The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s famous coastal drives, and tourists flock to it in their thousands. But venture just 60 miles beyond the last stop and you’ll find a wild place, flanked by miraculous nature, devoid of tourists and associated tat. Welcome to Portland.
From the parapet of the Cape Nelson lighthouse, Australia appears to be on the verge of oblivion. If it isn’t swallowed whole by the fog, it might just slide into the sea. To my right, a sheer drop where the ocean collides with the immense edge of the continent. To my left, mist-concealed foliage yawns into yonder. Wind turbines stand scarcely visible on the horizon; lonely three-fingered smudges in the dark. Not another soul in sight. Except Gordon.
“Do you think this is cloud?” he ponders loudly, gazing into the great grey gloom. “Or is this all mist? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it?”
Gordon Stokes, a local of nearby Portland, the town I’m here to explore, has been leading tours of the 133-year-old lighthouse (which is handsomely maintained, by the way) since 2008. The lighthouse warns sailors of the deceitful coastline, and helps guide them into (or away from) the troublesome Bass Strait, at the other end of which lies Melbourne, Australia’s busiest port.