Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Journey Along The Great Ocean Road

Saturday, 3rd October was the second last day of my midterm break. And after a whole week finishing my assignments, finalising my semester project, fulfilling commitments, I have pre-arranged for this day to be fully occupied by me, myself, and I.

A couple of weeks previously, I planned to day-travel to a destination outside of Melbourne. The destination itself was either to Ballarat, The Great Ocean Road, or Dandenong. To go to Ballarat, I can just take the V/Line train. To Dandenong, I can just take the metropolitan train, free of charge, as I hold a monthly travelcard, which allows me to venture into Zone 2 during weekends, where Dandy lies. I was spoilt for choice.

On the 30th of September, I calculated my monthly expenditures on the Excel. And, after calculating the remaining balance, plus balances from the previous months, I found out that I have managed to save up a wealthy sum of money, despite the fact that the University officials were delayed in returning my accommodation refund.

And so, I decided to rent a car and drive along the Ocean Road.

On Friday, after congregation at Newport Masjid, I went to Footscray town. There’s a Thrifty rental office there. I browsed the internet previously and found out that I could get a small car for $42 at the Footscray branch. However, when I enquired at the office, I found out that most cars were sold out. The only one available is either a Ford Mondeo or Toyota Camry which goes for about $130!

My next option is the Budget car rental which is about a couple of blocks away. Sadly, they too were sold out. I was devastated. I considered calling the trip off, when I suddenly remembered that there are rental centres throughout Franklin Street, which is next to the RMIT Swanston Street campus. So, I decided to take a last shot before calling it off.

My first stop was Budget. But there was a queue there. Next door is AVIS. No, AVIS is a bit expensive from what I recalled. Further down is Europcar...I’ll consider it as a last resort. Next to it was Hertz. I didn’t know why, all I knew was that I ended up at their front counter.

I enquired about the availabilities for the morrow. The clerk said that that there are cars available, and asked for details of the car I intended to rent. I simply mentioned that I want the smallest car available, manual or automatic. A friend once suggested that I go for the high-powered cars

He then said that the smallest available is a Class C Toyota Corolla sedan. He then asked if I am a student. I said yes, and he said that I am eligible for a student’s price, and that makes a total of $64.90, inclusive of admin charges, GST and Driver Under 25 Surcharge, which is roughly between $15 to $25.

Usually a Class C would cost around $65 - $70, excluding the external charges. Clearly there was a hidden wisdom when Budget was out of cars, and Thrifty had only Mondeo and Camry cars. I also requested for the fuel pre-purchase option of which they offered at a rate of $1.12/litre. The advantage of this is that I can return the car with the tank almost empty, without having to refill it. Furthermore, the price of petrol for that particular period was between $1.18 to $1.30 per litre, depending on outlet.

On my way back, I stopped by at Coles supermarket in Altona town to buy some snacks for tomorrow’s trip. I had some thought as to what food to bring. And then I recalled; back in England when we travelled to the countryside, or over a long distance; Nottingham, Loughborough, Bath, or the seaside, Abah would just buy crisps, sandwiches, and a bottle of Lucozade each. Sometimes, Mak would cook something from home.

That I could just do...minus the sandwiches, as sandwiches here are not as variable as those in UK. Furthermore, a packet costs $5.50! At that point in time, I can’t make sandwiches at home as I was out of stuffs to put on the bread. So, I just packed a few packets of plain crisps, a packet of nuts, freshly-baked cookies (gone stale the next morning... ), and a flask of water...yezzz... water is very important when I’m driving. I don’t know why, but whenever I drove over a long distance...beyond 2 hours, my throat seems to go dry.

The next day was the big day. But it was also a morning of disruption. On this day, the Werribee Line train service has been temporarily terminated due to construction works in Laverton. So, I had to take the replacement bus up to Newport, then take the train to Melbourne Central.

Having received the car I booked, my first destination was Geelong via the M1 (Princes Freeway). There, I was to pick up an old friend of mine, Nurul Alif As-Solihin (Alif Mastor). We’ve known each other since secondary school. Since I’ve never been to his house, I told him to wait in front of my sister’s house in Preston Street. My sister was away with her friends in Melbourne. He was the only one who was not doing anything on that Saturday, so I invited him to accompany me on this trip.

