The Great Ocean Road was built after WWI by Australian soldiers who had returned from the war. They used picks and shovels to build a road along the rugged coast. Even at the time, their methods and equipment were considered outdated. Nevertheless, they managed to build the road (it was opened in 1932) that today is one of Australia’s main tourist attractions.
We drove the Great Ocean Road in September – spring time in Australia – and the weather was, well, mainly cold and windy although we did have a few sunny days. At that time of the year there weren’t many tourists around. Still, the famous sites like the 12 Apostles got a bit crowded and it wasn’t easy to find a parking spot (Chinese people always seem to be on vacation).
Officially, the Great Ocean Road starts at Torquay and finishes in Allansford. However, the whole coast between Melbourne and Adelaide is beautiful and makes for a good road trip. Whereas the scenery is dramatic all along the Great Ocean Road, the eastern side and Cape Otway is greener (thanks to abundant rain) and covered in thick forest. The western side, however, has sheer cliffs and stunning rock formations.
Erskine Falls and a Detour
The tourism office in Lorne has a nice little permanent exhibition on the construction of the Great Ocean Road; well worth a visit! From Lorne, it’s a small detour to Erskine Falls. Despite the rain (and hail!) and 5°C outside temperature we ventured out of the van and to the lookout and, luckily, were rewarded with great views of the waterfall.
Since it had been raining a lot recently (the rain at Erskine Falls was not just an occasional shower), the risk of landslides was high and a small section of the Great Ocean Road was closed. It was only a tiny section but nevertheless we had to make a huge detour. What sounded annoying at first was an incredibly beautiful drive through the hills and thick, green forest – and after a few minutes the sun came out and bathed everything in golden light. On the drive we noticed that a campervan is not the ideal vehicle for steep and curvy roads. Luckily, there’s a “slow vehicle turnout” every few kilometers so we could let the convoy of cars pass that kept accumulating behind us.
Along the way we wanted to stop at Sabine Falls – how many times do you find a waterfall named after yourself!? Yes, I know, it wasn’t named after me but I still wanted to take a picture with “my” waterfall. But I was heavily disappointed: The turnoff was closed.
Walk the Great Ocean Walk
The best way – even better than the road – to enjoy the fantastic coastal scenery (and to spot wildlife) is via the Great Ocean Walk. The trail leads 104 km along the coast and over the cliffs and offers the best views one could wish for. There are several campsites along the way but of course it’s also possible to just walk a short section. It’s a one-way trail so if you have a car either find someone to drive it to the end of the trail or, easier, just walk back to where you parked your car.
The nicest (and longest) section we walked was between Princetown and the Gibson Steps. Talking about the Gibson Steps: They’re not really that amazing (no matter what the brochure says). The views from the beach are nice but that’s about it. And no, you can’t see the 12 Apostles from there.
The walk winds its way on top of the cliffs along the wild and rugged coast. It takes you to lookouts and, if you dare, the edge of amazing steep cliffs. The day was cold and stormy but that only added to the beauty of the wild coast; the wind was so strong it almost blew us away (the views certainly did – they’re fantastic!).
The 12 Apostles and Other Rocks
The 12 Apostles are several (certainly not twelve, even if you see double) sandstone pillars off the coast. They’re a must-see if you drive the Great Ocean Road and are really worth the stop. Further west along the coast other rocks and rock formations await: Loch Ard Gorge, the Arch, London Bridge (or what remains of it), the Grotto, and Bay of Martyrs, plus many others that don’t have a name. Some are more impressive than others but always the roaring sea and the waves clashing against the cliffs and rocks are spectacular.
The Great Ocean Road may be one of the most touristy routes in Australia but it’s like that for a reason. The coast is gorgeous and with so many wonderful sights and walks along the way, you easily lose track of time. In hindsight, I wish we’d have spent more time there.