Do yourself a favour, says James Shackell in Red Bull. “Buy two packs of Doritos, hop in the car and spend a Sunday driving the Great Ocean Road … twenty minutes on the coastal track between Fairhaven and Lorne and you’ll forget the Mornington Peninsula even exists.”
I wondered how the Great Ocean Road would compare to my favourite US coastal drive, the long, winding, two-lane sections of California State Route 1, asks Jonathan B. Tourtellot in National Geographic. His verdict: “These two drives are probably the only in the world that can claim the same mix: rugged scenery, some of Earth’s tallest trees, sea stacks of towering rock, and surfers. But marsupial wildlife as pre-breakfast comic relief? Well played, Australia.”
In his book about Australia, Down Under, Bill Bryson paints a picture of the Great Ocean Road:
“It took fourteen years to construct and you can see why at once because for most of its 187 miles it swoops along an impossibly challenging coastline in a hair-raising manner, barrelling around rocky headlands and clinging to the edges of sheer and crumbly cliffs. So demanding of attention are the endless hairpin bends that you scarcely have a moment to notice the views, but I figured an occasional glimpsed view was better than none. Here and there in the waters stand pinnacles of rock created by the tireless erosive might of the sea.
“The drive was as gorgeous as the guidebooks had promised: on one side of the steep, wooded, semi-tropical hills of the Otway Range plunging straight into the sea, on the other foamy surf rolling onto long, curving beaches framed at either end by rocky outcrops. This stretch of Victoria is famous for two things: surfing and shipwrecks. With its wild currents and famous fogs, the south Victorian coast was long notorious to mariners. If you took all the water away, you would see 1,200 ships lying broken on the seabed, more than almost anywhere else in the world. I stopped from time to get out and take in the views – it really was the only way for a solitary driver to see them – and poked about in one or two of the sweetly old-fashioned little resort communities that lay along the way. These were surprisingly quiet, considering that it was the height of the Australian summer and the day after a national holiday.
"It struck me, not for the first time, that there seemed to be more places in Australia for tourists to go than there were tourists to fill them.”
Don’t miss a slight diversion to the Cape Otway Lightstation as you traverse the Great Ocean Road. It’s the oldest working lighthouse in Australia, notes Lucas Peterson in The New York Times, which can be reached through through the Cape Otway National Park. “The environs changed quickly: I was chugging along amid beautiful ocean scenery when suddenly I was in a lush, emerald-green forest,” writes Peterson. “The area is particularly remote and isolated — I encountered only two other people on my detour. There’s a sense of immense calm about the place, and while it’s not the southernmost point in Australia, it feels just as distant.”
And look for hidden gems like Sunnymeade Beach and Airey’s Inlet Caves. Sunnymeade is “a haven away from the hustle and bustle of the more popular tourist beaches in Torquay, Anglesea or Lorne,” says Lauren Muscat in City Journal. “The small car park at the entrance to the beach looks out to incredible views of open water, making this spot perfect for a car picnic or a wander along the cliffs.” And just a little along from Sunnymeade Beach is Airey’s Inlet’s main beach ... “when the tide isn’t in, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a short walk to the caves and rock pools which occupy the left side of the beach,” she writes.
Oh, and there’s a spectacular rainforest. The Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, an hour from Apollo Bay, is a high walkway (“the longest of its kind in the world”) where you can “watch leaves fall like butterflies with enough time to tie your shoelaces before they hit the bottom,” explains Will Woodward in The Guardian. “You think the walkway, 25 metres up, is high; but then you see the spiral tower, another 20 metres up The narrow-trunked gum trees reach for the sky, home to 130 species of bird.” It’s located in one of the wettest parts of the state; so much so that one sign at Otway Fly says: “If it isn’t raining in the rainforest today, it probably will be tomorrow.”