From Geelong, I took the B100 highway which would take me to Torquay; gateway to the Great Ocean Road. The travelling time on the initial portion of the Road was instantaneous, as the roads were wide and straight, contributing to a speed limit of 100km/h. But, as it goes further along the coast, the road goes up and down, and between hills, contributing to a speed limit of between 50km/h to 80km/h.

The first stop was the lighthouse on the coast of Aireys Inlet. Actually, I didn’t know that the place was called Aireys Inlet, not until I pondered over the road map. It was here that I had my first glimpse of what G.O.R. was all about.

Subhanallah! The beauty of it. The sound of waves, the crisp breeze, and the view of the cliffs along the coastline as far as the eye can see. It was a breathtaking moment. Having lived within the suburban for a couple of months, this turned out to be a good change for me.

Back in the car, I wondered where our journey would lead us to. No use asking Alif, as even he does not know where is where for the moment. My initial plan was to go as far as Lorne, and then back to Geelong via the country road. The clerk at the rental office suggested that I drive up to Warrnambool, one of the reason being that I’ve already pre-purchased a full tank of petrol, and that I should make the most of it seeing that it’s not refundable, regardless of fuel volume left in the tank.

Warrnambool is about 200+ kilometres down the Ocean Road, and about 3.5 hours drive judging by the road structure and signboard placed by the side of the road. I asked Alif about his plan for the day, he said nothing doing.

Seeing this, I decided to drive as far as I could manage. When I watched Discovery Channel a few years back, there was a saying in one of the advertisements,

“A true traveller has no destination, and is not keen on arriving.”

After a period of driving, we came to a town that I do not know the name of, probably missed the sign. Only after exiting the town, I caught a glimpse of one of the signboards and noticed the word “Lorne”. Only then I knew the name of the town. From the map, Lorne looked quite far away. Practically, it’s not that far. It’s true what the professor from Newcastle University said to me back in Malaysia,

“We Australians have a different opinion when it comes to distance. We have staffs working in the University in Newcastle, yet they live in Sydney. We also have people working in Sydney, but living in Newcastle. Like you mentioned, the travel time is roughly one to two hours. For you, that is one heck of a distance. But for us, it’s nothing. Australia is a big country, and two hours of travel is nothing to us...”

Judging by my current location, time, I decided to go further down the Road. Next primary destination is Apollo Bay, some 40 to 60 minutes away, if I’m not mistaken. The road between Lorne and Apollo Bay was long and winding, thus the average speed was only around 60 to 70km/h. Another reason for this was that the drivers ahead of me had this tendency of slowing down every once in a while to gaze at the scenery, or coastline.

It was at this time that Alif has started dozing off. Prior to reaching Apollo Bay town, there is a signboard which points to the direction of Geelong via the inner roads. The time was 2.00 pm, so I decided to drive further on. The next primary destination is Port Campbell, famed for the 12 Apostles. A large portion of the road between Apollo Bay and there was mainly inland, so there was less winding, twists, and turns, with the speed limit being 100km/h.

After about half an hour of driving, I started wondering as to where exactly I was currently situated. So, I stopped by the roadside and pored over the map. Clearly, I was somewhere between the two towns mentioned, but have no idea as to EXACTLY where I was situated. However, I was initially stunned when I found out the road which goes back to Geelong is in Warrnambool, roughly 2.5 hours away, but sighed in relief when I realised that I overlooked a minor road a few miles off Port Campbell which would lead me back to the main road back to Geelong and Melbourne.

And with that, I continued my journey. I can’t recall how long I’ve been driving since then. All I know is that I suddenly found myself arriving at the 12 Apostles National Park, about ten minutes prior to reaching Port Campbell.

I drove into the Park, parked my car, and went for a walk along the coastline (cliff) with Alif to gaze at the 12 Apostles...or what used to be 12 until a few of them collapsed recently. The walking and stretching was helpful, as I’ve been sitting for more than 2 hours. Not to mention being worn out. Well, what do you expect? I’ve not been driving for more than 2 months, I get the opportunity to drive, and went off half a thousand miles cross-country, in a land I’ve never driven before.

