We recently spent two sunny days in our newly renovated van, driving along the beautiful Great Ocean Road, in Southern Victoria. Originally built by returned soldiers from WWI as a war memorial, this road stretches from Torquay to Allansford (we went as far as Port Campbell) and passes through some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in Australia. The great thing about this road is that you can mould the trip into whatever you want by choosing where to stop, how to travel and how long to stay. The area is full of walking tracks, sandy beaches, magical viewpoints, lush national parks and camp grounds. With two days, we spent most of our time on the road with the windows down, gazing out at never-ending ocean views, enjoying the fresh sea breeze rushing through our hair. You could easily spend more time lazing around at each spot and doing some picturesque walks. Nonetheless, we still managed plenty of relaxation time and even a few ice creams.
We left Melbourne late morning, driving through Geelong en route to Torquay, the beach town where the road begins. If you surf, this would be a great spot to catch a few waves. On the road we came across wide open paddocks of flowering rapeseed so we jumped out for a little exploration! From here, we continued through Anglesea and into the pretty seaside town of Lorne, where we stopped at midday for a Greek salad and some crispy fish and chips. The main street is full of cafes and restaurants, but we decided to get take-away and sit on a wooden bench by the beach, where we were joined by a greedy mob of sea gulls. They flew off disinterested when we crunched down the last chip and threw the empty papers into the bin! As we walked down the main street, icecreams in hand, we saw a koala asleep up a tree. There would be many more of these creatures near Blanket Bay (later in the journey).
We continued driving towards Apollo Bay that afternoon. As the sun began to reach the later hours, its golden light shone through the sea spray creating a mystical haze. The aquamarine ocean was calm, aside from some gentle waves which crashed onto the beach as the van wound its way around the cliffs. Just before we reached Apollo Bay, we turned right and took a forested road up through the Great Otway National Park. The rainforest is equally as beautiful as the coast. Lush ferns and giant beech trees tower into the sky, transporting you to a different place altogether.
We were on the hunt for a free campsite, so made our way down the dirt road to Beauchamp Falls Reserve, which I had found in the very useful book Camps Australia Wide (a comprehensive guide showing free and cheap campsites all over Australia, including maps and available facilities). Unfortunately, due to the large numbers of tourists in Victoria and especially along this stretch of coast, many of the camping areas require booking and payment, but there are still a lot of free sites not too far off the road.
When we arrived at Beauchamp Falls Reserve, a few other campers had already set up for the evening. This campsite is basic, though it does have long drop toilets, camp fires and a walking track down to a waterfall. The area is surrounded by forest and it was great to be out in the wilderness away from the city. This would be a fantastic base for exploring the rest of the national park too, though we just used it as a stop-over this time round.
As the evening approached, we were excited to make our first dinner from the back of the van. We rolled out the table, connected the gas bottle to the stove and cooked a delicious feast of pesto pasta in the billy can, all the while sipping on beers and snacking on BBQ shapes. It was still quite cold in the evening, despite such a warm, sunny day, so we made up the bed in the van and enjoyed playing around with the meteor control function on the multi coloured LED lights, writing, reading books, learning about photography and playing the ukelele.
We awoke the next morning to condensation on the windows, but the van was still toasty warm inside. We had a gourmet feast of avocado and Vegemite on dense bread (served on wooden boards) and cups of hot tea. Then, it was back in the van to continue our drive, retracing our steps through the forest. We spotted a wallaby hopping into the bushes as we drove by – the second iconic Australian animal of the journey! We drove down the mountain to the beach, where we were greeted by a spectacular view! There is nothing quite like the beach first thing in the morning.
Apollo Bay is my favourite town along the coast here. It is in a stunning location and has a sleepy feel to it (though it is filled with tourists during peak season). As you leave town, there is a turn off to Blanket Bay, which is also well-worth a trip. Along the dirt road, high up in the trees, there are hundreds of Koalas. You need to pull over on the side of the road and really spend time looking for them up in the tree tops, but once you find one, there will be many more. Then, make sure you head out to Blanket Bay, a natural piece of coastline a little further away from the main road. You can camp out here, though you need to book in advance.
On our way towards the Twelve Apostles, we stopped at a viewpoint and somehow accidentally locked the keys inside the van. I take full responsibility for this terrible mistake, as I was the one driving at the time! I was really worried we would have to call the insurance company to come and help us, but we tried asking for help nearby first. Thankfully, one of the local surfers was an expert in picking locks and had the van open in a matter of seconds…this was a bit of a worry, but we were relieved nonetheless! Thanks to Paul, the friendly ex-criminal, we were on our way again!
We made it to the Twelve Apostles just before lunch and, already, there were a number of tourists on the boardwalk. The view was absolutely magical. We could not count all twelve Apostles (the large sandstone rocks that jut out of the water) but it was a picturesque sight. We took loads of photos, breathed in the fresh sea air and watched the waves crashing against the cliffs. It’s no wonder some of these rock formations have eroded over the years. I wonder how long they will continue to stand.
Our final destination was Port Campbell, a tiny coastal town where we ate lunch at a local cafe overlooking the beach, dipped our toes into the rather cold ocean and played some guitar in the back of the van for a bit, whilst pondering the journey home. We drove back via Colac, through rolling green countryside, where cattle could be seen grazing on the lush pastures. We stopped over to visit my sister in Geelong, feasted on home-made rice paper rolls and chocolate cake and drove the final leg of the journey back into Melbourne. The weekend already feels like a distant dream but at least we know we will be leaving again for our big adventure really soon, this time with no end-date.
I have highlighted our destinations in bold, but there are many more places to explore if you have the time. Make sure you pick up a map from an information centre along the way so you can make the most of your trip!