Oh The Great Ocean Road, how you amaze thee. This place is one of the great wonders of the world, and for a good reason. This road trip was a 720-kilometer long journey of ocean views, salty air, rainforests, sunshine, and pure bliss. Just when you thought Australia wasn’t beautiful enough, you turned a corner, entered a new maze of road or rainforest and were left breathless. A lot of the time we would get out of the car and not say a word. Just sigh, in total silence and soak in the moment. I believe this is what makes life, and moments like that so amazing. Silence, appreciation, and understanding of nature in its purest form.
We were going to drive the Great Ocean Road in 1-day… word to the wise – one day would have never been enough. I could have done it in 3 – 4 days at least. I’m glad we took 2 days to drive it and soak it all in, and not feel rushed from destination to destination.
I had planned it pretty open ended and wrote a list of all the ‘must see’ places. Then we headed out of Melbourne at 5 a.m. for the big day ahead. I had pre-booked an AIRBNB in Warnambool, which is at the end of the Great Ocean Road. The plan was to hit a couple of the spots on the way to Warnambool, stay the night and then turn around and hit all the other destinations missed on day one. Seriously, I have made some bad decisions in my lifetime, but this was one of the best ones yet. Not only did we hit almost all of our ‘dream destinations’ along the way, but found a couple new hidden ones.
I had planned quite a bit of this trip but I found that the best thing to do is write a list of stops you want to make, mark them on your map, and then head out. Take your time, and pull over a million times, you will regret it if you don’t. Don’t rush, don’t snap photos and forget the moment, just soak it all in.
A word to the wise as well – the Great Ocean Road doesn’t have good cell reception, especially if you’re using your map app so pre – mark everything down.
Warning: The Great Ocean Road is a journey of small towns – meaning cute cafe’s, meaning a lot of really amazing coffee’s, ice cream’s, and treats were had throughout this trek.
So here we go.
Once again, it all started on a dark and cold morning in Melbourne. We rose early and piled into the car for a day of surprises, we had no idea what we were in for. I hadn’t had coffee yet so it was really all a blur to be honest. The morning started with rain, but we kept driving and tried to stay optimistic.
Split Point Lighthouse:
We arrived at our first destination, Split Point Lighthouse, in Aireys Inlet. This is about an hour and 45 minutes of driving, and within that time the rain seemed to give up (finally) and the day became more promising of good weather. There’s a short but lovely walk along the cliffs, to the lighthouse, its probably 800 meters. It provides tremendous views of the ocean and the lighthouse. We were lucky, and struck photographers gold when the sun was peaking through the moody clouds. The photos say it all. Not a bad start to the morning!
What a cute town this is. We stopped here for a mid morning breakfast at a local bakery and so that I could get my caffeine fix – thank goodness. It’s a small seaside town but boasts some pretty amazing local stores, cafés, and views.
Next we were off to the Teddy’s Lookout. This spot gets overlooked a lot, but I luckily did my research and someone had mentioned it before. You drive through the city center of Lorne, take a couple back streets up the mountain and you come out to a small parking lot. This place is worth the stop no doubt! This little detour gives you a very good idea of what driving you will be doing for the next few hours and what the Great Ocean Road looks like from above. From the lookout we could see panoramic views of the road, the ocean, and the looming forest surrounding. Almost untouched, it seemed to go on for as far as the eye could see.
As we drove along this windy road, I couldn’t help but have that overwhelming feeling of happiness. It felt like beams of sunshine were shooting out of my face and heart. Days like that are too good for the soul.
Mount Defiance Lookout:
We drove on and made the most amazing stop at the Mount Defiance Lookout. It may have been one of my favorite photos taken on this trip. It shows the rugged terrain, the forest cloaked mountains, soft and rough looking ocean, and the sunshine that seemed to follow us.
Mait’s Rest Rainforest Walk:
This gem is hidden away in the Otway National Park. Now this stop, was life changing for me. I had never really been in a rainforest environment to be honest. I have done hundreds, maybe thousands of bush walks but never in a true rainforest. We walked through the forest in silence, it was wet, cold, but oh so amazing. Mind you it was August so I had on my woolies. It is a short walk – 800 meters of pure nature porn.
Seriously, I couldn’t see a surface that wasn’t covered in moss, dew, and ferns – it was mesmerizing. If you know me well, you know I am a huge fern lover, so this was a must do for me. We timed it well and didn’t see too many people. I took my time and inspected every surface, plant, or looming tree above. Its hard to describe just how beautiful it was, it was a rainforest oasis of greenery, lush and lively fauna, and wow’d everyone. It is definitely a good stop for nature lovers and Paula Koala’s like me.
Castle Cove Lookout:
Just outside Glenaire. This was yet another wonderful stop to make, its tucked away on the side of the road. It provides no shortage of flowers, neat bird species and ocean views. It was quite windy here, so bring hair ties no doubt!
This is a common tourist destination, not nearly as well know as the Twelve Apostles. Lovely spot none the less. Normally you can take ‘Gibsons Steps’ down to the beach but the tide was so high the stairway was closed.
