You could drive 186 miles in less than four hours keeping the ‘pedal to the metal’, eyes focused on your destination. But when the road winds along the high rocky clifftop, around breathtaking peninsulas, down to wave-crashing beaches, next to giant gorges, and through lush rainforests, all while offering spectacular views at every turn, 186 miles will take you three or four days at least. That is the Great Ocean Road on the southern coast of Australia revealing a world of wonders.
Great Ocean Road: Scenic Splendor
The Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s most scenic drives follows the stunning coastline of Australia’s south-eastern state of Victoria. A feast of spectacular scenery, the road stretches from Geelong, just south of Melbourne, to the South Australian border. En route, drivers can find every element of a great vacation, from one-of-a-kind golf courses you share with kangaroos, cozy accommodations in seaside resort villages, fascinating heritage sites with more shipwrecks than you can shake a rusted anchor at, monster waves that draw surfers from around the world, and a local cuisine scene that prides itself on fresh fish and regional wines.
With so much to do in so few miles, travel agents advise their clients to spend an entire week on the Great Ocean Road instead of trying to hit the highlights in one breakneck afternoon. This stretch of pristine pavement is more than just a way to get from Apollo Bay to Bridgewater; it’s a journey of eye-popping grandeur and historical intrigue that should be experienced at a pace as leisurely as a koala bear’s eucalyptus lunch.
The Great Ocean Road doesn’t waste any time in wowing you when you begin your drive west from Geelong through the towns of Torquay and Lorne, a stretch that many claims to be the most picturesque. Here, the highway is carved into sheer cliffs that drop straight into the ocean, forcing many to slow down at each bend to glimpse the waves as they swell and crash onto the rocks below.
The Twelve Apostles
Around this time the road takes a detour away from the coast and into the untouched rainforests of Otway National Park. But soon you’re back on the coast, driving along the cliff tops straight to Port Campbell National Park and the Twelve Apostles, the Great Ocean Road’s true rock stars.
Recognized the world over, the Twelve Apostles are grandiose rock formations that have been carved out of the limestone cliffs for more than 20 million years by the fierce, relentless waves of the Southern Ocean. The result is a series of giant rock stacks that soar up to 45 meters high from the swirling waters, standing one beside the other like haggard soldiers protecting the coast.
Currently, only eight remain standing, the other 4 have crumbled into the sea, the last one fellas recently as 2005. Yet what remains is still an incredible sight to behold, especially at sunrise and sunset when the Apostles change color from a foreboding, iridescent purple to a radiant sandy yellow. The views are spectacular at any time of day, and a network of boardwalks and viewing platforms give you a chance to see the monoliths from many angles.
The same powers that created the Twelve Apostles also whittled pieces of giant rock art up and down the coast, including Island Arch, the Razorback, Muttonbird Island, Thunder Cave, the Blowhole, Bakers Oven, and London Arch, which was called the London Bridge until it partially crumbled down in 1990, leaving two tourists temporarily stranded.
Shipwreck of the Meheno
The danger is nothing new to this coastline, for Loch Ard Gorge, a beautiful rocky cove near the Twelve Apostles, is named for a clipper ship that crashed against its shores in 1878, killing all aboard except for two 18-year-olds. More than 180 ships crashed along this treacherous section, earning it the apt name Shipwreck Coast. A trail of plaques will tell you terrifying tales of dozens of wrecks and their final resting places, including the popular Wreck Beach where two giant, rust-coated anchors are still visible in the surf.
The more maritime history of the non-wrecked kind can be found in historic towns up and down the coast, such as Warrnambool, Port Fairy, and Portland, where the seafaring village life is still on display. Fishing wharves and beautifully-preserved colonial buildings are prevalent fixtures in these scenic seaside towns, where it’s easy to imagine how sailors lived in centuries past.
The country’s vast and varied wildlife is also on display along the Great Ocean Road. You can spot southern right whales calving along Logan’s Beach; emus and water birds living on a volcano’s rim in the Tower Hill State Game Reserve; hundreds of kangaroos along the fringes, and often in the sand traps of the Angle sea Golf Course; one of the largest seal colonies in the country at Lady Julia Percy Island; the mind-boggling light show from glowworms in the Melba Gully State Park; wild platypuses swimming in Lake Elizabeth; and koalas just about anywhere, though they’re often hard to spot up in the trees.
Koala bear and her joey
In that regard, koala bears are a lot like great travel deals; they’re there, but they’re often hard to find. That’s why you should turn to a trusted travel agent to find the best deals in Australia. Travel agents use years of experience and personal connections to combine various components of your vacation—plane tickets, route planner, rental cars, hotel accommodations—at a price you simply cannot find on your own. Plus they can extend your holiday so that you can explore more of Melbourne, Sydney o,r the Great Barrier Reef.