I’ve driven the Great Ocean Road twice, and it’s still one of my favourite parts of Australia. The first time I hired a van in Melbourne and drove to Port Campbell and back in just under three days. The second time I was taking part in the World Nomads Vantastic Road Trip, so I drove from Melbourne all the way across the border into South Australia.
If you have a license and you can rent a car then I suggest you drive instead of taking a tour, because that’s the whole point of the Great Ocean Road- sitting behind the wheel and driving around the windy coastal road. At each turn you find a new lookout, a better wave and a new beach.
The south coast just doesn’t look anything like the East Coast of Australia. This scenic road reminded me somewhat of the coastline of Devon in England, with green forests, golden sandy coves and rugged cliffs. I drove it once in February and once in March- both times it was quiet and empty, but I have heard it can get really busy during holiday periods. I experienced a sense of freedom driving the Great Ocean Road without the crowds and I love road trips in general. The climate was different to other states- it got chilly at night, the beaches are windswept and the sea spray lingers in the air.
The “Great Ocean Road” doesn’t deserve such a flat adjective as ‘great’. It’s better than ‘great’, but it does have a certain ring to it.
Driving out of Melbourne, you follow signs to Geelong and then you’ll get to Torquay, Bell’s Beach, Lorne, Apollo Bay, Port Campbell, Port Fairy and Portland, before crossing the border into South Australia.
Torquay- This is the first major stop on the way to the Great Ocean Road. If you need surf gear or clothes then they have some massive superstores for all the top surf brands like Quicksilver and Billabong.
Bell’s Beach- You have to take a detour off the main road to get to Bell’s Beach, but it’s worth it to take a refreshing dip in the ocean after all that driving. Bells is where they hold the Rip Curl Pro surf contest in March every year.
Lorne- Lorne is a pretty town with restaurants, accommodation, a petrol station, a camp site and a supermarket. I can recommend the tapas restaurant and the pub by the beach for a quiet beer.
Split Point Lighthouse- This lighthouse is located in Aireys Inlet between Bell’s Beach and Lorne. It was originally called Eagles Nest Point and was built in 1891.
Twelve Apostles- Though it is called the Twelve Apostles, there are actually only eight left because several of them have collapsed due to erosion. This collection of limestone stacks near Port Campbell National Park is a popular tourist attraction. There’s a large car park on the other side of the road and a wooden viewing platform so you can take picture-postcard photos.
Stock up on groceries in Lorne- You can eat in restaurants in the major towns along the Great Ocean Road, but if you’re trying to save money there is a supermarket in Lorne so you can buy snack and supplies.
Remember to drive on the left- They have signs everywhere telling you to Drive on the Left. It may seem really obvious and stupid, but both times I’ve driven the Great Ocean Road, I’ve seen smashed-up cars on the roadside.
Make sure you have plenty of petrol– I’ve played the how-far-can-i-get-before-this-tank-runs-out-of-petrol game, and it’s not fun. There can be large distances between petrol stations, so make sure you fill up. Take a map with you so you can see where the nearest petrol stations are.
There are public showers in Lorne- The cheapest way to travel the Great Ocean Road is by renting a van and sleeping in it to save money on accommodation costs. The camp sites are expensive so your best best is to park on the roadside somewhere. What I discovered is that there are some HOT showers in Lorne in the public toilets near the beach. You can operate them with 1 dollar coins so make sure you have some change on you.
Sleeping overnight- If you have a couple of days I suggest sleeping the first night in Lorne because there are plenty of facilities. You can’t sleep overnight in the car parks or the main streets but you can park a little bit higher up the hill. Along the route there are several secluded spots at various lookout points where you can park your vehicle.
It gets cold at night- It gets really chilly at night if you’re not driving it during the hottest months of the Christmas and New Year period. I had two jumpers on, as well as a sleeping bag, and I had to keep turning the engine on in the middle of the night for more heat. Make sure you take plenty of warm gear.
The supermarket in Port Campbell sells everything in single-serve size– I found this quite exciting because I didn’t want to buy a whole jar of vegemite…