The Great Ocean Road is certainly an iconic Australian road trip and therefore high on my list of things to do while in Melbourne. We spend a couple of days and nights exploring the region and found there is a lot to see.
The first point to note is that we toured the Great Ocean Road back-to-front from the usual route. We did the longest drive from Melbourne down to Port Campbell via Colac on the inland road and started the Great Ocean Road from there. It can just as easily be done (and most often is) by driving the coast road first and returning via Colac.
Catching the sunset (and sunrise) at the 12 Apostles is definitely a highlight of this iconic Australian road trip for me and you can see my photos and read about the experience here. You can also walk along this beautiful coastline – read about my experience hiking the Great Ocean Walk.
While seeing the 12 Apostles don’t omit a stop at Loch Ard Gorge. There are cliff walks from which you can see a number of the 12 Apostles up close, including Muttonbird Island.
From here you can also see where one of the rock stacks was once connected to the mainland but collapsed a few years ago. You should also walk down the staircase to the beach in the gorge itself, a beautiful little bay with smooth yellow sand and a clear green sea between the limestone arms of the coast.
The Great Ocean Road cruises along the cliff tops here, with green sea on one side and yellow tussock on the other. The next stop is Gibsons Steps, just a few kilometres on from the 12 Apostles visitor centre. Concrete steps lead down to a magnificent beach where you can view the northernmost two apostles. It’s a bit windy and a bit wild (definitely no swimming). The ocean spray makes everything a bit mysterious.
In the Great Otways National Park the Great Ocean Road leaves the coast to wind up into the hills. Maits Rest is one of the best places to glimpse a remnant of the luxuriant rainforest that once covered this part of Victoria. The walking track passes through a sea of tree ferns and giant Mountain Ash.
Everywhere the trees are loaded with epiphytes and I was reminded very much of the New Zealand bush. But the strange sounds of the cockatoos crying out as they flew overhead took me to another place and era.
It had been raining that morning (the Otways has the highest level of rainfall in Victoria) and everything was dripping and incredibly verdant. Another great place to experience the dense forest and wonderful birdsong is at Melba Gully.
There are no less than eight lighthouses on the Great Ocean road and the prettiest is the tall elegant lightstation at Aireys Inlet with its red cap. However, the Cape Otway lighthouse is dubbed ‘Australia’s most significant’ having been continually operated since 1845. The number of lighthouses is a testament to the dangers of the seas here and the history of shipwrecks and whaling along this coast.
Unfortunately the weather closed in when we were at Cape Otway and you couldn’t see a thing. But my friend Siddie Nam has kindly shared one of his lovely photos so you can see what it looks like:
After the Otways the classic Great Ocean road starts, where you follow the successive curves of golden sand decorated by the creamy tongues of incoming surf, with green headlands jutting out into the sea.
There are many cute seaside towns, particularly Apollo Bay and Lorne, to stop for the night or for lunch or a snack at the scattering of decent cafes. This photo is taken from the Marriners Lookout up above Apollo Bay.
The last place I would recommend for a stop along the Great Ocean Road before heading back to Melbourne is Kennett’s River. The self-described ‘Koala Cove’ has a little general store and cafe but the reason people stop is for the wildlife.
Walk up Greys River Road only a few metres and you’ll see koalas in the trees – usually doing what they do best – sleep. There were also flocks of bright Rosellas and parrots that arrive to be fed.
By Natasha von Geldern