Friday, 1 May 2015

The Great Ocean Road - koalas, kangaroos, emus, UFOs and one of the world's great drives.



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.





Sights: -


  • 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.


The Grotto
  • 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: - 


  • The Great Ocean Road is right up there with Raymond Island and Kangaroo Island as one of the best places in Australia to see koalas in the wild - but you have to know where to look.
  •  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

Kangaroos: - 


  • 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?


48 comments:

  1. Sounds and looks lovely! I did some of the Great Ocean Road with my Mum quite a few years ago but I remember it was very beautiful. Would love to do it again one day with my family :)

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    1. I hope you saw the koalas. The scenery is stunning but the best part is the koalas.

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  2. So many creatures in Australia you don't find anywhere else. Still I always get a special kick out of photos of kangaroo. Their temperament, as compared with, say the usually sleeping koala, seems more exuberant. To this day, I have a photo of me dancing next to a kangaroo mimicking my movements . . . so this is the image that stays in my head! Luv your shots of the Great Ocean Road, also, which I've yet to see . . .

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    1. Hi Melodie. Kangaroos have a way of looking at you sometimes that suggests they find you as curious as you find them. Australian animals are one of the main reasons to visit I think.

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  3. It is an amazing drive that needs to be done over some days. There are so many lovely little towns along the route

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    1. Hi Paula. You are so right about taking a few days. We tried to do it in a day in 2012 and then had to go back this year to do it properly because we missed so much.

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  4. On top of our travel list! and one we hope to do next year so found it very useful and informative reading this..gorgeous pictures too!

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    1. Hi Selims. The kids will just love the koalas.

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  5. 255 km of scenic road along the coast sounds great. It reminds me a lot about the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to Monterey, California. Except that you won't enjoy kangaroos there...

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    1. Hi Anda. The Pacific Coast Highway is stunning, but I honestly think some sections of the Great Ocean Rd are better. The big difference is that you can see more just from the car in California. To really appreciate the Great Ocean Rd you have to stop and get out of the car periodically - as a result it takes a lot longer than you think it is going to.

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  6. Lyn in planning our trip to Australia for next year we had not thought we would go father west than Geelong. Seeing this post and your gorgeous photos of the Great Ocean Road I think we may have to go back to the drawing board! Definitely bookmarking this post for future reference.

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    1. Hi Sue. For the few days it will take you, you should definitely consider the Great Ocean Rd. If you are going to the area not far from Melbourne you should also think about Phillip Island. It is very touristy but a great place to see fairy penguins. Do you know that you can get a car ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliffe so you can get from the East side of Port Phillip Bay to the West without having to go through Melbourne.

      There are some nice cycle paths in Victoria. I am in the process of writing a guide to the ones we have done. I'll be posting them here under a separate tab. One thing I would not do is cycle the Great Ocean Rd - it is narrow and winding with lots of tour buses. You would have to be very comfortable with sharing the road to make it an enjoyable experience.

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  7. Love your photos. What an adventure. We have only done the major cities in Australia, flying in and out and generally not having a car. (Brisbane is the exception for us where we drove about 2 hours in each direction over weeks.)

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    1. Hi Rhonda. Australian cities are not that different from cities anywhere in the world. Next visit try to get into the countryside and even the outback - that's where you realise how different Australia is.

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  8. It may be the most blogged about attraction but with good reason. We were staying in Lorne and I wanted to see the 12 Apostles so we went for the day. We did comment that we will have to return and stay longer. I would particularly like to walk through the tropical forest of the Otways.

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    1. Hi Jenny. There is a rainforest walk near the turn-off to Cape Otway. I haven't done it but I've read it is well worth doing.

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  9. Looks like such an iconic drive...almost like driving along US1 in California.
    Hope I get to see it one day! Great photos!

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    1. Hi Irene. It is very like US 1, with the same sweeping curves and stunning views.

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  10. Ocean Road sounds like a delightful drive. If I ever get a chance to drive it, I am certainly going to use your tips and points of interest as a guide.

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    1. Hi Donna. One day perhaps. It is very well known as a great road trip in Australia but perhaps not so much overseas.

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  11. It's been years since I last drove along the Great Ocean Road, and much as I would like to revisit, the winding nature of the road puts me off a bit. Not great for family members prone to carsickness...

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    1. Ha ha. Boy could I tell you some motion sickness stories. I get sick on the Manly Ferry. Like the time we went to Tasmania by car ferry across one of the roughest stretches of water in the world and I couldn't take anything because I was still breastfeeding No. 2 son. I relied on 'sea bands' which worked remarkably well but I have no idea how. Now I have finally discovered a motion sickness medication which doesn't make you sleepy. You get them at the chemist. They're called Kwells.

