Icons of the road
The next day, full on city culture and armed with a spirit of adventure, I hit the road. But this wasn’t just any road – this was the Great Ocean Road.
I have long wanted to journey the Great Ocean Road – it’s like Route 66 or the Garden Route in its iconic stature.
Embarking on the Great Ocean Road
As Melbourne faded in the rear view mirror, sea air filled my lungs as I made my first stops, just half an hour outside the city, at Torquay and Bell’s Beach. A sunny Saturday, Torquay was full of families and surfboards. Bell’s Beach is the place for surfing in Australia – it’s home to the annual Rip Curl Pro Surfing Competition. But it is Torquay where surf dreams start – children and adults alike learning to ride the waves off its golden shoreline.
Further along the coast I came to Lorne, one of the most popular resorts in the region. Despite being lured to Lorne’s sands and warm waters, I had a date with one of the Great Ocean Road’s greatest characters. Aged 94, Doug Stirling is more than just a local historian; he offers one of the few first person accounts of the road’s history and culture. “People between Torquay and Warrnambool were pretty isolated before the road was built by demobbed men returning from the First World War,” he explained.
Hear more of Doug’s story of the Great Ocean Road…
Leaving Lorne the landscape changed – the first of many occasions on my journey. Golden sands and resorts gave way to a rocky coastline and sweeping cliff views as I rounded bends and switchbacks. I drove on for an hour and a half to Cape Otway past more beautiful beaches and bayside towns, pausing in Apollo Bay to take in its tiny harbour backed by green hillsides.
White eucalyptus trees in Cape Otway National Park
Entering Cape Otway National Park I made for its evocative lighthouse through ever-changing forests – vibrant green pines and ferns giving way to evocative woodlands of leaf-less, gnarly, white eucalyptus.
Kangaroos at Cape Otway National Park
Dusk and dawn are peak times for ‘roos to bounce across the countryside and I spotted them as well as a wallaby, and soft round bundles of koalas in trees. As the last light of the day burned the sky orange behind Cape Otway lighthouse I rested for the evening to avoid any clashes with nature.
Cape Otway lighthouse is the oldest in Australia
Leaving the national park the next morning, I paused at Castle Cove, part of the Great Ocean Walk – yes, you can also walk the coastline taking in every beach and bay. Then it was on to the most legendary of locations on the coast.
Castle Cove, part of the Great Ocean Walk
I arrived at the 12 Apostles before the crowds of Melbourne day-trippers. It’s less than three hours from the city, but why rush down and back in a day when there’s so much to see on the Great Ocean Road?
There are many ways to see the 12 Apostles – from the visitor centre’s cliff-side paths, or from the beaches, staring up at the giants, but there’s surely little more impressive than from the air, so I took a tour with 12 Apostles Helicopters. My eyes ate up the views as we hovered over the eight sand-coloured limestone stacks (yes, there’s only eight, despite the name), jutting out from the blue of the ocean.
The 12 Apostles
One of the things that struck me about Victoria is its diversity – there’s staggering natural views, an abundance of wildlife, quaint towns with excellent accommodation, and indigenous experiences. And that afternoon, before spending the night at Oscar’s Waterfront Hotel in Port Fairy just beyond the Great Ocean Road, I had the first of two Aboriginal encounters.
Aboriginal art, crafts and culture are celebrated at Tower Hill near Warrnambool. In a two-hour bush walk I learned about the countless benefits of Australia’s flora, and how to throw a boomerang. I have to confess though – I was no expert at the latter.