The Great Ocean Road is famed to be one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world. We had been looking forward to our venture along this scenic route. I wondered if it could be as good as the Kiama Coastal Walk or as scenic as the NSW South Coast.
The Great Ocean Road begins in Torquay, just south of Melbourne, and ends near Allansford. The route is 243 KM (150 miles) long with much of the road hugging the coast or providing quick detours for great coastal views.
The road was built by soldiers returning from WWI in an effort to create access to the coast that previously could only be reached by sea or by rough bushwhack. Built by around 3,000 servicemen, it was a memorial to those who lost their lives during the war.
It has become a major tourist attraction. Due to its popularity, we sped up our track back through Melbourne so that we could complete the Great Ocean Road before school let out in Victoria on December 20th when hordes flock to the region.
How long does it take?
Some have covered The Great Ocean Road in a day. Maybe all they have is a weekend away from Melbourne, or maybe they joined a bus tour that only stops at a few places but allows them to see the views from the bus. Some like to take it slow and explore every detour along the way. One could take months exploring this region taking all the multi-day walking trails, there is so much to see.
We stopped at multiple information centers to try to get an idea of how much time we would need to tour The Great Ocean Road. Unfortunately, most information centers are merely sales centers for the towns in which they reside. Often the people manning the centers have never even explored the area outside their own city. They provide limited advice for those who prefer nature over the latest shopping center. The information center in Lithgow is an exception. There you will find the secrets of the region.
We left Torquay on Dec 3rd and finished The Great Ocean Road on Dec 13th. Ten days to finish, but we had some detours along the way.
What is there to see and do?
The tourist maps and information centers left us wanting. We didn’t know what to expect or what would be in store for us along the way. If you are a nature lover and primarily interested in the best views and the wonders of nature, then this is the overview for you. If you want to know the best restaurants, places to shop, or nice hotels then the information centers are your place.
Torquay to Aireys Inlet
We parked near Torquay for the weekend to avoid the weekend crowds. Monday was cold and rainy and I wasn’t feeling well so we started on Tuesday morning.
There are multiple viewpoints along the route from Torquay to Aireys. The coast here is beautiful, but so far the South Coast of NSW would blow these views away. If you are pressed for time I highly suggest starting your tour in Aireys Inlet.
Views from the Split Point Lighthouse started to spark our interest in this coastal road. Our excitement grew for what was yet to come.
Aireys Inlet to Lorne
The road begins to hug the coast between Airey and Lorne. In Lorne, we took a detour through town up to Teddy’s lookout. Here we could see ahead to what I consider to be the best part of the drive.
Teddy’s Lookout also had an abundance of birds. A Kookaburra, normally shy and difficult to see, stayed around the lookout even perching on a bollard as if posing for pictures. A crowd gathered around him with their cameras clicking while he sat there proudly displaying his bulk.
A flock of Australian Magpies pecked around the parking area singing what I have found to be one of the most beautiful bird songs. Maybe the song is also a bit special to me as it was the song I woke to on my first morning in Australia. Cockatoos and King Parrots seemed to lavish the attention of the tourists.
Lorne to Apollo Bay
Take your time and enjoy the stunning coastal views from Lorne to Apollo Bay. This is what I pictured when I was told about the Great Ocean Road, a road that follows along the cliff-lined edge of Australia with rough seas crashing into the rocks below.
Detour to Otway National Park
When I heard that Australia has a forest of California Redwoods I knew that we had to add this to our itinerary. Just before reaching Apollo Bay, we turned Lil’ Beaut northward towards the Great Otway National Park. There we would spend the next few days in the highest rainforest in Victoria.
Yeah, I know multiple websites have stated that California redwoods can only be found from the central coast of California up through Oregon. I can assure you, that I felt their soft bark and inhaled their scent here in Australia.
California RedWoods in Australia
A wall of vibrant green reached high into the sky before us. Highlights of light green and yellow of the new shoots decorated the tip of each branch. It drew us closer. A light rain fell around us. Wind penetrated our jackets making us pause to consider going back for our down coats.
The dirt and pea gravel path beneath our feet led up to the wall. At the base of the wall, a small opening in the branches beckoned. We made soft shuffling sounds as we approached the trees. Each tree was already a giant even at its tender age. Clustered together they form a massive spectacle and this small opening like a gaping mouth breathing musty pine breath.
I ducked my head under the branches passing beneath the wall into a time capsule created by the regal California Redwoods. Inside, the rain ceased to fall around us. It was captured by the dense green canopy far above our heads.
Surrounding us the browns and muted reds of tree trunks stand impossibly straight and tall. I lift my gaze following the straight angles of the trunk tilting my head back. There were no branches for a long time. They stand over 60 meters high, it is only the final 20 meters in the sky that reaches out with branches splayed across the sky covering the canopy with needles of green pine. The very top of the trees swayed with the wind, but the solid trunks below remained unmoving.
A Pine Capsule
Together, the trees acting as one created protection against the world outside. The redwoods on the edge of the forest kept their branches all the way down only on the outside edge. Inside was a forest home with walls of pine.
The wind became a distant refrain its effects seen high above and its sound muted. The path disappeared under fallen pine boughs silencing our steps as we moved deeper into the forest.
Inside this redwood forest, the environment is all of its own created by the regal beings standing tall in unison. Both heat and coolness are muted and controlled by these trees making this garden a safe haven from cold winds or scorching sun.
