I’ve now done the Great Ocean Road and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of driving along it. However there are three very importnat things to note about the “Great Ocean Road.”:
1. Its not “GREAT”: OK, it has its moments and various stop off points along the way for sightseeing, wildlife watching an beaches to relax on. But you dont see the word “GREAT” in front of Belfast’s Royal Avenue, or in front of Hollywood’s Mulholland Drive, or in front of Paris’s Cams Elysee. There is no need for the ridiculous adjective in this instance. This sort of name calling in Australia is common and ridiculous and makes me doubt every thing an Australian tells me until I actually see it.
We checked out of the Urban Central hostel in Melbourne at 11am. There was me, Paul, Neil and Daniel. We had booked a car for just 24 to do the Great Ocean Road and back. We didn’t book any accomodation – we just wanted to drive right through it and for the 3 guys not driving – they could probably sleep in the car at some point. We had a car hired from Budget which was luckily situated across the road from the hostel. Neil and I left our bags in the overnight storage room in Urban Central hostel (even though a guy there tried to ban us from doing that).
We picked up the car which would cost $70 all in for the 24 hours. We had found a few slightly cheaper places but they all wanted credit card advance payments of ridiculous amounts. We could split the cost of rent and the cost of petrol between 4. The car we got was a lovely silver Nissan Tiida. I was the driver, but we put Paul down as the second driver just in case. In the end, he didn’t drive it – I was happy to do all the driving.
We got the car at 12 noon from Budget and headed straight away onto the Great Ocean Road. The car was an automatic and it took me a while to get used to – I’ve always driven cars with gears and I much prefer them. Now there was no clutch, so my left foot was doing nothing while my right foot was doing everything. We didn’t bother with a map. We somehow made our way out of the city centre of Melbourne and headed west. The Great Ocean Road starts at Torquay apparently and stretches around 200 kilometres round the coast. The plan was to do it all…and that we did, despite a few minor hiccups.
Its hardly my favourite Oasis album of all time, but it was great to hear it again, and to link some of the song lyrics to our trip:
So there we were driving and rocking to Oasis. Before the Great Ocean Road began, we stopped for a bite to eat at a service station on the A1. We all piled into Subway and I got a footlong of as much meat and vegetables as was going for the price of $7. Eating fast food and takeaways in Australia is not cheap I tell you. But every now and then you succumb to it. Out of lazyness, boredom and lack of choice. I didn’t complain as I stuffed the Subway down me and watered down with a $2.50 cup of Earl Grey Tea. I also got two cold Gatorades with a free drinks cooler for $4. And I bought a chocolate cookie there which was in the shape of Australia!! After that brief stop, it was quickly through the city of Geelong and onwards to Torquay.
Thats where we saw the massive arch – the sign to say the Great Ocean Road had begun. It was a photo opportunity below the sign. We had planned to drive straight to Port Campbell and the famous Twelve Apostles natural rocks monument and work our way back from there hopefully via some Koala Bears and Kangaroos. We were making good progress early on and by 2 pm were already past Torquay, Jan Juc and Anglesea.
We reached a small area called Airey’s Inlet and decided to stop once we saw the sign for Split Point Lighthouse. This was the beauty and advantage of doing the Great Ocean Road by car – you can stop wherever and whenever you want and for as long or short as you want. Guided tours are good – and I’ve often done them – but I prefer to do things myself most of the time. So we pulled over up a hill and into a car park at Airey’s Inlet.
We parked just down from the massive lighthouse. It was clearly one of the sights to see on the way round. we resisted paying the entrance fee though and simply got our photos at Split Point Lighthouse and read the information on it. There was also a cottage there at the top of the cliff and a path down to the beach, so we went on down.
The beach was called Mouth Beach. I don’t think any of us had swimming trunks on, but it was such a hot day and a beautiful beach that I couldn’t resist going in for a short swim. We all went in for a quick dip before applying more sun cream and heading back up the hill to the car. By that time my pants and shorts were almost dry anyway, and it was onward on the journey.
It didn’t take us long getting to the lively seaside town of Lorne. A popular place for backpackers and holiday makers. It was a nice town but we decided not to stop at this point and carry on and try to make the Twelve Apostles in good time. We had already traveled 139 kilometres and it was only another 124 kilometres until the 12 Apostles. We assumed we would easily do it by 4 pm.
However then we hit our first problem. We had gone right past Lorne only to find the road totally blocked off without any word of warning and a sign up saying “Great Ocean Road closed from Lorne to Apollo Bay” Well that was just a joke, as that was the main part of the road. The only other way to go woul be to head inland. We were gutted but determined to do it anyway. We only had the car until 12 noon the next day and so had to make the most of it.