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  12. I love the Great Ocean Road! I thought I'd covered it well when we went, but I clearly missed a few things.

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    1. Hi Christine. We went a couple of years ago and missed so much that we had to go back this year - lol.

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  13. I drove Great Ocean Road a few years ago when there were more Apostles but I don't think I knew it was a War Memorial. It is such a great drive.

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    1. Hi Andrea. I didn't know it was a war memorial either until a few years ago.There is so much to it that we discover something new each time we drive it.

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  14. It's been a really long time since I drove the Great Ocean Road - I think the bridge was still in one piece. But what I didn't know was that it has war memorial. Some really interesting facts thank ou.

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    1. Hi Sally. I'm sure I saw the bridge in one piece when I was younger. It collapsed in 1990 and I remember thinking what a great adventure it would have been to have to be rescued by helicopter. Now, I know the tourists were stuck on the rock pinnacle for hours and hours and I don't think they were lucky at all.

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  15. I have long dreamed of driving the ocean road and haven't done it yet. It will be magnificent when I do.
    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust this week

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    1. Hi Malinda. I hope you get there one day soon.

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  16. I don't recall hearing about Victoria, Australia's Great Ocean Road until your blog post. I probably had heard, because I recognize some of the sights in your photos, but it apparently didn't register. Sounds like a must.

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    1. Hi Carole. There is nowhere else like it in Australia so if you recognize the photos you must have been there. Maybe you should come back just to make sure - lol.

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  17. I have done the Great Ocean Road, but we were at the mercy of some other people. I would love to go back and do it on my own time. Like you said, there is plenty to see and do! Thanks for linking up with Weekend Travel Inspiration!

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    1. Hi Corinne. 'At the mercy of some other people..' - ouch! Sounds like a trip you might prefer to forget. D has a saying 'We travel alone, or not at all'. He got it from the movie 'Two for the Road'. We break the rule very occasionally, but never on a driving holiday.

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  18. I haven't done the Great Ocean Road in ages and I'd almost forgotten about the UFO mystery. Your gorgeous pictures have inspired me to put it on my to do list with the kids. #teamwanderlust

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    1. Truth be told there is probably a perfectly rational explanation for the UFO mystery. Quite sad though that such a young person lost his life.

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  19. We haven't done the Great Ocean Road but were so close a few years ago. I've always heard of the Great Apostles but it's wonderful to know there are so many other attractions along the way. I love seeing all the wildlife here.

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    1. Hi Mary, I think I enjoyed the animals more than the views.

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  20. I love traveling the Great Ocean Road! I've done the trip multiple times because I always seem to discover something new each time! There are also some of the best waterfalls in Victoria in the Otways! It's a little off the GOR path but if you have the time, definitely stop and see them! I actually found the opposite in Apollo Bay. The place where I've stayed multiple times was very reasonably priced (granted I stayed in a hostel). The food however, is extremely overpriced as is the surf gear. It's much better just to bring your own (or hire somewhere that isn't so touristy) than to hire in Apollo Bay.

    Adventures in Aussieland

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    1. Hi Stephanie, I'm glad you had a better accommodation experience than us in Apollo Bay. Maybe we were just at the wrong end of the market. I don't think David knows what a hostel is - lol. I agree with you about the food though. We had a very ordinary lunch there and made our own sandwiches for the rest of the time.
      It is a brilliant drive though, isn't it.

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  21. What a throwback to one of my fave places in OZ! Truly a stunning trip, with surprises around every bend! Thanks for joining Weekend Travel Inspiration!

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    1. Hi Margherita. It is one of my favourite places too and if you have a car it is so easy to visit.

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  22. I have been to the gret ocean road and i thought it was a beautiful drive ,but someone from the Uk thought the drive was medeocre compared to The West Coast of New Zealand.I know that New Zealand is a very scenic country,however do overseas travellings have to down grade The Great Ocean because another country has better? I am glad that you people atleat appreciate it.

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    1. Hi Louisa, I am not sure whether you are talking about the north or the south island. New Zealand is lovely but it's scenery is very different to Australia. I don't think you can compare the two.

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  23. We had the opportunity to take this tour in 2007 while we paid a short visit to Melbourne. Of all the short excursions in Australia, this made us amazed at the landscape, nature and people of Australia. The helicopter trip was expensive but offered the greatest view of the Apostles.

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    1. I am glad you enjoyed it so much. It is a great drive.

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