You’ve gotta love holidays like Easter. It’s like a long weekend, only longer. It is acceptable to eat unacceptable amounts of chocolate, and it is a perfect excuse for another adventure!
Time to tick another trip off the bucket list. The Great Ocean Road.
We dragged the kids out of bed in the middle of the night and headed to the airport, where they proceeded to eat their weight in food in the koru lounge, before we jumped on a plane from Christchurch to Melbourne.
Three hours later we were in Australia and waiting in the Apollo Campers depot, being sold all sorts of extra’s like breakdown insurance and toilet chemicals. Then we were off! Andrew at the helm of this huge 6-man camper down a highway with the assistance of the GPS – which takes all the fun (stress) out of map reading, and I imagine has probably saved a few marriages in the process.
We stopped in Geelong for groceries. Parking in an obscure corner of the carpark, because thats the only place you can park a vehicle of this size. By this time the kids were starving again (have they got hollow legs?) So we navigated around the very busy supermarket, filling a trolley with all sorts of delicacies for the adventure ahead.
A little further down the road we arrived at Torquay Caravan Park. (114km from Melbourne airport) This is a super flash campground (AUD$79.00 per night) located right on the beach. There are huge super clean, fully tiled ablution blocks (but only 4 minute showers) with a central field, camp kitchen, games room and playground. The kids disappeared to play on the huge bouncy pillow thing, while Andrew and I enjoyed a beer and got unpacked.
Once the kids had burnt off some energy, we went exploring. Torquay Beach is a great little town with a stunning golden sand surf beach. The streets are lined with restaurants and surf shops. It looks like a great place to stop and stay a while.
But no time to stop! We were on a road trip, so we had an early night – all still on New Zealand time, and got up in the morning for more exploring.
The Great Ocean Road is 240km of heritage listed road in the South Eastern corner of Australia. This ribbon of road was built by soldiers returning from WWI, and dedicated to those whose lives were lost in the war. It has stunning vistas out over this spectacular surf coastline.
Our first stop today was the quaint town of Lorne. About 50km from Torquay. This is another lovely place with a gorgeous sandy beach, cool cafe’s and shops along the waterfront. People surfing and enjoying the sunshine and some cool art installations along the beach.
We were then back on the road again to Kennet River – 22km along from Torquay. I’d heard that you can see koala’s just hanging out in the trees here, and we were not disappointed. Simply pull off the main road, park the car and walk about 100 metres up a shingle road behind the campground. We saw about two or three koala’s snoozing in the trees along the roadside, and some cool colourful birds too.
A further 22km down the road is another lovely town called Apollo Bay. Another stunning surf beach, with a small marina, shops and cafes. Andrew hired Will a surfboard and he enjoyed playing in the waves. I walked round to the marina for a look and saw ‘Notorious‘ a replica of a 1400’s Portuguese vessel that was apparently discovered in the sands somewhere along the Great Ocean Road back in the 1800’s but has since disappeared again.
You can look around Notorious, but she was closed on the day I visited. The Marina at Apollo Bay looked very protected behind a rock wall. There were a few floating pontoons, some moorings, a slipway and fishing berth as well.
After an ice-cream we hit the road again. This time heading for Cape Otway – 35km further along the road. The signposts pointed us in one direction, the GPS pointed in another direction. We followed the GPS thinking the roads must converge, but we ended up way off track down a rutted shingle road. As we came around the corner we saw a SNAKE!
We don’t have snakes in New Zealand, so this was a bit of a novelty for me. I was quite pleased we were in the camper van and that the kids didn’t see it slithering across the road.
We turned back, and went down the original road to find a paddock full of kangaroos and more koalas hanging in the trees. Very cool. We eventually made it to our campsite at Bimbi Park.
Bimbi Park Campground is in the Cape Otway Park, and is full of tall gum trees, which makes it a lovely setting but a little nerve-wracking to negotiate a big camper van around underneath the low hanging branches. The campsite was packed, but everyone seemed quite happy squeezing in with one another. They had braziers and fires roaring with people gathered around toasting marshmallows. We were in the overflow campsite – which was miles from the toilets, so we were lucky to have the loo on board the camper saving us a long walk. There were horses here and horse treks available.
The next day we were up early again and this time off to explore the Cape Otway Light Station. This is named as Australia’s most significant lighthouse as it was the first navigational mark that the early settlers would have seen since leaving the UK or America on their way to start new lives in Australia. Opened in 1848, on the ‘shipwreck coast’, this lighthouse used to run on whale oil. It is an impressive structure, and a well set up attraction. You can visit the radar station that was used in the war, the signal station that used flags to communicate with the arriving vessels, and an indigenous centre where the kids learnt how to throw a spear.
We spent a few hours exploring before getting on the road again. Our destination today was 75km further down the road – the Twelve Apostles.
The weather was a bit miserable, and as we drove past the Twelve Apostles car park, we were horrified at the queue of cars waiting to get in the car park… so we kept driving. A little further down the road we came to Loch Ard Gorge. I’d heard this was pretty good too, and at least there wasn’t a car park full of coaches.
The colours of the cliffs and ocean is just spectacular. We climbed down some stairs in to the soft golden sand. The ocean was wild. Big waves came crashing in through the narrow entrance. The gorge is named after a ship that was wrecked just at the entrance. There were just a couple of survivors who ended up on this beach. However without the steps that we walked down, escape up the sheer cliffs must have been very difficult.
We climbed back up the track and it started to rain again. So we had some lunch and drove on to brave the crowds at the Twelve Apostles. Apparently there have never been twelve of these rocks, just nine, however only eight remain, one having collapsed about 11 years ago with erosion. They were originally called the Sow & Piglets but were renamed in the early 1900’s for tourism purposes.
They are absolutely spectacular, but wasn’t so cool was the thousands of people who were also there with us. We literally had to squeeze along the walkway to take a photo. Hideous.
We spent the night in a lovely small campsite called the Apostles Camping Park and Cabins in Princetown. We overlooked a lovely river where kangaroos went bouncing past.
We decided to have an early night and have another crack at the Apostles first thing in the morning before the crowds arrived. We went down the steps to the beach instead.
We had breakfast at Port Campbell and then began the long drive back to Melbourne about 230km away on the inland road. We stopped at a place called Red Rock which was a bit disappointing compared to the scenery we had just seen, but a good opportunity to stretch our legs.
Time for another adventure in Melbourne!
The Great Ocean Road is a fantastic trip. The beaches are stunning, there are some lovely little towns along the way, great wildlife, lots of accommodation options, and gorgeous scenery.
The drawbacks were that the camper was big and hard to drive around the winding and sometimes narrow roads, parking was difficult in the towns, and it wasn’t overly comfortable for the passengers in the back either. The bonus is that you have everything there, and you don’t need to pack and unpack every night. You might be better off in a car and staying in motels instead. Over the long weekend many campsites insisted on a five night minimum stay – which is just ridiculous. Surely the idea of having a camper is that you are mobile?! We were really happy with the campgrounds that we stayed at.
I also think we tried to cover off too much ground in the short period of time we had. The kids would have been just as happy staying at the first beach we got to for the whole time! Even though we only covered between 100 – 200km a day, we still felt quite rushed, and not really relaxed with the pressure to get back on the road again to our next destination.
So if you do the Great Ocean Road – take your time! Spend a few days in one place to really enjoy the area and relax a bit and it is worth getting up early to explore the touristy spots before the coach loads of tourists arrive.