With spectacular views, winding roads, inland rainforests and beautiful beaches, this 151-mile drive Victorian Drive packs a punch on a small scale (by Australian standards!) Here’s what to expect from this scenic drive Down Under.
When planning a trip to the Great Ocean Road, you might think it’s all about the driving. Truth is, there’s so much to see off the road, you could have a hard time wondering how you’ll fit it all in. Visitors to this Victorian drive vary the approach – some attempt to do it in as little as one day, but given the route is peppered with gem after gem, it’s really worth giving it your attention for at least a few days. They don’t call it the Great Ocean Road for nothing – here’s why:
Of course the first thing about sidewinding next to the ocean by road is the proximity to the coastline’s beautiful beaches. There’s plenty of access along the way, which will take you to prime sun, sand and sea locations or secluded beachy rest stops. From popular surfing outposts (Bell’s Beach), to those with trails, boardwalks and curious rocks (Jan Juc for Bird Rock), the beaches offer plenty of reasons to pull over and go exploring with sand underfoot.
For a 360 degree view boasting the vast scale of your drive, make sure you plot some of the route’s best lookouts into your trip. If you’re driving west, your first port of call should be Teddy’s Lookout in Lorne, with views over St George’s River to the winding road beyond. Further down the line in Port Campbell, head to the Bay of Islands for a panoramic view of geology in action: jagged rock faces, weathered cliffs, wildflower heathlands and crashing waves.
Waterfalls and rainforests
Whilst you’ve come to drive the wild coastline, head inland and you’ll see things get a little wilder. Here lies the great Australian rainforest. Think lush green canopies, birdsong and a peaceful serenity that’s worth savouring. Take the time to explore inland trails that lead to stunning waterfalls, including the beautiful Erskine Falls, which offers two viewing opportunities (one from above, one at the base). Be sure to check out Cora Lynn Cascades too, a hidden gem within a picnicking area that isn’t signposted from the road. It’s about a 2km walk to reach the cascades but it’s worth it – we were the only ones there.
You’ll be wide-eyed by the scenery as you roll along the tarmac, but it’s worth keeping your eye out for the other kind of local. The area teems with natives – we encountered koalas chilling in the trees of Great Otway National Park, echidnas wandering roadside, and very friendly cockatoos as we breakfasted on our balcony in Lorne. Be ready with your long-lens – this is prime wildlife watching ground.
Imposing rock formations
The characteristic limestone of this coast is what makes this drive so scenic. The drama comes from the forces of wind, sea and sun against the cliffs, creating in some cases solitary stone formations out to sea and dramatic edges set against the ocean. The pinnacle for most who flock to the area is the Twelve Apostles, a collection of rock stacks that are both striking and solemn amidst the waves. Get closer to the Apostles by taking Gibsons Steps down to the beach. Though these formations are a real beauty, my favourite spot, The Grotto, was just a short drive up the road. It’s a cave-like structure formed from swampy depressions in the rock. What’s left is a frame offering a circular view to the ocean beyond, and is as fairytale-like as its name suggests.
Trendy seaside towns
There are several main towns on the drive, each offering their own slice of Victorian seaside life. If cute restaurants, boutique shopping and a little bit of the bohemian sounds good, a night or two in Lorne will suit you well. (Try Mark’s excellent restaurant for fresh catches and a brilliant wine list). Or if you’re into the surfing culture, Torquay (the birthplace of Quicksilver and Ripcurl) also has a solid cafe and bar culture, perfect for a spot of aprés surf. Apollo Bay, roughly midway along the route, is a popular rest stop with tourists, with brewhouse, grills and hotels in close proximity to nature trails. And if you’re planning on seeing the Twelve Apostles at sunrise, station yourself at Port Campbell. By the time we arrived late evening, the town was quiet and unassuming – and empty. But we soon discovered that everyone in town was camping out at the local bistro, the Port Campbell Hotel. Head there for home-cooked food, generous portions and local beers before turning in for the night, ready for an early rise tomorrow.
Come for the drive, stay for the food. It may surprise you but beyond the beaches, trees, sea and wildlife is another worthy detour – the local food trail. The 12 Apostles Food Artisans Trail is for gastronomes keen to imbibe the local produce, which boasts cheese, wine, fudge, whisky, fresh fruits and ice cream. Stop for a platter at Timboon Cheesery, grab a packet of Dairylicious Farm fudge for the road, sample delicious Gorge chocolates for dessert, and if you’re not the designated driver, try the local whisky at Timboon Distillery.