The Great Ocean Road’s appeal reaches over and above its well-known landmark

WORDS Tobey Bostock    images out there images

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There is a lot to see and do on the Great Ocean Road other than looking at the stunning views from the towering cliffs. We took on the 260-kilometre journey from Torquay to Warrnambool and reckon we found a few things worthy of a gander that aren’t as well known as those astonishing rock formations… 260 clicks may not sound like a long way, but if you know anything about the Great Ocean Road, you’ll know it’s not exactly a speedway. The more time spent on this special coastline the better, we reckon!

We collected our Mitchell Camper from Pioneer in Dandenong and made our way across Melbourne heading for the most famous beach in Australia (other than Bondi, of course) Bells Beach, just out of Torquay, is a short walk from the clifftop car park. If you’re a surfer then you already know that winter is the time when it really pumps and it’s great to check out the expert surfers doing their thing. Make sure you bring the woollies because it gets mighty cold.

Delving into the nearby Otways Forest, you’ll find ample secluded bush camps. The next town along is the bustling centre of Lorne, about 30 kays down the road. The beach was a hive of activity with the nippers in full swing, while the foreshore precinct looked like a great place to be 10 years old again. The area included a giant playground and a huge in-ground trampoline set up. We enjoyed our morning coffee overlooking the beach before starting the most scenic part of our journey along the winding cliff-edge road.

Landing in Apollo Bay I could see the credit card was about to get a workout. The main street, lined with boutique stores featuring all things from clothes to crafts, really is a great way to keep the other half entertained for hours on end while the fellas head to the Prickly Moses Brewery. 

This local Otways brewery has a great bar set up, just off the main street, where you can wander in and taste a range of the excellent beers for not much money; or even just pick up some brews for the rest of your trip. The friendly staff are bound to help you find that perfect match… they even have a beer to help support the local wildlife!

The GOR, as the locals call it, then takes a turn inland and the scenery quickly becomes rolling green hills – winding our way along not too far before taking a turn south towards the Cape Otway Lightstation. After the turn-off it’s a narrow 12km to the southern cape.
Keep your eyes peeled along the heavily-treed drive in, and you’re likely to spot a koala or two taking a nap high up in the trees. Even if you don’t spot one,
the tourists piling out of the buses are a dead giveaway.

Arriving at the Cape Otway Lightstation
(which includes a generous amount of long
vehicle parking), $20 is exchanged for entry into the precinct where you are able to wander through some very important Australian history dating back to 1848. All of the buildings in the village are open to explore, and the climb to the top of the 80m lighthouse is not to be missed. You might even spot a whale between May and October. Enjoying two tours a day, is a great way to learn even more about the area.

After a big day it was time to find somewhere to set up for the night. We found a cosy spot off the trail in the Otways Forest just east of Johanna. There is ample camping in the national parks; however, this time of year provided limited availability. From here it only made sense
to head to one spot: The Otways Treetop Walk. 

The treetop walk, opened in 2003, puts you 47 metres high in the uppermost canopy of the rainforest. As well as the walk, there is the 2.5-hour action-packed zipline tour. If this sounds right up your alley, make sure you book ahead because it does fill up. We decided to take the hour-long leisurely walk through the rainforest and treetop walk. The elevated walkway is over 600 metres long and will give the best views you’re ever likely to see in a rainforest. The facility also has a great cafeteria for a meal, and a gift shop to send something to those unlucky people stuck back home.

Back on our new favourite road we were headed for Port Campbell, a small town right before those rightly famous Apostles. We set up in the recreation ground after making a donation to the local sporting club. This campground has ample space to accept even the biggest van, with new amenities and a great camp kitchen. We walked a short distance to the town centre where I found my new favourite seaside village. Exploring the local shops, we found a plethora of places to eat and coffee to drink – right before landing on the sheltered beach and its ice-cold water (even in summer). It was easy to while away the hours before heading back to the quiet campsite and hitting the hay after a big day.

On the road heading towards our final stop of Warrnambool, I thought we were going to set a record for the most stop-offs in one day. First was the unmissable 12 Apostles, then the Razorback, the London Bridge, the Arch, the Grotto; and the least-famous of all, the Bay of Islands boat ramp. I reckon this was ‘up there’ as one of the steepest and longest boat ramps I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Dropping from the clifftop right into the bay, this is one of the few ramps on the GOR – and if you get lucky enough to see one of the daring fishos launch their boat it really is a precision act. You can walk down the stairs into the bay and, if the tide is out, enjoy some time on the small beach.

With the end in sight we had two more destinations: The Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Co. and Flagstaff Hill. The large visitors’ centre at the Cheese and Butter Co. (where the bulk of the milk from the numerous dairies along the road ends up) is worth a stop for some edible souvenirs and a peak into the museum.

Cruising a little further west brings you to the bustling city of Warrnambool. It’s easy enough to just follow the signs to Flagstaff Hill (which the town is obviously very proud of). Like the Otways Lightstation this is another very important piece of Australia’s maritime history. Walking into the village at the visitors’ centre we picked up our entry tickets and moved through for a quick video in the theatre, before experiencing the museum then meandering through the village. The village presents a time capsule of what life was like back in the 1870s. There are shows and tours running all year round if you arrive at the right time.

Wrapping up this trip, it certainly left us with a new perspective on the Great Ocean Road. For me, it was the marvellous views that had sparked my interest in this region. Actually touching down in the area and seeing that it has a lot more to offer sure was a surprise; I really feel like we only scratched the surface, too. Locking in a week or two down in this spectacular area should be on everyone’s travel list.

Got any local knowledge on the Great Ocean Road? Let us know! 

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