The Great Ocean Road – it’s very title oozes confidence and grandeur. It’s one of the most popular coastal routes in the whole of Australia, with tourist buses pulling up at every single lookout. It can get crowded, but it’s a no-brainer – you have to do the Great Ocean Road! Just try to see beyond the swarms of tourists and you’ll soon find the indisputable beauty of fresh air, infinite ocean-views and natural wonder. You could do this drive in a day, but I would suggest taking at least 3 days so you can explore the forest trails, endless beaches and charming coastal towns.
The Great Ocean Road (GOR) was primarily created as a memorial to those who fought in World War I, but it also had the secondary purpose of connecting remote coastal communities together. It took returned servicemen 14 years to build, which might sound like a really long time, but when you look at the hairpin bends in the road and the rugged cliffs that it was carved in, you can appreciate how much detail and effort was required of them. All their hard work certainly paid off – today, the small towns along the GOR all have a vibrant tourism industry that ticks along all year round. Read on to find out my highlights of our journey along this truly remarkable road.
This is the official starting point of the GOR, and it’s a great place to kick things off. Torquay is arguably the surf capital of Australia, and there’s a few points to back up this title. Firstly, huge surf brands Ripcurl and Quiksilver were first established here; secondly, there’s a National Surfing Museum which celebrates all things, well, surf-related; last but not least, Torquay is home to Bells Beach – where the world’s longest running surf competition is held each year, where the waves can be 5 metres high, and where the epic final scene in Point Break was filmed.
Even if you’re not a pro-surfer just yet, Torquay is a great town to spend some time in, with its laid-back beach vibe, lively esplanade, café culture, and friendly locals. We struggled to find any free camping here, as you will along most of the GOR, so we spent the night in the affordable Torquay Holiday Park. Or, keep driving to Lorne, where there are more options for free camping.
Another major stopping point along the GOR with the same relaxed feel as Torquay. We spent our second night here (we were really crawling along!) at Sharps Campsite, which was a wonderful spot in Cape Otway forest with just 6 sites available. We spotted our first koala in the wild, which was pretty special (lots more to come at Cape Otway!) Don’t miss Teddy’s Lookout as you drive through Lorne – you’ll get one of the best views possible overlooking the Great Ocean Road, so it is well worth the short detour off the main highway.
Cape Otway is the second most southerly point in mainland Australia and is rich in history as it marks the beginning of Victoria’s “Shipwreck Coast”, which stretches for 130km to Port Fairy. There are over 50 shipwrecks recorded along this stretch of coast, and some of the remains of the old ships can still be seen when the water level is low. Aside from shipwrecks, Cape Otway is also known as a koala-spotting haven, with tourists veering off the road to catch a glimpse of these little guys in the trees.
There were so many hidden places to explore in Cape Otway, which is probably why this was my favourite stop. We spent the night in Bimbi Park (only $20 for 2 adults) which had excellent facilities, some nice walking trails, and great access to the nearby Beech Forest. We also slept with lots of koalas above us in the trees, which made it a very memorable experience! Cape Otway is renowned for having the oldest lighthouse in Australia, so we were looking forward to visiting it… Unfortunately, the entry fee is $20 per person! I can’t comment on whether or not it’s worth visiting, but if you read some reviews online, people don’t seem to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth 😦 so maybe save your $$$ and visit one of the many free lighthouses in Australia!
It is well worth going off the beaten track so you can explore the stunning waterfalls and lush rainforest trails in the Otway Ranges. Head to Beech Forest and you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a completely different country, moving away from the pristine white beaches to thick forest and a drizzly climate. Triplet Falls is one of the many waterfall walks available, and I would highly recommend it if you only have a few hours to explore, as the loop trail will take about an hour (it’s worth scrambling down the rocks to get up close to falls if you can!) You’ll also pass an original timber mill during the walking trail, which reminded us how much history lies in spaces like these.
The Twelve Apostles
* N.B. There are only 7 – and there has never been a full set of 12!
These prominent limestone cliffs are recognised all over the world, and their reputation means you’ll be joined by hundreds of other people all hoping to catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon. I hate to say it, but the hordes of people sort of took away from the viewing experience for me, as you had to battle your way onto the viewing platform in the howling wind to get a good view. In saying that, the Twelve Apostles are going on my must-do GOR list because they are still a magnificent sight to behold – just try to visit during off-peak times!
The final stop on the GOR – and what a pleasant surprise it was! We had a bit of time to kill in Port Fairy, so we popped into the Visitor Centre (seemed to be the social hub as well as information point!) grabbed a town map and headed to Griffiths Island, which you can walk around in its entirety. It was very pretty, with lots of hidden coves, a little beach inlet and a well-preserved lighthouse at the end. The island is quite special because it is home to a large colony of seabirds called muttons, which spend their time here from September – April. Outside of these months, they migrate to the northern hemisphere, undergoing a 2 month voyage before settling down in Alaska during Australia’s winter months. They’ll return back to the same burrows they’ve always had in Griffiths Island when the time comes. Clever cookies!
So that officially brings us to the end of the Great Ocean Road. Like I said, take your time to soak up that fresh ocean air and appreciate the, well – greatness – of this iconic road-trip journey!