The drive from Melbourne down to the Great Ocean Road doesn’t take long, but it has some highlights of its own.
First up is Point Lonsdale. This is the western point of land that is at the opening of Port Phillip Bay. This opening is known as The Rip and is one of the world’s most dangerous stretches of water. The width of The Rip is 3.5 km, but the navigable width is only 1 km. Many lives have been lost in The Rip both as part of shipwrecks and in recreation. One of Australia’s Prime Ministers went swimming in The Rip in 1967 and disappeared, presumed to be dead.
We saw waves crashing into each other in the shape of a square, something I had never see before. It was kind of like a square whirlpool and definitely looked dangerous. It can be seen in the right hand picture just behind the pier.
Queenscliff is a cute, historic town on the bay side of the opening, so it is a much safer harbour. It’s a popular beach town for Melburnians to escape to in the summer.
The Barwon Heads Bridge separates Barown Heads from Ocean Grove by crossing the Barwon River. This bridge is the oldest timber stringer road bridge in Victoria; it was built in 1927. It is also Victoria’s longest wooden bridge.
Torquay is the surfing capital of Australia. Not only is it home to some of the world’s most famous surf brands, Rip Curl and Quicksilver, but it is also home to the world-famous Bells Beach.
Bells Beach hosts, arguably, the most important surf competition: the Rip Curl Pro. It takes place Easter weekend every year and draws huge crowds to watch the best surfers take on the best waves. The long right-hander is what Bells Beach is most known for. Surfers were everywhere, trying to catch a piece of the famous waves.
We continued along the coast between Bells Beach and Anglesea as the last stretch of coast before the Great Ocean Road officially starts. The highlight here was Point Addis, which had stunning views out over the Southern Ocean (this will be a recurring theme in this post!).
Finally… the start of the Great Ocean Road!
The road was built during the 1920’s by returned soldiers and functioned as a permanent memorial to their mates who had died. The statue of diggers at the arch was unveiled in 2007 at a ceremony to honor the mate ship shown during the construction of the GOR on its 75th anniversary.
The Memorial Arch at Eastern View used to function as a toll gate, but is now just the symbolic start to the journey.
The GOR continues on through Aireys Inlet, Fairhaven, and Moggs Creek until the next stop–Lorne.
Lorne itself is another small, beach town but out of town a bit, and inland a bit, are two places of natural beauty.
The first is Teddy’s Lookout. Up on a taller-than-expected hill, there are amazing views of the ocean and the GOR. It is a quintessential aerial shot of the GOR winding just along the coast.
Erskine Falls is next. This is the highest waterfall in the Otways Region and is located in the middle of a temperate rainforest, which I think looks primordial–where are the dinosaurs?
Continuing on the GOR from Lorne we hit the memorial plaque just outside Lorne and another one at the difficult-to-construct-around Cape Patton as well as the villages of Wye River and Kennet River.
My favorite stop on this stretch was the shipwreck of the W.B. Godfrey, which was sailing from San Francisco to Melbourne in 1891, when it wrecked off the coast. While no men were killed in the actual wreck, 5 men were killed in trips to salvage supplies from the wreck. Soldiers building the GOR found their graves when digging up the area and made them a new marble headstone to honor them. However, the headstone is placed in an arbitrary location. The beach in front of the shipwreck had this enormous seaweed; I tried ripping a piece and it was like trying to rip rubber.
Our final stop for the day, and our resting place for the night, was Apollo Bay, one of the larger towns on the GOR. It is known most for its fishing trade and popularity in the summer.
Mait’s Rest is a boardwalk hike through a spectacular temperate rainforest. It was raining the day we went, which added to the atmosphere.
The Mountain Ash trees along this walk are over 300 years old and 60 metres tall (they can grow up to 100 metres!). This makes them the tallest flowering plants in the world. These trees shed their bark to enrich the soil below; these trees deposits 40 tonnes of their bark per hectare per year.
Cape Otway is the second southernmost point on mainland Australia, so a lighthouse is necessary to keep the ships away from its daunting rocks. The lighthouse, known as the Cape Otway Light station, is the oldest lighthouse on mainland Australia. The light keeping ships away today comes from a solar-powered LED light out on the tip of the Cape, no longer the lighthouse, but the lighthouse is open to the public. It has simply incredible views of the Southern Ocean.
Moving on from Cape Otway, we continued along the Shipwreck Coast section of the GOR. More than 200 ships were lost here between the 1830s and the 1930s.
One of our stops in this stretch was Johanna Beach. This is the backup beach for the Rip Curl Pro when Bells Beach isn’t cooperating.
Another stop was at Melba’s Gully, another temperate rainforest walk. It is one of the wettest places in Victoria, which we can attest to.
Now… the Limestone Coast section of the GOR. The land is scrubby and windswept and the coast is now lined with tall, sheer limestone cliffs. Here the beaches are the most dangerous.
The limestone creates many shapes as it erodes, but none more famous than the 12 Apostles. These sea stacks have never actually numbered 12. They used to be called “Sow and Piglets” for the one large stack and the small ones surrounding it, but someone thought more tourists might come if they were named “12 Apostles.” It seems to have worked as this was the singular most crowded stop we made along the entire journey. Since the limestone is constantly changing, one stack collapsed in 2005 dropping the actual number of apostles by one.
The Razorback limestone formation was one of my absolute favourites. Wind-blown spray is the main creator of this stack and causes the sharp, razor-like edges along the top of the ridge.
Loch Ard Gorge is named after another casualty on the Shipwreck Coast. In 1878, the Loch Ard wrecked on the coast near this gorge. All the passengers died expect 2 people; Eva Carmicheal couldn’t swim and clung to a bit of the wreckage which washed her into this gorge, where Tom Pearce (who had swum there) rescued here. As much as this sounds like the beginning of a love story, it wasn’t; the two went their separate ways and never saw each other again. Today, the two stacks standing in the middle of the gorge are named Tom and Eva.
Port Campbell is another small, coastal town along the GOR. It’s tiny bay is one of the only safe-swimming places along the otherwise treacherous ocean of the GOR.
The Arch is another limestone creation. This was one of my favourites because of the way the waves crash through the opening. It’s so mesmerizing to watch.
London Bridge, or “London Bridge (broken)” as it’s labeled on the maps, used to be a double-arched limestone formation. The first arch collapsed in January 1990, leaving two tourists stuck out on the island. Broken or not broken, the arch is still a sight to see.
Warrnambool is the end of the Great Ocean Road and is most popular as a whale watching sight, in-season of course.
Thunder Point is on the tip of Warrnambool. On one side is Lady Bay, the calm, boat-friendly water and on the other side is the wild Southern Ocean which swirls and crashes magnificently. All in all, a good summation of the Great Ocean Road.