We had always dreamed about Australia, but it was such a far-off, mystical land to us that I had no idea where we would start exploring it. When Anthony brought up the idea of area Victoria/Melbourne (mainly for its temperate climate, to start), I started looking into the area. The first thing I came across, was a set of spectacular images from the Great Ocean Road, and it became my obsession throughout the planning of our trip. Finally, the day had come for us to see it for ourselves. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.
Our eventual destination was to be Apollo Bay, where we had Air BnB reservations for the following night. Somehow, with the difference in our (American time) Google calendar, we had failed to account for all our days and our first day on the Road was our “lost day.” We decided to hit the road anyway, take our time as we checked out all the sights, and hopefully stumble upon somewhere to stay.
We left charming Warburton after another stop at the café we had so enjoyed the day before for brekkie, and made our way to the coast. After meandering back through Melbourne, we finally hit open highway and it wasn’t long until we started seeing signs for the coastal towns. Before we knew it, we were in the little surf town of Torquay, where we got our first glimpse of the ocean via Bells’ Beach.
Of course, I had to hike up my skirt to go dip my toes in the water, which was warmer than I expected, this far south and with Antarctic waters flowing relatively nearby. Sure enough, there were plenty of surfers and beach bums and kids floating around in the waves, enjoying the sunny day.
Our first view of the ocean at Bells Beach, Torquay
Bells Beach, Torquay
We did a little wandering through the shops and grabbed lunch before we were on our way, ready to really get a taste of this scenic road trip. After heading out of Torquay (pronounced “tor-KAY”), the coast line did open up and we were treated to a blue sky day that only magnified the turquoise water crashing against the cliffs of the coast. Anthony and I had done a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway in California a few years ago, and we had been expecting something similar with the GOR. I would say there are definitely some similarities between the two coastal highways, which are both so beautiful, but the GOR is unique in its massive rock outcroppings and incredibly jagged coastline. Plus, the blue of the water in Australia (for which the photos don’t even do adequate justice), was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
And now, I will give you a photo dump of some of the views we got along the way. Forgive the repetitive nature of the images — every time we turned a corner the views took my breath away and I couldn’t help but snap dozens of photos. I had a hard time choosing some to post here, and now that I look at them they all look very similar, but just indulge me. 🙂
Our friend at the winery the day before had offered us some advice to stay in Lorne, about a quarter way along the road, so we stopped in this charming surf town to check it out. We quickly learned that there were many “Schoolies” visiting — similar to American “spring break”, college and high school kids in Australia take some time off to celebrate finals on the beach in December. We didn’t find it to be the typical “Girls Gone Wild” atmosphere typical with many American spring break destinations, but more of a chill celebratory atmosphere (at least where we observed).
We traveled through some of the shops in Lorne, until we got to a resort at the end of the main drag. We stopped in to check for vacancy, and learned that this higher end hotel did not accept the Schoolies and therefore had a few rooms left. They gave us our keys to a “very nice room” and we headed up to check it out. We were shocked at the massive size of this suite, and wished we had some friends nearby who could come and help us enjoy it! But, we did just fine with a glass of wine on our balcony, taking in the ocean views, and finally heading out to dinner on the beach. We enjoyed some calamari and chili prawn risotto as we took in a warm sunset over the pier, and then headed back to our large, unexpected suite to tuck in for the night.
The view from our balcony
The next morning, I awoke early to go for a run along the beach, commencing on the pier to take in a different view of Lorne. On my way back, I grabbed us some coffee and croissants from a café and we threw on our swimsuits for some morning time at the beach. Anthony went for a walk to collect some shells, while I watched the surfers battling the waves, my interests piqued. I ended up finding a place to rent me a board and wetsuit cheaply, while there was no one around to serve us an instructor. With a few tips from the guy at the surf shop, as well as the small amount I could remember from the surf lessons during our honeymoon in Mexico 6 years ago, I was determined to give it a try. Anthony, not wanting to risk another knee injury, was content to watch me from the beach and provide encouragement and photography.
some of the shells Anthony collected on the beach
Trying my best to look like a surfer girl
You will not see any photos of my actually “surfing” — as my time actually standing was miniscule and I wouldn’t say I really “rode” any waves (unless you count sitting on the board and bobbing up and over the surf). The waves were larger than those in Sayulita, and without anyone telling me what to do I spent more time underwater than over it. Despite my failings, however, it was a blast. At one point, I was sitting on the board, waiting for a suitable wave, and looked around me in awe. I am in Australia, I thought. On a surfboard. Enjoying the trip I’ve always dreamed of. It was perfect, indeed.
