Trip Date – December 2014
| 🇦🇺| I’ve come to love road trips. It’s tough to beat the freedom of having a car and doing everything at your own pace. There’s no doubt that it’s a pricier way to explore, especially when you return rental cars in different locations and cross country borders, but it’s unquestionably among the most efficient ways to see a place. I’ve done several road trips in the past few years, my favorites including the Balkans, Morocco, Iceland, the French Riviera, New Zealand and this one – the Great Ocean Road.
The southern coast of Australia is home to a spectacular coastline. Ocean currents build up steam all the way from Antarctica and smash into the limestone rock creating some of the most dramatic landscape in the world. Built in 1919, the 243 kilometer (151 mile) Great Ocean Road winds through various terrain along this coast providing access to a number of visitor attractions.
Excited for the opportunity to check it out, my friend Abby and I flew to Melbourne on a red-eye from Singapore. At the time, JetStar was offering a cheap fare and, although an overnight flight on a budget carrier is not an ideal scenario, we managed to make it work. We grabbed a rental car from the airport and began heading south. Our first stop was Café Moby in Torquay, the town that marks the official start of the Great Ocean Road. We had a big breakfast and enjoyed the crisp Australian air, the first thing I always notice when leaving the hot and sticky Singaporean climate.
The weather Gods worked their magic as we made our way along the coast. It’s a gorgeous but winding road. As the driver, it’s sometimes difficult to see everything because you have to focus on not driving off a cliff or crashing into a rock. Roughly three hours after leaving Torquay, we arrived at the Gibson Steps, the first sightseeing stop in Port Campbell National Park. The 86 steps are carved into a seaside cliff and lead down to the beach. The howling Ocean swell and towering cliff-line team up for an impressive natural setting.
Just two minutes further is the face of the Great Ocean Road – The Twelve Apostles. They are a collection of limestone stacks formed by millions of years of ruthless erosion. Unfortunately, only eight of them are visible today, as the ninth one collapsed in 2005. Despite the incident, the name has persisted and the site remains one of the most visited in all of Australia. The Welcome Center is well established and there is plenty of space to park. It was a bit crowded on the day we went, but the pictures make it easy to understand why.
After about 30 minutes of experiencing Mother Nature’s marvel, we continued to the town of Port Campbell. We unloaded our things at the Sea Foam Villas before heading out for a walk. It’s a cozy town with a population of 700 and an ideal stopping point. It is home to a relaxing beach that looks directly into the bay. On the west side is the Port Campbell Discovery Walk. The hike leads up a hill and provides a panoramic view of the town and surrounding Southern Ocean.
After dinner, we decided to revisit The Twelve Apostles, which was only a 15-minute backtrack from where we came from that afternoon. We had been told that seeing the rock formations at sunset was often a treat. I don’t remember exactly where that information came from, but it proved to be some of the best we could have asked for. Having a perfectly clear evening didn’t hurt either.
When driving back to Port Campbell for the night, a kangaroo came springing out of the roadside bushes and across the two-line highway. It leapt across the road just inches (it was probably more than inches, but it seemed like that) in front of our windshield. The moment unfolded so quickly that I had no time to react. Thankfully, it managed to avoid the car and continue safely to the other side. The entire episode lasted about one second, but I will never forget it. I can’t imagine that killing a kangaroo in Australia is a good omen…?
The next morning, we continued west to the ‘The Arch’ and the ‘London Bridge,’ which are only a few minutes from Port Campbell. The two attractions are close to each other – you could almost use the same parking lot. Both formations are natural bridges and significant attractions. The London Bridge used to be a double bridge, but in 1990 the span closer to the shoreline collapsed. Interestingly, at the time two tourists were on the outer bridge and had to be rescued by a police helicopter.
That evening, we had flights to New Zealand and needed to get back to Melbourne in time to catch them. The Great Ocean Road leads all the way to Warrnambool, so I’ll have to cover that stretch next time. From the London Bridge we took a more direct inland route back to the city. It leads through a forest and is more than an hour faster than following the coast.
Overall, the road trip was a success and I would certainly recommend it. One note- I would suggest watching your speed on the roads. About four months after this, I received a speeding ticket in the mail from the Victoria Government. I was apparently caught by a traffic camera and they traced the details of the rental car all the way back to Singapore through my American drivers’ license (which, I must say, was relatively impressive). The total bill was AUD$85. I considered not paying it, but then determined that I will probably rent a car again in Australia at some point in my life and figured it’s worth clearing the books to avoid potential issues in the future. Regardless of the sour finale, the Great Ocean Road trip remains a fantastic memory.
Have you seen the Twelve Apostles?