Highlights of the Great Ocean Road

August 16, 2012

One of my most memorable experiences in Australia, aside from hanging out with family, ogling over an abundance of street art in Melbourne, and obtaining a deep tan at their beaches, was a long day well-spent on the Great Ocean Road.

As a child who lived right by the beach in the Philippines, I’ve always loved coastal drives, with my eyes usually glued to the shimmering waters enhanced by the strong sunlight. Fortunately, the Great Ocean Road is nothing short of spectacular.

Stretching for more than 250km (150+ miles) starting from the surfing town of Torquay to Warrnambool, and even further along west to Nelson, the Great Ocean Road is one of the most outstanding, scenic drives one can and need to take. Hugging the southern coastline of Australia, there’s an abundance of things to see and do while on this road.

Considered as the blood, sweat, and tears of Australia’s servicemen, the building of the road was established back in 1917 as a way of providing employment for Australia’s soldiers who returned from fighting in the First World War. Close to 3000 men participated in the building process, using only picks and shovels, with food and shelter provided for.

Equipped with a playlist perfect for a roadtrip by our super-chill tour guide, Natalie from Bunyip Adventures , we soon started the scenic drive on the Great Ocean Road.

Heading out west, I couldn’t be happier that I sat on the left side of the van with the best view. It’s the perfect advantage of Australia’s “drive-on-left-side” rule.

The first stop of the tour after we left Melbourne CBD was in Torquay, home of the Rip Curl, the second biggest surfing competition.

Spotting numerous kangaroos hopping around on the grassland and surfers’ cute bums while changing in and out of their wetsuits was a great way to start off the tour.

On one of our toilet breaks, we came across native Australian parrots who had no problems landing on just about anyone’s head, hand, or shoulder.

With more scenic driving and occasional stops on the side of the road along the way, the playlist went on and on until we entered the Otway National Park. Driving through a temperate forest felt like worlds away from the endless breathtaking views of the coast we were treated to.

Cape Otway National Park, the Great Ocean Road

Yet they couldn’t have picked a more perfect spot for our barbecue lunch. At the end of a narrow road past a gate, we reached the southernmost part of the park at the Cape Otway Lighthouse where we had our meals.

Cape Otway National Park, Lighthouse, Victoria, Great Ocean Road

I couldn’t keep my eyes off the view of the white lighthouse against the clear cerulean sky and the ocean.

One look at the view and I was captivated beyond expression. There was something eerily fascinating and familiar about it, as if I’ve seen it before in a dream, before I actually laid eyes on it.

Of course no drive on the Great Ocean Road would be complete without spotting koalas on the ride through the temperate forest in Kennet River after lunch. They were everywhere hanging on the gum trees (eucalyptus) eating away the young leaves.

We made an abrupt stop and everyone ran out of the van as we spotted one in particular, his head and claws emerged from the lower branches of the tree, awake and eating.

Koalas usually sleep most of the day, twenty hours or so, as their gut breaks down the poison from the eucalyptus leaves.

Everyone in the group felt the excitement as we spotted a couple of them wide awake, crawling lazily on the branches high above us.

Continuing on to one of the biggest highlights of the tour, the one reason why travelers are even on this road is the Twelve Apostles in Port Campbell National Park. This was the one thing I’ve been waiting for throughout the entire drive .

A striking view of various limestone outcrops jutting out to sea, especially on a sunny day, is guaranteed to take anyone’s breath away.

Before I began taking photos, I sat on one of the benches of the lookout point and took the view in. I wanted it all downloaded in my memory bank. I wanted to remember the smell of the ocean air, the sound of the waves breaking, of the seagulls squawking.

It’s amazing how I was able to find peace within myself amongst the throng of travelers all fighting for the ideal spot for the best photo.

Although the 12 Apostles is the biggest highlight of the Great Ocean Road, perhaps the one place I much preferred to have spent more time was at the Loch Ard Gorge, named after the shipwrecked clipper Loch Ard back in 1878.

We descended down the steps to the secluded beach to sink our toes in the sand and dip them in the cold waters. Some of us in the group even helped a newly-wed couple from Hong Kong do a mighty fine impromptu photo shoot.

Our last stop before heading back to Melbourne was at Gibsons Steps, only a few meters away from the Twelve Apostles. Back in the days, a fisherman carved out steep, narrow steps within the limestone cliffs to gain access to the beach below.

We came down the famous steps to the beach, frolicking in the sand and water like little kids, with the late afternoon sun behind us getting ready to show off its gorgeous setting.

One can easily wish to stay there, watch the sun set, and relish the moment forever.

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  • Reply Browsing the Atlas August 17, 2012 at 07:58

    These pictures are beautiful. I would be so excited to see koalas and kangaroos. Sigh.. another place to add to my list of places to go.

  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica August 21, 2012 at 09:56

    Koalas! I would be so excited to see koalas in the wild like that.

  • Reply Artist Desiree East August 30, 2012 at 13:12

    Hi Antoinette, great shots:) I’d like to make it to Australia someday. Somehow I stumbled upon your blog through other wordpress friends and glad I did…I was born in Hawaii, but my grandparents were from the Philippines — my grandmother from Cebu City! Nice to connect:) Cheers!

  • Reply Stephen Kelly Creative December 10, 2012 at 11:14

    omg … so beautiful!!! I’ve been to Australia many, many times, but I’ve never been on Great Ocean Road. Great shots all around, Antoinette!

  • Reply Tricia April 7, 2013 at 07:39

    What a scenic part of the world, Antoinette. When we were in Bali last year, we contemplated whether or not to hop over to Australia. We decided it’s probably better to devote an entire trip to it.

    What a thrill it must have been to have seen the koalas!
    Tricia recently posted…Photo du Jour #78: The Rector’s Palace by Night – DubrovnikMy Profile

  • Reply Anita Mac April 15, 2013 at 01:39

    Gorgeous photos….especially love the koala pics. We didn’t see any on our trip down the Great Ocean Road, but at least we were able to marvel at the amazing views.
    Anita Mac recently posted…French Quarter Bike Tours – two wheeling it through New OrleansMy Profile

    • Reply loveantoinette April 15, 2013 at 01:45

      Aren’t the views just so breathtakingly unforgettable? I still consider it one of my top travel memories of all times!

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