One of the most popular activities to do when visiting Victoria is to drive the Great Ocean Road. The 250km drive between Torquay and Warrnambool takes you through surf towns, National Parks, hippy communities, and of course to some of the popular limestone rock formations, like the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge, that has made the drive so famous.
During the last week of November my friend from our time working at an American Summer Camp Joc and I took to the road, steeling our nerves against cliff faced roads, a torrential downpour which almost left us sleeping in our car overnight, a view worth taking a photo of from around every bend, and a mind full of tips which we think will help make the most of your Great Ocean Road experience.
1. Take time to admire the view
A lot of people rush through the Great Ocean Road – their focus set on seeing the Twelve Apostles – and fail to take time to admire the view.
Right from the beginning of the road your drive will take you along the waters edge. As you enter Anglesea the cliffs over looking the beach give you your first proper look at the coastline you’ll be driving along. Further down the road near Devil’s Elbow just before Lorne is a rest stop where you can bask in the knowledge you have completed the most difficult part of the drive – a single laned road with cliffs to one side and the ocean on the other – and looking onwards into the dense treetops of one of the many National parks.
And finally a stop at the famous wooden archway overhanging the road welcoming you to the Great Ocean Road, with memorials to the soldiers who fought for Australia in World War One.
2. Stop in the towns along the way
Along the Great Ocean Road are dozens of towns which offer different experiences for people to explore. If you like surfing head down to Torquay‘s Bell’s Beach where the annual Ripcurl Pro is held during the Easter weekend. If hiking is more your forte Anglesea provides a variety of beach and cliff hikes which all end in beautiful views down the coast. Perhaps you are a foodie then Lorne is the place to visit with fresh seafood coming straight from the water and onto your plate at a choice of restaurants – delicious!
There’s more to the towns through; whether it be the chilled, hippy vibes of Anglesea or going fishing with the locals in Apollo Bay, by slowing your trip down not only do you get to take your time to really experience the towns and coastline you’re driving, but by stopping regularly you get to switch off and relax which allowing your mental concentration to have a break from driving which makes leads to safer driving when back on the road.
Need suggestions about what to see and do? Check out my guide to the best places to stop on the Great Ocean Road!
3. Don’t just visit the tourist spots
Sure everyone clambers to see the Twelve Apostles to take photos of the natural erosion of the limestone coastline, but there are plenty of other things to see and do.
If you’ve ever heard of the popular 90’s Australian TV show called Around the Twist you’ll want to make a stop at the Split Point Light House located outside of Airey’s Inlet as it is the one featured in every episode of the TV show. Whilst you won’t find writer Paul Jennings nor any of the cast around today you can still climb the lighthouse, have tea in the cute as can be tea house, or see the historical Bark House in one of the parks beneath the lighthouse.
Whilst still quite popular, many visitors will miss the Otway Fly Tree Top Adventure which gives you a chance to go zip-lining or take tree top walks through the Great Otway National Park. If heights aren’t your forte there are still nature walks giving you a chance to bask in the rainforest and perhaps see some local wildlife up close.
4. Don’t freak out
Yes, the Great Ocean Road is quite a dangerous road if you don’t have your wits about you. Not only is it narrow and with only one lane in many areas, but during certain months of the year – notably winter when it’s raining, and November when for a week Victorian school students make the trek down to Lorne to celebrate finishing school – the road can just be downright dangerous. (There is a growing police presence during these time of year which has made the road a lot safer from drunk drivers.)
After hearing stories of how dangerous the road could be I decided to be smart and bought some Australian travel insurance just in case. The danger comes when you take corners to fast – the road speed is quite high despite the narrowness of the road – and you cut across the lane. Not only are there blind corners but to your left is cliff face and to the right a short drop into the ocean – there really isn’t too much room for error.
If you aren’t comfortable driving on narrow roads consider driving along the freeway which is just a few kilometres away from the Great Ocean Road. Whilst you won’t have the ocean views you will still go through much of the same scenery, including the Great Otway National Park. Another popular alternative for drivers who aren’t comfortable driving is to take a tour lead by an experienced driver.
5. Take corny photos
You drove all this way so why not take photos of you ‘holding’ one of the rock stacks at the Twelve Apostles? Or surfing on one of the wooden beams overlooking the beach! Trust me even if you feel silly at the time you will look back and have a good giggle, and the people standing next to you will probably do the same thing!
6. Don’t be silly, please try to be green
The area around the Great Ocean Road is home to a number of national and state parks which are trying their best to preserve the flora and fauna of the area. As your drive between Lorne and Glen Aire you will drive through the untamed canopy’s of Ottway Ranges National Park, and as you walk to the viewing docks of all the different limestone formations you will be walking through the home of bird and small animals homes. Whilst the government, the council, and the park trustees do their best to keep the area litter free visitors to the area can do their park by simply taking their rubbish with them or putting it in the bin.
One of the endangered birds, the Plover, lives in this area and by collecting your rubbish, especially plastic, helps to prevent the birds getting caught up in it and potentially dying.
You don’t like to see other peoples rubbish when you visit a place and neither does anyone else, so please take it with you or bin it!
7. Don’t try and do it all in one day
Despite waking up in Torquay early and ready to make the drive to Warrnambool in one day we didn’t take into consideration the time we’d want to spend exploring. We hadn’t consulted a map – so we didn’t know about things like the Airey’s Inlet Lighthouse until Joc pointed it out mid-trip recalling information her Dad passed on from a trip when she was younger, and by the time we’d hit the Great Otway National Park the bad weather had begun to roll in leaving us in a predicament without seeing the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge.
We stopped in every town, and at everything that caught our eye. If you travel like this then my recommendation is to stay overnight in Apollo Bay or Port Campbell. This allows you plenty of time to explore the towns and activities in the area, as well as allowing for plenty of rest to ensure you stay safe when driving the Great Ocean Road.
Let me know in the comments…