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
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star