As a passionate traveler, I’m always looking for new ways to experience things. While I’d heard of the Great Ocean Road in Australia, I’d never heard of anyone doing it as a road trip. I’m not one to say no to an adventure, so when I was invited to tour this area in a more adventurous way, I jumped at the chance. Here’s why you should, too.
Qantas offers direct flights from Los Angeles to Melbourne. Because the flight is 20+ hours, I would recommend opting for business class. I recently had the chance to experience this for myself on their BOEING 747-400, and it was like staying at a 5-star hotel. My already spacious seat had an in-seat massager and turned into a Skybed that reclined to just over 80 inches.
For dinner, acclaimed Australian Chef Neil Perry created a four-course gourmet menu with Australian wine pairing to help add to the luxury of the flight. I can’t remember the last time I ate confit duck leg with braised lentils, snow peas and mustard fruits paired with Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coonawarra in South Australia on an airplane.
Even if you choose to fly economy, you’ll be able to sample Australian wines and gourmet meals.
Almost as important as what you do on a road trip is what you listen to. You’ll want a mix of upbeat songs as well as relaxed tunes to match the bright, coastal ambiance of the Great Ocean Road. Some songs that got us in the mood for the journey:
- Free Fallin’- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- Hotel California – The Eagles
- Road Trippin’ – Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Beautiful Day – U2
- Woodoo Chile – Jimi Hendrix
- No Particular Place To Go – Chuck Berry
- On The Road Again – Willie Nelson
- Life Is A Highway – Rascall Flats
- Fast Car – Tracy Chapman
- Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Journey Begins
While many think the Great Ocean Road begins in Melbourne, it actually doesn’t start until Torquay, the epicenter of surf culture. It’s no wonder the township is full of Billabongs and Quiksilvers, as it’s home to the famous Bells Beach. Ever seen the film Point Break? Yes, that Bells Beach. During Easter Weekend each year surfers come for the Rip Curl Pro Surfing Competition, although any time of year you’ll be able to watch surfers ride enormous waves and show off their skills.
The Great Ocean Road is very windy – almost like a carnival ride – showcasing alternating strips of modern and Victorian architecture, lush forest and charming towns on one side and the ceylon blue water on the other. It’s impossible to get car sick as the fresh ocean breeze revitalizes the senses.
By Lorne you’ll probably be hungry. Stop in at Grandma Shields Bakery for an award-winning meat pie. I’m not sure who is giving these awards out, but nevertheless, Grandma Shields makes one mean beef and mushroom pie, and her pastries aren’t too bad either. If you eat outside, expect to see plenty of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos – large white birds with sun-yellow crests – searching for food.
Along the drive, there are not only myriad lookout points and memorials, there’s a hidden animal encounter at Koala Cove Cafe. While the venue may seem unassuming, you can buy a $2 bag of seed to “feed the birds” in the cafe.
Note: these colorful Crimson Rosellas and King Parrots will not be sitting sweetly waiting for you to feed them, but will swoop down and sit on your head, shoulders, hands and wherever else they can find space. A bit tamer is the koala watching, as koalas sleep about 20 hours a day to preserve their energy.
The great thing about doing the Great Ocean Road as a road trip is you have the freedom to take adventurous detours. If sitting in the car leaves you wanting to climb a tree, continue to Apollo Bay and make a right onto Skenes Creek Road. You’ll now be heading away from the coast and into the rainforest to Otway Fly Tree Top Adventures.
Here, you’ll climb into the trees to take on six ziplines and two canopy bridges, with an average height of 100 feet. The highest zipline, however, is 155 feet tall, and you’ll feel the wind shaking the trees.
Once you’re back on the Great Ocean Road, you’ll notice the beach-vibe-turned-jungle has now transformed into quiet country. Turquoise waters and tall gum trees become pastures of grazing cows, sleepy sheep and rolling hills reminiscent of Heidi.
“Did we miss the turn?” asks Rainer, one of my travel companions. He pulls out the map and begins trying to figure out where we went wrong.
We’ve turned off the main road onto Red Johanna Road, and are now trying to find the dirt path that will lead us to Boothfeet, the place we will be staying for the night. I’m hesitant to call it an accommodation, as owner and director Gavin Ronan hasn’t set up the property for travelers simply wanting a respite.
“We don’t have a sign on purpose,” he explains. “We don’t want to be found by people who just want an accommodation, but by people who want to do the hikes.”
We’ve chosen Bothfeet because we want to add to the experience of immersing ourselves in coastal Australia. Most people who stay opt to do The Great Ocean Walk in sections, each day being dropped off where they left off the previous day. My group, however, is there to take on the final leg of the Twelve Apostles Hike.
After consuming an all-natural breakfast of organic cereals, locally-sourced eggs and homemade spreads, we make our way to Gellibrand River to begin the trek. While for the first section you’re immersed in prickly tea tree and cushion bush, once we reach the top of the first big hill we’re immediately hit by a burst of fresh air and a fresh perspective, literally. Our forest view has been replaced by azure waters and jagged rock formations. What makes the view even better is the fact the group is completely alone, as not many people check out the coastline on foot.
Once we reach the point where we can clearly see the Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks formed naturally by erosion from the Southern Ocean, we fall to our knees. It’s life changing seeing something so magnificent hand-carved by Mother Nature, and a reminder of how powerful the Earth really is.
With this walk, Bothfeet includes a scenic helicopter flight over the Twelve Apostles. Heading into the chopper, you’ll be given a headset and taken in a four-seater aircraft directly over the Twelve Apostles, London Bridge and Bay of Islands. It’s worth noting you’re flying over the Shipwreck Coast, aptly named for its approximately 638 shipwrecks. Knowing this, I feel much safer being in the air.
You’re now at the homestretch of your road trip. For lunch, Waves Restaurant is a good choice in Port Campbell. A melting pot of culture, their chefs come from all over the world with menu items ranging from Moroccan spiced chicken to peeking duck pancakes to coconut chicken with rice dahl, curried vegetables and roti bread.
The Shipwreck Coast
While there have been hundreds of shipwrecks along the coast, one of the most notable was the Loch Ard, which the Loch Ard Gorge is named after. You can visit the gorge on the drive, as it’s part of Port Campbell National Park. The visibly erosion and otherworldly gorges are a striking reminder of how fragile the coastline is.
“This is where the Loch Ard was shipwrecked in 1878, with only two survivors, Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce,” explains Rainer.
Apparently, out of the 54 passengers, these two young travelers, Eva (17) and Tom (15), managed to hang on despite the freezing winter waters. After Tom made it to shore by being swept with the current, he could hear Eva screaming for help in the distance. He dove back into the water and rescued the girl by holding her nightgown in his teeth and swimming with all his strength. While stories like this usually end with a happy love story ending, the truth is Tom and Eva never saw each other again.
For your final coastal view on The Great Ocean Road, stop at Bay of Islands. To many, this coastal park is equally as breathtaking as the 12 Apostles, although not as well known. Located between Peterborough and Warrnambool, sandy beaches, sheer cliffs and limestone stack islands dominate the area, a perfect ending view to a coastal road trip.
The Road Continued …
While The Great Ocean Road ends in Ellensford, the road itself continues on as the Princes Highway. Think about heading toward Warrnambool, and continuing on to visit South Australia. With animal safaris, world-class wines, water sports and innovative restaurants, it’s a whole separate adventure in itself.
Disclosure: Portions of this trip were sponsored by the tourism board.