Great Ocean Road, VIC
THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME
WORDS BY FRED WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN HABERFIELD & DAVID VAYRO
Victoria’s Great Ocean Road unwinds before the travellers like a welcoming black ribbon, snaking westward some two hundred and fifty kilometres from Torquay to Warrnambool. Along the way you’ll experience breathtaking coastal scenery, delightful seaside villages, lush rainforests and rich rural hinterland.
Towering ochre cliffs explode into orange and brown with the setting sun and drop almost vertically to vivid blue seas, where they guard some of the best surfing beaches in the world. Ever-changing coastal landscapes give way to a hinterland of waterfalls and entrancing flora and fauna – you truly feel that you are in one of nature’s wonderlands.
You owe it to yourself to stop a while along the way just to feel the soft white sand beneath your feet and the clear blue waters lapping at your toes. There are few better ways to start a journey!
The Great Ocean Road: is there any other road quite like this? We doubt it. Whatever you do, please take your time and soak up the experience. After all, these will be memories you’ll cherish forever.
It’s likely that you have heard of the Twelve Apostles, those iconic limestone stacks that rear up from the sea. Other travellers have probably told you not to miss the Great Otway National Park and Otway Tree Tip Adventures, too – but these popular attractions are only part of the story. You can also view pods of migrating whales, listen to unbelievable stories of the Shipwreck Coast, follow mouth-watering food trails, and find quaint cafes and the freshest local produce at your fingertips.
For many travellers, the appeal of the area could lie in the knowledge that major sections of this road were dug and quarried by pickaxe and shovel; built through the efforts of some 3,000 WWI diggers, soldiers and sailors. Forming the world’s longest war memorial, this was a labour of love to honour fallen comrades – and that alone deserves our reflection and respect.
This year marks a century since the outbreak of WWI, the ‘war to end all wars’, so what better time to plan a visit? A trip of a lifetime it surely is but it’s also one that can be visualised as having three parts. As your engine fires into life and you start westward from Torquay you’ll visit the Surf Coast and Otway Tours, tour the Shipwreck Coast then finish along the Discovery Coast. Each region is unique, so take it easy and savour every marvellous moment.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Great Ocean Road stretches 243km and was built by returned soldiers of World War I as a dedication to comrades that were killed in battle. It is currently the world’s largest war memorial.
TORQUAY: THE SURFING CAPITAL OF AUSTRALIA
Torquay has a long-standing reputation for being the surfing capital of Australia and this fast-growing area is attracting plenty of permanent residents. They’ve even announced a brand-new Bowls Club for those hordes of grey nomads who love their outdoor sport.
While you’re collecting information and free maps from the Visitor Centre seriously consider spending an hour or two exploring the Surf World Museum, reputed to be one of the best of its kind in the world. Take a notepad with you and put together your own little trivia test to test a few brain cells at Happy Hour.
You’ll enjoy walking along the surfboard gallery under a facsimile of a breaking wave; learning about a jet-powered surfboard and generally drinking in memories of what it was like when we thought we were young and bulletproof.
Surfing aside, Torquay is a great opportunity to stock up, have mechanical repairs or maintenance done and do some last-minute reading on the trip ahead. There’s no better place to start than at the Historical Society, once a police building but now bursting with photos and stories – such as that of William Buckley the ‘Wild White Man’, who lived in and around here. He spent some 32 years living with local Aboriginal tribes who befriended him as a tribal leader that came back from the dead. The expression, ‘You’ve got Buckley’s” relates directly to his saga of survival and you can even obtain a map to trace his movements. (And that’s another one you can add to your Torquay Trivia Test: “Where did the expression “You’ve got Buckley’s” originate?)
From your caravan park you can visit many of the nearby beaches and enjoy the grassy foreshores for a picnic lunch or a quiet cuppa, while you take in the inspiring coastal scenery. There is a local Farmers Market, so check out the dates and times to pick up succulent fresh fruit and veggies. If you’re a shopaholic, you’ll find plenty of inviting outlets in the local shopping centre to indulge your habit. Remember that Torquay is the home of the best-known surf-wear brands worldwide, so if you want to look the part or long for the latest chill-proof wetsuit, then this is the place for you.
