Penshurst, Australia: The Potato Chips Monster Is Still Not As Scary As Chester Cheetah

After Apollo Bay the GOR takes a slight turn inland and through the Otway National Park. On the coast just outside the park is the Cape Otway lighthouse, which was supposed to be a great place to take pictures of the coast (yeah, I know, it’s like the 5th time I’ve said that, but I’m just going on what the ol’ LP says).

We knew there would be an admission fee for the lighthouse and it’s grounds, but no one knew how much. We pulled into the visitor’s center and I hopped out to ask what was the cost. They had turned the lighthouse and the old caretakers’ houses into a Port Arthur-style historical area and admission costs would buy you entrance to the grounds, access to the cape and a trip up the lighthouse. Unfortunately, they were painting the stone beacon and visitors weren’t allowed within 50 meters of the structure. Accordingly, the admission was discounted from an riotously outrageous $12 to a vigorously uproarious $10.50. I figured my mates would agree with me, but I certainly was not paying that much to see a bunch of old houses. Even if we had been allowed access to the cape, I would’ve wanted to see a postcard from that vantage first.

I got back inside the car and broke the news to the other three. A gust of disbelieving gasps blew through the stationwagon, and soon we were strapping ourselves back into the seats. Steffen had gone to check out a map and some pictures of the area and came back with reports of other backpackers laughing at the admission price. In front of me, on a small sloping lawn beside the reception area, stood a couple looking in the direction of their friends. Suddenly, two big grins broke out on their faces as they turned and fled into the forest that separated the carpark from the grounds. Such high taxation drives people to extreme ends, even revolution.

After powering through the Otway National Park (the weather was bad and none of us were in the mood to explore a forest), we arrived at the Gibson Steps, some 300+ steps that lead down to a beach, just east of the Twelve Apostles (in fact, one of the Apostles is visible from the beach).

In the parking lot Sophie ran into another Dutch guy she met at Jackson’s Manor. They chatted for a bit while Nadja, Steffen and I wandered the beach snapping pictures. We took off soon after and 10 minutes later arrived at the Twelve Apostles carpark. Let’s start with a couple pictures, then I’ll explain to you exactly what they are, using my powers of scientific regurgitation.

Not bad, huh? And I didn’t even have the benefit of a screen on my camera!

OK, so here’s the story: Imagine a straight coast made up of limestone, being attacked by waves for thousands of years. The harder rock areas of the coast maintain their structure, while the softer limestone wears away into the sea. Think about pushing two dips into that original straight coast, as if you were drawing the letter ‘W’. The hard rock points of the ‘W’ are called the heads, and slowly, just behind them, the constant assault of the ocean and the elements creates caves and cracks where soft rock meets hard. The stem of coastline behind the head starts to wear away, forming a bulbous overhead portrait similar to the profile of a Pawn chess piece.

Over time, that neck behind the head thins out and finally falls, crowning the head as a freestanding Apostle.

Check out this picture of one of the heads along the coast, at the stage of Apostl-ization where the neck is slowly being worked by nature.

You can already see the bulbous outline of the head as the neck thins. And in the dark shadows where the tide meets the shore lies a small cave, created by a wave working open a crack in the rock.

Eventually, the Apostle’s base will erode until the entire thing collapses, which is what occurred last July to one of the monoliths. Remember that picture above, the first of the three capturing the Apostles? See that pile of rubble lying on the beach? Well, that pile of rubble has looked like that since July 3, 2006. This is what it looked like on July 2:

If you think you’re done with geology for the day, don’t put away the rock hammer and tumbler just yet (couldn’t think of any other geologist’s tools).

Back down the road, we pulled into a three-fer: the Loch Ard Gorge, Thunder Cave and Blowhole. This stretch of the South coast is notorious for shipwrecks, and this area in particular was known for claiming the Loch Ard (hence … well, you know). This is the shipwreck site:

The Blowhole is a long natural tunnel formed through the rock by the action of the tide (for further commentary on how blowholes are formed, see my entry from Eaglehawk Neck). The first tunnel that led in from the ocean emptied into a larger chamber, the roof of which had collapsed, giving visitors a view of the fury of waves that crashed into the cave. It seems that after the crash of the Loch Ard, 12 bodies of sailors were washed into that chamber, and the entire area glowed purple because of the ship’s stock of matches that had also been swept inside.

The Thunder Cave is another natural cave that is dug into the coast, a popular attraction and so named because of the sound of the waves as they crash into the rocks that guard the entrance.

