Take the scenic route: A long weekend on Australia's Great Ocean Road - Australasia & Pacific - Travel - The Independent

Take the scenic route: A long weekend on Australia's Great Ocean Road

 

If the "wide brown land" of Australia is a Hob Nob then the Great Ocean Road is where it has been dunked into the roiling tea cup of the Southern Ocean. The road – perennial candidate for the title of World's Most Scenic Drive – runs westward for 242km along the crumbling coast of south-west Victoria from the town of Torquay, just west of Melbourne; keep on going around the coast and you hit Adelaide, 800km later.

But what if – and this is an entirely reasonable desire – you had only a long weekend to spare and wanted to return to Melbourne? We set off on a Friday lunchtime in a battered Toyota to find out.

Melbourne has many loveable qualities, but its suburban muffin-top isn't one of them. Avert your eyes until you're past Geelong, where you will bear left and make for the ocean and Torquay, which is where 300 First World War servicemen began work in 1919 on what became, after 13 years of labour, the Great Ocean Road. There were lots of these nation-building post-Great War projects; in a way, they were individual and collective therapy. In 2011, the Great Ocean Road – the nation's largest war memorial – was added to Australia's national heritage list.

Just after Torquay we turn down a side-road and take our first pit stop in the car park at its end. Huddled in hoodies, we look out at the rows of waves rolling in from Antarctica and breaking on Bells Beach. This surf beach has a reputation that exceeds its size. Lean, tousle-haired men and women zip up thick wetsuits and trot down the steps to the shore. We get back in the Toyota and rejoin the Great Ocean Road. Several towns along the first third of the road, such as Lorne, have perfect conditions for first-time surfers: sheltered bays, sedate waves and surf schools with fellow students who look equally awkward popping up on their beginner boards.

After Lorne, the road begins to rise and fall, twisting back on itself and edging around cliff-top bends. It winds through eucalyptus forest (look for furry grey bundles in the crook of a branch), all the while delivering vast ocean views to the left. It's impossible to drive fast, not least because sections are often closed for patching up. Erosion is eating away at the work of those 300 servicemen.

Apollo Bay, one misguided Sydneysider says to me, is daggy (trans: comfortably unfashionable). It's not. It's delightful, an unpretentious seaside town with a chippy, shops selling boogie boards, and barbecue pits on the grassy area behind the broad crescent of sand that lends the town its name. Here, where the Southern Ocean meets the green folds of ferns and mountain ashes of the Otway Ranges, is the perfect place to break your journey. We check into our double-room, a block back from the beach, in our top tip for Apollo Bay accommodation: the sleek Eco-Beach YHA, run by Gilbert and Gay Brooks. From the rooftop we watch galahs playing and then the sunset. Later, after locking up, Gilbert will wheel his sea kayak down to the beach for a moonlit paddle.

The next day, after a bracing swim, we set out to meet the 12 Apostles. Viewing these limestone stacks, evidence of immense elemental forces, is a sanitised experience. There's a visitor centre and guardrails. We take a windswept photo but don't linger: we have to continue to Port Fairy, a former whaling station, and then divert inland on the C184 to Hamilton, Dunkeld and, three hours later, our destination, Hall's Gap, adventure hub of the Grampians National Park.

From here it's three hours back to Melbourne on the freeway, via the gold-mining town of Ballarat. Kangaroos bounce around Hall's Gap and tomorrow we'll stretch our legs, too, on the bush walks in the Wonderland part of the park, but tonight we wash the salt from our skin.

More road trips

1. Take a trip along the Gibb River Road, a 600km former cattle route, to see some of Western Australia’s most atmospheric landscapes and lodges, including the homestead at El Questro Wilderness Park (elquestro.com.au)

2. Drive the Dempster Highway and ice road in the Yukon, and follow terrain that thwarted pioneers (travelyukon.com)

3. This year’s Tour de France will mark its centenary with a leg in Corsica. Tackle the roads summiting granite peaks, through deeply wooded valleys and pine forest trails on a new cycling tour launching this May (utracks.com)

4. Take a guided motorbike tour of Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia and other spots on the Adriatic Coast. The 15-day Balkan adventure cuts through mountains and skirts the sea, with some island-hopping too (smtours.com)

5. Use pedal power to propel you between Vietnam and Cambodia, on a cycle tour that takes in the villages of the Mekong and the temples of Angkor (skedaddle.co.uk)

6. Namibia is one of Africa’s best road-trip destinations with deserted highways, red dunes and the spectacular Skeleton Coast to explore plus tribal and safari experiences (safaridrive.com)

7. Take a drive between National Trust properties in Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Hampshire and the Cotswolds at the wheel of a classic car. Vintage Classics offers rentals of 1960s Austin Healeys, E-type Jags and old Alfas (vintage-classics.co.uk)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week