Driving the Great Ocean Road

The world-famous Great Ocean Road (GOR) is one of the driving routes of Australia. Strung along the Southern Ocean coast between Melbourne and Adelaide, it takes you through rainforests and sleepy towns, past farms and cliffs interspersed with some of the iconic sights that make Australia recognisable.

Following our exploration of Melbourne and whistle-stop tour of Tasmania, we elected to hire a car from Melbourne Airport and drive to Adelaide in neighbouring South Australia. With only three days in our rapid journey around Australia for this iconic route, we had to balance seeing as much as we could with covering the distance too!

The Great Ocean Road (courtesy of Australian Travel & Tourism Network)
The Great Ocean Road (courtesy of Australian Travel & Tourism Network)

Melbourne to Lorne

Our route started in St Kilda East, Melbourne where we stayed with fellow-travellers who kindly gave us a place to explore the city from. We drove out through the city, skirting past Geelong before arriving at our first coastal point at Torquay. Continuing on the coast for the remainder of the journey, we travelled on to Anglesea, through Fairhaven to our first night’s destination of Lorne. En route we stopped at the official start of the GOR at Eastern View. This stands in memorial to the men that built it, a solution to chronic unemployment of Australian soldiers returning after World War One and a desire for greater communication links along the coast of Victoria.

Lorne to Port Fairy

This was the most challenging part of the journey as we had a lot of distance to cover and lots of things to see. A necessary early start saw us explore part of the Great Otway National Park, walking down to Erskine Falls and Cora Lynn Cascades through some of the hillside forests before jumping back into the car to continue our road trip.

With the lighthouse at Cape Otway our next target, we stopped only to take in some the breathtaking views along the coast at places such as at Teddy’s Lookout.

The view from Teddy's Lookout
The view from Teddy’s Lookout

Located some way off the main road, Cape Otway’s Lightstation is the oldest surviving one on mainland Australia, having been built in 1848. You can climb up to the very top where volunteers are on hand to explain its operation and talk to you about the importance the lightstation played in creating safe routes along the Victorian coast. Additionally, the site is also home to a former telegraph station whose 250 km cable linked Tasmania to the mainland and is home to a number of Aboriginal cultural sites and WWII bunkers that you can explore and appreciate.

Driving back slowly to the main road to continue the journey, lucky visitors (like us) can also get a glimpse of indigenous koalas strolling along the road or hanging about in the trees. Whilst not tame by any imagination, they are not adverse to playing for the crowd, posing for photos for the many tourists who stop to see them.

Our sprint up the coast took us next to what is probably the highlight of the coast for many: the Twelve Apostles. This collection of enormous stacks stand proudly in the water (although not 12 in number) despite the power of the Southern Ocean waves. They adorn postcards found across the country and are visible from a series of connected viewing platforms on the nearby cliff faces.

Having secured some great shots from the various vantage points, we continued on to Lord Ard Gorge, through Port Campbell, pausing again at London Bridge. Here we learnt of how its 1990 collapse brought drama, with two people safely(?) marooned on a newly created island following the bridge’s collapse until rescue teams could retrieve them.

London Bridge
London Bridge

With the light now failing us, we drove onwards until we reached stop-point two, Port Fairy. This actually took us past the official end of the GOR at Allansford although not the end of our road trip. Staying in the Port Fairy Youth Hostel, we took advantage of the well stocked nearby supermarket to purchase supplies before cooking in their well-equipped kitchen.

Kitchen at Port Fairy YHA
Kitchen at Port Fairy YHA

Port Fairy to Adelaide

Today was scheduled to be a longer drive than the previous days as we prepared to leave the coast and drive onwards into Southern Australia to our final destination, Adelaide. First stop this morning was the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, a bit of a back track but a great place to see some of Australia’s famous indigenous animals. Victoria’s first National Park guides visiting vehicles a circular route with places to park up and then go out on foot, walking amongst the kangaroos, emus, koalas, wallabies and echidnas that live here. Great opportunity for any first time visitors to Oz!

Top Tip: Get there early in the morning to see the animals at their most active during the cooler part of the day. If you have time, you can also walk along some of the many extensive trails through the park that lead to some impressive views too.

Our last coastal destination was Portland, recognised as Victoria’s first European settlement in Australia. Its 19th Century roots are documented in many of the buildings around the town with the courthouse, Customs House and visitor’s centre providing detailed background’s to the town’s development.

The Heritage Museum in Portland
The Heritage Museum in Portland

Breaking away from the coast, we swiftly made our way up to the South Australian border, put our clocks back 30 minutes as we crossed time zones, continuing onwards towards our second diversion of the day: Naracoorte Caves.

South Australia’s only UNESCO World Heritage site is home to prehistoric fossils of early mammals dating back upwards of 500,000 years. There is a fully-fledged visitor centre here with an animatronics-equipped exhibition explaining the development of the animals found on the site and self-guiding tours of the cave system (there are some caves that can be explored with a guide). Whilst a little off route, this was nonetheless a worthwhile detour and gave us a great continuation of the evolutionary journey we had begun in South Africa and Lesotho.

If you’ve driven the Great Ocean Road, we’d love to hear from you about your adventures. If you’re interested in finding out more about our Australian Road Trip, please sign up for our updates.

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