We had no choice but to turn back the way we came and head into Lorne. As we were pissed off, we made a stop at Sheoak Falls – a waterfall on the edge of Lorne. This proved to annoy us even more, as after a 30 minute walk the waterfall turned out to be neither water or a fall. The hot weather had dried it up. There was free fruit there to be picked and we met 2 American tourists. Not much consolation at that point. We then got lost in Lorne near Teddy’s Lookout and so decided to pop by the Lorne Tourist Information Centre. Neil hopped out of the car for a map and information on how to detour to the 12 Apostles. This actually became our first bit of good fortune on the trip…
…Not only did Neil have an alternative route for us, but now we also had a map and a guide on things to see and do while in the area of the Great Ocean Road, some of which would actually come in handy. Maybe on the long run the road being closed was actually a good thing, as we would never have stopped for this guide and map. Anyway the trip was about to get a lot longer. From Lorne we were forced to go back on ourselves yet again heading north east (when we wanted to go south west!!) up the C151 past a remote “village” called Benwerrin along the Lorne Road.
These country roads were long, twisting and winding as Liam Gallagher on repeat pumped another Wonderwall into our ears. Further up this long winding road and we missed our stop at Dean’s Marsh. Neither me nor Neil actually realising that this was actually a town – it was just a few houses and a petrol station so we ended up further east at Bambra before realising we had gone too far and it was time to head back. Back through the settlement of Deans Marsh by which stage Paul and Daniel in the back were dead quiet – more than likely had drifted to sleep. The radio reception was shit anyway so the only choice we had was to keep Oasis on or turn it off. The CD was playing for the 5th or 6th time as we veered west again for once.
Neil shouts “that barn is a primary school” and so it was in the village of either Pennyroyal or Barwon Downs. The trip back onto the Great Ocean Road was taking some time. Next we passed the villages of Forrest and Barramunga, still without an inland sighting of a kangaroo. Finally though the inland diversion was over after almost 1 hour 45 minutes and we were back out onto the Great Ocean Road at a place called Skenes Creek. The drive along the road was fabulous – great sunshine, fantastic scenery and for a few miles at least – yes we could see the ocean. We arrived in Apollo Bay, a lovely littel seaside resort just around 6 pm. The petrol tank was just under half way, and although we were stopped at a petrol station – we didn’t top up for whatever reason. We didnt eat any proper food there either due to the time constraints. We were determined to see the 12 Apostles before the sun went down and any more short delays could have hindered us.
So on we went past the beautiful Apollo Bay on round the coast past Glenaire, Lavers Hill and Princetown. The views the entire way were spectacular and I guess for a while did live up to the title of “Great Ocean Road.” I wasn’t tired of driving though – I was really loving it. It was my first time behind the wheel since leaving my own car behind in Bournemouth back on the 3rd October 2010. As we twisted and turned our way along the Great Ocean Road I got some anger out at slow drivers to the sound of Oasis’s “Dont Look Back In Anger.” More a case of Jonny cant wait than Sally can. And somehow by the grace of God or by the speed of our car we did it…
…we got to the 12 Apostles before sunset. And with time to spare. And with some awesome views. We did have to overtake a slow car on route past an area beyond Princetown though where they wouldn’t pull over for me – there was a foreign dude in the back seat with a union fleg (jack) cap on. Ironically the same slow dudes turned up at the 12 Apostles with us about 20 minutes later. So we arrived at a sign post which said “12 Apostles.”
Before you ask, its basically 12 large natural rock formations in the sea off the coast of Victoria, Australia. I’m really not sure why they are called “apostles”, there could be any given name for them, relating to something that there is a dozen of. It was time to park in the small car park and walk down to see what all the fuss was about.
It’s funny you know when you’re traveling you do all these silly things without reason. I mean why the hell would I drive for 300 odd kilometres to see some rocks which I can see in a photo?? We got out of the car regardless and walked down past the information centre. It was 7.34 pm precisely. The journey would normally take half that time, but we didn’t worry any more – we had seen some nice places on the way and were here before sunset which was the initial plan. Never mind looking at rocks in the day time to see them at night would have been much worse.
We walked past the information centre, which was by now obviously closed – the toilets were open and down the custom built ramp lay a sign: Twelve Apostles – Port Campbell National Park.
We headed on down and there was the first lookout point. It was fairly breathtaking. Chunks of rock lying in the ocean and a fading sun in the sky.
The pictures show it all. I think we were all fairly impressed, though didn’t fancy lingering somehow. They had blocked off the entrance to the beach so you couldn’t actually go down and the cliffs were dangerous. We stood admiring the view. There were a few other tourists about.
We got all the usual photos taken and out of the way at the start and then Neil turns to me and says “are we going down there to the second lookout point or what?” In the heat of the moment hilariously I said “I can’t really be bothered” The reply was genius – “You’ve travelled for 7 hours 34 minutes to see this, and you ‘cant be bothered!’ “.
