Spending 15 hours a day on the road isn’t everyone’s idea of a good job. But for Leah, it was exactly the break she needed from her office cubicle.
Over the last four years, I drove the Great Ocean Road 190 times.
I’ve driven it east to west. I’ve driven it west to east. I’ve flowed around the bends, driven stop-start through roadworks, and sat idle in Falls Festival traffic. I’ve taken detours due to landslides, changed course to avoid bushfires, and kept cruising the scenic route even when sea fog obstructed all the views.
So why did it do it? Because I got sick of my 9-5 desk job.
Stuck in The Slow Lane
In 2015 I regularly found myself sitting in work meetings staring out the window and wondering ‘What am I doing with my life?’.
Sounds pretty depressing doesn’t it? To be honest it was probably a reflection on the pointlessness of the meetings; I enjoyed my job and loved my colleagues.
‘But working 9 – 5, Monday to Friday didn’t feel like the right way to fully LIVE life.’
‘Surely there was a side to the industry I’d been missing out on by being tied to a desk?’
I came across an advertisement for a tour guide; leading tourists on day trips from Melbourne to the Great Ocean Road during the busy summer period. Growing up, I’d spent most of my summers in Torquay, right at the start of the iconic road. I’ve always loved the surf culture and holiday vibes along that beautiful coastline. Maybe I could spend one more summer there before heading back to an office.
There was just one speed bump to consider – not only would I be the guide on these tours, but the driver as well.
In The Driver’s Seat
In many places around the world you can take a bus tour and you’ll have one driver and one guide. Not here. I upgraded my licence, completed my training days and headed out on my first solo tour.
A giddy smile was plastered to my face as I drove the bus out of the depot.
‘Part excitement, part nerves, and part disbelief that I was actually going to do this.’
From my 6.30am start I spent an hour driving around Melbourne’s city centre, picking up guests who were on time and chasing those who’d slept in. I then drove down to Torquay feeling like I was back on summer holiday with 24 new friends onboard.
It was the start of a 560 kilometre circuit. Along the Ocean Road to the 12 Apostles and back to Melbourne. There were ten stops along the way, and in addition to being the guide and driving the bus, I was the chief entertainer, historian, DJ, timekeeper, navigator, waiter, problem solver, and first aid officer.
After dropping off the guests and washing the bus, I completed my paperwork and finished off my shift at 9.45pm.
Finding Cruise Control
When I told friends about my new job as a tour guide, they were excited for me. When I told them about the 15 hour days driving a bus, their expressions changed completely.
Even I had to question my own judgement. I seem to finish each day feeling like I’d not only driven the Great Ocean Road, but also been hit by the bus.
‘The job was by far the biggest challenge I’ve ever thrown myself into.’
But the days got easier. I got to know the stops, the tour information, and the road. And best of all, I was in charge.
No more sitting in meetings too uninspired to participate; I was leading a revelry of travellers, who climbed aboard the bus ready to discover a world-class destination. The success of the tour relied on me and if there was a problem it was my job to solve it.
Yes, the tour was the same and the destination was the same, but every day was different. I’ve never felt more challenged and mentally stimulated than I have in facing a new day on the road.
The stress of driving gave way to excitement at who I would meet. The stories I told got more and more detailed. And I had the comradery of colleagues who had the same passion for the outdoors and desire for freedom on the road.
An Iconic Road
The Great Ocean Road is an incredible place. I’ve told stories of a rich Aboriginal past, of mateship amongst soldiers constructing the road, of rough seas and shipwreck survival.
I’ve swum in the ocean to cool off from the intense summer heat. I’ve hiked through the rainforest engulfed in mist. I’ve stood at clifftop lookouts in pouring rain and gale force winds. I’ve felt more alive being out in the elements than I ever did in an office.
Instead of spending just one summer traversing the road, I spent four years doing it. I’ve led bus tours, private tours, hiking tours, and group charters. For many people, driving the famous Great Ocean Road is a once in a lifetime experience. For me, it’s been 190 times.
I started the job as a challenge and I stayed because every day was a challenge.
‘I’d found a way to live life not knowing what was around the next corner, and my mind and body were better off because of it.’
I still spent my work days staring out of a window, but it was at constantly-changing scenery, and it was the best office I ever had.
When the COVID-madness ends, may the tourism industry bounce back stronger than ever. So that all the crazy, inspired people who drive the Great Ocean Road for work, can return to their incredible office.