A popular holiday seaside destination in Victoria is the coastal area along the Great Ocean Road. Towns such as Torquay, Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay on the Surf Coast see their numbers swell during the summer holiday season, with day trippers from Melbourne as well as those wishing to spend a week or two pursuing the delights of sun, sand and surf. The Rip Curl Pro surfing championship venue of Bell’s Beach between Anglesea and Torquay and the popular tourist attraction of the Twelve Apostles are well-known internationally. Some of our friends have holiday homes along the coast, so we have been down from Melbourne to visit many times. Even our honeymoon, many years ago, took place at Lorne. The Bellbrae Resort, not far from Bell’s Beach, was the venue where more recently we spent a restorative week doing as little as possible! The resort, set in bushland, is popular with families despite it being off the main road and quite a distance from the beach, as it has a large games room, pool, mini-golf and a tiny wildlife reserve. A mob of kangaroos often could be seen in the grassy woodland nearby. This holiday was to be spent doing coastal walks, reading on the balcony of our unit and catching up with friends. Very low key.
The gateway to the Great Ocean Road is Geelong, Victoria’s major provincial city 72 kilometres south of Melbourne, which we usually bypass on the freeway. This time we stopped for a while, interested to see how things have changed here in recent years. The foreshore area near the old pier has been developed into a tourist hub, with an ultra-modern information centre, restaurants on the pier and amusing, decorative bollards along the coastal baywalk. It made a pleasant stopping point for lunch on the pier.
The Great Ocean Road actually starts at Torquay and finishes at Allansford, a suburb of Warrnambool, 243 kilometres away. It is Heritage Listed, due not just to its magnificent winding road and spectacular views, but also in recognition of its place as a memorial to the soldiers lost in WW1. It was built after that war by returned men, and was an important job creation project for these men and for helping Victoria out of the Great Depression. The official start of the road is marked by a memorial arch across the road at Eastern View, between Anglesea and Lorne, erected in 1939 but needing replacement several times since due to bushfires. In fact the road has been damaged a number of times during its life by bushfires, storms and landslides. Torquay and its near neighbour, Jan Juc, have really expanded in recent years. It is very popular during the summer months. There are three large resorts there – the RACV Golf Club and Resort, the Peppers Sands Resort and Golf Club and a Wyndham Resort. But surfing is the main sport attraction. It has a number of surf equipment and clothing companies along the road into town, such as Rip Curl, Quicksilver and Billabong, as well as the Australian Surfing Museum. We usually take the road from Geelong that bypasses Torquay and head through Bellbrae towards Anglesea.
After settling in at our accommodation we took off to Bell’s Beach, since we had never bothered before, not being surfers! We were surprised to see it was quite small, despite its huge reputation. It is not the beach itself that is famous however, but the break of the waves offshore. We took an enjoyable cliff walk noticing a hang glider soaring above the point. Further along the cliffs, the views towards Point Addis are spectacular.
Taking the road to Anglesea again, we stopped at the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery – a child’s and a chocoholic’s paradise. We couldn’t resist the free chocolate and ice cream tastings, watched the art of chocolate making, and explored the spectacular showroom choc-filled with thousands of chocolates to tempt us. The Pod Café menu features produce from their kitchen garden, offering breakfasts, lunches and specialty desserts, making it also an ideal place to enjoy afternoon tea.
Anglesea’s main beach, a wide sandy expanse beside the Anglesea River, is perfect for swimming, surfing, or simply relaxing, while young children can paddle safely in the protected waters at nearby Point Roadknight beach. The town boasts a number of cafes and shops selling holiday necessities and there is a very good caravan park across the way with on-site cabins. On Saturdays during summer the riverbank markets draw a crowd. The town’s golf-course is renowned for its resident population of eastern grey kangaroos who come to graze on the fairways. Tourist buses make sure to stop there for a photo opportunity. Hubby usually manages to squeeze a game in when we’re down there.
