One of Australia greatest road journeys
Over the past few years as I have travelled this great country, not one day has gone by where I haven’t seen or experienced something truly unique that only Australia can boast about. Whether it be one of our quirky native animals, some magnificently spectacular flora or one of our many stunning natural landscapes that instantly takes your breath away. I also consider myself very lucky to have ticked a lot of places off my “Aussie Bucket List” in that time. Of course, on my list were the usual places like the iconic Uluru, Cable Beach in Broome and the history laden Birdsville Track- those are just a few!
Not that long ago, the journey along the Great Ocean Road on the southern coast of Victoria became the latest experience to be ticked off my list. I was never really quite sure exactly what the appeal was to this well known stretch of road but everybody talked about it, you see pictures of it on TV and in magazines all the time- so I gathered it must be pretty special. I knew the Twelve Apostles were down that way and they were talked about as a ‘Mecca for photographers’ even though in recent times they have slowly eroded thanks to the forces of Mother Nature. I thought it was about time that I discovered what all the fuss was about.
My family and I started our Journey from Torquay on the eastern side (21kms from the city of Geelong). We loved Torquay, a town very popular with travellers but more so with surfers hoping to catch the perfect wave. The famous Bells Beach is not too far away- a beach well known for international surfing events which can bring massive crowds to the area. The popularity of the surfing culture in Torquay has enticed many well-known surf wear companies to set up shop here as well as a huge surfing museum (Surf World) being opened for those interested in a little history and wanting to know a bit more about the story of surfing. Torquay is known as Australia’s surfing capital. Personally I’m not much of a surfer but I love being near the beach and Torquay was a great spot to base ourselves before we started our journey.
We headed out from our caravan park in Torquay (the official starting point of the Great Ocean Road) and it wasn’t too long before we were stopped in at Anglesea, a small village propped up on a prime location with a great outlook over Bass Strait. Only a little further down the road it was time for a cuppa- Aireys Inlet seemed a great spot plus it was home to the Split Point Lighthouse which featured in one of my favourite childhood TV shows, ‘Round the Twist’ which was filmed in the area. Aireys Inlet would also be considered another favourite amongst the surfing fraternity due to the easy access to some great beaches, but I reckon anyone could easily enjoy a few nights to set up camp here no matter what your interests were- just a nice relaxing place with a very friendly vibe.
Even though we found the Great Ocean Road to be quite bendy, steep and narrow in some places, the road is still an easy drive, but like any road in Oz, care must be taken and the speed you travel on the road all depends on your own confidence and the conditions. There are many ‘turn outs’ strategically situated along the road to allow slower vehicles to pull over and let following vehicles pass. Out of courtesy we used these when necessary and were always mindful of any vehicles behind us, particularly when we wanted to pull over at lookouts or to slow down where possible to enjoy the scenic views along the way.
One of the most popular stops along the journey was the town of Lorne. One of the largest towns along the way too. We pulled into the beach front car park and spent a little time walking along the shopping strip, which I have to say caters for the tourists quite well with lots of cafes, boutique stores and places to stock up on souvenirs. We resisted the temptation to go wild with any sort of spending spree but there were lots of goodies on offer. The beach area was beautiful and a popular spot for passing travellers to stop for lunch. There are plenty of great little towns along the Great Ocean Road to stop in at, all worth a visit but Lorne is a little more alive with a few more things to keep you busy. When we next pass through this area, we would love to spend a little more time exploring.
It wasn’t quite lunchtime for us so we kept the wheels turning until we reached Apollo Bay- a serve of fish and chips near the jetty appeared like the popular thing to do so we off we went and ordered our lunch- one of the best serves of chips we had had in a long time and the fish was FRESH! Apollo Bay is another hub for tourists who are seeking a base to explore The Great Otway National Park and Cape Otway Light station. The Great Otway National Park or ‘The Otways” offers some great activities for everyone including bush walking, birdwatching and picnics. There are the Erskine Falls to visit and if you are keen, take your mountain bike for some thrilling rides along some of the 60kms of formed tracks catering for all levels of riders. Camping is also a very popular choice and many camp grounds exist throughout the entire park.
Interestingly, The Great Ocean Road is known to be the world largest war memorial built by returned soldiers from 1919 to 1932 to honour the casualties of World War I. Its official length is 243kms and is Australian Heritage Listed. The Great Ocean Road is a tourist attraction in itself and the small villages along the journey rely on the passing tourist trade to survive, in some respects many businesses in the area exist only to service the passing tourist trade which doesn’t seem to have a “season”. The road is busy all year round but of course holiday times would see more people taking the opportunity to see this great piece of engineering and geographical marvel. I use the word “engineering” because the road technically wraps itself around the steep cliffs and hills, and thinking back nearly 90 years ago, the construction of this road would not have had the technical and mechanical advancements in equipment that are available today. Most of the construction was done by hand, a pick and shovel, wheelbarrows and explosives. Unfortunately the dangerous task of building the Great Ocean Road took its toll on a few workers who sadly died during its construction. In the early days, a toll was charged to recoup the costs of construction and to fund maintenance- today it’s free!
Between Apollo Bay and Lavers Hill, the journey moves briefly away from the coast and you begin to climb up then down a few hills via some very scenic farmland before shortly being greeted by the Twelve Apostles. There were only ever actually nine limestone pillars on record but were named “The Twelve Apostles” for tourist purposes (that’s what I’m lead to believe anyway). Over the past ten years, erosion from the waves has caused 2 of the pillars to collapse leaving only 7 still standing. With erosion happening every minute, time may be running out to see the remaining formations so here’s a subtle nudge to start planning your visit if you want to see them for yourself.
It was from this point forward (westward) that our camera got a real workout. It is this part of the journey where you are treated with many little parking bays offering opportunities to see many of the great limestone formations, cliffs and take in rugged coastlines with ocean views. The next stop for us after Port Campbell (another great little seaside village) was ‘Loch Ard Gorge’ then onto ‘The Arch’, ‘London Bridge’ and finally my personal favourite, the ‘Bay of Islands’. The Great Ocean Road officially ends at Allansford, only a short distance from Warrnambool.
Technically, the Great Ocean road can be easily done as a single day trip in either direction but we took 3 days and didn’t hurry and just absorbed the beauty of the whole area. We spent a few nights at a busy camp ground near Johanna Beach. Because we were towing we didn’t want to risk trying to push ourselves and we wanted to get the most out of this journey. We saw plenty of caravans and motorhomes doing the trip. Many people ask about whether or not their “rig” could do it. Large passenger coaches travel the road daily and we passed a few caravans around the 24ft mark. The road is windy in places and steep but with proper care and common sense, the Great Ocean Road is accessible to most travellers.
We have been told that driving the Great Ocean Road from the west is a totally different experience to travelling it from the east . Although the rock formations are all the same, the views from the road as you travel the opposite way offer a completely different perspective. I guess that would be true as you come around a bend and are presented with a view of the coastline- that the view changes depending on your direction. Maybe I need to ‘research’ this fact as use it as an excuse to travel the GOR again… sounds like a plan!