Driving the Great Ocean Road

It’s a rite of passage, and on all of the travel websites as a ‘must do tourist activity’ when visiting Victoria. Driving the great ocean road is a customizable adventure – a pick and mix of activities if you will, guaranteed to keep you entertained while you drive the 243km stretch of road that hugs the south-eastern coast of Australia, from Torquay to Allansford.

The great ocean road starts in Torquay and ends just before Warrnambool, so given that I was starting my journey in Portland (not seen on the map there, it would be just off to the left of Warrnambool about a centimetre), I decided to drive up to the top of the great ocean road in Torquay, stay the night there and start my journey down the great ocean road back towards Portland. I chose this for two reasons – I figured doing the long stretch of driving at the beginning of the road trip would be easier, but the main reason I chose to do the trip that way was because traveling in that direction meant I would be driving on the ocean side of the road the whole way, and would therefore have better views and photo opportunities.

The drive from Portland to Torquay took just under 4 hours and was entirely inland. Because I’d never driven in Australia before, I didn’t realise that starting this drive at 5pm, and therefore doing the majority of it in the dark, would be quite so hazardous. There was a lot of wildlife on the road, including wallabies, koalas and even 2 fully grown kangaroos that I had to slam the brakes on to narrowly avoid. The roads were also quite uneven, full of potholes and partially cemented / partially gravel in places – this was often not well signposted and you could potentially hit a gravel pit going 80kms. So the moral of the story here is day time driving for the win! Australian animals seem to be suicidal, and the roads aren’t for the faint hearted.

Once I arrived in Torquay, I stayed in the Bells Beach backpackers for the night, which was sufficient for what I needed, no frills accommodation but still warm, with a comfy bed, a hot shower and all the amenities you need. As far as backpackers go, this was pretty sweet and you can’t complain when you’re paying $33 a night. This backpackers is pumping with surfers (Bells beach is one of the top surf beaches in Australia) so be prepared to have your room mates wake you up at 6am to hit the waves. The only downside to this backpackers is they don’t have single sex dorms – the options are for 4 or 6 bed dorms (at $33 or $31 respectively) or a double room ($88 a night) all with shared bathroom facilities. However, because I was there in the winter, there was only one other guy sharing the room with me.

 

Day One

Day one of my great ocean road adventure is kicked off with a drive past Bells beach down towards Lorne. Just as I get onto the great ocean road, I come across The great ocean road chocolaterie and ice creamery – which clearly is a necessary stop! This place is a lovely stop for breakfast as you’re kicking off your adventure as they have a lovely cafe attached to the chocolaterie that serves an extensive selection of sweet and savoury food and makes great coffee – they also seemed  to have a lot of gluten free options.

The chocolaterie itself was huge, with one end of the shop having multiple glass windows where you could peer through at the workers making all the delicious treats while you filled up your basket with every chocolate treat you could dream of. They offer chocolate tasting and brownie tasting, with their brownie selection boasting a minimum of 8 different types of brownie at any one time, including caramel popcorn brownie, mocha brownie, strawberries and cream brownie and my favourite, chocolate orange brownie.

The walls are lined with every type of chocolate you could dream of, teas, skincare products, gift packs and more (all made from chocolate or cacao ofcourse – the chocolate berry body lotion is heavenly).

Once I had satisfied my chocolate craving, and bought a gift for my lovely friend who had lent me her car for my trip, I was back off on the road again. By this stage, it’s worth mentioning, I hadn’t yet reached the coast line, but this wouldn’t be far away, with lorne just around the corner.

The road from here to Lorne was just what you would expect the great ocean road to be – dramatic coast lines with thrashing waves and picturesque scenery, and thankfully for me and all of the rest of the tourists on the road, they cater for the likelihood of tourists wanting to stop and take photos, and provide rest stops about every 500metres, to allow for the traffic to pass and for us to get our Instagram on!

