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|Australia's Great Ocean Road, Top Down in a Volkswagen Eos|
|Written by Graham Simmons|
|Sunday, 15 February 2009 13:25|
Test-driving a gutsy Volkswagen Eos convertible along Victoria's famous Great Ocean Road is a real treat. The treat comes not from the car itself, with its fine road-handling capabilities, but from the host of things to see and do along the way--from super-scenic seascapes and forest panoramas to classic pubs, top restaurants and quirky art galleries.
This trip begins in Geelong, the second biggest city in Victoria, Australia's second most populous state. But don't settle for second best--fly into the new Airport at Avalon, just 19 km north of Geelong's Central Business District. Avalon Airport has opened up access to the Bellarine Peninsula, the Otways and the world-famous Great Ocean Road as never before.
Geelong was settled largely by Scots, who emigrated from Scotland after the notorious "Clearances" of the early 1800s. Most of the migrants spoke only Gaelic, and even today Geelong has one of Australia's few Scots Gaelic pubs, the Commun Na Feine Hotel located at 209 Bellarine Street in East Geelong.
Geelong has some other intriguing attractions, including one of Australia's finest art galleries, the promenade at Eastern Beach with its colourful set of 107 ornamental bollards. Also in Geelong you'll find the National Wool Museum, the Ford Discovery Centre (Geelong is home to the Ford Motor factory), the extensive Botanical Gardens, and the grand adobe-style Villa Paloma Arts Centre, Geelong, formerly the Epicentre wine centre.
I spent my early days in Geelong, between the ages of one and five. That's a little early in life to appreciate the finer attractions of a city. But I do have fond memories of Eastern Beach, which even before its recent remake was a strand without peer.
Next, a detour to Queenscliff, 34 km from Geelong. Queenscliff is one of the most attractive towns in Victoria, a time-warp wrapped in an architectural bubble. Back in the late 1800s, Queenscliff was one of the most popular seaside resorts in Australia. The steamer Weeroona ferried passengers from Melbourne in 2½ hours to Queenstown Pier, from where a horse-drawn cart took the visitors up the hill to the bustling town.
Sadly, the coming of the railway and the motorcar led to a decline in Queenscliff's popularity, as beach resorts closer to Melbourne became easily accessible. Queenscliff's fortunes diminished so rapidly that the developers never got around to tearing down the grand 19th Century buildings that line the main street. And best of all, the horse-drawn cart still carries visitors to and from the pier!
A chain of back-roads leads from Queenscliff via Ocean Grove to Torquay, known as the English Riviera with its world-famous Bell's Beach, is home each year to the Easter weekend Bell's Beach Surfing Classic. At Torquay, the Great Ocean Road proper begins.
The Great Ocean Road is renowned throughout the world but that doesn't diminish its appeal one iota. This super-scenic highway winds between the coast and the steep hills all the way to Warrnambool, twisting and turning upon itself like an itchy snake.
I was privileged to test-drive the new Volkswagen Eos on The Great Ocean Road--and it's here that the challenge lies. The problem is that the scenery is so engaging that it's hard to maintain total attention on the road. Fortunately, the road-handling of the car is superb, with the feather light steering responding instantly and a grip like superglue.
It started raining along the road (after all, this is Victoria, not exactly renowned for its consistent weather), and then one of the car's best features came into play. I pushed a central-console button, and in about 15 seconds the car changed from an open-roofed moving sundeck to an enclosed coupe. The mechanised roof--the most complex of its type ever built--glided effortlessly up and with astonishing precision from its encased hold in a section of the boot, to join the top of the windscreen. I'm told that over ten thousand open-close testing cycles were carried out on a prototype vehicle in all climatic conditions, just to get the bugs ironed out.
Lorne, a beach town in a horseshoe-shaped bay encircled by high hills, is one of Australia's most sophisticated holiday hideaways. For generations, Melbourne families have holidayed here, with the whole town going totally ape on New Year's Eve. A great place to stay in Lorne, amidst a transplanted Melbourne-style café-culture, is the beachfront Mantra Erskine Resort.
Surrounded by the lush rainforests of the Otways, Lorne offers both bush and coastal scenery. Just west of Lorne, the Anglehook-Lorne State Park stretches over 22,000 acres between Airey's Inlet and Kennett River. Near Lorne, a rainfall of over 1,000 mm a year supports towering stands of blue gum and mountain ash; but by the time the motorist reaches Airey's Inlet, the average rainfall has dropped to around 650 mm, and rainforest is replaced by heathlands of grass-trees, ti-tree and sheoaks. Near Lorne, there are a great variety of walks, some accessible from the impossibly steep streets of the village. The Erskine Falls, is best accessed from the Great Ocean Road, are a local highlight.
