The Great Ocean Road along Victoria, Australia’s southwestern coast is arguably one of the most stunning drives in the world. The road winds past verdant rolling hills, lush sub-tropical forests, dramatic cliffs, pristine beaches and Victoria’s most popular attraction: the Twelve Apostles. It is possible to join a day tour of the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne but unless you’re short on time, it’s better to hire a car and explore the region at your own leisure, stopping by the forest reserves and spending one or more nights at the various quaint towns that dot the coast. The day tours leave Melbourne in the early-morning and return past eight in the evening, making it a long, arduous journey.
My first visit to this spectacular stretch of the Victorian coastline was unforgettable. It was a cold, windy day but the sun shone at times (the weather in Victoria is very fickle). When we arrived in Torquay, a quaint seaside village (which is where the famous Aussie surfwear like Billabong come from), the sun was shining brightly and it was quite warm. We continued to Bells Beach, a surfer’s haven, to see the big surf. Stunning scenery here: gentle, green rolling hills that end at the coast with dramatic cliffs, long stretches of sandy beaches, little coves, quaint villages and finally the vast green ocean.
We also visited the Great Otway National Park, where we went for a quick walk (it started to rain so the guide upped the pace!). The rainforest was simply enchanting: towering Myrtle beech and mountain ash trees, and at their feet, giant ferns, mosses and little cascading streams.
We passed several beautiful coastal villages along the way such as Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay. The stretch between Lorne and Apollo Bay was absolutely breathtaking. We made a brief stop at Apollo Bay, a gorgeous town packed with inns, restaurants and cafés. Sitting at a terrace, we watched as dark, threatening clouds rolled in from the ocean.
When we finally arrived at the Twelve Apostles (a series of limestone outcrops that had separated from the mainland due to erosion), it was storming. The sky was black, the ocean pounded the coast with huge thunderous waves (I’ve never seen waves this big before. I’m sure some of them were at least five meters high) and the wind howled fiercely like a hurricane.
The wind tossed me around like I was made of paper (with my skinny frame, that’s not too hard to imagine I guess!) and hail didn’t drop from above; carried by the high winds, it flew straight at you, yes, horizontally! I braved it (along with two others) and fought my way to the edge of the cliff while the busloads of tourists huddled together in the safety of the visitor centre. The hail hit so hard till my face felt bruised while the hood of my raincoat slapped my cheeks incessantly. When we got to the edge of the cliffs, the wind was so strong and the hail was hitting so hard, we could only afford 2-3 second peeks of the Twelve Apostles before covering our faces again!! I figured, this is so much better than seeing this dramatic coastline on a clear blue day. The fierce weather just made the whole experience so much more intense.
Miraculously, the wind died down for a moment and the sun broke through the dark clouds and there I was, alone on the viewing platform (the other two had disappeared), with this magnificent sight in front of me: the towering cliffs, the pounding waves below and the dark sky punctured by a single ray of light. Absolutely breathtaking! After the Twelve Apostles, we continued on our way to other spectacular rock formations along the coast. The most noteworthy were Razorback, London Bridge (that collapsed in 1990) and Loch Ard Gorge.
On our way back to Melbourne, we made a brief stop at Port Campbell, a pretty village located at the mouth of Campbell’s Creek. I arrived back in Melbourne that evening feeling totally exhausted but exhilarated! I later did the Great Ocean Road trip again, this time with friends in a hired car, and we spent a night at Apollo Bay. It was absolutely gorgeous and the weather was beautiful but I’ll never forget my first trip during that stormy day.
Check out the official Great Ocean Road website for more information.