The drive is slow, as the scenery is too beautiful to rush, and the roads are windy, with tight corners.  When I arrived in Lorne, I headed straight up to Teddy’s lookout, and was greeted with a beautiful view of the ocean and the section of great ocean road I was yet to drive, leaving Lorne towards Apollo bay.

Only a further couple of kilometres up the road was Erskine falls, one of the many beautiful waterfalls that the great ocean road has to offer – to see them all and pick which ones you’d like to visit click here.

Erskine falls was a rather impressive 30 metre waterfall that was relatively easy to access. A short walk, albeit over 200 steps so your thighs wont thank you for that, but the return walk takes less than 20 minutes so it wont take a big chunk out of your day to view this beauty. One of the easier to access waterfalls of the great ocean road, which was a definite advantage for me. While I wanted to see the waterfalls, I didn’t want to have to go on a 2 hour hike to see one waterfall as I was trying to fit as much as possible into three days.

By this stage I was ready for lunch and I headed back into Lorne to grab a bite to eat. I went to The milk bottle for a burger and a coffee – $28 later I was feeling a tad ripped off for lunch but the beef and blue cheese burger was absolutely divine so my disbelief was soon drowned in cheesy goodness and I made my way back to my car to complete the final leg of the journey for day one.

About halfway between Lorne and Apollo Bay, I stopped at the Koala cafe on Kenneth river and headed up the hill on a self guided walk that had been recommended on trip advisor, for seeing lots of Koalas in the wild. The entrance to the walk was full of Lorikeets and Rosellas that were very friendly with humans, and as I arrived there was a man standing there with 6 birds on his arms and head, looking like Ace Ventura in ‘when nature calls’.

The cafe sells bird seed so you can feed that birds and get selfies with them before beginning the Koala walk. The walk itself is up a private road, and is mostly uphill (you can drive it but you risk missing the sleeping koalas). I walked for about an hour and I saw 3 koalas, so it’s definitely not as exciting as it was made out to be, but the walk was lovely and provided some beautiful ocean views.

After this, I took my rest for the night at Apollo bay. I stayed in the YHA eco hostel which was lovely – with a separate lounge with board games and a separate TV room with comfy couches and bean bags as well as a very generous communal kitchen and plenty of bathroom and toileting facilities. The rooms were warm and well decorated (definitely not as plain as some of the other hostels I’ve been too and much more homely) with generous sized lockable cubbies for your belongings. The only thing letting this hostel down was the beds and the pillows were rock hard.

Apollo bay is a lovely town with an incredible surf beach but it is worth noting that everything closes early – I went to get some dinner at 7.30pm and was stuck with a gas station pie, no other food places were open! Be warned if you stay here, be well prepared with your meals!

 

Day Two

The next day I woke up bright and early and headed to Cape Otway to see Australia’s most significant lighthouse. The light house itself was fascinating, but there was so much else to see and learn here. This spot was home to world war II bunkers, indigenous aboriginal living, a mysterious disappearance of one of the war pilots that was believed to be a UFO abduction, whale watching and even dinosaur remains. The lighthouse tour was highly educational and the cafe here provides a scenic place to enjoy a light meal or snack.

After my schooling for the day, I headed 45 minutes inland for a bit of exercise. I went to Otway Fly – a rainforest experience like no other. This is set in the midst of the Otway national park, and is a rainforest walk 20 metres above the rainforest floor on suspending platforms. The walk is a loop and takes roughly an hour to complete, depending on how long it takes you to climb the 25 metre tall spiral tower and get your selfies taken. The walk is lush dense rainforest with the soothing sounds of birds and frogs and the odd stream or waterfall. However, there is also the distant sound of ziplines. This venue is the only zipline tour company in Victoria and their zipline tours look amazing! They have 6 different zipline courses and you get a 4 hour guided zipline experience.

At this stage, the day was getting on, and I traveled to Port Campbell, where I would be spending my last night before returning home. However, I was driving past the twelve apostles viewpoint on sunset and thought that this was an opportunity not to be missed (I was planning on visiting the rock sculptures the next day) so I pulled in to the car park and tried my luck with the tourists.