While you’re staying in Torquay – or when you make your way west – you really should take a look at Bells beach. If you’ve got your van or fifth wheeler there’s ample parking opposite the Bells Beach turn-off sign. On almost any day and in any weather you’re bound to find wet-suited riders chasing waves off the point or waiting further out for the swells to roll in. If you feel like a swim, there are wooden steps down to the sandy beach, or you can just stay on the observation platform and take in the board riders and the coastline.
LORNE AND APOLLO BAY
About 47km away you’ll find the popular destination of Lorne, but the serpentine roads dictate that you should allow plenty of time and take care on the bends. Some international drivers drive on the opposite side of the road to us and other like to cut corners, so be ever vigilant and prepared to drive defensively.
The Memorial Arch across the road before Lorne commemorates those who built the road and why they did so. It is the world’s biggest war memorial and its history, built as it was in sections, will fascinate you. Upon completion this section of the Great Ocean Road was only accessible by foot or pushbike but the need to transport fish quickly through to Torquay and beyond dictated that vehicles should be able to drive along it. There was also a toll place here to help pay for the cost of road maintenance. As it was based on a ‘per person’ payment system, buses originally would stop, allow passengers to disembark and walk around the toll booth, and then would pick them up on the other side, after paying their heavily discounted toll! As you might imagine, this practice was quickly put to a stop.
Lorne is an attractive seaside village with caravan parks and a shopping strip to please most travellers. We dropped into the Visitors Centre which was undergoing development when we were there. Upon completion this centre will clearly show travellers the story of the development of the Great Ocean Road, including the township of Lorne.
Diagonally opposite is the Historical Society where volunteers were busy arranging a wonderful collection of black and white photos, not only of the road by the Shipwreck Coast but much more. Next time you’re down this way, reward their industry with a visit!
Lorne’s hinterland boasts a selection of attractive waterfalls such as Phantom Falls, Henderson Falls, She Oak Falls and Erskine Falls to name but a few. We decided to seek out the very accessible Erskine Falls, a short drive from Lorne, and found a lookout just 80m from the bitumen car park. We were rewarded with the sight of a dramatic spill of white water to the river surging through the rainforest below. For an even more dramatic view, those who are fit enough to can descend 150m to the base of the falls via recently upgraded wooden walkways and steps.
Before you pull out of the car park, spend a moment at the information board to learn more about your surroundings. (More for your trivia test, perhaps?)
Backtracking to Lorne we stopped at Teddy’s Lookout. It’s only a short easy walk from the car park and the brilliant views way below to the Great Ocean Road are well worth a photo or two. You’ll be driving this part of the road soon enough as you continue west so this walk allows you to get a birds’-eye view of what you’re in for.
It’s only 44km further to Apollo Bay, but allow plenty of time to pull over and take some photos (as well as to let through any traffic that has built up behind your RV, if you’re towing.) You don’t have to be an expert photographer to take spectacular scenery shots around here.
Regrettably, on a schedule and limited by space on the DVD, we didn’t have enough time to visit every coastal village such as Cumberland River, Wye River and Kennett River as beautiful as they may be – but we recommend that you stop at as many places as you can. This stretch of Australia is unique in offering not only wonderful views but fascinating snippets of history at every stop. There’s a good reason that this has earned the name ‘The Shipwreck Coast’, and you will hear story after story about disasters and bravery. The Mary Cumming and The Speculant, for example, both ran aground on rocks not far from Kennett River.
As in most coastal towns there are supermarkets, hotels and plenty of eateries in Apollo Bay. Tip: there’s a top fish and chip shop near the wharf! I doubt that there are many better experiences than eating hot, freshly cooked fish while looking over spectacular coastal scenery at the end of a busy day of exploring and adventuring. Who says we travellers do it tough! And all for a food outlay of some $12 for two.
