Aussie’s love a road trip. The land down under is huge and traversed by millions of kilometres of bitumen so there is no shortage of options, but the Great Ocean Road in Victoria is arguably the most famous. The appeal is such that people from all walks of life are jostling for space on the Great Ocean Road. Visitors range from cash strapped backpackers in Wicked campers to retired couples in matching rain jackets and everyone in between. A drive down the Great Ocean Road is a ‘must do’ for visitors to this spectacular part of the world. Read on for all the details …
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Prepping For A Great Ocean Road Trip
First things first, if you are not in a position to take your own car you are going to need to hire one. I always use Airport Rentals for their incredible value. This trip we hired a Nissan Micra but were delighted with an upgrade to a Renault Megane convertible. I generally hire the cheapest car on the lot but this baby opened my eyes to how nice a little extra luxury is. Cruising with the top down made the trip that much more special, even though it was freezing. The Great Ocean Road offers rugged coastlines with spectacular Instagram worthy sites so pack your camera. You might have a sophisticated rig costing thousands or just the in built camera in your phone, either way get in there and jostle for position with the hordes where selfie sticks abound and snap weary little ones have pained looks on their faces as Mum and Dad snap ‘just one more’. Lastly consider where you are staying for the night if you are doing a two-day trip. Accommodation can fill up quickly, particularly on the weekends so you would be wise to book in advance. Check Expedia and Agoda for some great deals before you go.
As with most people, we started our Great Ocean Road journey from Melbourne. I was already in Melbourne for work and The Hubs used frequent flyer points to fly down for nix. If you have to pay for your flights make sure you check out my tips on scoring a bargain flight before booking. We stayed at The Vibe Savoy Hotel the night before we left and we hit the road just after check out at 10.15am. If you are doing the trip in a day I would advise leaving much earlier, say 7am. We decided to take the inland route on day 1 and save the Great Ocean Road for day 2. We left the city behind as we joined the freeway and made good time to Geelong. We had intended to visit a local winery for a leisurely lunch but mother nature scuppered our plans by turning on the rain. Hunger got the best of us near Colac so we made a brief stop to satisfy our rumbling tummies. Make sure you keep an eye out for wildlife on the country roads and call the WIRES rescue hotline if needed.
After lunch we made our way to the furthest point of our journey, Port Fairy. Originally a fishing village, Port Fairy is a quaint little town and we spent and hour or so wandering the wide streets before heading south to see our first glimpse of the famous shoreline. Standing in the inclement weather on a blustery afternoon staring into the waves is cathartic, almost hypnotising. I will admit we did some of our gazing through the windscreen and this is about as close as you get a car to the shore until you get to Apollo Bay. This far west, if you sail due south the first land mass you reach is Antarctica and I swear the bitter wind blowing was straight off the icy plains.
After Port Fairy we headed back the way we came for about 25klms to Warrnambool. A drive around the town revealed Warrnambool was bigger than the tiny town we expected. Head off the Highway and you’ll find yourself in the city centre where the shopping and restaurants are clustered in a few block radius. Continue on to a pretty beach with some of the most famed surfing in Victoria, although on this cold, rainy afternoon there was no one enjoying the waves. Around from the beach on the point we stumbled across Pavillion Cafe & Bar. It just looked so pretty and as we were contemplating our dinner choices, I quickly checked out the reviews on Trip Advisor and was sad to discover they were only open for breakfast and lunch. Oh well, better luck next time. With the light fading fast, we decided to hug the coast as we made our way back to our accommodation just in time to enjoy the dramatic sunset through the dark and stormy sky.
Warrnambool is a motel town and 5 star resorts are distinctly absent but that suited us just fine for one night in town. Read my review on the Mid City Motel if you are looking for comfort, location and value.
Bay Of Islands
We hit the road about 10am and the weather had cleared a bit. And by that I mean at least it wasn’t raining. It was still very overcast but we were determined to make the most of it. Just a short distance from Warrnambool is the official start of the Great Ocean Road, turn right and follow your nose. Not far along on your left you will find Cheeseworld in Allansford. I really, really wanted to stop but I knew I couldn’t transport cheese around all day in the car without disaster. We drove along a little bit further to our first stop, the beautiful Bay Of Islands and our first glimpse of the rugged coastline and limestone formations that are typical of the Great Ocean Road. There are two viewing platforms, make sure you visit both as the views are distinctly different.
Only a few kilomteres further along is The Grotto. I have to say this is one of the prettiest attractions along the Great Ocean Road. Head down the boardwalk from the car park and follow the crowds. Stop at the top of the wooden stairs to admire the view before heading down and getting up close and personal with The Grotto. I was disappointed to note many visitors ignoring the warning signs and leaving the paths to clamber over the rocks. Not only were they risking their own safety but they were potentially destroying the fragile formations and ruining every else’s photos in the process. Please, do not do it.
London Arch (formerly London Bridge) is one of the most popular stops along the Great Ocean Road so expect crowds and it’s only about 3 minutes drive from The Grotto so don’t get too settled in the car. It was named London Bridge for its resemblance to the original as it was initially a double arch. In January 1990 the huge chunk of rock that connected it to the mainland collapsed trapping two people on the new island. No one was hurt but it did take three hours to airlift the stranded visitors to safety.
Loch Ard Gorge
One of my favourite stops along the Great Ocean Road is Loch Ard Gorge. I have visited twice before and in summer it is the perfect place to stop for a picnic and a swim. The bay is named after the clipper ship Loch Ard that sunk nearby in 1878. There are three different walks to do here all branching out from the central car park, do them all to get the full experience.
The Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles are the biggest draw card on Great Ocean Road and for that reason it is very busy. The car park is on the opposite side of the road but never fear as there is an underpass to get you safely to the other side. The famous and much photographed limestone stacks are prone to erosion and sadly there are only eight apostles left, with the most recent collapse in 2005. At the front of the car park is the visitor centre so pop in if you have time and this is also one of the only stops that has toilets so be warned. At the rear of the car park you will find 12 Apostles Helicoptors who offer a variety of flights to suit your needs.
Apollo Bay – Melbourne
The Apollo Bay Bakery is a great place for a quick lunch. The fabulous staff even let me plug in my mobile phone while we ate as I could not get it to charge in the car. We didn’t linger and were back in the car quickly after our pies and sausage rolls with Lorne planned as our next stop. Mother nature had different ideas and landslides closed the Great Ocean Road just after Apollo Bay so we were forced down the C119. While this was initially disappointing, it allowed us to see a very different side of this beautiful part of the world. Off the coast and away from the rugged cliffs and spectacular beaches the countryside changes to rolling hills dotted with craggy trees, lush verdant green pastures covered in grazing sheep and rustic dwellings straight out of a movie set. The road is winding with unsealed patches and we were conscious of the ever-present threat of more landslides, but driving through the stunning natural green tunnels with the top down looking up at the canopy above where tree limbs stretch together high above the road below desperately trying to make contact was magical. It was as if they were trying to obliterate the man-made scar of slick black bitumen carving through their natural world. In the chilly forest environment with the top down I was glad of the luxury of heated seats the Megane offered. Before long the forest gave way to suburbia and we were heading through Geelong back towards Melbourne. We entered the city a little earlier that expected due to our landslide detour and stopped at Crown for a couple of drinks before heading back to the airport to catch our 8pm flight. I have visited parts of the Great Ocean Road before, this is the first time I have done the full length and it never gets old. While mother nature threw everything at us this weekend, she sure is a magnificent artist.
Is the Great Ocean Road on your bucket list? Have you already been? Let me know in the comments below.
Until Next Time …
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