The Great Ocean Road in Victoria offers some of the most spectacular and iconic scenery in the world
The morning mist burned away as we left Melbourne on the motorway towards Geelong, enjoying the sense of adventure and anticipation of everything we were going to see. Our destination - the Twelve Apostles - around 200 miles away down the Great Ocean Road, one of the world's great coastal drives.
The story behind it all
The Great Ocean Road leaves Geelong and heads towards the wild, rugged Victorian coast. The road is actually the world's largest war memorial, built by the men of Victoria who had fought in World War One. It was built in honour of their fallen comrades and as a symbol of Australian determination and grit.
These days, it serves mainly as a tourist attraction and is not a major transport route - a job left mainly to the inland highways. In the interests of those that do have somewhere to be however, there are amusing signs regularly posted along the road reminding tourists that they should pay attention to the road, not the views, and try to keep up a reasonable speed out of respect for other road users. In the interest of tourists there are thankfully very regular lookout points with car parks allowing people to take in the stunning coastline views without holding anyone up.
The Victorian coast is wild and violent, facing out onto the stormy southern ocean. The water temperature is always significantly cooler than that of the other coasts of Australia, and wetsuits are required for most of the year as a result. Surfing is an institution here, and many household surfer brands are based not too far away (Billabong and Quicksilver among others). Every time you drive past one of the never ending succession of beaches there are invariably surfers littered along the sand like dread-locked sentinels, forever awaiting the perfect wave.
The small town of Lorne is one of the best known along the great ocean road, and is a good pit-stop point around half way to the Twelve Apostles. It was an otherworldly feel to it; the aura of being in a parallel universe unburdened by the gloomy commitments of everyday life. There is delicious seafood here at the Lorne Fish and Chips restaurant on the Great Ocean Road. Everything is cooked fresh as you order it, and it is charmingly staffed by real McCoy surfer dudes and dudettes, who manage to go about their work in the most wonderfully relaxed way, as through they are just whipping up a snack for a mate.
If you can't tear yourself away from Lorne right away, then the Great Ocean Road Backpackers YHA in Erskine Avenue is a fabulous little hostel with a cabin-like feel, set on a wooded hill next to the river in the middle of Lorne. There is air conditioning, free laundry and dryer facilities and you can hire surfboards if you fancy a go. Rates start from $20AUD a night for YHA members in a large multishare dorm. Highly recommended.
The Twelve Apostles
Back on the road, the drive gets pretty twisty as it hugs the craggy coastline around cliffs and through forests. There are a few other towns along the way if you need to stop for fuel etc, and plenty more fantastic views to take in. Further along, you turn inland through dense woodland and rolling hills, with the terrain being very similar to the English Lake District. Then, shortly after hitting the coast again, the road reaches those iconic Australian landmarks - the Twelve Apostles.
We got there around dusk, which is undoubtedly the best time to see them. Their mystical ambiance and aesthetic beauty at its most profound as the sun sets to the west, tinting the wispy clouds shades of red and orange. There is a huge carpark, shop and cafe there, with a tunnel taking visitors under the road and onto a walkway leading to a huge board-walk overlooking the giant rock pillars in the sea. The apostles are the remnants of an ancient coastline, eroded away by the perpetual waves over millennia leaving only pillars of the harder, more resilient rock behind. In the ages to come, they will be gone. Only to be replaced by new, similar structures where the current coast now stands.
Where to stay
West of the Twelve Apostles the Great Ocean Road continues towards Adelaide, but as darkness had fallen and we felt we had seen the best that the road had to offer, we spent the night at the Port Campbell Hostel in Tregea Street. A short drive from the Twelve Apostles, it is clean, safe and good value with plenty of parking. This is a great place to spend the night before onward travel or return to Melbourne. Rates start from $23AUD a night for an eight-bed mixed dorm.