When I was planning my itinerary for down under, I browsed many blogs and travel websites and one thing came up constantly. And that was ‘Do the great ocean drive’. I kinda wondered if they were making a big deal out of a road along the beach. I mean, I had been on such roads before and they were pretty good, but why was this great? I wondered. It was especially stranger given the penchant of the Australians to prefix everything ‘GREAT’. don’t get me wrong some of them are great, like the great barrier reef, but not all are,,, great!
But anyway I planned to include it in my trip and drive down to see what was so great about it! We were two families of with two four-year-olds. So travel sickness was an issue. So we hired a Kluger and set out to verify the apparent greatness of this ocean road.
Officially, the Great Ocean Road starts at Torquay and finishes at Allansford. Torquay is 100 kilometers from Melbourne via Geelong along the M1 then join the B100 to Torquay. The Great Ocean Road follows the B100 for 243 kilometers through to Allansford which is just 10 minutes from Warrnambool. The B100, replaces the old State road 100, which was the original Great Ocean road designation. You can then return the 256 kilometers to Melbourne via the A1 and M1. So we officially entered the great ocean road after an hour and 15 mins from Melbourne when we reached Torquay.
Must See and Dos on the Great Ocean Road:
1. Torquay: This is the home of Bells Beach and birthplace of iconic surf brands Rip Curl and Quicksilver. It is the surfing and beach worship capital. Visit over Easter and see the world’s best surfers compete in the mighty Rip Curl Pro. Its a great location for families to splash about on one of the beaches. If you prefer the action of the surging surf, nearby Jan Juc is a little wilder, and experienced surfers can tackle the big swells of Bells Beach. This world-famous beach is the venue for the Rip Curl Pro, one of the most sought-after titles on the World Championship Tour. There is also Capture the Surf World Surfing Museum with pictures and hands-on displays. Stroll along sandy beaches beneath towering cliffs or take fine views of the coast from vantage points along the Surf Coast Walk. It would make an ideal first pit stop!
2. Apollo Bay: Stop into the beautiful village of Apollo Bay located at the foothills of the Otways. The surrounding areas are covered by rainforests full of waterfalls, ferns, and crystal clear streams. Ans as along the coast, here too you can swim, dive, surf and paddle out in the pristine coastal waters. Take a dip at the beach, climb aboard a surfboard or kayak, and get up close to local seal colonies.
Fishing is an important local industry so seafood is always on the menu at the local cafes and restaurants. Take a drive into the Otways to find mainland Australia’s oldest lighthouse. Walk through the nearby rainforest and wander past plunging waterfalls and lush ferns.
3. Port Campbell: It is a popular tourist destination primarily because it is so closely surrounded by some of the Great Ocean Road’s most famous and scenic coastal attractions. A few minutes drive away is the rocky (but broken) platform of London Bridge, the Loch Ard Gorge, Gibsons Steps, and the most celebrated of all Great Ocean Road attractions, the Twelve Apostles. The coastline around the Port Campbell area consists of steep, rocky cliffs with pristine sandy white beaches in bays at the base of many of these cliffs.
The Port Campbell commercial centre is based around the tree-lined strip of Lord Street and features cafes, restaurants and specialty shops, catering well for visitors. Located right in the town centre is Port Campbell Bay which is an inlet of water surrounded by the Port Campbell National Park and it includes an attractive foreshore area, a calm sandy beach swimming area, and a jetty. For spectacular views across the bay, along the coast and over the town itself, take the Discovery Walk. Either climb up the steps from the beach at Port Campbell Bay and enjoy the view from the walking track along the cliff top, or alternatively access to the Discovery Walk and the Town Lookout can be reached via a car park on the Great Ocean Road to the west of town.
4. 12 Apostles: Drive the short distance to the towering 12 Apostles, the dramatic limestone stacks that have made the region famous. This is the Mona Lisa of the great ocean road, its the Tendulkar of rocky beaches, its the Trump of bad decisions and er… let me stop with the puns:)
Most people who set out on this road treat the 12 Apostles as the destination and the drive back. Its that fittingly climactic end to the journey. I will leave my puns here and let you take a look at the photo below and see why those bad puns now make more sense!
