July 26, 2016 9:40 am
One major bucket list item for us when living in Melbourne was a roadtrip down the Great Ocean Road. As our visas were quickly and devastatingly nearing their end, we got ourselves the cheapest car-camper deal we could find and hit the road. As terrifying as this was, given that by this point I hadn’t been behind a car wheel for nearing two years…
The GOR is a beautiful 151-mile stretch of road running between Torquay and Allansford in south-eastern Oz. Whilst the windy coastline road offers a highly intensive arm workout, the views are stunning and the Victorian coastal towns regular and cute. The trip really is a great way to get out of the city for a few days – we did it over three – and car/camper hire is reasonable enough to make this entirely doable on a budget. For us, two weeks before we headed back to Southeast Asia, we really were on a budget.
After months and months of relying on public transport, heading off in our embarrassingly-sloganed car was such a liberating experience. We planned to get all the way to The Twelve Apostles on our first day, and then have the time and freedom to work our way back from there. This is around a five-hour drive from Melbourne along the GOR. The first coast town you’ll hit is Torquay, then after that there’s a few pretty close to one another – Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Lorne and then Apollo Bay further on. These are all nice enough places to stop for a coffee or lunch break, and to wander around or chill out on the beach for a bit.
The Twelve Apostles is obviously the main attraction on the road itself, with busses full of tourists rocking up for sunset each day. Regardless of this, I’d still say this is the best time to go as the rocks do look their most beautiful as the sun is going down. Obviously if you go here towards sunset it is a good idea to have some sort of plans for your sleeping arrangements first, as it’s a long drive back through the unlit Great Otway National Park if you find yourself stuck without a bed. Princetown is nearby and Port Campbell further on, but to be honest I wouldn’t rate these places especially given the extra miles – there’s a lot more earlier along the road. We found a campsite only a short distance back east of the Apostles, which actually was my highlight of the trip. It was a basic site, but with a lot of land and a pull-up-anywhere kind of attitude. Our Wicked car included a gas stove and kitchen equipment, so we drove to a field corner, unfolded our tent (literally just folded in half on our car roof) and ate canned chili-con-carne as the sun went down. The mozzies did decide to rear their ugly heads as soon as it got dark, with us both obtaining a zillion bites in the time it took to hurriedly climb the camp-ladder to safety. However, from the comfort of our tent two things then happened that absolutely made my day, trip, and potentially one of my best travel experiences:
1. A storm came after dark, complete with thunder and lightning, and every time the lightning struck it illuminated a family of kangaroos grazing directly in front of our tent. This was the first time Tom had seen a kangaroo, and the male was the largest I had ever seen, so we literally just sat with our faces glued to the mozzy-net, completely in awe as we waited for the next flash and view of these distinctly Aussie creatures.
2. After eventually falling asleep in said position, I awoke for a late night toilet stop. Climbing out of tent it was oddly light, and lo and behold there it was – my first glimpse of the Milky Way in all it’s shiny, awe-inspiring glory. I went back to sleep with a very satisfied smile on my face.
The next day we got moving relatively early, and after a quick journey to Loch Ard Gorge we made the majority of the GOR’s offerings along the way back west. Worth mentioning is that Loch Ard Gorge is about a five minute drive further east from the Twelve Apostles, but a beautiful site and worth the quick detour for. It is named after the ship that was wrecked there in 1878, a clipper on route from England to Melbourne which sank here and left only two survivors. It’s a beautiful area to wander around from the top, but also to view from the gorge itself, and despite its close proximity to the Apostles it is a much quieter site.
There are frequent viewpoints all along the GOR that opportune the perfect Instagram-able snap, and offer more spectacular views than the towns so they are definitely worth stopping for. If you like walking it’s also worth looking into the coastal walks such as the Great Ocean Walk or the Surf Coast Walk (35km), although obviously with a car these can be tricky to orchestrate unless you are happy walking half and looping back. We did a quick woodland walk in Great Otway National Park in the morning, with the greenery offering a great contrast to the sea views we’d been lapping up for the past 24 hours.
The coastal towns are a great excuse for a fish and chip stop, which as Brits we of course took full advantage of. We stopped in Apollo Bay this time, and made an effort to work off all the grease by walking up to Marriner’s Lookout, which offers great views over the curved bay below. We stayed at a campsite about five minutes from the town that night, and as the rain set in slightly earlier we chilled out with bad Aussie TV, card games and cheap red wine – all great camping leisure activities.
The journey back from there on the third day was an easy one, and I’m sure anyone saving the shortest journey for the last day will give themselves a grateful pat on the back for it. Wye River and Kennett River are two small hamlets between Apollo Bay and Lorne and offer a nice place for a quick stop and a look at the koalas and cockatoos roaming free. You’re then back on the (not so) straight and narrow with regular towns and stops. It’s worth noting that if you hire a camper they will generally want it returned with full petrol, so you’ll be wanting to make a stop for this in Torquay or before. We spent our last hour of surfside bliss at Bell’s Beach, Australia’s most famous surf beach, before cleaning and filling the car in Torquay (cleaning not actually necessary in our case, but we weren’t keen on chancing our deposit for it) and heading back to the metropolis.
Places, companies and sites:
Wicked campers: http://www.wickedcampers.co.uk/
We had no complaints with the company or our camper, complete cheap and cheerful option.
The campsite we stayed at next to the Twelve Apostles: http://www.apostlescampingpark.com.au/
The campsite we stayed at in Apollo Bay: http://www.coastalstays.com/apollobayreserve/
Useful map for travelling the Road, although you can pick these up at Tourist info stops or at your camper hire – definitely worth having to avoid missing hidden lookouts etc: http://www.visitgreatoceanroad.org.au/media/34776/great_ocean_road_touring_map_2012.pdf