The Great Ocean Road
Part One – Melbourne to Port Fairy via Apollo Bay
Having spent almost two weeks in Sydney and Melbourne I was ready to start travelling again. I loved my time in the cities but was looking forward to hitting the open road. I decided to avoid another flight and self- drive between Melbourne and Adelaide taking in the spectacular Great Ocean Drive over seven days stopping for a couple of nights at each of my stopovers in Apollo Bay, Port Fairy and Robe.
The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford. It is a spectacular 243km (151 mi) stretch of coastal road showcasing the powerful seas of the Southern Ocean, towering coastal architecture and ancient landscapes. The road passes through rainforests as well as beaches and cliffs composed of limestone and sandstone which are creating spectacular forms because of constant erosion and weathering.
The road is listed by Australian National Heritage as the world’s largest war memorial as it was built by returning soldiers between 1919 and 1932 as a dedication to the soldiers killed during World War I.
Winding through a changing landscape along the southern coast it provides easy access to several prominent landmarks, including the Twelve Apostles a group of limestone stack formations and is one of the most important tourist attractions in the country bringing a very important revenue into the state of Victoria.
The early section of the road hugs the coastline known as the Surf Coast between Torquay and Cape Otway then follows the Shipwreck Coast further West of Cape Otway. The road then passes Anglesea, Lorne, Apollo Bay and on to the natural limestone and sandstone rock formations including Loch Ard Gorge, The Grotto, London Arch (formerly London Bridge) and The Twelve Apostles of Port Campbell National Park.
We picked up our hire car in Melbourne and set off on the drive – one of the most beautiful ocean drives in the world. At the stretch of the Great Ocean Road nearer to Geelong, the road meandered along the coast with tall steep vertical cliffs on the other side of it. Worryingly road signs warned me of possible rockfalls.
We had been driving for about an hour when I was forced to stop off at a ` Chocolaterie and Ice creamery at Bellbrae, Victoria which was simply wonderful. Three huge bowls of milk, dark and white chocolate pastilles greeted us at the entrance to help me decide on my favourite! I could have tasted all of their other 250 varieties but I reluctantly decided to pass on the invitation. We didn’t buy any chocolate but I did treat myself to a homemade chocolate brownie with ice cream and a tub of chocolate fountain sauce from the chocolate fountain. Delicious!
The coastal scenery along the Great Ocean Drive is absolutely stunning. We could have driven straight to Apollo Bay in two hours but it took us almost seven hours because we kept stopping to look at the coastal features, beaches and surfers enjoying the waves every few minutes. At Lorne we stopped for a walk along the jetty and were pleased to see a large seal swimming around just under the board walk. As a result of our slow progress we arrived later than expected at Apollo Bay but still managed to eat fish and chips sitting on the beach despite the constant attentions of several hundred seagulls.
The next morning we drove the short distance to Maits Rest which is an 800-metre self-guided circuit walk through a section of cool temperate rainforest in the Otway Ranges. It is part of the Great Otway National Park. Maits Rest is one of the most stunning short walks in Victoria entirely captivating from beginning to end. From the car park the path led down into a gully but there was no fear of getting lost as it was a circuit walk.
A wooden boardwalk had been built over the tree-fern gullies and moss-covered roots of ancient rainforest trees protecting the delicate ecosystem while providing me with a unique view of the forest. The boardwalk and gravel path passed on through ancient Cool Temperate Rainforest of Myrtle Beech and Tree Ferns whilst exposed tree roots and hollow tree trunks all added to the atmosphere. It reminded me of the locations used for Jurassic Park.
Many of the trees were twisted, thin and very tall. Some of the trees are up to 300 years old and had wide girths which you could stand inside as the trunks had been hollowed out by the weather and age. There are apparently swamp wallabies, koalas, ring-tailed possums and grey kangaroos living in the forest but we were unlucky not to see any of them on the day of our visit. Rarely seen, but often heard at night are the yellow-bellied gliders screaming out as they glide from tree to tree. We both enjoyed the walk enormously despite not seeing any of the animals and birds.
We drove on to Cape Otway Lighthouse station stopping along the wide peninsula to photograph koala bears in the trees. One of the Koala was clinging to a branch directly over the road with several others sleeping in other trees. We also spotted several kangaroos further away in a field but they didn’t hang around long enough for us to take any clear pictures.Emus were also spotted along the highway as well as several types of parrots.
The lighthouse at Cape Otway was very windy with a very small crowded viewing platform at the top. I was told by the excellent guide at the lighthouse that Cape Otway Light House is the oldest surviving and most important lighthouse in mainland Australia. It was the first sight of land for many 19th century migrants and the last for many who lost their lives in shipwrecks where the Bass Straight and Southern Oceans meet. The lighthouse which was built in 1848 sits above towering cliffs at the foot of the Otway Forests.
The other parts of the site were not very interesting or well looked after in my opinion. It was very expensive to enter the Cape Otway lighthouse tourist site so I was surprised to find such a poor level of facilities. Despite there being hundreds of daily visitors there were no toilet or hand washing facilities at the small café. Visitors had to use the small portacabin loos situated at the back of the café a short walk away.
In the evening we took a short walk along a jetty and saw several fish in the water including a sting ray and zebra fish. From Apollo Bay the road snaked Northwards to Havers Hill for a short time before returning to the coast to enable us to see one of the most photographed sections of the road – the Twelve Apostles – stacks and arches created by coastal erosion.
There are several boardwalks and steps to help visitors access the best viewing platforms. It is a very popular `honey pot` destination so try to visit very early or late to avoid the tour groups. It is difficult driving along the road without wanting to stop and look at a new sight. It really is a very inspiring drive of stunning coastal features.
Despite the crowds of people it is still possible to come across extremely beautiful quiet beaches. The flies were a constant menace trying to enter your eyes, nose and mouth. Invest in a fly net to keep them away – I spent a lot of time perfecting the `Australian wave` trying to keep the flies off my face. My wife took a 15 – minute helicopter flight over the coast with 12 Apostles Helicopters and she enjoyed the flight enormously. She flew as far West as the large coastal arch known as London Arch which we later drove past on our way to Port Fairy.
Coming soon – Part Two – Port Fairy to Adelaide
Melbourne to Apollo Bay 184km 2.56 hrs
Apollo Bay to Port Fairy 189km 2.45 hrs
Port Fairy to Adelaide 587km 6.15 hrs
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