Great Ocean Road, Australia
When to go
Spring and autumn are great times to venture here. Winters are very chilly and you’ll need to rug up against the wind when you visit spots like coastal rock stacks the Twelve Apostles. The summer holidays, particularly around Christmas, turn these sleepy towns into heaving hot spots.
PlanesJetstar (www.jetstar.com) flies to the closest local airport, Melbourne Avalon, 22 kilometres from Geelong just north-east of the Great Ocean Road, although most people would start from the Melbourne metropolis.
TrainsV/Line trains (www.vline.com.au) run from Melbourne's Southern Cross Station in the CBD to the town of Geelong, about 50 minutes away, where you can pick u a V/Line bus heading west along the Great Ocean Road stopping at towns such as Torquay, Anglesea, Lorne, Apollo Bay and Warrnambool. Bus services are infrequent though, especially at weekends.
AutomobilesTo see the best of the Great Ocean Road, a car is an absolute must. Do it in style by hiring an Aston Martin, Ferrari or something similarly stylish from Melbourne Sports Car Rentals (+61 (0)3 9826 6990; www.melbournesportscarrentals.com.au).
TaxisYou can hire a taxi in most of the major towns along the road, such as Lorne (+61 (0)409 892 304) and Apollo Bay (+61 (0)417 109 686), but it’ll cost you a fortune if you use them to travel between towns.
Phillip Island, where you can see the daily Penguin Parade, when little penguins march up the beach at sunset – it’s a great one for the family. You can also spy fur seals and koalas on the island.
I also recommend the Mornington Peninsula wine region near Melbourne. It’s just 45 minutes from the city, but you’ll find world-class wineries and restaurants in stunning settings. There are so many vineyards to choose from but I love Red Hill Estate and T’Gallant.
Driving the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to the 12 Apostles, giant limestone towers rising from the ocean, is another must – take a few days to wind along this jaw-dropping route from start to finish. Stay a night in Lorne or Port Campbell, stop for a swim or surf at Kennett River, do the Otway Fly Treetop Walk near Apollo Bay and then take a helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles.
Board the Searoad car ferry at Sorrento Pier on the Mornington Peninsula for the 40-minute voyage across Port Phillip Bay to Queenscliff. Once there, Phil Spencer recommends ‘checking out the surfing Meccas of Torquay and Bells Beach.’ Bells is home to Easter’s iconic Rip Curl Pro competition, but you can watch surfers here any day. ‘From Bells, the drive to Lorne is simply breathtaking, as around every bend there are amazing views of pristine beaches and stunning cliffs,’ says Phil. Turn in at Grey River Road, in Kennett River, to see koalas snoozing in the gum trees; to enjoy aerial views yourself, hightail it to Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, which boasts ‘uplifting’ canopy walks and zip line thrills.
Driving the Great Ocean Road takes about five hours, but rather than rushing it stop off along the way. Cape Otway’s Great Ocean Ecolodge offers guided walks at twilight to spy wild kangaroos and koalas, and whips up hearty meals with homegrown produce. Fancy self-catering? Rustic Allenvale at Lorne is a good bet for night one; for a second night, Smith recommends designer den Moonlight Escape near surf-lashed Johanna Beach or Anchors’ contemporary cabins at Port Campbell, ideal for viewing the jaw-dropping 12 Apostles offshore rock stacks at sunrise or sunset and dramatic Loch Ard Gorge. Handy pit stops include the Bottle of Milk at Lorne, the Wye General Store at Wye River and Wickens Provedore at Apollo Bay. ‘Port Fairy is a charming fishing village just past Warrnambool,’ adds Phil. ‘It has a great little beach, café culture and laid-back vibe, as well as a fantastic folk festival in March. Call in at Basalt Wines in Killarney en route.’
It’s got to be the Great Ocean Road every time, but I also rate the coast route from Melbourne to Sydney along the south-east of the state's border. Head towards Ninety Mile Beach in Gippsland, or swing by Wilsons Promontory. The drive really showcases the diversity of Victoria’s landscapes.