on the car deck, I'm blissfully unaware of the latent menagerie inside my lunch. So, following local custom, I spear my pie's crust with the spout of a plastic ketchup bottle and squeeze...

Toorak to Torquay

I'm fighting my way out of Melbourne in heavy traffic on the Nepean Highway surrounded by "Toorak tractors," as Victorians sarcastically refer to up-market SUVs. I've soon left the tony suburbs (including Toorak) behind though, speeding across open, rolling countryside on the Aprilia Futura. This is the Mornington Peninsula, a huge hook of land that almost seals Victoria's Port Phillip Bay from the open ocean. I've collected the Futura from A1 Motorcycles in Brighton, another Melbourne suburb, and I'm heading for the ferry landing at Sorrento. Here, I can cross the Bay's entrance to Queenscliff and the start of the Great Ocean Road.

Considering its questionable ingredients, my meat pie is sitting remarkably well as I roll off the ferry through quaint Queenscliff and turn south for Torquay. First, though, I detour on a friend's recommendation to see the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse. I know that the stretch of coastline bordered by the Great Ocean Road was treacherous for coastal shipping and, as a result, it is dotted with magnificent lighthouse towers. It's late afternoon and soft beams of dusky light spread over the bay, with the town of Sorrento twinkling in the far distance.

West of Lorne, the Great Ocean Road hugs the shoreline.

In Torquay, I check in at the Surf City Motel, a seashell's throw from the beach, and my host Lynn Touzel hands me the key  -  and a small carton of milk. I'm puzzled for a few seconds until I remember Australia is a nation of tea drinkers: the milk is for my tea. There's a kettle, tea bags and teacups in my room. How very civilized!

Torquay is essentially the start of the Great Ocean Road, where the highway from Geelong meets the sea. I cruise first through the hectic business district of Anglesea, then detour across a couple of miles of sand dunes from Airey's Inlet to the coast. I want to check out the Split Point Lighthouse, now over 110 years old. The original lens, made in Birmingham, England, is still in use, hopefully for some time to come, because a replacement would apparently cost more than $ 1 million, and have to be made in Japan. The traditional slender brick tower is distinctly different (and looks rather dated) compared to squat, modern light stations.

Lorne to Apollo Bay

It's on this stretch of swooping, swerving two-lane highway that I get a chance to explore the Futura's coast-road carving capabilities. The Futura uses a "retuned" version of the Aprilia Mille V-twin engine, but still has lots of power. And though the suspension is softer than the sporty Mille's, it seems to give nothing away in handling, while the powerful brakes are smooth and progressive. It's also one of the more comfortable sport-touring bikes I've ridden, with a semi-upright riding position and a nicely supportive seat. Those features all make for an entertaining ride while I appreciate the dramatic coastline. I also have time to consider what an engineering marvel the Great Ocean Road is.

Credit for the construction of the Great Ocean Road is usually given to William Calder, chair of the Country Roads Board, and Councillor Howard Hitchcock, then Mayor of Geelong. The idea of a coast road had been circulating for a while when Calder seized the opportunity, in 1917, to provide soldiers returning from WWI employment in the construction of the road. Hitchcock expanded the idea by proposing that the road would serve as a monument to those who lost their lives in the Great War, and then created a private trust to finance the road construction.