I hadn’t anticipated doing the Great Ocean Road as part of my trip to Australia but, after my plans changed and I extended my entire trip to a year and decided to stay put for a bit in Sydney, when Katie R said she would quite like to hit GOR and would I like for us to do it together it was a no-brainer. So, after 4.5 days in Melbourne we arranged a hire car to pick up at 10am Monday morning and return at 5pm Wednesday afternoon, costing us $128 AUD with Budget cars, although when we added on insurance and the GPS (which we ended up not even using as the signal was so bad) it came to around $200 AUD.
Anyway, we left our Air BnB in Melbourne at around 9am on the Monday and took the tram before walking to City Road – Southbank – to collect our Nissan Micra from Budget Rentals. We were probably on the road by 10:45am, making our way down main roads and onto the M1 before eventually making it down to the coast and the beginning of the Great Ocean Road trail near Torquay.
We spotted our first “Great Ocean Road” signpost before pulling off at Torquay beach and stepping out the car to be hit by an extraordinary gust of wind – despite the bright sunshine in a mild October it became apparent fairly early on in our trip that the coast was blustery and hair-in-the-face a common occurrence.
From here we actually began driving along the winding, coastal roads, shrieking when we first spotted the ocean and then sitting in peaceful silence as we drove alongside the tempestuous ocean crashing into rocks, the shore and cliff edges to our left. My favourite parts were the particularly winding sections where you would loop round a cliff edge as you swept past bright blue water.
Our next stop was Bells Beach, which has a lookout point to the side of the beach before you can taken wooden steps down to the sand. Much prettier than Torquay with a more piercing blue sea, smaller and cuter beach feel plus an energy from the surfer running into the waves, I really enjoyed being here.
We took this opportunity – a flat, sturdy beach while the sun was out – to mark our trip in the sand with “Kitty + Elsie GOR 2016”, referring to our Comedy Double Act name from our University drama days.
Back on the road again we drove towards Split Point Lighthouse, which is located in Aireys Inlet and was used to outdoor scenes in the children’s TV programme Round the Twist. I didn’t watch it much myself and saw this more of an opportunity to go for a short walk to the Lighthouse and then continue down the boardwalk for views of the ocean crashing against the rocks below us.
In need of some fuel after being on the road for a number of hours we took a pit stop at Tea Rooms just down the road from the Lighthouse. I went for a warming soup while Katie had a sandwich followed by a scone with clotted cream and we spent most of our time protecting our food from a greedy bird sat staring at us and trying to subtly move closer and closer to us. Once we had finished we took it in turns to pop to the toilet and – spotting an opportunity due to reduced numbers – the bird swooped in and scooped up leftover clotted cream from Katie’s plate. Vulture.
We then drove on to Lorne and got out the car nearby the beach to have a wander but found it pretty underwhelming, yet once we were back in the vehicle I spotted signs for Teddy’s Lookout nearby and the named sounded familiar from my pre-trip research so we detoured in the direction of the signs. This was probably one of my favourite stops along the way as it was completely deserted, had a bit of a forest walk between lookout points, and the lookout itself offered panoramic views of both the ocean and the Great Ocean Road itself!
We were due to continue driving along Great Ocean Road to Wye River and Kennett River before eventually arriving at Apollo Bay for the night but had been told by a shop owner in Lorne that the road from Lorne to Skenes Creek was closed due to adverse weather. We kind of didn’t want to believe it as there were stops along the way we wanted to make and the road along the ocean – as opposed to inland – were the best part, but as we started to stubbornly drive in the same direction we eventually reached a road closure sign and could continue no more, so we turned around and drove back the way we came before veering off down the c151 and following main roads to loop round into Apollo Bay.
We thought we could use the opportunity of missing out other stops to explore some of Great Otway National Park, however the detour took a long time and by the time we arrived into the National Park it was pouring with rain – we drove down the forest roads for a short while before deciding we wouldn’t want to embark in any nature walks in the pouring rain anyway and, feeling tired from the long day of driving and the sea air, decided to make our way straight to Apollo Bay where we were staying for the night – not before taking an obligatory car selfie, of course!
The hostel we spent the night in Apollo Bay Backpackers – a cute, chalet-type hostel with an almost cottage-like feel with cosy chairs in the living room, but freezing cold bedrooms. We awoke early the following morning to check out and make our way first thing to Cape Otway (or Great Otway) National Park for the Maits Rest rainforest walk. Sadly it was still raining but such is the nature of a rainforest and a lot of it was sheltered by the huge trees so it was an enjoyable – and somewhat refreshing – morning walk.
Back in the car we perused the map before driving on to the Hopetoun Falls (Great Otway National park is known for its many waterfalls and waterfall walking routes) – we clambered down the downhill walk towards the falls but, in all honesty, I was not overly impressed. Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it is having seen many waterfalls on my travels, but despite being nice and peaceful I wouldn’t call them anything spectacular. Hence I only took one, small photograph; it says a lot when the main thing I can offer you is a map-reading, car action shot.
Afterwards we decided we didn’t want to drive all the way down to Cape Otway Lighthouse – mainly because you had to pay to get near to this one and we had loads of other stops left to make that day – but we did want to see wild Koalas and they are known to be hanging around near Lighthouse Road (or roads near Kennett River, but we obviously had to miss that stop out). So, remaining in Cape Otway for a bit longer, we drove down the country lanes, pulling over to the side of the road whenever we saw groups of cars parked or people stood to the side of the road pointing and looking upwards. We made a few stops – some forced upon us by the number of cows in the middle of the road – and saw a few wild koalas, mainly sleeping on the branches but some happily posing for our photographs, and Katie was delighted.
