In 2011 a car-sized boulder closed the Great Ocean Road for a week; rockslides between Wye River and Separation Creek caused about six weeks of pain in 2016, with traffic diverted from Lorne to Apollo Bay. It forced Shaun to make regular one-hour road trips to pick up basic staples such as milk for the cafe, and it took tourists from Melbourne some time to realise when the road was open for business again.
Meanwhile, tourism bodies say on average up to 30 buses and coaches use the road every day, although the figure can be up to 80 at peak times (state government figures show a 30 per cent increase over the past three years). Almost all of them head straight to the main attraction: the Twelve Apostles. Visitor numbers there balloon on peak days such as New Year’s, Easter and Chinese New Year. According to The Age, on Christmas Day 2018 the Twelve Apostles hosted more than 15,000 selfie-taking tourists, 3000 cars, 170 buses and 11 coaches. It sounds like a nightmare.
This kind of heavy visitor traffic has not only damaged roads but also stretched the limited public facilities, including toilets. Locals complain about rubbish, toilet paper and other unsavoury things being left behind at popular stops along the route. Add to that the threat of sea-level rise caused by climate change and the road is facing a perfect storm.
So, what to do? In 2018 a state government taskforce found the problems stem from having 30 different organisations managing various parcels of land. In October 2018 it announced plans to create a single marine and coastal parks authority to manage and protect the Great Ocean Road’s land, seascapes, visitors and “coordinate associated government investment projects”.
Director of the reform project, Jason Borg, says legislation is well under way to create the new authority, which should be up and running by mid-to-late 2020. Right now his team of seven are collecting feedback from the community and stakeholders on what a 50-year vision for the region might look like.
Seven dedicated weather stations have also been set up at high-risk land-slip sites to monitor soil moisture content and, in late 2018, Regional Roads Victoria (RRV) built a temporary 102-metre wall of 32 shipping containers filled with water above Cumberland River. Designed to protect the road from falling rocks while stabilising works were carried out on the cliff above, the containers have taken a battering from falling boulders. Abseiling workers and traffic jams are regular sights on this section of road.
RRV has also built five rock walls to protect the road from coastal erosion at locations, including Apollo Bay, Skenes Creek and Smythe Creek; 21 lower retaining walls have been built and loose rock removal or netting installation has been carried out at 15 other locations.
Back in Apollo Bay, Mark Kininmonth looks out to sea from the car park that collapsed during storm surges in June 2018. He has been living in Apollo Bay since 2002 and, as the owner of two businesses – Apollo Bay Surf and Kayak and walking tour company Walk 91 – he hopes the new, single authority will have a positive impact on the road and his community.
“There’s a lot of buck-passing, I would suggest, in terms of responsibility and who owns what and who wants to spend money on what – from toilets to car parks to roads,” he observes. The question remains: will a new layer of bureaucracy fix those problems?