Wave-beaten but happy
After I had had my fill of the waves, I cleaned up and we grabbed some fish and chips before hitting the road again. We continued up the road, seeing more little towns and gorgeous coastal imagery, and hit our destination of Apollo Bay before we knew it. There was more of the road past this town, so we decided to keep driving and see it all before checking in to that night’s accommodations. As we passed through the town, Anthony remarked that we should probably have stopped for gas there, but I assured him that there “had to be” another town coming up where we could fill the dwindling tank. More on that later…
Soon after, we entered into the Great Otway National Park, where we saw some very interesting flora and fauna, as well as our first glimpse at those cute little koalas in the wild. Knowing that this was the place to spot them, my eyes were pealed, and I managed to glimpse about a dozen different little guys in the crazy-looking trees. For Anthony’s sake, I only made him stop the car once for photos. We also saw a wombat on the side of the road, which was almost as exciting as the koalas.
At this point, after this little diversion from the road, we were running pretty low on fuel. The gar said we had about 60 km left before empty, and there were signs saying that the next town with fuel was about 30km away. No problem.
The problem arose when we entered this much-heralded town, pulled up to the only gas station in town, which boasted two old pumps that looked straight out of the 50’s. We examined the pumps, only to find a couple of faded, handwritten signs taped on them stating that they had no fuel and the closest was in 50 km in either direction. Enter: a little panic.
The little signs were not specific as to where the gas stations were, so we decided to rely on Jules and her navigation to save us. We typed it in and were routed to a station in a town called Simpson, supposedly 27km away. We crossed our fingers that Jules knew what she was doing, and headed off on the route. Almost immediately, the route became a dicey, one-lane backroad through the forest, but which was thankfully mostly downhill. Anthony took it very slowly (accelerating very judiciously, to save gas), and the 27km took almost an hour to cover in these completely abandoned backroads. Our nerves were on edge, we drove in silence, but hoping that Jules was not steering us astray. With no signs of life, it was difficult to hold on hope to the fact that there would be a gas station buried deep within this wilderness, and I had no service on my phone to confirm her directions.
In the midst of our nerve-wracked journey, however, we did get a glimpse of the only kangaroo we’d see in the wild during our whole trip — a little joey of a ‘roo who hopped out in front of our slow-moving vehicle, and then quickly hopped away back into the bush. A bit of happy excitement among our anxious nerves.
When we finally made it into the ghostly town of Simpson, with about 10km worth of gas left Jules joyously announced, “Your destination is on the left.” We looked left, where an old abandoned factory stood. We looked further down the road and saw fields of crops and nothing to the right. More panic. Jules had lied to us.
We found a little stand advertising Coca-Cola, where we quickly pulled up and shouted at someone “Do you know where we can get some Petrol?” Fortunately, the friendly man pointed us down the road “about 2 kilometers down” to a gas station, which thankfully truly did exist, and we were finally able to breathe again as we rolled into the station on the last dregs of our initial fill-up.
So, with that little “adventure” behind us, we made our way back to the GOR to once again revel in the sights. We quickly came up on a couple of the icons of this area, the 12 Apostles and Loc Ard Gorge (which has an interesting shipwreck story). Both are filled with tourists, but for good reason as the views are absolutely incredible. I will let the images speak for themselves.
Loc Ard Gorge
Loc Ard Gorge
Loc Ard Gorge
Loc Ard Gorge
Loc Ard Gorge
I got a kick out of these signs on a tourist bridge — be sure to leave your cat in the car for this hike.
After we had finished our drive down the GOR, we made our way back, enjoying the return trip a little easier without the imminent threat of a breakdown. We enjoyed the rolling green hills that covered the landscape less than a kilometer inland, and dotted with grazing sheep and cattle.
When we returned to Apollo Bay, we checked into our accommodations, a lovely place in town called the “Captains Quarters.” A two story cottage that we had all to ourselves,attached to a large home, it was an adorable place to stay along the ocean. We got cleaned up and then went into town for dinner, in search of seafood and/or local fare. We found both at a nice little restaurant where I enjoyed a tasmanian hapuka fish filet and Anthony indulged in seared kangaroo. Both were absolutely delicious. After dinner, we returned to the Captains’ Quarters and settled in, still awe-struck by the sights we had seen.
Captains Quarters in Apollo Bay
Next up, we’d return to Melbourne and wrap up our trip in the beachy suburb of St. Kilda. Stay tuned!