As the long road wound past steep cliffs the ocean on the left seemed to glitter and shimmer into an endless eternity. The sun created a golden path that outshone the familiar bitumen road. Were we really in Australia? This view was rivalling our Amalfi Coast drive in Italy, but we were on familiar turf.
Originally our plans to visit the Twelve Apostles were only for a day trip, but considering we yearned to explore the scenic Great Ocean Road we quickly devised a spontaneous overnighter and decided 2 days would be best.
We got a late start out of Melbourne at about 10am, but were excited to be on our way, with our first stop just over an hour (100km) away… one of Australia’s most famous beaches.
1. Bells Beach
This should definitely be your first stop along the Great Ocean Road. It is home to the world’s longest-running surfing competition - the Rip Curl Pro Surf & Music Festival, first held in January 1961.
It was cold and windy, but that didn’t stop the surfers who were out in numbers. Effortlessly gliding across the perfectly barrelling waves, the wetsuit-clad riders were hypnotising. We found ourselves watching for a while, feeling an unexplainable soothing that wafted tangibly in salty air. We headed down to the beach to feel the sand of this hallowed beach between our toes. The kids chased the waves time and time again while Josh photographed the surfers and dreamed of his younger years spent chasing the perfect wave. I didn’t mind watching the kids… or the shirtless surfers ;)
2. Point Addis
Not far from Bells Beach is Point Addis. In fact you can almost see the same surfers, just from the other side. A lovely boardwalk snaked along the cliffs with a few inlets circled with benches to sit and admire the delectable ocean views.
We decided to set up a picnic in one of these outlets, admiring the views and munching on home made quiche and a bag of potato chips. A feast fit for a king. Only thing missing was the lamingtons!
3. Kennett River Holiday Park
About 2.5 hours from Melbourne, right smack bang on the Great Ocean Road, halfway between Lorne and Apollo Bay, is the Kennett River Holiday Park.
We made a small stop here, as we had heard about its wild koalas. Sure enough a short walk up the gravel road we spotted our first koala high up in the trees having a bite to eat. I think that was one of the first wild koalas we’d ever seen.
It was also a great place to see the mighty Kookaburra, King Parrots and Rosellas. But watch those sneaky parrots. They were all for landing on our heads or hands to hastily peck any available bird seed, but one of them had a wicked gleam in his eye.
Josh stretched out his hand to offer a small pile of the seed and along it came, waddling across the ground slowly and surely. One beady eye trained on Josh’s plump, long fingers. He then waltzed right up to him and took a great big chomp out of his finger with his vice-like beak.
Mostly in shock, rather than pain.
The parrot refused to let go, even with Josh hollering at it.
After a great big belly laugh we hopped back in the car and continued on our journey.
Twelve Apostles – Take 1
It was getting late and the wind had picked up so we stopped briefly at the world-famous Twelve Apostles. Josh was the only one brave enough to get out of the car by this time. Being from Perth we had ludicrously assumed the weather would remain beautiful, warm and sunny, as we had already experienced in the morning.
This was not going to be the case.
Wrapping Up Day #1
We continued on just a little further to Port Campbell and pulled in to the Loch Ard Motor Inn just as the rain started.
There’s no surprise, Australia is not cheap. So we accepted the inescapable nightly rate of $190 for a room and put our feet up. It was a modest, yet comfortable studio room with 1 queen bed, 2 singles, a couch and kitchenette.
Across the road was a pizza store and small supermarket. We grabbed some dinner and took it back to our room, all shivering like jellyfish in our ridiculous shorts and t-shirts.
Learn from our mistakes.
The next morning we scoffed down a supermarket breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and got back on the road heading towards Melbourne.
4. Lock Ard Gorge
Following the advice of our fans on Facebook we stopped by the Lock Ard Gorge as our first point of call. The weather hadn’t improved so the kids wore their long-armed and long-legged onesie pyjamas, while I wrapped myself in a beach towel that I had optimistically packed in case I went for a swim. Not a chance.