Later in the week we took a walk along the cliffs near the Split Point Lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet, between Anglesea and Lorne. The Lighthouse was built in 1891 and towers 34 metres above the coastline. From the cliff walks it is possible to access many secluded coves perfect for rock-pool rambling, swimming, surfing, snorkelling and beach combing. At the lighthouse a teahouse provided a welcome rest for a cuppa after a long walk. There are a few small settlements between there and Lorne, namely Moggs Creek, Eastern View and Big Hill. As you round the point from there the vista of Lorne appears ahead with the Cumberland Resort dab in the centre. The approach to town is marked by a caravan park and a bridge over the outlet of the Erskine River, where there is a safe swimming area for little ones in the sandy meanders before it reaches the surf. On the left between the road and the sea is the iconic Erskine House, historically important as the oldest and largest guesthouse in Victoria, having been initially built in 1868 as a family home and extended upon over the years. Its stately appearance in former times gave it an air of exclusivity, with tennis courts, croquet lawns, swimming pools and garden pavilions. Now with several modern extensions it is rebadged as Mantra Lorne and some of that gentrified appeal is gone. The other guesthouse of note, years ago, was The Chalet where we spent our honeymoon. These days it has been totally renovated into self-contained holiday apartments. The main accommodation where we have stayed is the Cumberland, a vast multistorey complex that was strongly resisted by the locals when it first was proposed in the 1980s, but which has proven its worth since. The population of Lorne swells considerably during summer months, with the most well-known drawcards apart from surfing being The Falls Festival during Schoolies Week and the Pier to Pub swim in January. The Erskine Falls, on the Erskine River high up in the Great Otway National Park, has a great walk to a couple of waterfall lookouts. Unfortunately the nearest toilets and refreshments are several kilometres back down the road at a plant nursery/café. On along the Otway Coast we encountered the little village of Wye River. Both that town and the nearby Separation Creek have suffered greatly with bushfires. Despite that, the area is popular with walkers due to the number of interesting tracks. A few minutes further along the road, the Kennett River walk to the Grey River Reserve provides tourists with the chance to see koalas in their native habitat in the trees.
Just before Apollo Bay, the little hamlet of Skene’s Creek boasts a very popular dining spot, Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant. Fresh seafood is their specialty, along with a variety of Chris’s most popular Greek dishes. Despite the challenges of driving the Great Ocean Road’s winding clifftop back to Lorne in the dark, we have eaten there several times over the years. Apollo Bay township still sees its share of holiday makers, but is smaller and quieter than Lorne. It lies just to the east of Cape Otway, the southernmost point of the Western Victoria. From near there the road heads inland into the Great Otway National Park, zig zagging to the coast and back in to Lavers Hill, before returning to the coast at the Port Campbell National Park. From there to Port Fairy is known as the Shipwreck Coast, due to the rugged cliffs, rock formations, reefs and often perilous weather conditions faced by early sailing and steam ships. There is a legend that a Mahogany Ship, possibly Portuguese, was wrecked in the 16 th century near the mouth of the Hopkins River east of Warrnambool and has since disappeared in the sands of time!
Between Princetown and Port Campbell is where the iconic Twelve Apostles can be found – a series of rock stacks jutting up from the wild seas. Erosion has claimed a few, leaving only seven today, although there were not twelve exactly to start with. Viewing platforms allow tourists to take some spectacular photos, not only of the Apostles, but also of other formations such as London Bridge (now just a single arch) and Loch Ard Gorge. This latter area was so named after the now famous ship wreck of the Loch Ard in 1878. Two teenagers survived and the bodies of those who perished are buried in a cemetery nearby. Items salvaged from the ship can be viewed in the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum in Warrnambool, 10 kilometres further along the coast. The museum, lighthouses and recreated village operate as a heritage attraction and museum for the Great Ocean Road.
The Great Ocean Road officially ends at Allansford however, where the Princes Highway joins it just before reaching of Warrnambool. Tourism operators like to include Warrnambool and the next town, Port Fairy, in the road’s attractions. Having stayed in and explored both, I would agree they are not to be missed!
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