Start at the visitor’s center for a bit of history and then follow the boardwalk to the 12 Apostles as they slowly reveal themselves. Created by constant erosion of the limestone cliffs of the mainland beginning 10–20 million years ago, the stormy Southern Ocean and blasting winds gradually eroded the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs.
The caves eventually became arches and when they collapsed rock stacks up to 45 meters high were left isolated from the shore. View the 12 Apostles at sunrise and sunset as they change color from dark and foreboding in shadow to brilliant sandy yellow under a full sun.
Loch Ard Gorge, site of a 19th-century shipwreck ‘Loch Ard’, as well as the Island Archway and London Bridge are other highlights in the area. The Island Archway collapsed in 2009, highlighting the fragile and ever-changing nature of Victoria’s coastline.
5. Camperdown: When you go back to Melbourne via the picturesque inland route, you will discover this cute little town located on the world’s third largest volcanic plain. The region’s lush pastures are home to dairy farms producing mouth-watering cheeses. For an indulgent afternoon, settle in for a refreshing ale and gourmet lunch at Camperdown’s many restaurants. If time permits to try and climb to the top of Mt Leura and Mt Sugarloaf and take in 360-degree views of the coastal ranges and rolling western plains. Volcanic activity has shaped much of the surrounding landscape, leaving a legacy of cones, lakes, and craters to explore. (Pic from exploreaustralia.net.au)
6. Colac: Set on the doorstep of the Great Otway National Park, Colac is a lively regional center close to some of Victoria’s most-loved natural attractions. The Great Otway National Park is filled with its towering trees and dense fern glades. Camp out under the stars, bushwalk to cascading waterfalls and stunning beaches, or head to the calm waters and eerie landscapes of Lake Elizabeth in search of the elusive platypus.
Enjoy a little retail therapy while wandering the streets of Colac. Browse country gift shops and specialty stores, stock up at community markets and cool off in the beautiful botanic gardens. Hit the road and sample the region’s best fresh produce, wines, beers and gourmet treats along the Otway Harvest Trail.
7. The Drive itself: Driving on the great ocean road is truly an experience in itself. Lined by lush hills on one side and the turquoise ocean on the other with gently meandering roads and the cool breeze; it could hardly get better. Take a look at the video and see for yourself. It surely is one of those places where the drive itself is the destination!
Practical Tips and info:
- You need an English language license to hire a car here. My Indian license worked just fine
- Many people try to drive all along the road in one day, especially day-trippers coming from Melbourne. Of course, it’s possible, but this way you’ll miss most of the fabulous highlights
- Plan to spend three or four days doing the drive – this will cut out a lot of extended time behind the wheel and give you the hours to linger wherever you feel the urge
- The Great Ocean Road is not only made for driving. You should definitely take some walks during your trip. Of course, walking on the main road isn’t the smartest idea, but luckily there’s a variety of paths in the surroundings.
- All along the road, you’ll find plenty of hotels, but most of them are located in Torquay, Lorne, and Apollo Bay. For more of an authentic experience, stop in some small villages. Keep in mind it’s a famous route and it’s better to book a place in advance, especially if you’re going to travel during the high season.
- Since almost everything is by the water, it does get very windy so bring a jacket definitely!
- Australia Visa for Indians: Indians need a visa to get into Australia. I applied through VFS Global. It was pretty straightforward.
- What I Saw: Mad Max, the 1979 version was shot on the great ocean roads. You do get glimpses of the vast expanses of the countryside all through the movie (YouTube link).
- What I Read: Seeking stories of Australia’s Great Ocean Road, a young writer stumbles across a manual from a minor player in the road’s history, FB Herschell. It is a volume unremarkable in every way, save for the surprising portrait of its author that can be read between its lines: a vision of a man who writes with uncanny poetry about sand. And as he continues to mine the archive of FB Herschell – engineer, historian, philosopher – it is not the subject, but the man who begins to fascinate. A man whose private revolution among the streets of Paris in May 1968 begins to change the way he views life, love, and the coastal landscape into which he was born…