The Great Ocean Road (GOR) is an Australia national heritage site, which consists of 243 kilometers of stunningly beautiful and picturesque coastal road spanning between the Victoria cities of Torquay and Allansford. This is located on the southeastern coast of Australia between Melbourne and Adelaide. Also, for those Americans who need a refresher with the metric system, one mile equals 1.61 kilometers, so the GOR is 151 miles. The GOR is known around the world for its gorgeous beaches, lush inland rainforests, limestone and sandstone sea cliffs, huge ocean rock formations, vast array of wildlife, fun beach towns, scenic ocean views, and an overall amazing coastal drive.
Beautiful panoramic views the entire 151 miles of the Great Ocean Road
Great Ocean Road
Being the outdoorsy, adventurous types, we were very excited to embark on our three day Great Ocean Road (GOR) trip and escape the hustle and bustle of the large city of Melbourne that is not the best place to have a camper-van. The GOR is the one of the world's most scenic ocean drives. This is coming from someone who has driven the Pacific Coast Highway up and down, and those of you who know us well know that PCH is one of our favorite, go to spots in California. Here at the GOR we would experience our first glimpses of Australia's vast fauna, flora, landscape, and small towns.
First glimpse of the coast along the Great Ocean Road
Our trip begins in the small town of Torquay, the southeastern starting point of the GOR and the popular surfing region known as the Surf Coast. Our first stop was for an afternoon beer tasting at Blackman's Brewery. We decided that we would try as many breweries as possible while traveling around Australia in a mission to rank Australia's best IPAs according to two Americans who consume IPAs like no other. We will provide our results in a future post!
It's true - we love good beer and so do the folks at Blackman's Brewery in Torquay!
The bartender gave us several recommendations for breweries we must visit on the trip.
Outdoor eating area at Blackman's Brewery and some of their brewing equipment
Next it was time to start the epic drive down the GOR. We headed to Bell's Beach, a very popular surf spot, to watch the sunset and the evening surfers. On the way to the coast, we spotted our first kangaroos of the trip (and our lives). There were 15-20 kangaroos spread all across a large field just a couple hundred meters inland from the ocean. We pulled over to watch the fascinating marsupials hop around the field, some with little joeys in their pockets. Riding the wave of this kangaroo-sighting high, we sat up top of the Bell's Beach lookout and watched two surfers catching the day's last waves while the sun was setting in the west. Thanks to a lifesaving app, called WikiCamps Australia, our night would conclude at a free campground, called Big Hill Campground, located about 15 kilometers inland of Lorne in the lush rainforest. Once you get inland, you experience Australia's beautiful rainforests and realize that the country isn't all Outback desert but actually is home to many rainforests all along the different coasts. We saw more kangaroos crossing the road in the rainforest, as they are more active at night. Big Hill Campground is an open grassy area surrounded by tall trees, has drop toilets, and is free to the public. It has 20 official camping spots but easily fit more overflow campers along the gravel road leading in. We slept in our van's rooftop pop-up tent which was more preferable than sleeping in the inside, claustrophobic bed.
Our first kangaroo spotting! To say we were excited would be a understatement.
Our first night camping on the Great Ocean Road at the Big Hill Campground. We had the option
of sleeping in the van or up top. To our surprise, the top was much more comfortable!
The next day we were awoken at the break of daylight by what sounded like howling monkeys in the trees near us. We were baffled as to the source of the noise, knowing that monkeys were one of the few species that didn't live in Australia. We later learned that these monkey type howling and laughs were made by a small bird called the Laughing Kookaburra. This also marked the start of us waking up at sunrise, which became an everyday routine in Australia due to multiple different factors such as wildlife, heat, and long days of traveling.
On the way back toward the coast, we made a pit stop at Erskine Falls, a short 20 minute walk through our first Australian Rainforest. There were a lot of steps down through the plentiful ferns and palms leading to the base of the waterfall. The falls themselves were of small to medium size, but still scenic enough to be worth a stop.
Just one of the many large and lush ferns on the hike down to Erskine Falls.
We didn't stop long enough at Erskine Falls to swim but there were other backpackers who braved the cold falls.
Casey was feeling pretty "stumped" at Erskine Falls.
The small beach-side town of Lorne is the first town on the Great Ocean Road and makes a good stop for lunch or place to spend a night. There are plenty of restaurants, small shops, and hotels on the other side of the road and adjacent to the nice beaches that are known for good fishing and whale watching (when in season).
On the way out of Lorne, we stopped by Teddy's Lookout, which is a must-do easy pull-over stop. You drive up the steep mountain behind the neighborhoods just inland of the GOR and park in a small parking lot. The lookout is a 5 minute walk from the parking lot and offers a big view of the ocean and valley below with the GOR winding through the coast and wrapping up around the next sea cliff around the next turn after the valley.
