Australia’s famous for many great things, like its amazing wildlife and fabulous locations. Many people not familiar with the country think that you’ve got to go from one side to the other to see everything the place has to offer, but that just isn’t true. If you’re travelling to Melbourne or anywhere else in Victoria, you can see some of the best the country has to offer in just one day’s drive.
The Great Ocean Road stretches for 243km (151 mi) along some of the most spectacular and stunning vistas that Australia has to offer, hugging the coast as it winds its way from Torquay in the east to Warrnambool in the west. Torquay is just outside of the city of Geelong, and that’s just a 108km drive from Melbourne. If you’re thinking of getting out of the city for a day, you’ll be in for a real treat. Many tour buses operate that will fill you in on all the great sites you’ll see, and you can even rent a car if you so wish.
Not only will you see some of the most famous sights that Australia has to offer, like Cape Otway and the Twelve Apostles, but you’ll also be treated to wondrous wildlife on tracks like the Great Ocean Walk. And if surfing’s your thing, you’ll be happy to know that Bells Beach is right off the Road’s eastern edge in Torquay. And some of the most stunning natural limestone formations can be seen around the beautiful Port Campbell National Park, located on the road.
In its 2008 Victoria 101 survey, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) chose the road as the best experience for tourists visiting the state. And just three years later, in 2011, the Great Ocean Road was put on the Australian National Heritage List, which showcases 80 of Australia’s greatest treasures. There’s no better way to spend a day, or a full week-long holiday, than travelling this wonderful road.
The Great Ocean Road was constructed between 1919 and 1932 by soldiers returning from World War I. There were over 37 million casualties in the Great War, and Australia’s returning veterans built the Road as a memorial to them. One of the earliest backers of the road was Howard Hitchcock, the mayor of the city of Geelong. He formed a private company to finance the project, and even donated £3,000 of his own money, which would be about £825,000 in today’s terms.
At that time the southwest coast of Victoria, and large parts of the Western district in general, were barely accessible. Construction of the road was seen as a way to boost the timber and tourism industries, and so work began in 1919 and progressed at the grueling pace of 3km a month. Work wasn’t easy, but it was better than the horrors of war the 3,000 returning serviceman who worked on it went through.
The road was designed by Hitchcock, but he never saw its opening, dying just months before its completion in 1932. A memorial to him rests at Mount Defiance near Lorne, and he’s still considered the Father of the Road.
Sites on the Great Ocean Road
When the road first opened in 1932, it was only one-lane, and when encountering areas with sheer cliffs on one side, the only thing to do was to pull over and let others pass by. You won’t have to worry about that today as you cruise along at comfortable and safe speeds.
You’ll see some of the greatest sites Australia has to offer when you travel the Great Ocean Road. Even if you just want a day trip away from Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road has something to offer everyone.
Just 100km south-west of Melbourne, Bells Beach is internationally recognized and renowned for its surfing, especially the Rip Curl Pro Surf & Music Festival, which is the world’s longest-running surfing competition, starting in 1961.
The beach itself is named after John Cavert Bell, a pastoralist and rancher who bought up the land in the 1840s. Since then its become a favorite of locals and tourists alike, especially the Rip Curl Festival every Easter.
Great Ocean Walk
If you’re into walking or trekking, then the Great Ocean Walk is just the thing for you. Stretching 104 km from Apollo Bay in the east to Glenample Homestead in the west, the Great Ocean Walk is perfect for anyone looking to spend some quality time outdoors while soaking up the fresh ocean breezes and savoring the amazing scenery.
The walk ends near the Twelve Apostles, but passes through some other great places before, such as Otway National Park. The walk itself is estimated to take eight days, and if you’re serious about completing it, you’ll be happy to know there are seven campsites on the trail, spaced out at intervals of 10 to 15 km. All walkers must register with Parks Victoria and the campsites need to be booked ahead of time, so plan accordingly during the busy summer months. If you don’t want to stay the night, you’ll easily be able to do a stage or two in a day and hop on a bus at one of the many campsites.
The Twelve Apostles
No doubt you’ve seen a photo of the Twelve Apostles standing tall on the Southern Ocean coastline, and when you visit the Great Ocean Road you’ll finally be able to glimpse their magnificence first hand.
These limestone stacks located in Port Campbell National Park were originally formed by erosion. Known as the “Sow and Piglets” until 1922, these 45 meter high cliffs draw thousands of tourists each year, and the reason why their name was changed to The Apostles. Even though there are only eight stacks, the name Twelve Apostles has been applied to the site ever since.
Up until 2005 there were nine stacks, but on July 3rd a 50 meter tall stack succumbed to the forces of erosion and collapsed. Another smaller formation off of the Three Sisters formation went under four years later. You shouldn’t worry too much about missing them, however; with an erosion rate of 2 cm each year, it’s suspected that much of the surrounding headlands will give way and form new stacks, perhaps finally bringing the total to twelve.
Just outside Port Campbell and near the Twelve Apostles, The Grotto is a great tourist spot to check out when you’re traveling down the Great Ocean Road. You’ll get spectacular views of the surrounding sea and cliffs when you head down the wooden steps to this fun and exciting sinkhole.
Called London Bridges until 1990 when a section suddenly collapsed, the London Arch is one of Australia’s most instantly recognizable natural rock formations. It’s another great site to check out when you’re in Port Campbell National Park, and there are many scenic lookouts to see whales during the summer months.
Loch Ard Gorge
Another great spot in Port Campbell National Park is the Loch Ard Gorge, just a 10 minute drive from the Twelve Apostles. Besides the great scenery and erosion processes going on, the site has an amazing history.
The clipper ship Loch Ard was nearing the end of a three-month voyage from England to Melbourne when it ran aground in June, 1878. Only two of the fifty-four passengers and crew survived, two teenagers named Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael. Tom supposedly pulled Eva to safety after hearing her cries, then scaled the cliffs to alert nearby pastoralists. The nearby Island Archway saw its arch collapse in June, 2009, 129 years after that fateful night. The two pillars that now stand have been named Tom and Eva in their honor.