As we all return to work and summer nears its close, we discovered that the Great Ocean Road is packed full of adventure you can sample in just a weekend.
There’s something magical about the beginning of a road trip. It’s that high that comes from leaving obligations behind and hitting the highway with the windows down and sun in your face — when it’s just you, your companions and all the freedom of the endless open road.
With two winding lanes that curl between crashing waves, lush orange cliffs and scenic seaside towns, the Great Ocean Road is perfect for a road trip. In fact, CNN Travel named the Great Ocean Road No. 3 in the World’s Ultimate Drives.
DAY 1: RAINFORESTS & GLAMPING WITH KOALAS
Part of Great Otway National Park, Mait’s Rest makes for an easy rainforest walk. Just under a kilometer long, its raised boardwalk loops around giant old trees and beautiful ferns, all perfect endless green.
If you’re lucky, you may run into some of the local inhabitants, including swamp wallabies, koalas, echidnas, ring-tailed possums and grey kangaroos.
About an hour past Mait’s Rest is one of the Otways’ most popular attractions, Triplet Falls. The hour-long loop to the falls and back is just as impressive for its huge trees as it is for the cascades themselves.
View the lower cascades as you follow raised walkways through the forest of Mountain Ash and Myrtle Beech to the main falls. As you leave the forest you can begin to hear the roar of Triplet Falls where a series of elevated viewing platforms provide you with spectacular views of the three cascades. This area was home to Knott’s No 1 sawmill and along the walk you will come across relics like steam engines that are slowly being immersed into the forest. It is hard to fathom that an industry such as logging thrived in this area for more than 20 years.
Glamping with Koalas
Bimbi Park in Cape Otway promotes itself as the place to camp under koalas. The park’s bushland is also alive with bird song, making for a magical experience.
Bimbi Park supplies portable fire places and there is a modern amenities block with laundry facilities. Essential groceries, drinks and ice-creams are available from the kiosk.
Another unique attraction is the outdoor Theatre where you can sit our amongst the stars with the wildlife, enjoying free feature films and shorts during the peak holiday periods.
DAY 2: PORT CAMPBELL NATIONAL PARK
You may just want to drive those gorgeous windy roads all day, but we do recommend making some stops along the way in Port Campbell National Park. The scenery is phenomenal and for those budding photography buffs, there’s plenty to snap!
The Twelve Apostles
For all it has to offer, Port Campbell National Park is best known for the famous Twelve Apostles. Despite the name the Twelve Apostles only ever numbered nine, and since a collapse in 2005 there are now eight.
It is the sheer scale of the offshore stacks that are most breathtaking at this point. Many of you will have seen countless photos and images; nothing will prepare you for the grandeur of this iconic site seen with your own eyes. Dusk and dawn provide the best viewing opportunities, with a chance for penguin sightings from the cliff top viewing area about 15 to 20 minutes after sunset.
Loch Ard Gorge
Named for a shipwreck that spared only two teenaged survivors after it hit the cliffs just in front of the gorge in June 1878, Loch Ard Gorge is home to a beautiful stretch of beach. It is impossible not to take your time here basking in the sun, playing in the cold waves and exploring the surrounding trails — a perfect mid-day break for some relaxing.
If you find yourself wanting to know more about this historic site, a comprehensive display of artifacts from the Loch Ard and other local wrecks is on display 7 days a week at the Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre 12 km west of the site.
Thunder Cave & Thunder River
Accessible from the same parking lot as Loch Ard Gorge, Thunder Cave and Thunder River are perfect for aimless exploring, all big skies and brush-swept red rock. Despite the name, Thunder Cave is actually a roofless cave, which collapsed long ago by the ongoing erosional forces of the sea. An information plate at this location shows a sketch how the cave must have looked when still a part of the ceiling existed and formed a natural arch.
The Grotto is a naturally carved out cave which stands up about halfway from sea level up the cliff. The paved pathway leads to a decked staircase that descends into a viewing area that is blocked off by a wall, preventing access further into the Grotto. What lies beyond is an area covered with smooth boulders that leads to rock pools carved out in the worn but jagged edged limestone. Make sure you arrive before 3pm to beat the tourist buses from Melbourne.
Bay of Islands
Make it to Bay of Islands just in time for sunset and you’ll share the wonderful view with only a handful of tourists. Choose from two different viewing areas and get that perfect picture of the sun setting over the vast Southern Ocean and the towering limestone stacks of the Bay of Islands. The light limestone found here along the coast near Peterborough reflects a different quality of light, therefore offering great photo opportunities in cloudy conditions.