Breathtaking views from Teddy's Lookout. It looks very similar to Big Sur and the PCH.
We were lucky to have amazing weather on the GOR.
We traveled 25 minutes further from Teddy's Lookout to arrive at Kennet River, a fun and easy tourist stop. Let us warn you that this is a popular stop for the tour buses and for a good reason. Here is a holiday park that is also home to flocks and flocks of Sulpher-crested Cockatoo Parrots and red, blue, and green King Parrots. The cockatoos can be spotted everywhere flying higher above the trees and hanging in the top layers of the Eucalyptus Trees. They aren't social with the humans but are very vocal and easily spotted in large flocks at times. The King Parrots, however, are very social and offer a great chance to interact with nature first hand. There's a small cafe called the Koala Kafe where you can purchase a bag of birdseed for $3 AUD. Next to the Koala Kafe, there is a road leading up a hill and a group of trees where all the King Parrots hang out and wait for tourists to come feed them. They would fly right up on to your hand, shoulder, or head for that matter and eat the birdseed right out of your hand. If you have the patience to wait your turn out of the large groups of tourists, you'll definitely have many chances to feed a parrot right out of your hand. We found it very fun and these parrots are very colorful, tame, and beautiful little creatures. Not only are there parrots everywhere, but you'll quickly get to spot your first koalas along the GOR, if you didn't already spot some inland. They hang out in the Eucalyptus Trees and all throughout the holiday park. It's almost 100% likely you'll spot at least one if you walk around the park and up the hill from the parrots. We spotted three. We were thoroughly enjoying all the wildlife sightings and interactions that Australia had to offer!
Casey had his hands out waiting for the birds but they quickly found the bag of birdseed and landed on Hannah first.
Beautiful King Parrots. At times Casey had several birds fighting over the birdseed in his hands.
Another 30 minutes further down the GOR lands you at the next quaint little beach town, called Apollo Bay. This is another good option for lunch, dinner, or lodging. We took the opportunity to connect to some local free wi-fi and enjoy lunch and a beer at the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse. The television was actually broadcasting a Golden State Warriors versus the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game. There was a seaside carnival with dizzying spinning rides and butterfly-inducing thrill rides. We passed on the rides and stuck to observing others who were seeking a quick thrill. Instead we used the free wi-fi at George's Food Court and checked into our jobs for a couple hours.
Our last sightseeing of the day was Mait's Rainforest Walk & the Cape Otway Lightstation, both great easy stops. Mait's Rainforest Walk is a short 30 minute return loop through a dense rainforest full of ferns and palms. I think this small walk exemplifies all the best qualities of the GOR rainforests and the walking path is very scenic and bountiful with southern Australian rainforest flora. This is a must do stop. On the drive back to the GOR from Mait's we spotted another four, separate koala sightings. There was a momma and cub in a branch overhanging the road and the two were feeding. Another koala was sitting on a lower branch of a tree on the side of the road and offered the closest view yet of the cute, fuzzy little bears. There was another a little further into the distance of the Eucalyptus forest. Cape Otway Lightstation was actually closed when we arrived just after sunset, but it is a hot tourist stop and is Australia's oldest surviving lighthouse on the mainland of Australia.
Ferns seem to be a theme on the GOR. Hannah is admiring the different plant species and trees on Mait's Rainforest Walk.
A koala perched up in the Eucalyptus tree. Did you know koalas sleep 20 hours a day?
We feel lucky we got to see them during the four hours they're awake during the day!
We used the wonderful WikiCamps app to locate another free campsite for the night. Tonight's spot was called Aires Crossing Campground, and it is located about 12 kilometers inland of the GOR on a windy, gravel road. This is a smaller campground and can only house about 5-10 vehicles. We lucked out and got the last spot of the night. This campground has a small clearing in the tall trees of the rainforest and offers the opportunity to see glow worms that line the side hills of the gravel road leading down to the nearby river. These are small little worms that put off a glow similar to fireflies. We didn't know what to look for and when we first spotted one we thought it was the glowing eyes of a small rodent or creature. However, the hill side soon illuminated with hundreds of these and we quickly realized it was the glow worms.
Our last day was by far the most scenic day of our three days of driving the GOR. We woke up early and sought out the legendary 12 Apostles. The12 Apostles are amazing rock formations whose shape, cut from the earth due to erosion, were magnificent with their jagged ridge lines and grooves. We walked around the lookouts and took pictures. It was beautiful and something about the large cliffs and the feel of the Apostles just didn't feel real. It felt like something you see in a film but never believed to be a real place. The beach cliffs of Southern Australia were straight 90 degree jagged cliffs that extended as far as the eyes could see. There are viewing platforms within 15 minutes from the parking lot where you can view the 12 Apostles from up top of the cliffs. Also, there's another small parking lot a half kilometer to the left or a short walk down the path that lead to stairs down to the 12 Apostles Beach. Here you feel like an ant looking up at the huge, steep sea cliffs running down the whole beach.