I am so glad we made the brave decision to get out of the car to view the gorge. It was just mesmerizing. I’ll never forget looking over the edge of the gorge with it’s breathtaking high walls and the assertive ocean lapping at the smooth, white sand.
The gorge is named after a ship, called the Lock Ard, which ran aground on nearby Muttonbird Island in 1878. Out of the 54 passengers and crew, only two teenagers survived. 15-year-old Tom and 17-year-old Eva. Tom was apparently washed ashore and rescued Eva after hearing her cries. Our hero Tom then climbed out of the gorge to get help.
If that story doesn’t leave you inspired, the view will.
5. Muttonbird Island
Site of the famed shipwreck and home to a nesting ground of muttonbirds, obviously. A quick photo stop to capture this special historic island.
6. The Twelve Apostles (Ta da!)
Along the rugged edge of Australia’s best-known road is a collection of limestone stacks. Originally known as the Sow and Piglets it was renamed to The Twelve Apostles in 1922 for tourism purposes, even though there were only ever 9 stacks.
These stacks are giant rocks piercing out of the cold, blue ocean reaching towards the sky. These days there are only 7 apostles left, but they are just as beautiful and lofty as ever.
Walking through a very small, and quite useless visitors centre (other than for temporary respite from the cold wind) we walked slowly along the winding pathway towards The Great Ocean Road’s definitive destination.
Cue dramatic climactic crescendo.
Pfffft. Magnificent, inspiring, yet somewhat underwhelming. You can spend half an hour photographing them before realising there is not too much else to do. After braving the weather as much as we could and capturing these rocky beasts from every possible angle (without actually climbing down Gibsons Steps - not a great idea with young kids anyway), we finally retreated back to our cosy car.
7. Apollo Bay
We spotted a nice playground for the kids at Apollo Bay along with a few cheap tourist stores selling jackets. Bliss! Finally the cold was not so much a problem. I just wish we had bought them sooner.
This coastal town is situated on the eastern side of Cape Otway. It seemed like a great spot to stop for a while with accommodation options galore and plenty of restaurants.
However, for us Lorne was a better lunch spot and so we made our way a little further up the coast.
On our way, distracted by the beautiful ocean views my husband almost swore (but not quite) when I suddenly slammed on the brakes and pulled onto the side of the road.
I pointed out the window and the entire car pressed their noses to the windows to watch a spiky little fella amble steadily across the road.
We were all very excited, but not as much as my husband who bounced out of the car like Tigger, ready to make our new friend a star. He was quite the shy little guy, curling into a ball with each click of the camera.
Lorne sits on the Erskine River along the Great Ocean Road with a spacious park along the ocean. For the full Aussie experience, we grabbed a traditional meat pie and sausage roll from the local bakery and sat down to enjoy.
A large wooden playground kept the kids amused, while I soaked up the lukewarm sun that had finally made a much-later-than-I-hoped appearance (but was still very welcome) on our spontaneous getaway.
After the playtime we all piled back in the car for the final stretch back to Melbourne.
Phew! That was a fun 2 days.
4 Things To Remember When Travelling The Great Ocean Road
- You need more time than you think. Not for The Twelve Apostles, but for all the great places along the way. There were so many other places we could have stopped such as Maites Rest Rainforest Trail.
- Bring warm clothes. Victoria is decidedly cooler than Western Australia.
- To reduce costs stop at supermarkets along the way for your snacks and meals.
- Be on the look out for wildlife. You can spot the signs everywhere and if you are lucky you’ll also spot wild Koalas, Kookaburras and Echidnas (and maybe even a Drop Bear).
There were potentially many more places we could have stopped along the Great Ocean Road – from lighthouses to wildlife parks. It surprised us how much there was to do. While The Twelve Apostles was our initial drawcard for the trip it turned out our favourite moments were all the unexpected surprises along the way.
So weather you have 1 day, 2 days or 2 weeks to explore the Great Ocean Road, one thing is for sure… you’ll love every minute of it. Unless you meet that sneaky Parrot. Watch out for that one!