Having been fully stretched, we drove into Port Campbell town. I parked the car at the town square, and we walked around town. Having walked, the both of us felt hungry, and decided to find something to eat. I brought pizza slices, but Alif ate them all as he didn’t have any breakfast. Adjacent to where I parked my car was a Fish & Chips outlet. So, we bought a helping each, and ate on a bench by the sea. It was a wonderful feeling; eating whilst the salty sea air blowing into my face.

However, I was feeling a bit worried, as I usually avoided eating whilst on the wheel. But then again, compared to nasi campur in Tapah or Kuala Kangsar, fish and chips shouldn’t be too much of a digestion issue.

Having eaten, we got back into the car. We left Port Campbell behind us, and I drove a few miles up the Road before making a right turn into the C164; a country road which would take me across the countryside to the main road which goes back to Geelong. Based on the map, the route seemed long and winding. But then, winding as it may be, the road itself was wide, with a speed limit of 100km/h.

I drove for almost an hour before coming to the junction adjoining the A1 highway. From there, it was a swift drive back to Geelong, some 80 kilometres away. This particular road was wide and straight, with two lanes on occasions. Other than that, it’s just a normal country road (jalan lama as we call it). From where I was, I could see far up the road. It was a beautiful sight, with the sun and fields of daisies on either sides of the road.

We passed through several towns, the major one being Colac. The clock showed 5.30 pm. Maghrib was an hour away, and we have yet to pray Zuhr and Asar. At that time, I was just entering Winchelsea town. At the other end of town, I saw a public toilet sign, and decided to stop for a while, as I was getting a bit lightheaded.

I saw that next to the public toilet was a small grassy park facing a stream. So I took my sarong from the boot, and we prayed on the grass. Having prayed, I felt more refreshed (come to think of it, it always happens after each prayer) and we continued our journey. About half an hour up the road, we finally reached the outskirts of Geelong.

By the time we reached Alif’s apartment in Geelong CBD, it was 6.20 pm, a few minutes to spare before Maghrib. After having rested, and prayed, I left Geelong and headed back to Melbourne. I drove up the A1 northbound which would lead me to the M1 Princes Freeway. It has been quite some time since I drove at night.

As I reached Werribee, I decided to stop over at my house and drop off my things before heading to Melbourne. I took the Kororoit Creek Road exit and drove to Altona via Maidstone Street. I only stopped for about 10 minutes or so to unload my things, save my clothes, and headed back to the freeway.

At West Gate Bridge, there was a long crawl, as there were construction works throughout the bridge. After passing through the construction site, I started to look out for the Docklands exit which would take me into Melbourne CBD. Further than that, and I’ll have to pay the toll. There’s no toll booth. Everything’s electronic. They just simply detect the license plate number, and send an invoice. But I didn’t register my car with the concessionaire, and if I entered the toll road, I have 48 hours to register my car.

I entered Melbourne CBD via Flinders Street. There was a lot of traffic on that street that night. I wanted to enter Russell Street, which was along Flinders. The street entrance itself being next across the train station, and there were many pedestrians. Thus, I had to wait for pedestrians to cross before I can enter Russell Street.

From there, I drove all the way to Lygon Street and entered into Drummond Street, where Zaim resides. I spent the night there as I had to return the car by 9 the next morning.

When I returned the car the next morning, the invoice stated that I had travelled roughly 580 kilometres within one day. That is roughly similar to driving from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, and back again. Wow, never thought I could cover such a large portion of distance within a day!

It was an enjoyable day. But the most enjoyable of all is the driving itself. One thing I initially feared...which later turned into an obsession, was the traffic light pattern. Here, to make a right turn, you have to enter at your own will. Intersections with heavy traffic usually have guided traffic lights for right turns (like Malaysia). But others, you have to enter as if the traffic light had no electricity, in which you had to wait for traffic from the oncoming direction to clear before entering.

It’s just like entering UiTM on those days when there was an electrical failure. It was scary at first, but once I got hold of it...quite fun!

And then, there’s the Hook Turn, in which you take the right turn using the left lane. This one is a bit complicated to describe. You can read about it on this web address, ( )