Also in the hills, the Qdos Gallery is one of Victoria's finest regional art galleries, and well worth a visit. Along the route to Cape Otway, just before the laidback village of Apollo Bay, we stopped at Chris' Beacon Point Restaurant and Villas. Take the C19 turnoff (the road to Colac), then after 2.8 km (1.7 miles) turn right and drive up a steep track. The bar/restaurant enjoys sensational views over Apollo Bay, and chef Chris Talihmanidis has garnered a stack of awards--including the American Express "Best Restaurant in regional Victoria" award.
At Triplet Falls, between Cape Otway and the dense forests of Lavers Hill, the Otway Fly Treetop Walk is a 600 meter long walkway, perched high above the canopy of an ancient beech myrtle forest. These giant trees, up to five metres (16 feet) in diameter at the base and metres (over 210 feet) tall, house an astonishing range of wildlife including Crimson Rosellas, Spotted Quolls and Pygmy Possums.
Highlights of this section of the Great Ocean Road include the stunning rock formations known as "The Twelve Apostles." These are the remains of extinct volcanoes fringing the beaches near Aireys Inlet (the world's third largest volcanic plateau stretches over much of western Victoria); and Warrnambool's Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum, in memory of the many ships that came to grief along the "Shipwreck Coast." If it is a Saturday, stop off at the colourful markets in Apollo Bay or Port Campbell.
Port Fairy, former home to 19th Century whalers and sealers, has one of the most delightful settings imaginable, with a marina on the banks of the scenic Moyne River. Inexplicably, however, the historic town centre is about one km inland from the marina. In the town centre, old whitewashed cottages and pubs struggle to hold their heritage heads above an invading wave of cafés and craft shops.
One of Australia's most intriguing mysteries began in 1836, when two sealers stumbled across the hull of a mahogany ship, high in the dunes near Port Fairy. The ship, thought to be a 16th Century Portuguese caravel, suddenly disappeared about 40 years later. To get a feel for the events surrounding the mystery, tale a stroll along the 22 km Mahogany Ship Walking Track, which joins Port Fairy and Warrnambool.
The famous Port Fairy Folk Festival takes place every Easter. It is essential to book well in advance--contact Port Fairy Tourist Information Centre.
Also on the Great Ocean Road, the port city of Portland makes for an agreeable stopover. Take in the old wool-loading wharves and grain silos. Occasionally the barque Endeavour--a replica of that used by the 18th Century seafarer Captain James Cook--make a stopover here.
Between the Great Ocean Road town of Peterborough and Timboon (renowned for its gourmet cheeses) is the famous Boggy Creek Pub, on Curdies Inlet. The pub has its own lagoon and mini-marina; you can stay at the pub at low prices and explore the tranquil reaches of the fish-laden Curdies River. Come nightfall, the views over Curdies Inlet are true manna for the soul.
Jetstar Airlines flies direct from both Sydney and Brisbane to Avalon Airport, 19 km (12 miles) north of Geelong. To get to Australia from the United States, contact Qantas, Australia's national airline.For a locally-based car hire booking engine, try DriveAway Holidays. Their rate for a week-long rental of a Holden Astra convertible (the same size as a Saturn Astra sedan) is $670AUS or about $430US at the current rate of exchange.
2009 Volkswagen Eos
Graham is primarily a travel writer, not an automotive journalist, so his evaluation of the Volkswagen Eos comes from that perspective.
In talking about the Volkswagen Eos, it's hard to know where to begin--a task made harder by the many options available. For starters, the car comes either as a turbo-diesel or turbo-gasoline, each with a six-speed manual or six-speed automated manual transmission. Then there is a whole range of trim options--from luxury black-beige nappa leather to more standard velvet trim.
The acceleration of the Eos is most impressive--you would need to hold on to your hat when the roof is lowered, were it not for the rear-seat wind-blocker that makes the cabin feel as placid as a becalmed sailing ship. Other controls are equally responsive, with the brakes responding finely to a light touch and the steering smooth and precise.
Standard equipment includes many items that would be optional extras in other cars--such as four airbags, stability control, rear parking sensors, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual automatic air-conditioning and a state-of-the-art six-stack CD-player. Fortunately, the dash is spare and sparse, so that the driver can concentrate on what is simply a great drive.
For more information on the Australian version of the Volkswagen Eos, visit Eos Club.