The 12 Apostles - absolutely breathtaking. Pictures will do no justice for most of the stops along the GOR. We both follow many bloggers who have posted about this beautiful place but seeing it with our own eyes is something we'll never forget.
Our time in Australia was HOT - luckily we arrived at the 12 Apostles just after sunrise so it was still cool enough for jackets.
If you make it to the 12 Apostles, we recommend going early to beat the crowds of tourists.
After visiting the 12 Apostles we went for a stroll on the beach. Not pictured is a
huge wave that caught Hannah by surprise as we walked along the waterline.
Enjoying the views and having our feet in the sand.
The 12 Apostles in the distance. You can never have too many photos, right?!
We took off for four more lookouts before the town of Port Cambell. There was the Loch Ard Gorge, Arch, London Bridge, and the Grotto. The first three all involved more huge rock formations and cliffs, which were plenty photogenic. They were all short walks, under 30 min return. We would come, we would see, we would conquer and leave. The tourists were beginning to come out. The last stop, the Grotto, was especially neat. The ocean had carved a jagged inlet into the land and at the end of it was left a door way like rock formation where the waves would crash through. Definitely a highlight of the short scenic walks. However, they were all pretty jaw dropping sights.
The Grotto - a sinkhole geological formation on the GOR
The Grotto from above
London Bridge is an offshore natural arch formation on the GOR.
More beautiful views on the GOR
Loch Ard Gorge
A different viewpoint of Loch Ard Gorge
We got to the town of Port Cambell around midday. This was the second to last town before finishing the GOR drive. At the town's center was a beautiful ocean bay where all the locals were out swimming and hanging out. The town had one main street with restaurants, cafes, gas, etc. We stopped briefly to catch up on some work and enjoy the beach vibes.
Swimming area in Port Campbell
The last town of the GOR we passed through was called Port Fairy, and is probably the least scenic or entertaining of all the GOR beach towns. We passed through and continued on toward our next destination, Adelaide. Just outside the GOR, heading toward Adelaide is a red wine region called the Coonawarra wine region. We stopped by and caught the last open winery, the Whistle Post, for a tasting. It was hot, 39 degrees Celsius heat (102 degrees Fahreinheit), and we heard that bush fires were breaking our along the GOR. In the heat of the day, the cool Rose spoke to us and we left with a bottle to enjoy some day in the near future.
Wine tasting in the Coonawarra wine region
Onward from the Great Ocean Road, things only continued to heat up, literally, as we head toward Adelaide and the legendary Outback of Australia. The next segments of our Australia would really involve extreme heat and grueling drives. We left this Winery and had a seven hour road trip ahead of us to reach Adelaide, which we'll be writing about in our next posting. The heat was already on and when we found a huge public pool halfway to Adelaide, we knew we had found a good stopping point and place to cool down for the night. Stay tuned for our adventures in Adelaide coming up next!
Free public pool on a very hot day's drive to Adelaide
Did you know?
The 12 Apostles is a collection of limestone stacks on the Great Ocean Road. Despite it’s name, when the 12 Apostles were named in 1920, there were only nine stacks. Formed by erosion, only eight stacks remain standing today. The stacks stand 50 meters high and erosion still continues to date at a rate of about two cm per year.
For those who are either renting a car or a camper-van and driving around Australia, you should 100% download the mobile app called WikiCamps Australia and use it as your ultimate traveler's companion and guide. We used it for everything. It is Australia's largest database of free and cheap campsites, free wi-fi, points of interest, showers, gas/petrol, hikes, and so much more. It is very reliable and found us campsites, showers, and free wi-fi more times than I can even remember. One of the best parts is that it's 100% available to use offline since it downloads all the content to your phone. This comes in great use when you're driving through remote locations of Australia, which there is plenty of. The app costs $8 but is very much worth the investment.
Also, for those of you seeking out the 12 Apostles and who don't enjoy sharing your sightseeing stops with, literally, bus loads of other tourists then take this advice. The night before you want to go to the 12 Apostles, find a hotel in the nearby town of Port Campbell or stay at a nearby campsite, such as Aires Crossing Campground. Wake up at the crack of dawn and drive down to the parking lot of the 12 Apostles and go enjoy the heritage site before the tours beginning dropping off hundreds of traveling tourists. It will make the experience a lot more enjoyable!
Great Ocean Road Gallery