The mighty Princes Highway extends southwards from Adelaide, stretching almost 2,000km around the southern coast of Australia to Sydney, and has been our semi-constant companion since we left Adelaide last week. However, for one short 243km stretch of Victoria coastline, we broke away along the Great Ocean Road, frequently branded as one of those bucket list lifetime road trip deals. This was our route between Adelaide and Melbourne. And I have to say that it pretty much lives up to the reputation.
From Adelaide we made our way south through the towns of Meningie and Mount Gambier, where we spent the night in gaol. Not for any misdemeanors, but because the old Mount Gambier gaol has been converted into a hostel cum guest house, with the original cells converted into bedrooms. The accommodation is simple and comfortable, our hosts were incredibly welcoming, and if you are ever passing through I thoroughly recommend it.
Mount Gambier’s other claim to fame is its stunning Blue Lake. No matter the time of day the lake is always the bluest shade of blue that ever blued in blue town. The colour may be something to do with the limestone rocks in the volcanoe crater beneath, but no one is entirely sure. Take that science.
We broke our next day’s journey at a small town called Portland, and had a leisurely drive out to Cape Nelson, where there is a lighthouse, and Cape Bridgewater, where there is a spectacular petrified forest. The “forest” is actually a series of ancient limestone chimneys that look remarkably like preserved trees, but it is nonetheless dramatic. Huge waves come rolling in from the Southern Ocean, crashing back on each other to create great plumes of spray.
So shy compared with the first one!
We also realised that we hadn’t taken any classic jumping shots. Also we’d just had a massive slice of cake in the Cape Nelson cafe and were feeling caffeinated and silly!
Port Fairy was our next stop, where we splashed out on a night and a meal in the Merrijig Inn. Oh yes, it really was that twee. But in a kind of wonderful way. Where most hotels give you a door hanger for privacy, this place gave you a stuffed pig – a privacy pig. Ours was named Prudence.
We enjoyed a delicious meal and some amazing home brew wine in the hotel restaurant, and went to bed drunk, happy and early. The following day we blazed through Warrnambool, broke away from the Princes Highway and joined the Great Ocean Road.
The first section of the road is, in a word, a little dull. We drove down to Port Campbell through mile after mile of farmland and plantation with barely a glimpse of the sea, although along the way there were places to park up and look at the spectacular coastal rock formations. These got progressively busier and busier throughout the day, until we reached the Twelve Apostles and had to circulate looking for a spot to park. Since we had gotten used to passing no more than two cars during an entire day’s driving, entire coachloads of other tourists was a bit of a culture shock. We skidaddled out of the car park, via an unfortunate interaction between the front bumper of our hire car and a wooden post (thank goodness for insurance) and snuck off the sealed road in search of some peace and quiet.
The unsealed “Old Ocean Road” is a handy slowcut for anyone looking to cut the corner after Princeton, following the Gellibrand river inland almost to the Great Otways National Park. We dawdled along in beautiful peace, accompanied only by the occasional flock of crimson rosellas. Once we rejoined the main drag the road climbs away from the coast up through the Otways, a mountainous rainforested region of dramatic twisting roads that I’m ashamed to say I slept through almost entirely. I awoke as we rejoined the coast and made our way to Apollo Bay, our next stop.
Apollo Bay is a cute little town of surfers and holidaymakers wedged between the Otways on one side and the ocean on the other. From here the journey was seriously spectacular, and everything we’d been given to understand this route would be. The road hugged the cliff edge in a series of twists and turns, giving dramatic ocean views in the early sunshine. We parked up frequently to watch the intrepid Saturday morning surfers.
At Lorne, someway up the coast, we took another little deviation to visit Erskine Falls, and from there went on another lengthy slowcut that took us through exciting back roads and finally back into Lorne, about 100m further along the road from where we started. Totally worth it.
I was actually quite sad to arrive into Melbourne. We’d had a fun few days as explorers on the road, and suddenly having to navigate a city again with no trees or visible ocean felt very strange. We stayed near St. Kilda (good old AirBnB) and staggered down to the seafront for dinner on Valentines’ Day. Apparently V-Day involves dressing up as a pirate or a mermaid, at least in St. Kilda, and I got to utter the immortal words, “Don’t look now, but I think a drunk pirate is riding an inflatable dolphin down the street.”
But more on our Melbourne adventures later. Would I do the Great Ocean Road again? Absolutely.