Written by Eric Plante | Illustrated by Steve Stankiewicz
Perhaps no other scenic drive brings the ‘road warrior’ spirit to life like Australia’s Great Ocean Road.
Renowned for its natural wonders, this coastal route is home to beloved creatures like koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and echidnas. Just as magnificent are primeval rainforests and towering limestone sea stacks that beg to be explored.
Though the Great Ocean Road officially begins on B100 in Torquay, 60 miles southwest of Melbourne, it’s in Anglesea where Australian icons come in to plain view. This seaside community is known for the ever-popular sport of golf. But the resident kangaroos at Anglesea Golf Club don’t care. They brazenly bask in the sun, have a scratch, and tend to their babies’ needs right on the fairway as golfers practice their driving skills. The next notable town is Lorne, where a side trip on the C151 road takes you into the Great Otway National Park and through a quintessential Australian woodland. Wallabies roam the dense forest, as koalas survey their domain from a favorite perch.
If getting close to cuddly koalas is what’s desired, stop at the Kafe Koala in Kennett River. The cluster of trees adjacent to the cafe is where you can have an up close encounter with these darling marsupials. The koalas here are wild, but they’re habituated to people. Brilliantly colored parrots also find this spot to be a haven. To see koalas in a more pristine, natural setting, walk the Grey River Road (also adjacent to the cafe), and then backtrack to the B100.
Apollo Bay deserves exploration. The picturesque town boasts a plethora of seaside and hilltop hotels and B&Bs, as well as shops, restaurants and picnic areas. Beer connoisseurs should check out the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse, which serves over 100 kinds of craft beer. About 15 minutes west of Apollo Bay, Maits Rest is a stunning patch of lush rainforest where the sun’s rays struggle to penetrate a thick canopy of myrtle beeches as peculiar sounds pierce the humid air. It seems the Jurassic period forgot to make an exit.
Continue on to Lighthouse Road and be prepared to say “Awww” a few dozen times. The forests and fields along this road are chock-full of kangaroos and koalas. Very early in the morning is best for spotting eastern grey kangaroos as they graze then hop to the next patch of grass. Koalas love the gum trees here, especially a cozy fork in branches where they settle their little bums for an afternoon siesta. The road ends at the Cape Otway Lightstation, where footpaths are the only way to get close to the azure coast and its historic lighthouse.
The C155 road from Lavers Hill leads travelers to the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures’ Treetop Walk, a network of steel walkways where you can stroll through a rainforest 82 to nearly 100 feet above the ground. The Spiral Tower (with stairs to the top) soars 150 feet into the treetops. And then there’s the cantilever… nerves beware, it’s wobbly. The park’s level trails take explorers through emerald forests and to soothing streams.
Nobody skips Port Campbell National Park when driving the GOR. Maybe because there’s a vision of stunning beauty and power dancing in their heads brought on by magazine ads and travel brochures. The Twelve Apostles is that dream; there’s no other stretch of coast quite like it. The Twelve Apostles (now only seven remain) is the result of the ocean eroding the soft limestone to form caves in the cliffs, which then became arches, which in turn collapsed, leaving yellow-orange monoliths up to 160 feet high. There’s an observation deck as well as a boardwalk for safe viewing.
In the same national park, Loch Ard Gorge has historical significance. In 1878, the clipper ship Loch Ard crashed into a coral reef and quickly sank. Of the 54 people on board, only two survived, as the current carried them into a narrow gorge, now named for the ship. You can walk down a set of stairs to the beach below, where the two teenage survivors made it ashore after drifting in the turbulent Southern Ocean.
Allansford marks the official end of the 150-mile route. But drive just 16 miles beyond for a bonus dose of classic Australia. Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve is home to entertaining emus, koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, and a true oddball, the echidna. Approaching an emu too closely would not be wise because it can deliver a wicked kick. Take the short walk to The Last Volcano. Yep, it’s a real volcano, but avoid the temptation of asking how it got its name. No one seems to know. In addition to once daily guided tours, a local from the Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Cooperative gives talks and demonstrations on the Aboriginal culture.
The Australian winter is June to August, summer is December to February, opposite of our seasons. But the GOR drive is a year-round adventure. G’day, mate!
Your Australian “ride about” is just a phone call away! Call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 or stop by your nearest AAA office.