Once established on our green grassy site overlooking the bay, we headed inland on a short drive to Mariner’s Lookout. Make sure you leave your van or fifth-wheeler behind and note that the walk from the car park on private property is relatively short but has some elevated sections. I’ve found no problems even carrying somewhat heavy camera and tripod equipment. You can stop as you wish and the views as you ascend are well worth the effort. Beneath you is the Apollo Bay township and bay, with its glorious views well out to sea. You’ll want to stop here for some time as this is one of the best lookouts on the Great Ocean Road.
Make sure you don’t miss the Lorne Hinterland’s various falls; there really is something mesmerising about them!
- PHANTOM FALLS
- HENDERSON FALLS
- SHE OAK FALLS
- ERSKINE FALLS
GREAT OTWAY NATIONAL PARK
We couldn’t wait to explore the Great Otway National Park so we pointed the Jeep Cherokee towards Maits Rest. Leaving the bitumen car park you’ll descend gradually into the rainforest. As you walk along the boardwalk you’ll see majestic ferns, lichens and huge logs from ancient giant trees, as well as a Myrtle Beach Tree said to be 300 years old. This is a top introduction to this lush national park, and we recommend that follow it up with a drive north from here on good dirt roads towards Beech Forest. On the way, please take my advice and stop at The Redwoods. Back in 1939, these giant sequoias were planted and today – despite being still in their infancy – they are already reaching for the sky and becoming masters of the clouds. Padding along on a thick blanket of leaves beside a clear flowing stream, you have the sense that you are walking with giants. What a humbling experience in this magnificent forest: words really can’t do it justice.
From Beech Forest we headed east along Turton’s Track before dropping almost due south, arriving at Skenes Creek only kilometres north of Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. People often tell us that they would love to have our job and I have to say, after almost four years, we’re even more passionate about travelling this amazing island continent. If there is a major drawback, it must be that we don’t get to spend as much time as you can at spectacular places like those above. We would happily return to the Great Otway in a heartbeat!
Near Beech Forest, be sure to make the time to explore the Redwoods! These Californian Redwoods were planted some 85 years ago and are staggering sight to behold today as their peaks stretch to the skies. Just remember, the gravel road isn’t suitable for caravans or over-sized tows!
THE OTWAY FLY TREETOP AND THE CAPE OTWAY LIGHTSTATION
Here’s a great day trip for you: head off for Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, also in the Great Otway National Park north of Apollo Bay. Drive through Lavers Hill and Weeaproinah to get there, and pace yourself, as there is plenty to see and do. I have to admit that the treetop walk was a highlight for us: it’s a unique experience to make your way across a steel bridge suspended high about the treetops. Surrounded by a cool green world, you’ll feel everyday concerns drop away. And please, don’t let any problems with mobility make you reluctantly decide this is not for you. There are buggies available to transport you to the many facilities here. A truly spectacular experience!
Cape Otway Lightstation south-west of Apollo Bay was a revelation. We climbed to the top of the lighthouse guided by a retired lighthouse keeper who brought alive his experiences and regaled us with tales about Bass Strait. You can also see the remains of a radar station, built after the USA lost its first ship to a submarine before entering WWII. That would be enough for one outing in itself, but there’s more! As well as having the opportunity to see what life was life for the early aboriginal peoples who lived here, you can find out a lot about dinosaurs. After all that, you’ll be ready for tea, coffee and/or food served in the previous lighthouse keeper’s cottage. But before you leave, ask about the Cable Station and its history of communications with Tasmania. So much history packed into one small spot on the map!
DID YOU KNOW?
Cape Otway Lightstation is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Australia! The light has been in operation since 1848 and was often the first sight of Australia for many immigrants after many months at sea.
On the way to the Light station keep an eye out for the entrance to the eco-lodge. This is something special for RVers who want to volunteer their time to help protect the rare spotted quoll or help discover why koalas here are eating out most of their eucalyptus trees. If the idea appeals, contact the lodge in advance, offer your services and see if they have a job for you. Many RVers are keen to give back through volunteering and the CMCA and ACC have many members who are keen to help out whenever possible around Australia. There’s a handy caravan park nearby where you can stay.
