The Great Ocean Road, the staggering views of pristine Australian coastline and the salty feeling that consumes your senses whilst you drive down it is one of Victoria’s must-go experiences. The road, actually built as a war memorial nearly 100 years ago, stretches 151 miles along the southern coast and weaves amidst mountains, cliff sides and national parks. Due to its proximity to Melbourne and Geelong, the road is a popular getaway for Victorians and a hot spot for surfing in the turquoise waters. Naturally, the best way to really adventure here is by doing a road trip.
We depart Brunswick at 9am and with coffees in hand, head straight for the coast. The drive takes around two hours on the motorway before we even caught a glimpse of the sea, yet travelling through a countryside that looked more like England than Australia certainly added to the excitement as our adventure drew closer. Suddenly the road narrows and you are greeted by the roaring waves and the salty smell of the Bass Strait sea. Once you pass through the wooden gateway that announces itself as ‘The Great Ocean Road’, the route is pretty straightforward. It is a singular winding road and you can often find yourself stuck behind slow-moving tourist buses and Sunday drivers yet the scenery truly makes up for it as you are transported to what seems like a warm Italian coastline.
The first stop was Lorne. Originally a settlement of the Kolakngat Abogigonee community, this busy seaside town has since become both popular with holidaying families and has arguably some of the most golden sandy beaches of Victoria. We had around half an hour to dive into the warm, alluring waves before heading to the supermarket to stock up on healthy snacks and buy some ice to cool the cooler of beers. The morning was ticking on so we jumped back into the car and pushed on, eager to miss the slowing tourist busses.
Our journey out of Lorne was the most picturesque section of the road and the contrast of a light turquoise sea and huge waves against the backdrop of golden cliff sides adorned with forests is both beautiful and incredibly Instagram worthy. An hours drive along the winding road also saw us pass several tempting beach spots and a number of orange bollards that mark where cars have veered off the cliff side. Kennett River, named after a river in Berkshire, England is where you can follow the occasional tourist up an unused track to capture some of Australia's finest wildlife. The river itself meanders through the forest and directly into the sea. What is even better about this spot is that the trees there are filled with wild Koalas, although they don’t do much apart from sleep.
For the next leg of the road the scenery changed and although you still follow the sea on cliff side roads, what is eye opening is the forests that surrounded us. This section was victim to powerful bushfires last summer and instead of luscious greenery, we drove through forests of blackened, dead trees that are a haunting reminder to the power of nature and the power of heatwaves in Melbourne. Apollo Bay was the next stop where the waves are quieter and the water is even clearer. Although less of an exciting beach, the rolling hills that surround it stand to remind you of the English countryside - it was like I was in the Pennines again (but a warmer version). Here we opened our first beer of the day too and off we embarked on the final leg of the day’s journey. As the afternoon rolled on the air was warm as I gazed out of the open windows with a beer, scenery and good travel music.
The next drive veers away from the sea so we could stop craving a quick dip and instead be awed by a weaving drive through Oatlands National Park. The lush green woodland expels a powerful fresh smell and towering redwood trees truly humble you with their size. Rolling our windows down we were greeted by the noises of the jungle, with crickets and birds and other potentially stranger Australian wildlife. After filling the car with the smells of woodland we pushed onto the 12 Apostles which is the most famous landmark on the route. These sandstone towers stand just off the coastline and their close proximity to each other makes them really fascinating. Despite the crowds and selfie sticks this does not shy away from the awe-inspiring rock formations that we caught in the early evening golden sunshine. Their immense size however does not shy away from the formidable erosion and the strength of the water that surrounds them.
As the night began to dawn, we drove to the closest town in the hunt for a place to sleep. After speaking with locals we discovered the Recreation Ground at the back of the town is the cheapest spot to sleep and if you enter from the back entrance the office is closed. Pitching our tents and drinking some more cooler beers we headed into the town to see if there is anything going on. Safe to say there isn’t apart from a few games of pool.
After a restless night in a cold tent surrounded by animal noises you have the option to either return on the same route or push onto The Grampians where the mountains are adorned with aboriginal cave paintings. Choosing to save the mountain hike for another adventure, you can instead opt for starting at Johanna Beach which is less than an hour from the Apostles and could be found down an unassuming dirt track.
The road always looks different when driving in the other direction. Arriving at Lorne in the early afternoon, it is possible to avoid the tourist crows and instead explore the town and venture up to Teddy’s Lookout which is situated only a half an hour hike away and offers panoramic views of the national park and the entire turquoise shoreline. It is a steep ascent yet from the moment you begin to climb the views become greater. First passing houses, then lodges, then a forest the final look out reveals breathtaking views of golden coast as far as the eye can see.
After a couple of hours sweating away on the hot Lorne beach, the best way to cool off is to check out the nearby waterfalls. A quick drive will have you at the popular destination of Erskine Falls and a climb down a long flight of stairs will have you at the photo-worthy bottom. Although annoyingly busy and full of tourists, it’s worth a visit as the entire area is full of hidden waterfalls if you venture far enough and a nice respite from the hot sandy beaches.
Split Point Lighthouse
As the sun begins to set on our second day there is still a relatively long and winding drive back into Melbourne and just enough time to check out a famous lighthouse en route. The beautiful all-white lighthouse is not a very popular tourist spot, yet more importantly it had a starring role in the well known Australian children’s TV show ‘Around the Twist’ (if you didn’t watch this as a child, what were you doing!). From there it is a steady drive back to the bright lights and Victoria Bitter that awaits you in Melbourne.
Bring CD’s as the radio will not work along most of the route and it saves you messing around with music on your phone (as you’ll need to save your phone battery). If you don’t have CD’s stop in a charity shop in every town and pick up one CD at each stop. Our music choices were: Day 1. All of Fleetwood Mac Day 2. All of David Bowie.
Enjoying the scenery whilst the sun was setting and the wind was blowing through my hair, and not being designated driver.