Of course followed the reply “its just a load of rocks in the water.” But it was special and you could tell that – even though we couldn’t see 12 Apostles. Some of them have eroded into the sea and some are not visible from this main lookout point, past Port Campbell.
We had a kickabout briefly on the way back up before deciding to head further west and check out some more of the sights and then get some dinner. Destination was Port Campbell itself, a gentle un-noticed seaside village.
Strange shape this village, nestled into an enclave from one side of the main beach the village ended in an instant and the only way out and on round was along the main road and back up the Great Ocean Road. I think that was because the cliffs faced down on the beach and it would have been dangerous to build more housing and a road on that part of the village.
We priced a few of the restaurants in town. The cheapest one was a fish and chips for $7.50 but that one was shut. We walked along the main street and I popped down to the beach briefly.
But there was nothing much in Port Campbell and we assumed the next few villages along would have more eateries, pubs and maybe we could sleep in the car for the night further down the road. As it happened Port Campbell was as good as we were going to get, though we didn’t know it then.
The darkness was now setting in as we stopped at London Bridge lookout point. Basically its a rock with an arch through it that has been named London Bridge. We stopped and looked out. There was a brief chill in the air and from there it was decided that the next “large settlement” along would be Peterborough and we would have dinner and a drink there. It was probably around 9 pm by now.
The whole time I had been in Australia to that point at London Bridge I had said how I thought Kangaroos were a total myth – a creature that doesn’t exist – something the Aussies invented to promote tourism. Since landing in Australia in October 2009 I had seen some wallabies from a train on route to Katoomba, some stuffed Kangaroos in zoos/museums in Canberra and Sydney, eaten some Kangaroo and saw a dead one near Casuarina Sands in the ACT. BUT I had never seen a real wild Kangaroo. Then on exiting the lookout point for London Bridge i shouted “KANGAROOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” it was real – I was first to spot it and there it was as we slowed down hopping across in front of our car. It was greeted with a loud cheer – in fact the lads all still owe me a dollar each. We had a bet on whoever saw the first kangaroo would get a dollar each from the lads – so I’m owed 3 dollars for seeing the first wild Kangaroo. Of course it had disappeared within 15 seconds and none of us could reach for a camera quick enough to capture it. But not to worry – we’d see plenty more…
After that it was without knowing it that we arrived in the town of Peterborough. I followed the signs to the town centre, passing a phone booth, a petrol pump as part of a shop and a few houses. 10 seconds later Paul asks “was that the town centre?” The answer was yes. Peterborough was a very small town and there was nothing open and nothing there. We stopped by the Ocean to check out a monument.
Daniel laughed as the main tourist attraction in town was this monument, which was erected to signify a guy who had tried to cross the nearby river, but had died. On the drive out, a guy sitting on the bench allowed Daniel to contribute another moment of comedy – “that lads is the nightlife in Peterborough” – and it was. Within a flash we had decided that the only places we could get food at this time of night were Port Campbell, Apollo Bay and Lorne. The tank was low in petrol, but we headed back anyway, knowing that if we saw a petrol station anywhere that was open – we would have to stop. I originally estimated we could get all the way to Lorne.
But on these winding ocean roads, the tank was fading. On approach to Apollo Bay the petrol light came on, 15 kilometres later and we were in Apollo Bay. The only petrol station had closed at 10 pm. It was now 11 pm. So we headed to the local pub which looked to be open and have some people in it. At the entrance “we’re closed lads” said the manager. Knowing we were not from town and clearly looking for a rest, he let us in anyway.
The bar had shut but they did off sales so a couple of us bought beers, and crisps (the only food available anywhere near us at that point!). We chatted to 2 Irish people in the bar there. They had travelled from Perth and were in Apollo Bay for the night. There was an RSL and a YHA in town. But we decided to park the car and try to get some sleep until 6 am when the only petrol shop in Apollo Bay would re-open.
I couldn’t sleep though and ended up just staying awake. I walked down to the beach and finally at about 2 am decided we should risk driving on…to Lorne, the next town along. With no petrol. Neil didn’t think we’d make it, which I found out later and he admitted he didn’t think it was a wise move. But Paul and I were adamant that we should drive on, however slow, and with the petrol light on the WHOLE way to Lorne, where there was only the slight possibility of a petrol station open before 6 am. At any rate, it was a busier town than Apollo Bay. So without Neil saying a word about not leaving we left. And that was the most nervous drive ever. We had 50 odd kilometres to drive, round winding narrow roads, up and down hills and we had ZERO petrol. It took us about 40 minutes, but we did it. We parked right outside the petrol station in Lorne and breathed a sigh of relief.