Secret Highlights of the Great Ocean Road
Published 30 March 2016
In this post Helen Scarr reveals some of the secret highlights of Australia’s Great Ocean Road, showing that there is much more to this stunning area than meets the eye.
The ship-wrecked coastline of the Great Ocean Road, west of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria, is a picturesque drive of windy roads and dramatically blue seas. The road is famously home to the Twelve Apostles, a series of stacks and stumps created by intense coastal erosion. Even though there’s now only about eight of them still standing, the Apostles are an arresting sight. Yet the Great Ocean Road isn’t just a route to these sea-barraged cliffs. Along the way are many hidden gems including towns, natural attractions and quirky activities. This journey offers much more than a road and an ocean.
Watch surfers at Bells Beach
About 7km west of Torquay is Bells Beach, home to some epic waves and even more epic surfers. The powerful point break gives Bells some of the longest waves in Australia. Visit over Easter time to witness Rip Curl Pro, the highlight of the Australian world surfing championship. Even if you miss the best of the best, on a decent day you can watch the fearless Aussies battle some intimidating waves and marvel at their bravery (or perhaps stupidity).
Swim with sharks in Lorne (sort of)
Okay, so the town of Lorne isn’t so much of a secret in itself. Its picturesque beauty and sunny charm means it gets more than a little busy over the summer months. Lorne has no end of camp grounds, seafront villas, hostels and hotels to cope with the influx of tourists. Head down to pretty Loutit Bay for a swim in the bluest ocean, though, and you may be nearer to a shark than you realise. The state of Victoria finds more sharks along its coastline than any other part of the country. A great white shark was spotted 3km off the beach at Lorne the day I went swimming there. But don’t let their toothy presence put you off getting in the water. Sharks are never spotted by the beach and Australia averages about one shark-attack fatality per year – a very small risk considering the number of fish in the water.
Spot koalas at Cape Otway
A little detour down the peninsula of Cape Otway brings a few surprises. Drive down to the lighthouse for some great views and a bit of history. Cape Otway Lighthouse was built in 1848 and is the oldest lighthouse on Australia’s mainland. Despite this, the rugged, rocky coastline here was responsible for many shipwrecks during the 19th century – hence the nickname ‘Shipwreck Coast’. Cape Otway Lighthouse was also used in the children’s TV series ‘Round the Twist’ for those old enough to remember. On the way back to the Great Ocean Road, swing down the dirt track towards Bimbi Park campground. The trees along this road are laden with the furry lumps of native koalas. You are almost guaranteed to see them in the wild here.
Witness sea erosion at the Grotto
The effects of the sea on Victoria’s coastline have been well-photographed at the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge (an arch further west down the coast). For a more impressive look at the power of the ocean, stop at the Grotto near Peterborough. Here the waves come crashing in loudly and aggressively, and it’s easy to see why the Twelve Apostles are now eight. There’s also an arch here which gives good photo opportunities.
Get cheesy in Allansford
Australia isn’t renowned for its great cheese, admittedly, but who doesn’t love a random cheese museum by the coast? Near the end of the Great Ocean Road, Cheese World at Allansford offers free tasting every half hour and serves up arguably the yummiest milkshakes in all of Victoria. Being located opposite the region’s major dairy factory, it’s no wonder everything tastes so good here. The adjoining museum is a mishmash of antiquated farm machinery, memorabilia and old household items. It’s a bit like a junk shop, in an interesting way.