Using Apollo Bay as our base we headed for Port Campbell and the Twelve Apostles. You may prefer to stop at Johanna’s Beach some 5km off the highway north of Glenaire as this is one of our top freedom camping spots. Port Campbell and the Twelve Apostles is some 88km west of Apollo Bay, in the Port Campbell National Park. To gain access you must park beside the visitor centre on the opposite side of the road from the Apostles and walk through a tunnel beneath the road.
These large pillars rise from the seas and are in a constant state of change from wind and water. Although there are fewer apostles now than when I first saw them in 1980, they are still simply spectacular.
A short drive north will bring you to the scene of the Loch Ard disaster in 1878, a shipwreck survived only by two young eighteen year olds and – somewhat bizarrely – a ceramic peacock. We took a diversion north to Timboon and on the way visited a chocolate factory which is sure to appeal to any Aussie nomad suffering from chocolate deprivation. On this Twelve Apostles Food Trail we also stopped at Timboon itself to find out about their ice cream and whiskey – a somewhat unlikely combination, one might think!
Returning to the Great Ocean Road we passed through Peterborough and stopped off at the viewing platform in the Bay of Islands Coastal Park, where we could see just how far these statues in the sea extend along the coastline.
From here, Warrnambool was just 50km west. Once more we visited a Cheese Factory and its associated Museum before heading for Flagstaff Hill in Warrnambool. Flagstaff Hill is without a doubt a stellar attraction and you should allow hours to explore and soak up its shipwreck stories and historic village. The staff not only dress up in period costume but guides are highly knowledgeable and are keen to answer questions.
The Great Ocean Road continues beyond Warrnambool, and as a trip that encompasses spectacular coastal views, a brilliant rainforest hinterland, mouth-watering food trails and an engrossing maritime shipwreck history there’s nothing we know of to match it. It’s got to be high on any list of must-do trips.
LOCAL TIP IDEA: Avoid Lorne for the few days before and after New Years’ Eve, when thousands of revellers descend on the town to attend The Falls music and arts festival at a property near Erskine Falls. The traffic in and around the town is very heavy and accommodation is usually fully booked.
THE TWELVE APOSTLES
MARINER’S LOOK OUT
Mariner’s Lookout Road, Apollo Bay
MAITS REST RAINFOREST WALK
Great Ocean Road, Cape Otway
OTWAY FLY TREETOP ADVENTURES
360 Phillips Track, Beech Forest
(03) 5235 9200
CAPE OTWAY LIGHTSTATION
Otway Lighthouse Road, Cape Otway
P: (03) 5237 9240
GREAT OCEAN ECOLODGE
635 Otway Lighthouse Road, Cape Otway
P: (03) 5237 9297
FLAGSTAFF HILL MARITIME MUSEUM
89 Merri Street, Warrnambool
P: 1800 556 111
WHERE TO STAY
TORQUAY FORESHORE CARAVAN PARK
35 Bell Street, Torquay
P: (03) 5261 2496
APOLLO BAY PISCES HOLIDAY PARK
311 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay
P: (03) 5237 6749
LORNE FORESHORE CARAVAN PARK
2-10 Great Ocean Road, Lorne
P: (03) 5289 1382
GREAT OCEAN ROAD TOURIST PARK
Great Ocean Road, Peterborough
P: (03) 5598 5477
THE TORQUAY BOWLS CLUB
43 the Esplanade, Torquay
P: (03) 5261 2378
SURF WORLD MUSEUM
Surf City Plaza, Torquay
P: (03) 5261 4606
TORQUAY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
18 Price Street, Torquay
P: (03) 5261 3431
TORQUAY FARMER’S MARKET
Corner of Surf Coast Highway & 1 Merrijig Drive
P: 0418 315 026
1432 Princetown Road, Cooriemungle
P: 0488 557 252
George Street, Lorne
FRED’S TOP PARK PICKS
GREAT OTWAY NATIONAL PARK
P: 13 19 63
PORT CAMPBEL NATIONAL PARK
Great Ocean Road, Port Campbell
P: 13 19 63
BAY OF ISLANDS COASTAL PARK
Great Ocean Road, Peterborough