If there was a prize for the most blogged about attraction in Australia, Victoria's Great Ocean Road would win hands down. I skim, glance at and read a lot of travel blogs and just lately every third blogger on the planet seems to be writing about the Great Ocean Road. I confess that I have blogged about it myself a couple of times. If you want to have a read click - here - and - here.
David and I have a soft spot for road trips. We have driven the Great Ocean Road quite a few times together and every time we discover something new. You probably already know about The Twelve Apostles, London Bridge and The Grotto but did you know the Great Ocean Road is the world's largest war memorial, or that it is one of the best places in Australia to see koalas, kangaroos and emus. or that Cape Otway is the site of Australia's most famous UFO mystery. No - well settle back, grab a cup of coffee and I will take you on a tour.
Where is it and why was it built? -
The Great Ocean Road runs for 255 km along the south coast of Victoria from Warrnambool to Torquay, near Melbourne. For much of its length, it hugs the tempestuous Southern Ocean, sweeping along the coast in a series of winding curves which open out into spectacular views.
The world's largest war memorial, it was built between 1918 and 1932 by returned serviceman in memory of those Victorians who died in WW I. The story of the road's history is set out in a series of plaques erected in the lookout bays beside the road.
- The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch: - The Arch stands near the eastern end of the road between Aireys Inlet and Lorne. You can't avoid driving under it, but make sure you stop, read the plaques and ponder the sacrifice of war.
|The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch.|
- The Twelve Apostles: - Eons of erosion have chiseled away at the limestone cliffs leaving sentinel-like limestone stacks standing in the sea, abandoned by the retreating coastline. From time to time the ocean reclaims its own; today there are only eight Apostles still standing.
|Some of the remaining Twelve Apostles.|
- Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge, the Grotto and Gibsons Steps - These striking formations are all on the 40 kilometre stretch of road between Peterborough and Princetown at the western end of the road.
- London Bridge was once an arch. In 1990, the 'bridge' part collapsed suddenly, stranding a few unlucky tourists on what is now a limestone rock stack surrounded by water.
- Gibsons Steps wind down the 70 metre high cliff face giving access to the beach below where you can walk along and be dwarfed by the offshore rock stacks - 86 steps down and 86 steps back up, just in case you were wondering.
|London Bridge - after the 'bridge' part fell into the sea.|
- Cape Otway Lightstation: - Cape Otway is the site of the oldest mainland lighthouse in Australia. It is a twelve kilometre detour from the main road but well worth the effort, not just for the lighthouse but the fact that it is the site of Australia's most famous UFO mystery. It was just off the coast here in 1978 that the young pilot Frederick Valentich disappeared forever after advising Flight Service Control in Melbourne he was being followed by a UFO. For the story of his disappearance click - here
- The one drawback with the Lightstation is the entrance fee. At $18.50, it is expensive. However, unlike so many other lighthouses, if you want to see it, even from the outside, you have to pay the fee. Check local visitors' guides for a discount coupon. We saw one or two offering a discount of 20%. Unfortunately, it was after we had been there.
|Cape Otway Lighthouse|
|A memorial plaque for 20 year old Frederick Valentich|
- Bells Beach: - Not far from Torquay, Bells Beach has a reputation for serious surfing. I'm not a surfer, but it is always fun to watch the pros.
- Split Point Lighthouse: - The Split Point Lighthouse stands alone on a headland above Aireys Inlet. Like Cape Otway Lightstation, it is open for tours. However, unlike Cape Otway, you can see it from the outside for free. If you have an interest in history, walk down the hill to the reproduction of Angahook Bark Hut to see how early settlers lived.
|Split Point Lighthouse|
Koalas, kangaroos, emus, echidnas and penguins: -
- 20 km west of Lorne, stop at Kennett River campground. Look up! There will be koalas in the trees. If you are lucky you may even see one on the ground - we did. Then drive slowly up Grey River road scanning the tree tops as you go for more marsupial spotting.
- About 25 kilometres west of Apollo Bay, not far past the turn off to Cape Otway Lightstation, take Horden Vale Rd down to the Aire River East and West Campgrounds. Koalas congregate in the trees at both campgrounds although we found many more at the west campground. Cross the bridge, park the car and walk around looking up in the trees. The great thing about seeing them here is that the trees are quite low so you get a much better view of them than usual.
- A few years ago it was easy to find koalas in the trees next to the road on the way to Cape Otway Lightstation. This year however, we saw nothing but dead trees, stripped bare of leaves. It seems the population got so large it literally ate the cupboard bare.
|This little guy was on the ground at Kennet River campground|
- Anglesea Golf Club has a resident population of several hundred kangaroos. The golf course is a private club, but visitors are welcome at the Bistro. Go for lunch or a coffee and kangaroo watch while you are there.
|I have cheated a bit here - I actually took this photo in Tasmania, but no-one will know!|
- Tower Hill State Game Reserve about half way between Port Fairy and Warrnambool at the far western end of the Great Ocean Road is a great place for a picnic with emus, koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and echidnas.
- You are almost guaranteed to see emus. They seem to be everywhere. Echidnas are another matter entirely. They are shy and very quiet. You can walk straight past one without noticing, but keep your eyes open for a little ball of spikes by the side of the road and you might just see one.
|An emu at Tower Hill|
|I photographed this echidna on Raymond Island but you get the idea.|
- I can't vouch for this personally, but I am told that Fairy Penguins come in to the beach just after sunset near the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge.
Tips and Tricks:
- Don't try to drive the whole road in a day. It can be done, but you will miss more than you see.
- Which direction is best - Australians drive on the left so if you drive west from Torquay (near Melbourne) toward Warrnambool you will be closest to the coast. All the smaller lookouts are on the left which makes it easier to pull into and out of them. The larger lookouts, like the 12 Apostles, have carparks and are on the right. However, it really doesn't make that much difference. We always seem to have been headed east on the road and we don't feel we have missed out on much.
- Apollo Bay is a popular place to stay, probably because it is about half way along the road. Stop there by all means and take in the scenery but we found it over-priced and crowded. Unless you like tour buses and large groups, try to avoid staying there. Almost any other town along the road will be better value for money and most of them are far prettier. Port Fairy, just after the end of the road, west of Warrnambool, is especially lovely.
- Go in summer, December to February, if you want the best weather but bare in mind those are the months when the road will be most crowded.
Have you driven The Great Ocean Road? Did you enjoy it as much as we did?