Monday 21 March 2010
Early morning: Federation Square (Melbourne) for the APT coach tour of the Great Ocean Road. Sat on the left hand side of the bus.
I cannot sleep on a plane but I have no trouble sleeping on a coach. On this occasion, I slept all the way until Anglesea, our first stop.
Our fellow-travellers were American, Japanese, German and Italian. In fact, there was a party of about 20 Italians whose commentary and behaviour amused us for the entire day.
At the Anglesea stop, the driver/guide asked us to be back on the bus at 10.20. He explained that it would be a 20 minute stop because we had a long way to go. And do not bring hot food or drinks back onto the coach, he added.
“What time do we have to return to the coach?” asked one Italian. “At ten twenty,” the driver replied.
“What time?” asked another Italian. “Twenty past ten,” repeated the driver.
“At what time must we come back to the bus?” asked a further Italian. The driver patiently repeated himself.
As everyone filed off the coach, one of the “what time” Italian guys complained, in Italian, that it was just like going on an outing with the local church group, because of the time limit and the food and drink ban.
The comparison made us laugh: it wasn’t like a parish trip at all, although we were going to see the 12 Apostles…
“Will we see koalas?” a Japanese woman asked the driver. “Yes,” he replied. “Sugoi! Koalas!” she said to her companion. (Translation: Cute! Koalas!)
After Anglesea we passed through Lorne and the driver explained that we wouldn’t be stopping because a short stop wouldn’t do the town justice.
Promptly, an Italian couple stood up and began preparing to get off the coach (even though it hadn’t stopped). When it was clear that they had misunderstood the driver, they sat down sheepishly and the rest of their party – well, the “what time” guys anyway – loudly questioned (in Italian) the couple’s ability to understand English.
Later, the coach did stop at windy lookout points and deserted beaches for photo opportunities.
As promised, the driver spotted a koala in a gum tree.
Just as some of the Italians were loudly wondering whether the dormant animal was dead or alive, the creature woke up, dutifully posed for photos, scratched itself and went back to sleep. (The Japanese travellers were ecstatic.)
Back on board, as we were going round a bend, the “what time” guys called out that someone had been left behind. There could not have been a worse stretch of road on which to find out that someone was missing: we were in a blind spot. A U-turn or reversing were out of the question.
Much to the relief of the driver, the missing person suddenly emerged from the coach toilet. “It’s OK! It’s OK! He’s here,” one of the “what time” guys shouted.
We passed through other sleepy seaside towns, all of which looked new, clean and depopulated.
The driver/guide provided an informative and interesting commentary throughout the day.
Finally, in the afternoon we arrived at the 12 Apostles. On the boardwalk and viewing platform it was digital cameras agogo. Not all 12 of the Apostles may have been present – it’s hard to count them – but they were, at least, the more photogenic ones.
I didn’t hear any of the Italians complain that the Apostles lacked the magic of Leornardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
Hopping on and off the bus again we visited Loch Ard Gorge, Port Campbell and London Bridge. Many more photos were snapped. No photography skills were required to take decent snapshots. (Was it the light? The contrasting colours? The size of the subject matter?)
We arrived back in Melbourne around 8.30 p.m – a long day but well worth it.
Before disembarking, the Italians, acting as though it really had been a parish outing, took up a collection for the driver (from their own party only). I wonder what the driver did with a plastic bag full of 50 cent pieces?
Although we rolled our eyes and laughed at our Italian travelling companions for being so Italian, they made the trip unforgettable. It was like a crazy, mixed-up dream where we were in Australia yet still surrounded by people from il Bel Paese.