There’s a stretch of road pretty famous for road trips between Melbourne and Adelaide – the Great Ocean Road. It’s well deserving of it’s capital letters – the scenery, no matter which direction you’re going, is stunning.
Going the long way round
We took an inland route from Riddells Creek to Peterborough, where we were to begin our drive back east along the the coast. We went that way to see some of the towns and countryside in an area of Australia which sees few tourists – most head straight for the coast.
We drove for hours along dusty country roads with nothing to either side but huge cattle stations and the odd house. The towns were all quiet and still, nobody was around; nobody relaxing outside cafes in the sun, or shopping in the main street. We tried to guess what everyone in all those towns did for work, as most were too far from Melbourne for commuters.
After four hours of endless driving, we finally made it to the sea. It was cold and windy, not your typical seaside weather, but that didn’t stop us from joining the hoards of tourists there to see what all the fuss was about.
Bay of Islands
Our first stop once we hit the coast just outside Peterborough was the Bay of Islands – a rugged coastline of sheer cliffs and crumbling limestone pillars out to sea.
A few months ago we were at New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, which I have to admit I much preferred, but the Aussie version definitely deserves a look if you’re down this way.
Next stop was a magical little place called The Grotto. It’s a kind of cave, kind of sinkhole formed by the churning seas over time. It was probably my favourite stop along the road.
We walked down some slippery wooden steps along the cliff face to get to sea level, where the ocean spray was thrown against the rocks to land in a quiet little pool under a limestone arch. There was something really beautiful about peering through the archway at the still pool and the choppy sea beyond.
Well… it used to be London Bridge… until it fell down. Now it’s just London Arch. The limestone formation used to be attached to the mainland, making the double arch that gave it it’s name. The first arch unexpectedly collapsed 20 years ago, leaving the rocks cut off from the land, along with two tourists who had wandered to the end of the outcrop to get some nice photos. They had to be rescued by helicopter, but at least they had a great story.
Tom & Eva
Part of the Loch Ard Gorge area, Tom and Eva get their names from the two teenage survivors from the shipwreck of the Lock Ard in the 1870s.
By the time we got to this amazing spot, the sky had really clouded over, it was raining out to sea and the waves were crashing between the two limestone stacks. It definitely added a bit of drama to the views.
The Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles are the ‘main event’ if you like. They even have their own visitor centre and massive carpark to cater for the crowds of people who flock to see them in all weathers. There aren’t actually twelve of them as over the years they’ve been eroded and weathered away, falling into the sea. Some are now just little nubbins sticking out of the water, while others are completely gone.
To be honest, we thought they were a bit of a letdown. Maybe we’d already seen enough limestone stacks that day to last us a lifetime, or maybe it was just because by this point it was pissing down with rain, but whatever the reason for it, the Twelve Apostles didn’t really do it for us.
They’re no doubt very impressive at sunset or sunrise, shrouded in fog rolling in over the ocean… but on a damp, overcast afternoon they’re just kind of alright.
Worth the drive?
After our final stop at the Twelve Apostles, we were pretty much over the limestone stacks and rugged cliff faces, so we drove on to Apollo Bay and found a spot for another night in the van. The next day we headed on to Lorne for a quick walk up to the lighthouse, then it was off up north to Riddells Creek again.
When anyone talks about great Australian road trips, the Great Ocean Road always pops up as a must. We only saw the highlights, but there’s definitely loads more to explore and you could easily make it a week long trip. If you’re ever unsure about whether to drive or fly when getting around Australia, I would say that if you are going to do any of Aus by road, this is a good place to start, as if you don’t go it, you’ll probably always wander what you missed.
For us, we prefered the East Coast drives simply because it was quieter, and most times we felt like we were in our own little world. When we were sick of the sight of another gorgeous deserted beach or little seaside town, we could head into the mountains and rainforests for a change of scene. Getting away from the crowds on the Great Ocean Road is pretty tricky, and downright impossible at all the big spots, there are people everywhere.
I think that Australia is full of amazing drives, but the thing is, you just can’t see it all – Australia is too bloody big. The Great Ocean Road provides a lot of beautiful sights in a relatively small stretch of road, so for that alone, it’s worth the drive.