The twelve apostles were stunning – hands down my favourite thing from the great ocean road trip! And surprisingly, the tourists and tour groups weren’t too full on! (possible because of the time of the evening).

The Port Campbell hostel was the accommodation of choice for the night and this one was my favourite accommodation from the the road trip! The rooms looked more like motel rooms than hostel rooms and the downstairs area had a ‘quiet jam with friend’ vibe to it, with funky eclectic furniture and instruments around the place. The music was decent (think The Doors, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles) and the hostel is also a small craft brewery serving their locally made beer and pizzas! So beer tasting and pizza for dinner was my evening and it was delicious and very reasonably priced. Plus, because it was Winter, I had my dorm room to myself for the night which was a nice added bonus.

 

Day Three

On the last morning of my great ocean road adventure, I chose to see the rest of the rock sculptures dotted along the coast just outside of Port Campbell. The London Arch (formally the london bridge), the grotto and the Loch ard Gorge are the next most popular viewing points after the twelve apostles. They are all equally as impressive, with the grotto being a close second for me behind the twelve apostles in terms of being an interactive place to visit. It offered something different to the rest of the rock formations that can be viewed from a distance – this felt more interactive and dynamic because you can get so much closer to it and the turbulent seas make for a fun photo opportunity while avoiding getting splashed.


Loch Ard Gorge


The Grotto


The London Arch

The entire coastline is dramatic and breath taking and all of these rock formations that are carved out by the water make you remember how much beauty we have in the world, that if we stand strong even in the roughest of seas, we can become shaped into something truly magnificent.

From here, the rain set in, so I decided to do some of the great ocean road food trail before heading back to Portland. A lot of these places are only seasonal, but some are open all year round so it’s worth checking before paying them a visit, check it out here for more details.

First I went to gorge chocolates for chocolate tasting. They also make traditional hot chocolate here with melted chocolate for those of you who love a bit of decadence. From here, I visited Apostle whey cheese where I did a series of 12 cheese tastings and gelato tasting (the washed camembert is amaaaaaazing). Lastly I went to Timboon distillery for spirit tasting and ultimately a purchase of strawberry schnapps – yum! But what these guys are really known for is their Whiskey so if you’re a Whiskey drinker, head along and taste their Whiskeys!

From this point, I headed back to Portland, and didn’t make any further stops along the way. Technically the great ocean road finishes just outside of Warrnambool anyhow so I drove it in it’s entirety, but it seems a shame to miss out the rest of the coastal towns such as Port Fairy and Portland from the umbrella term ‘The great ocean road’.

 

What I would do again and what I wouldn’t

The only thing I wouldn’t bother doing again is the Koala walk at Kenneth river – I saw more Koalas on the way out to Cape Otway lighthouse than on the Koala walk.

 

Don’t want to do the whole Great Ocean Road?

A lot of people just visit Port Campbell, see the twelve apostle and possibly the london arch and then claim they’ve seen the great ocean road. And if that’s all the time you can spare – then why not?
Port Campbell was definitely the most iconic part of the great ocean road experience and as long as you’ve seen the steep dramatic cliff lines and the rock formations, you’ve done the coolest bit!
In saying that, I enjoyed the diversity of the trip – the waterfalls, the lookouts, the bushwalks and the food tasting and shopping and I wouldn’t change it. Port Campbell is definitely the top spot though – perfect for a girls weekend of culinary delights and scenery, a must on anyone’s travel list.

 

Booking Accommodation

I booked all of my accommodation using booking.com – I looked on hostelworld and a few other places but this seemed like the easiest way to go for keeping all of my bookings for this trip in one place. As with most of these booking sites, if you click here and make a booking under my referral code, both you and I will get $30 added to our booking.com accounts to use on any style of accommodation (this is the price of a backpackers for the night!). This website can also be used to find flights, rental cars and even local activities and restaurants.

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