For bike tourers, the Great Ocean Road would normally be classified as an easy, care-free roll-in-the-park. Perfect landscape, good infrastructure, plenty of spots to shop and re-fuel, and virtually no language barrier except for the odd thick Aussie accent. The adventure-factor got turned up a notch when we added an extra member to our tour: our one-year-old son Matteo. He could crawl and he could bawl, but he had yet to experience his first big bicycle tour. This is our first story of three.
Travelling with two bikes, two trailers, eight bags and one toddler
It is a balmy evening February, even at a half past nine. We are sitting outside with a glass of Shiraz as a perfect summer day comes to a close in St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia - far away from the grey, cold days back home in Freiburg. If the nightlife wasn't quite so rowdy, we would probably even hear the waves lapping lazily at the coastline few hundred meters away. Despite the ocean breeze we are anything but relaxed. We are distracted by our phones; not endlessly scrolling through Instagram or checking our e-mails but listening intently for sounds from our baby monitor app which sends alerts our way time and again. Matteo is two floors above us in his bed and is sleeping peacefully...for now. If this wasn't enough to keep us busy, our minds race as we plan the first day of our tour - the very first leg of our very first bicycle trip with our very first child. Two trailers and a toddler.
It feels like we've never done this before - everything is new. All the routines we created and experiences we gathered from our previous tours seem not to apply. It's not the 10 kg of Matteo’s squirming and squealing love that weighs us down - it is the desire to keep him happy, and the hope that he enjoys the trip as much as we want him to. Our goal is to ride 50 to 80 kilometers per day - we have no idea how feasible this is. And then there are the logistics: Tomorrow we start by loading our two bikes, two trailers, and eight bags into a train alongside our little one.
The glow of our cell phones eventually fades, and after troubled sleep we rise the next morning to leave for Southern Cross Station. We are still a bit queasy, but at least we are finally underway. The first true test of touring with Matteo has begun. The train brings us and our gear quickly, quietly, and without drama to Geelong where we are set to start our first day cycling south. The destination is Torquay, the Australian surf mecca, and official start of the Great Ocean Road. From the train station to the coast there is little evidence of the ocean as we share the paved roads with heavy traffic and beating sunshine. After riding 22 kilometers we reach both our first day's destination and our first conclusion: Reduce our expectations! We change our plans to ride, at most, 50 kilometers per day.
The next stage takes us past the famous surfing beaches of Torquay. The Hollywood movie "Point Break" with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves was shot on Bells Beach. We arrived on a weekend, so we are forced to share the road with many other, mainly motorized travelers. When we arrive in Lorne, our destination for the day, we like the spot so much that we decide to stay an extra day to take in our surroundings. It is a pretty coastal town and an excellent place to relax on a sandy beach or at a surf-side café. Matteo also enjoys it; he puts his toes in the sea for the first time in his life and lights up with excitement. He simply can't get enough!
Great Ocean Road - 243 km from Torquai to Allansford
Little did we know that from our short stay in Torquay that our route would get so much better from here on in. As the Great Ocean Road becomes narrower, traffic lessens, and every corner reveals a new and spectacular view of the rugged coastline. Much like the ocean beside it, the coastal road rolls up and down constantly. With our bags and trailers in tow, we feel the burn in our legs at the end of the day. Unfortunately, the weather was just about as dynamic as the fauna. Koalas and Cockatoos play pair to cumulonimbus clouds that force us to take cover now and again. During our breaks, Matteo's interest in bicycle technology awakens. He uses his time outside the Singletrailer to inspect everything carefully. Like us, he seems to have a tactile affinity for belt drives...an unforeseen advantage over riding with a greasy chain.
From Apollo Bay we make our way to the southernmost point of the Great Ocean Road: Cape Otway. We decide to take a shortcut and end up on the Great Ocean Walk - the hiking trail along the Great Ocean Road. The route leads us through dense fern and eucalyptus forests and over sandy trails. Wider tires and less weight would help in this situation, but the kangaroos don't seem too judgmental. At Bimbi Park Campground we settle into a comfortable cabin and spend the rest of the day looking skyward: there are koalas in trees above us that provide the kind of slow-paced entertainment we need at the end of a long day on the bike.
We both wake up with stiff necks, something that is hardly alleviated after gaining some serious elevation on our way to Lavers Hill, the highest point of the Great Ocean Road. We conquer almost 800 meters of altitude and then let ourselves roll, exhausted, down into the valley and our accommodation in Wattle Hill. While we have spent the day pedaling, Matteo has spent the day snoozing and sightseeing from the comfort of his Singletrailer. Like clockwork, the moment we put our feet up is the moment he demands excitement and our undivided attention. There is more to bicycle touring than just the ride, after all.
We are now getting close to the highlight of the Great Ocean Road: the Twelve Apostles. The limestone pillars lying in front of the steep coastline are probably the most photographed sight in Australia after Uluru. We decide to take a day off the bikes and explore the coast on foot from Port Campbell. We had crammed a small, folding stroller in our Mule trailer for just such an occasion.
Even more spectacular rock formations await us on the way to Peterborough. There is one stunning rock formation after another: "The Arch", "The Grotto", "London Arch". The last was once a double arch called "London Bridge" until 1990. Behind Peterborough, the Great Ocean Road transitions into the Outback. But here the landscape loses its colour, becoming a bit more monotonous as we struggle with a stiff headwind and temperatures building to 30 degrees Celsius. Near Allansford we come across a huge cheese factory that knows how to take advantage of the slow but steady stream of caravans and tourists along the Ocean Road. "Cheese World" is strange but well air-conditioned restaurant, providing enough chilled air and cheddar to cool down and fuel up before we cover the last kilometers westward. We reach the end of the Great Ocean Road in Warrnambolbut, but not the end of our bike tour.
Crossing the Mornington Peninsula and Phillip Island back to Melbourne
We take a bus back to Geelong, the starting point of our tour, for some island hopping. The Bellarine Rail Trail takes us far away from busy roads directly to Queenscliff. From there we take the ferry and cross over to the Mornington Peninsula, treating ourselves to a rest day in Sorrento. This glamorous little town lies on a narrow headland between Port Phillip, the bay where Melbourne resides, and the open sea of the Bass Strait. The beaches are diverse and fascinating; on one side rocky bays and rough sea, on the other sandy beaches with shallow, turquoise water.
Our next destination is Philip Island. We ride 50 kilometers to the ferry at Stony Point without a break: when Matteo sleeps, we pedal. On the crossing to Cowes the ferry makes a short stopover on French Island. Less than 100 people live there, a population dwarfed by the number of birds, kangaroos and koalas that have taken up residence. We let the landscape pass us by and are happy that for once that we don’t have to pedal to enjoy the view. Once we arrive on Philipp Island, we continue with our beach vacation: turquoise blue sea and wide sandy beaches. Off the bike, the temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius are a welcome treat.
We spend the sunset at Summerland Beach, where an extraordinary natural spectacle takes place: The Penguin Parade. Every evening, an entire colony of pygmy penguins returns from the water to land to spend the night in their nests between the rocks.
Before returning to Melbourne, we visit the Koala Conservation Center on the east coast of Phillip Island and watch the adorable balls of fur sleep in their eucalyptus trees. Arriving in Melbourne we load back into the same apartment from which we started. Tonight, we enjoy a final glass of Shiraz, with the relief of having mastered the first adventure on two wheels in a three-person team with the certainty that many more will follow.