Road Trip day 2 Mt Gambier to Great Ocean Road

In Mt Gambier, we spent the night in jail.

Alright, it’s not as dramatic as it sounds, but it was quite a unique experience! The old gaol operated from 1866 to 1995, home to local criminals and site of three executions. After its closure, a local family decided to transform it into a budget hostel, which of course meant they didn’t have to transform it much at all, but rather advertise the “rustic original features” to make the destination marketing gold. We slept in a former cell, with just a friendly welcome, a duvet cover and some fancy throw cushions to soften the effect. Oh, and the owners told us proudly about the aboriginal smoking ceremony they held to cleanse any ill-feeling from the site’s history.

The town of Mt Gambier itself is built on one of Australia’s few remaining dormant volcanoes, resulting in some curious geological features, including a sinkhole-cum-community-garden, which becomes a possum feeding station after dark. So armed with two bananas and a camera, we headed into the pitch black arena, uncertain what a possum actually looks like. After brief excitement which turned out to be a cat, we spotted a cute-looking creature lurking in the rock formation, and as our eyes adjusted to the darkness and the marsupial population sensed our arrival, one possum soon became half a dozen. Though wild, the possums were clearly very used to human visitors, and they were remarkably tame. Both we and they gradually grew in confidence until they were eating banana chunks direct from our hands and crawling up our legs to beg for more. Incredible! They may be thought of as a pesky rodent by the Australians, but they were super cute to us – and delivered another tick on our list of unique-to-Oz-animals-we’ve-never-seen.

The following morning we headed up to the appropriately named Blue Lake, another surprising feature of Mt Gambier’s volcanic location. The lake is an incredibly vivid blue all summer, then in late March it turns grey for the winter, before returning to its almost unnatural blue again over two days in November. The locals don’t really have an explanation for it, but it may be something to do with the many layers of filtering limestone rocks (all suggestions welcome). From there we headed to a conservation area in the hope of ticking a few more Aussie creatures off our list. Success! We saw wallabies lazing around in the bushes, but despite searching high and low among the trees, the much-promised koalas stayed hidden.

A few miles later, we finally hit Great Ocean Road proper, and the scenery got pretty spectacular pretty quickly. Miles of craggy shore being bashed by giant waves, under a dramatic cloudy sky. Just in time for sunset, we stopped to see the famous Twelve Apostles, which is actually about eight massive rocks sticking up out of the sea. (Apparently there were never 12, but it was just a catchier title to attract the tourists. Which feels like a similar tactic to the giant lobster really. Got to love the Australians.)

By that point, we were driving in total darkness along one of the most spectacular roads in the world. Figuring it was time to find somewhere to sleep, we pulled over at the next advertised guesthouse. The driveway was surprisingly dark, and there were no lights as we pulled up. We got out of the car to hear the sound of fast thudding footsteps breaking the silence of the forest. Thud thud, thud. Thud, thud, thud. Either someone was being violently murdered in there, or it was a whole class of children running amok. After some hushed discussion, we headed in. What actually greeted us was a normal family clearing up after dinner, and just two children running amok. They seemed somewhat surprised by our arrival (no doubt because we’d just walked into their home without knocking), but were unfalteringly friendly as they explained they were closed. Oops. Shame really, it looked absolutely delightful inside, and nothing at all like the b-movie vibe of the driveway. Nevermind, on to the youth hostel.