Next on my itinerary was Melbourne, Victoria. Again, a city I’ve visited before. The one day trip I was really keen to do was the Great Ocean Road. This drive is one of the most famous scenic drives in the world. It starts from Torquay, a surf town around an hours drive from Melbourne, and finishes around 250km west near the city of Warrnambool. I did this as a day trip with Bunyip Tours and there are several other local operators. For those who have more time it’s worth hiring a car and staying in local B&Bs and guesthouses in the pretty coastal towns along the way. On reaching the end of the GOR many people continue on to South Australia to visit Kangaroo Island, Adelaide and the wine regions, otherwise there is the option to loop inland and take in the Grampians mountain range and the Goldfields region.
There’s also a lot of 19th century history associated with this route. Many European migrants travelled to Melbourne as their first jumping off point in Australia. The road itself is also known as the world’s largest war memorial, having been built by those who returned from, and dedicated to those who were killed in, World War I.
The day tour does make for a long day – 7am pickup to return approx. 8pm – but there are plenty of scenic stops. Our first one of the day was Lorne, an upmarket coastal town 90 minutes drive out of Melbourne. There is a wealth of accommodation here so a good stop-off for a self-driver. A good tip would also be to try and avoid Australian school holidays, especially over Christmas/January period which is the long summer break, as these towns become flooded with domestic tourists and holiday home owners. I was here off peak and there were still a fair number of people around!
Our second stop was at Kennett River, not the most exciting place, but all the day tours stopped here. I imagine the main reason is so that everyone gets to see a koala as this area is well known for being one of the best spots to see one in the wild.
Our lunch stop was at the Cape Otway lighthouse, the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia, its lamp having been first lit on 29th August 1848. Cape Otway was often the first sight of land for 19th century migrants from Europe after months at sea. The Bass Strait collides with the Southern Ocean at this point, making the waters particularly treacherous, and before the lighthouse was built the many shipwrecks led to hundreds of lives being lost.
The highlight of the Great Ocean Road is a sight of the Twelve Apostles (although there were only ever nine and now only eight after one of them collapsed in 2005). They are spectacular, a collection of limestone stacks formed by erosion. Due to the popularity of the site, there is a well-organised system of lookouts here and its possible to take a helicopter to get an aerial view. I’m not a fan of helicopters so I gave this a miss, but there were three or four in the air at any one time and the photos were worth it (prices were also very reasonable).
Our final stop of the day was at Loch Ard Gorge, just five minutes or so down the road from the Twelve Apostles. This spot is named for the Loch Ard, a clipper ship which ran aground in 1878 on its way from England to Melbourne. Of fifty four crew and passengers only two survived. It’s a beautiful spot with several walking trails and the beach you can see in the picture above. The perfect place to cap off a great day