What’s that, Skippy? Don’t drive after dark in case you hit a kangaroo? Good idea, mate! Time to spill the beans on driving in Australia
“Beware of ‘roos after dusk,” was the first and only piece of advice we received when starting out on our big Aussie road trip along the country’s most iconic road. No mention of being sure not to run out of petrol, watching out for police or drugged-up lorry drivers, staying on the right side of the road or any of that. No, the main concern is that when dusk falls, the kangaroos come out to play and they don’t care where the road starts and the bush ends.
The Great Ocean Road officially runs from Torquay, just outside Melbourne, to Warrnambool and is a 243km stretch of the road running along the southeastern coast of Australia built to commemorate Australia’s First World War heroes by returning soldiers. But, like many before us, we’re taking a slightly longer route, beginning in Adelaide and driving through to Melbourne along the coast. It can be done in two days, but we decided to take our time, mind the ‘roos and make a wildlife safari of it all, in four days.
Day one: back to nature
There’s no getting around it: the Adelaide stretch is dull. Not because Adelaide is, but the road out of the city has no distinguishing features to speak of. We stop off mid-afternoon to relieve the boredom at the Coorong Wilderness Lodge, a cultural and wildlife centre on the edge of a beautiful saltwater lagoon. You can kayak in the lagoon across to a wild deserted beach – ours were the only footprints apart from the emus’ – or take a bush walk with charismatic Gordy, the Aboriginal man who runs the centre. Driving away from the centre, we sent a few emus flapping back into the bush and were glad not to have encountered them on foot. Those orange eyes did not look friendly. We made it to Robe before dusk, a small town with clapperboard houses and the Caledonian Inn
, an ivy-clad English-style pub with rooms, which serves croc steaks in its restaurant.
Day two: mysteries and eccentrics
Our second day on the road was a straight 200km from Robe to the pretty town of Port Fairy. First stop: Mount Gambier. This small town is blessed with some strange geographic features – a blue lake and a set of sink holes. The blue lake on the outskirts of town is in an old volcanic crater and, from April to November each year, swaps its traditional grey for a vibrant, nearly Yves Klein blue. Recently it was discovered that it was due to algae, but it had been a mystery for years.
Mount Gambier is built on limestone, and constant rain over the years has created sink holes where cave roofs have collapsed in, making great pits in the earth. Umpherston sink hole is the best one to visit: it was owned by a Victorian eccentric who decided to create an English-style garden and lake inside it, and it’s still in operation today.
Port Fairy made a great stop for the night. Its white sand beach attracts swimmers and surfers, and it has a marina full of sailing boats lined with pubs and fish and chip shops. Oscars
is the best hotel in town, just by the marina, and the Victoria Hotel
, in the centre of town, has a trendy restaurant, surprisingly good live music in the bar and comfy rooms.
Day three: we got high
From Port Fairy, you can’t miss the Great Ocean Road’s highlight – the Twelve Apostles. As the coast has eroded over the years, it’s left stacks of rock stranded in the sea, and at this point, east of Port Campbell, the most spectacular limestone sculptures stand in the middle of the rushing ocean as it eats them away from the bottom. There’s a walkway around the best viewing area so you can’t miss the breathtaking photo opportunities.
If you’ve got a head for heights, Otway Fly, a slight detour inland, is not to be missed. This aerial walkway is 600 metres long and takes you through the temperate rainforest 25 metres up for an incredible view of the forest. Thrill-seekers will like the springy walkways and 45m-high look-out point.
The diversity of this part of Australia is staggering: your morning could be by the beach but an hour and a half later you’ll be up in the rainforest. And then, the descent into Apollo Bay is like driving through the rolling English countryside, with a patchwork of fields below you. Its wide, curving sandy beach is ideal for a gentle surf, and you can hire wetsuits and boards in one of the shops along the promenade. Sandpiper Motel
is a good stop for the night: fresh contemporary apartments just across the road from the beach.
Day four: marsupial madness
No sign of roos so far (not even dead ones – were they stringing us along?) but we’re keeping our eyes peeled for a different Aussie marsupial today: the koala. The final stretch from Apollo Bay has got everything going for it: epic surf beaches, wildlife spots and some decent roads for a change. We stop at Kennett River to try and locate the town’s most famous inhabitants. It doesn’t take long. On the Koala Walk, koalas cling to nearly every tree, watching us with sleepy eyes. It’s a real chance to see them up close and personal, and possibly one of the only ones where you won’t have to pay to visit a nature reserve.
Torquay, the end of the Great Ocean Road, is a decent-sized town with nothing special going on until you reach the outskirts. Bell’s Beach is Australia’s most famous surf beach, and featured in Point Break. You can while away some more time watching the big-wave surfers do their thing from the viewing platform. Then it’s just a short hop to Melbourne and back into reality, with traffic jams, sealed roads and more danger from other drivers after dark than from large jumping marsupials. Phew, I think.
Singapore Airlines fly to Adelaide and Melbourne.