Location: Great Ocean Road, Victoria
A visit to Victoria should include two things, one being time spent in metropolitan Melbourne, and the other getting out in a car and doing the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road (GOR) drive is considered to be one of the most scenic in Victoria and it is possible to do in a day (although I don’t recommend it), however you’re spoilt for choice with the number of towns along the way to stop in, how do you choose?
Besides the well known towns of Lorne and Apollo Bay, there are many smaller towns dotting the coast along the GOR, and with names like Port Fairy and Anglesea they all sound like great places to stop, but if you’re short on time you should limit it to at least three towns. So to help you choose your GOR towns, here’s my round up of all the main towns along the way to help you decide on where to stop and where to drive on.
Towns to stop at
1. Aireys Inlet
We stopped in at Aireys Inlet mainly for me to indulge in one of my favorite childhood television shows and see the Split Point Lighthouse. For many Australian kids who have read Paul Jenning’s ‘Round the Twist’ book series, this was a treat to see the lighthouse where the children’s program (of the same name) was filmed. There are regular tours that take you to the top of the lighthouse, however we missed the last tour of the day and settled for a wander around the beach before heading off to the GOR Memorial Arch. It’s only a short five minute drive from Aireys Inlet, and you can pull off the road for photos and to learn about the history of the GOR Drive. I would definitely stop at the GOR Memorial Arch for that obligatory tourist photo and at Aireys Inlet to head up to the Lighthouse ($14 adults).
2. Port Campbell
Although larger than Princetown and Airey’s Inlet, Port Campbell is much smaller than Lorne and Apollo Bay and is the closest town to the Twelve Apostles (10 minutes) that has good facilities, dining and accommodation options. The town was nice for a short lunch stop, and we ate overlooking Port Campbell Bay at the 12 Rocks Cafe and Beach Bar when it was pouring down with rain. There is also a short hike that takes you from the town up to a viewing platform (which is also accessible by car) and gives you some nice views over Port Campbell and the ocean. Port Campbell is also well positioned to visit London Bridge, Loch Ard Gorge and the Grotto, and I would stop here for a coffee or snack.
3. Port Fairy
For something different to the other sleepy coastal towns along the GOR, Port Fairy does stand out. The town has enough to keep you busy for a day with a lively main street of cafes, restaurants and boutique stores and also a beautiful wharf area reminiscent of the canals of Amsterdam. Siu On and I enjoyed the day we spent in Port Fairy and even drove along the Ocean Drive to check out the other side of town. I would stop in Port Fairy only if you’re driving this far along the coast otherwise, once you near London Bridge just after Port Campbell, I would head back to Melbourne.
In addition to these, I also recommend a stop at either Lorne or Apollo Bay, as either are great options for lunch or even for an overnight stay if you decide to prolong your GOR Drive.
Towns to drive through
The first town on the GOR ended up being rather disappointing. Driving along the main street you would be forgiven for thinking the town was just one big surf brand direct factory outlet, and even when you venture off the drag and onto The Esplanade, which will take you along the coast, besides the beach there isn’t much else than a lot of shops and a few cafes and restaurants. The Surf World Torquay Museum is currently being housed in the makeshift Information Centre due to renovations, and the admission price was reduced slightly as a result, but it’s probably only interesting if you’re really into the history of surfing and with the sounds of renovations in the background, it kinda killed the surf groove. If you wanted to shop for surf branded gear then definitely stop and check out the shops, otherwise I would recommend driving on and spending more time out at Bells Beach to watch the surf and surfers going at it.
Another small town along the GOR, Siu On and I decided to drive through this one as the scenery is much the same as others you’ll see along the way. Anglesea has a nice town beach and a small shopping area and is much the same as Aireys Inlet or Port Campbell, however without the distinguishing features of either town, so drive on from here and stop at Aireys Inlet instead.
Blink and you’d miss the turnoff for Princetown! This tiny town has a small bakery, cafe and general store and not much else. We pulled up and took a walk to a viewing platform which was okay, but give it a miss.
Siu On and I stayed a few nights at the Great Ocean Road Tourist Park in Peterborough as it was still close to the Twelve Apostles (20 minutes drive away), Warrnambool (45 minutes) and Port Fairy (60 minutes). The town is tiny but its location made it an ideal base to be near the Twelve Apostles, as well as the lesser visited GOR sights including the Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Isles. The town has a nice beach and also river mouth access which had a lot of fishermen in the early morning and late evenings, however, if you’re doing only a day trip along the GOR I’d skip it.
I really wish I could say some nice things about Warrnambool, however, we didn’t have a good experience here. It’s a large town with all the usual facilities, dining and accommodation options, but we didn’t find too much to do in town that was of much interest to us personally; and what made it worse was that we seemed to bump into a lot of rude people. I’m not sure if the townsfolk just don’t like non-Victorians or if our ethnic appearance had something to do with it, but I don’t see us returning here in the future unfortunately. Drive on and don’t stop!
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend driving from Melbourne to Port Fairy in one day as you would be extremely rushed, and probably spend more time sitting in the car than you would seeing the sights! (I highly recommend you space the GOR drive out over two days.) Once you’ve seen London Bridge I would recommend heading back to Melbourne to get into the city by night fall, unless you decide to make an overnight stay along the way, I would recommend staying at either Lorne or Apollo Bay. The Great Ocean Road is such a beautiful touring route and definitely a must do if you plan on visiting Victoria, so hire a car and get out on the road!
Photography by Jelena Stipanicev.