I pressed my hand against a soft spongy bark and breathed in the scent. The air was clean with only a hint of pine as if it were memory wafting through
Born in CA as I was we both stand here in a distant land. These trees are mere babies their distant cousins in CA living over 2,000 years. Yet they are already twice my age. They may eventually dwarf the eucalyptus forest surrounding this encapsulated grove, but Eucalyptus trees can also reach high into the sky. One such giant stands south of this grove in Tasmania. The ‘Centurion’ a mountain ash (Eucalyptus tree) stands 99.6 meters high above Tasmania’s Arve Valley.
A stream separates the redwoods from the Eucalyptus. It is as if the waters keep a boundary that only a few fern trees have crossed along the edge of the stream.
These giants will live long beyond my time holding their mystery close for generations to follow. My life is as a vapor or a scent in the air passing through the midst of their strength.
I turned to Trin and asked what he thought and how he would describe the trees here.
“Big,” he shrugged. He is not much for the spoken word but he is a master at the written.
There is a free campground in the middle of Otway National Park. We stayed two nights in this park giving us time to explore not only the Redwoods but also the trails and waterfalls of this beautiful region. It was cold enough at night for us to pull out our down sleeping bag for an extra layer, but not cold enough to turn on our heater.
Apollo Bay to Glenaire
The section of the Great Ocean Road from Apollo Bay goes straight (ish) across the land to Glenaire cutting off the area of land currently part of the cape Otway Park. It is a fee area. Given all the views we will see we didn’t feel the need to spend $50 just to see another lighthouse.
Just below Apollo Bay, we did cut down to the coast in order to hike to the Elliot River waterfall and coast where the river meets the ocean. Our next stop was Glenaire. We saw a few Koalas along the way and the scenery was beautiful. If you plan to skip the pay area around Cape Otway I suggest skipping this section. Instead go North to Beech Forest using C199, C159, and then C155. This is also a spectacularly beautiful scenic drive with multiple rainforest hikes and waterfalls. Lots to see and do.
Glenaire to the 12 Apostles
We made one stop on The Great Ocean Road between Glenaire and the 12 Apostles. Our stop was in Melba Gully, but then we threw in a little detour.
Melba Gully and GlowWorms
When we arrived in Melba Gully we threw on our coats and scarves and headed down the trail to scout it out. We planned to follow this trail again later that night to experience it after darkness fell. The trail is well maintained with narrow wooden bridges to cross small streams. Stairs with non-slip surfaces help hikers get down the steepest parts of the gully. In most places, the trail is hemmed in closely with thick vegetation. Water softly drips from the slopes directly next to the trail.
In the depth of Melba Gully is a small cascade of water. The air is continually moist and air cool.
Back at the car park we made dinner in Lil’ Beaut and waited for darkness. Fern trees and eucalyptus surrounded us. I looked up from doing the dishes to see a fox prowling around our little home, probably looking for scraps. We carefully crept around to the window to watch him and try to capture a photo of him. He was skittish and alert to every sound we made even though he could not see us.
A Midnight Walk
A few other cars had come and gone. After the last vehicle left the lot and full darkness had descended we donned our winter coats and stepped out into the night, alone in the peaceful darkness.
Not far down the trail we turned off our torches and waited. The only sounds were that of soft drops of water and a rustling in the trees from a light breeze. Beside us, the embankment lit up with dots of blue-green light. The glow worms were hungry and luring in their prey. We crept through the forest keeping our lights off as much as possible. The trail has a railing all along the way that helped us feel our way forward.
At the cascade, I stood mesmerized by the tiny dots of light all around us. I never knew a midnight walk into the Australian bush could be so amazing.
After Melba Gully, we took another detour north to Colac. We decided to spend the weekend there for a small break. While at the grocery store in Colac we met Robert, another Coaster Owner (Lil’ Beaut, our home, is a Toyota Coaster). He ended up inviting us back to his home. There we spent an entire afternoon getting our awning fixed and various other things on Lil’ Beaut that we needed power tools for.
The culture here in Australia has us astounded. The people are so welcoming and giving. Robert just met us but was such a huge help to us. He truly gave without thinking about getting back in return.
Red Rocks Volcano Complex
We camped (parked) next to Lake Colac and watched the sunset. The following morning we drove over to see the viewpoints of the Red Rock Volcano Complex. It is the youngest area of volcanic activity in Australia, but its last eruption was a few thousand years ago.
The interesting part of this volcanic area was the low “rolling hills” of the cones. Multiple craters dotted the landscape that was often filled with water making shallow brackish and saline lakes. With the low rolling hill views it was utterly different than our night atop Telica Volcano in Nicaragua. Then again, Telica was still belching sulfur and throwing stones.
We drove around the crater that forms Lake Beeac. It was low but had a beautiful sheet of water. The moist shores were white with salt. Due to the shallow nature of the crater lake and the saline shores, it was only the reflection of the light on the water that showed us where the shore stopped and the water began. This lake is often four times saltier than the sea.
The 12 Apostles to Allansford
The most iconic portion of the Great Ocean Road is here at the end between the 12 Apostles and Allansford. You may have seen pictures of these sandstone structures that stand tall just off the jagged cliff at the bottom of Australia.
From here to The Bay of Islands we took just about every turn-off. There are multiple little hiking trails available to view this fantastic shoreline. I’ve added the photos in the order they appear on the road so that you can travel down the road with us.
I’ll end with an encouragement to add Australia to your bucket list of “must-see places.” It truly is a wonder and the people are amazing. Maybe you will find an opportunity to come to Australia, or maybe you will create the opportunity for you to come.