We were all rather starving, so we got back in the car and kept going west. The Twelve Apostles is the last major tourist attraction on the GOR, unless you’re interested in the charm of the coastal cities that precede and follow it. So you can imagine our surprise when we drove past a bay that featured rock formations that looked a lot like the Apostles, except larger and in greater quantity.

On the way out I discovered it was called the Bay of Martyrs. The pictures didn’t come out as well this time, but I can tell you the sight was spectacular. The sun had broken through the clouds and was reflecting off of every drop of water, including the spray that shot up as the waves hit each Martyr.

In Port Campbell the others had gotten a hankering for some fish & chips. I decided to cheap it out with a tuna sandwich, so we met up at a picnic table near the car and scarfed down our choices. Steffen’s book mentioned something about Port Fairy, further along the coast from Warnambool, where we’d have to turn north if we wanted to make it to the Grampians within the next day. I was against the idea of visiting the coastal city because I didn’t think there was anything more to see that we hadn’t already seen. I finally managed to convince the others and we set Warnambool as our target to re-supply before we banked North.

On the way towards Warnambool was the last of the South coast’s natural wonders: the London Bridge. The rock bridge was another arch like the Tasman Arch, the Blowhole, and every other natural arch-like rock formation we’ve seen so far. And yes, believe it or not, London Bridge fell down 17 years ago. Today it looks like this:

Here’s a kinda crappy before-after postcard picture I found on the net, showing you what the bridge looked like when it was still standing:

I’m not sure how they did it, but the girls managed to convince Steffen to have a dinner of salad with tuna. At a Coles in Warnambool we purchased some greens, tomato, tuna, dressing, onions and even splurged on an avocado for $3. For our drink, we chose some Goon. Not knowing anything about the area, we figured we could just keep driving north towards the mountains and look for campsites along the way.

An hour later we still hadn’t found anything, but were nearing the town of Penshurst. We finally caught sight of a caravan park sign and pulled into a small public park-like area with a modified school bus-come-trailer parked under the shade of a few trees. A man was taking some clothes off the line and we asked him about securing a site for the night. The cost would be $10 for all of us, and we could pull up anywhere. After we set up the tents, we got started on dinner. The girls did most of the work: Sophie started chopping the tomatoes and avocado and Nadja worked on the onions and final preparations. Sophie had finished with the avocado and set the plate of diced flesh onto the slightly curved lid of the Esky. Almost in slow motion, I saw the plate slide down the top of the cooler, and before I could hurdle the camping chair to stop it, the $3 dollar avocado was face down in the dirt behind the car. Sophie felt horrible and apologized profusely. I was no stranger to the shame of spilled food and consoled her as best as I could.

The goon was horrible. We made the mistake of getting a soft dry red, which is a little on the sweet side, and I simply couldn’t drink it.

The night before, Nadja had slept in the car with Sophie because she was unsure how she would handle the cold ground. I thought she might have felt shy about sharing a tent with Steffen, so I offered her my tent, but she really seemed hesitant about the temperature. Indeed, the next night in Penshurst she decided to try out a night with the Steff-inator.

I had zipped myself into my bag and was taking some notes on our activities for the day when from the car, Sophie called out with a slight tremble in her voice: “Bj?” “Yeah?” “There’s something in the car, can you come over here?” “What?!” “There’s something moving in the car, I heard it.” “OK, be there in a sec.”

I rolled my eyes and ignored the snickering from Steffen in the other tent, and stepped outside to the car. Sophie was sitting up in the back seat, her legs stretched out the rear driver-side door. “Don’t make any noise! Listen for a second and you can hear it.” Nothing. “I don’t hear anything Sophie, are you sure you did?” “Yes! I think it’s coming from the bag of chips.” “From the bag of chips?”

I cleared out a gallon jug of water that was leaning against the aluminum foil bag, picked out the bag of chips and dropped it on the ground. Sophie flinched and crawled to the other end of the car. I shook the bag around to prove to her that there wasn’t anything in the it, that the jug of water had probably shifted as she was moving around the car, and was crinkling the bag in the tight quarters of the trunk. She didn’t believe me, so I offered to keep the bag of chips in my tent for the night. “Nooo,” she said, resigned in her defeat, “it’s OK.”

The next morning the bag of chips was still intact, and even later during the trip we’d lick our fingers after devouring each salty, ruffled crisp, monster-free. And though the chips only lasted a few more days, the joke about Sophie’s Potato Chips Monster would live on forever.

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