The Twelve Apostles:
Potentially the most well known stop along the Great Ocean Road, it is quite the stop. I was slightly disappointed though. When we arrived the weather wasn’t great and it is quite commercialized. You park your car in a large parking lot with a coffee and gift shop, you then walk under the road and make your way to the Twelve Apostles. I know I am too a tourist, but there were tons of people and no one seemed to be enjoying the moment, and to be honest it was hard to take in the moment with cameras, phones and selfies being taken everywhere. There were tons of people and they didn’t seem respectful of the area of surroundings. We saw the large limestone stacks and took it in as best we could. There isn’t actually 12 apostles left – more like 8 or 9 but a neat stop no doubt. We checked it off the list and grabbed a coffee, but got out of there quickly as bus loads of tourists were piling in by the moment.
Port Campbell Walkway:
This walkway is actually 4.5-kilometer walk so we just stuck close to shore and took in the views. It was a lovely stop to make and the town is so cute with a whopping population of 600. The ocean seemed to be showing off as it was a beautiful turquoise. A lot of ships were wrecked just off the coast due to large storms and no calm, good areas to get ashore, Port Campbell was luckily one area with a good sand beach to set sail and come to shore at.
Another pit stop, relatively close to the Twelve Apostles, it provides a lovely little story and view of the ocean.
We headed to Warrnambool for the night. We used AirBNB for our accommodation and lucked out with a little oasis. It was a lovely home, heated, with plenty of space and a jacuzzi bath. A much needed retreat after a long day. We went out for dinner and checked out the town, then came back and settled in for the night.
Today was a blur of beautiful stops, never-ending breathtaking moments, smiles, and exploring. I wont say much but let the photo’s speak for themselves. We stopped at: Bay of Islands, Bay of Martyrs, The Grotto, The London Bridge, Loch Ard Gorge, and The Rayzorback. A lot of these first few stops were pretty similar, I enjoyed each one thoroughly as they all were unique and had their own quirks. They really are quite the spectacle though, and each one was different from the last.
This is the type of place that makes my soul glow, and my heart sing. As many of you know, I am a total fern lover. Always have been, always will be. So when I was doing my research and found this trail in the Otway National Park, I knew it had to be done. It’s a short walk – I don’t know the actual kilometers but it took around 1.5 hours of very slow walking in total silence. We drove 1.5 kilometers off the Great Ocean Road through the looming rainforest and I knew we were in for an unreal experience, we pulled into the parking lot and not 1 other car was there. So I just couldn’t wait to get going, I leapt out of the car in pure excitement and we got to it. I won’t give you must details – let the photos speak but, if you were to do 1 walk on the Great Ocean Road, do this one.
Marriners Lookout – Apollo Bay:
This is a stop that is often overlooked, but to me it was possibly one of the best. It’s actually a farmers property that he lets people on to get panoramic views of Apollo Bay and the Great Ocean Road. Now that is a hidden gem. You drive up a mountainside, and park outside a little farm on the hillside. You go through a gate (which must close or else you let the sheep out – I’m being serious) and take a short uphill walk to face this:
Fun Fact: When we went there were so many little talkative lambs, and one in particular that was a little jokester.
Bell’s Beach was our last stop on our grand adventure on the Great Ocean Road. We pulled up to this well-known, famous surf beach around 6:30 and the sun was almost completely set, but I was determined to check it out. This beach is known to boast some of Australia’s greatest waves – bringing in some of the best local surfers. So of course I had to witness this myself. We got chatting to a local surfer girl, and realized her partner was Canadian. Small world – and Canadians are taking over. But she was saying she saw penguins down below. So the inner toddler in me ran down the 500 stairs to the beach and began on a penguin hunt. None were found. But I found the coolest rock formations along the coast and beautiful shells. I also watched the surfers for a while; they were pretty damn great too. But who am I to judge, I don’t even surf. I still enjoy watching, creeping, whatever you call it – it’s mesmerizing regardless.
To me, this part of Australia was weirdly the most comparable to home. Not the ocean, or the vast cliffs, or the foamy ocean spray, but when you get off the Great Ocean Road, its all farms. Literally, mile after mile is dairy farms, beef cattle farms, pig farms, sheep farms, and acres of crops. I was with my parents on this little road trip and seeing all this agriculture pleased my Dad very much. He came 15, 800 kilometers from home which is all countryside and farms, but still insisted that I take photos of the lush pastures, dairy cattle, and rolls hills of crops. He never ceases to amaze me, really.
It was strange, there were pastures filled with cattle – right beside the ocean, like if it wasn’t for a little picket fence the cows would hop off the cliffs. What most countries would be using as prime real estate for sky scrapers, tourist towns, and have those big gaudy tourist stops with giant creatures (Australia is renowned for them), were just pastures for the most un-amused cattle I have ever seen. Pretty funny, but just another example of how huge and untouched Australia is, part of me hopes it stays like that forever really.
To me, the Great Ocean Road felt like home. There was something strangely welcoming and comfortable about it. I will be back no doubt, and next time I will go further into the forests and get a little more lost.
“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition. – Martha Washington”