We then drove out of Cape Otway and inland towards Lavers Hill, where the weather immediately picked up and there were once again blue skies above us as we drove along the country lanes. I feel a bit embarrassed to say I can’t really remember what we did in Lavers Hill other than eat food and stare out at the views – and I don’t have any photographic evidence to prove otherwise, so let’s go for this being more of a pit stop than anything else!
Driving down from Lavers Hill on the B100 we finally made it back onto the stretch of the Great Ocean Road that actually runs alongside the coast (!) and eventually made it to Gibson Steps – wooden steps (would you believe it) that lead down a small yet forceful beach where the waves were crashing against the shore and creating mist up towards the cliff edges. It would probably be this spot and the 12 Apostles that were some of my favourites, due to the grandiosity and power of the ocean.
The Gibson Steps and 12 Apostles are actually not that far from each other, with the 12 Apostles being just after the bay that the Gibson Steps are on so I suggested we remain parked at the Gibson Steps and walk to the 12 Apostles from there. Whilst not being geographically far from each other, you have to first cross to the other side of the road through an underpass, walk along the other side of the road whilst being thrown around by the wind, then walk from the 12 Apostles Visitor Centre and all along the boardwalk before actually reaching the lookout point for the 12 Apostles.
However this was still a top moment for me – literally having your body pushed this way and that by the blustering sea wind, having Asians actually physically push you out of the way as they wanted a selfie in the very spot you were stood in, with the incredibly beautiful and colourful 12 limestone stacks rising up majestically out of the treacherous water. I felt as though I was in a Ozzie version of Wuthering Heights – similarly tragic and wistful but sunnier and to a much bigger scale.
Making it back to our car without being blown away like Mary Poppins, we drove on a little further before making it to Loch Ard Gorge. We are now in the Port Campbell National Park area of the Great Ocean Road and the part where you can see the impact of nature on the landscape in The Razorback and The Blowhole – how the cliffs have been shaped and changed by the tide and the powerful ocean, resulting in cliff that has been separated and given a layered effect. Still totally windy, and having to go down loads of steps to make it to the beach, we danced, ran and jumped our way across the sand.
Driving further along Great Ocean Road you then reach London Arch (or London Bridge) – a natural rock arch formed by a gradual process of erosion, which formed a complete double-span natural bridge until 1990 when the arch closest to the shoreline collapsed unexpectedly – and The Grotto – a sinkhole geological formation. It is crazy how much has changed to the rocks and the cliffs purely because of the wind and the sea, and there is something that feels ridiculously powerful about nature as you are stood in the centre of it all, feeling the force of nature around you.
We then continued our journey, stopping at the Bay of Martyrs but mainly continuing on until we reached Tower Hill National Park. It was a slight detour to get here but I had read about seeing various animals – including kangaroos – here so it seemed silly not to give it a go, even though our front right wheel was making an awful screeching sound the more the day continued. We basically announced our arrival into the National Park with the high-pitched squealing of our tyre and scared away any kangaroos that may have been in the vicinity. However, after a short walk we soon spotted loads of them in the bushes and spent a good 30 minutes staying dead still as we watched the kangaroos around us clean, sleep and hop away.
The National Park also offered absolutely spectacular views and we found ourselves enjoying the peace and serenity after the energy of the ocean and the sheer number of tourists.
We eventually left and made our way into Port Fairy. A lot of people who drive Great Ocean Road stop at Warrnambol – at least, that is what a lot of my research suggested – but a friend of Katie’s recommended Port Fairy instead, and we were both so glad she did. Once we had parked the car and dumped our stuff at the YHA, we wandered down towards Moyne River, which almost acts like a canal and a harbour in one, housing sailing boats and lined with quaint, pastel-coloured houses. Stopping at the bridge crossing Moyne River as the sun was slowly beginning to set, we fell in love immediately.
We then continued our stroll down to Port Fairy Bay and walked along the beach, the evening sun shimmering on the sand and a rainbow shining down across the ocean.
Having successfully made it through the Great Ocean Road we decided to go out for a celebratory dinner that evening in Port Fairy, me opting for an Asina dish after missing the food so much and us sharing a bottle of sparkling wine that we had brought with us. It was a lovely evening but, absolutely shattered, we soon headed back to the YHA to try to get some sleep.
Sadly, sleep wasn’t the easiest thing to achieve when the skylight above Katie’s bed had no curtain or blind to keep the light and the cold out, so we spent almost an hour fashioning a makeshift tent cover for the window before wrapping up in all our clothes and trying to get some rest for the night (have I mentioned it is very cold along the Great Ocean Road, especially, it would seem, at night?!)
The following morning we took an early stroll over to Griffiths Island and walked around the edge of the island to reach Port Fairy lighthouse. It was a fresh way to start the day and cleared our heads of the alcohol the night before!
We then returned to our car and started to make the journey back to Melbourne, but not before we stopped off at a nearby garage to get the front tyre checked out. As we had guessed, somewhere along the way a pebble had got stuck in the wheel and was causing it to screech as we drove, so we paid $30 AUD and waited for roughly 30 minutes while they removed the pebble so we could then get back on the road again.
This time, instead of driving along Great Ocean Road (which takes longer) we drove back to Melbourne inland, arriving at around 3pm before detouring off to “Ramsay Street” (as detailed in my previous post) and returning our vehicle to Budget rentals before 6pm. We then decided to walk to the train station together to have a celebratory glass of wine – this time for making it BACK safe – before we both went our separate ways.
After an awesome week together of cool, cosmopolitan Melbourne and fresh, outdoors Great Ocean Road, Katie was heading north to Cairns to hit some of the East Coast and I was getting the night train back to Sydney, where it would be time for me to look at getting a job and becoming a “normal” person once again. Suddenly, I wasn’t looking forward to this settling thing and this not backpacking thing as much as I thought I would…