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Great Ocean Road

Great Otway National Park

Great Ocean Road: The road to paradise

The iconic Great Ocean Road has a way of delighting both the young and the young at heart, as Jessica Gabites discovers when she journeys along Victoria’s famous coastline.

Pull over!” I yell to my husband in excitement. He looks at me with bemusement, but pulls the car over all the same. For the past 15 minutes or so my eyes have been darting from tree to tree as we make our way along the meandering roads from Apollo Bay to the Cape Otway Lighthouse.

We’ve been in this position before. Last time it was an elephant which had me jumping out of my seat on safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Today, along Australia’s famous Great Ocean Road, it is a koala.

There is something magical about seeing a koala out in the wild without having to jostle with tourists for a glimpse in a zoo. Adding to the excitement are two very eager toddlers who are delighted to see their first “wala”.

Image © Ian Gabites

Surf’s up

The Great Ocean Road covers 240 kilometres along the southwest coast of Victoria between Torquay and Allansford, but often includes Port Fairy and Warrnambool. Spreading the journey over a week allows time to experience the seaside towns which dot the coastline. We base ourselves in Apollo Bay, a two-hour drive from home in Geelong, for a few days before travelling on to Adelaide.

We visit Bells Beach, home to the famous Rip Curl Pro surfing competition, on the southern outskirts of Torquay (a 75-minute drive southwest of Melbourne). With her brother napping with me in the car, Miss two-and-a-half has her grandparents and dad all to herself and is happily perched on top of the railings looking out at the rolling waves dotted with surfers.

There’s plenty to do in Torquay, from learning to surf with Go Ride a Wave, to visiting the Australian National Surfing Museum, the beach cafes or the nearby Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery. Torquay Foreshore Caravan Park is the only caravan park on the beachfront and is equipped with powered sites and a range of cabins. There’s also a jumping cushion, playground and games room for little ones to enjoy.

Moving on, we pause for a moment of reflection under the memorial arch signifying the start of the Great Ocean Road. Built by returned World War I servicemen, the arch was opened in 1932 in remembrance of those who died in The Great War.

On Christmas Day 2015, a fire swept through the region destroying 116 homes in the seaside towns of Wye River and Separation Creek. Patches of rejuvenating landscape are still clearly evident when we travel through.

“The drive to Apollo Bay hugs the rugged coastline, providing one spectacular view after another as we snake our way around each corner.”

Foreshore fun

The drive to Apollo Bay hugs the rugged coastline, providing one spectacular view after another as we snake our way around each corner. These are winding roads so beware if you are prone to car sickness. The foreshore playground in Apollo Bay is a hit with our young ones, but seeing cows and sheep up close in the lush green paddocks is really what gets them jumping out of their wellies. It’s the middle of winter when we visit so the streets and beach are quiet, but in summer these towns are a magnet for sun-loving tourists. Apollo Bay accommodation ranges from holiday houses, B&Bs, motels and apartments to holiday parks such as the BIG4 Apollo Bay Pisces Holiday Park which has villas accommodating up to seven people.

Helicopter views

Shipwreck coast

The Cape Otway Lightstation is just under an hour away. You could be forgiven for thinking the Great Ocean Road is only a coastal journey, but with views of rolling green hills, it feels like we are a long way from the sea.

The oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia, Cape Otway was established in 1848 and is perched on top of towering cliffs 90 metres above where Bass Straight and the Southern Ocean collide. Looking out over the treacherous coast, it’s not hard to imagine why this stretch of water is the gravesite for hundreds of lives lost in shipwrecks.

The kids are a little young to appreciate the history, but they enjoy wandering through the buildings such as the Telegraph Station, built in 1859, which was home for the operators and their families. They delight in racing up the lighthouse stairs and having the wind blow through their hair on the balcony.

Next stop is the 12 Apostles. With the kids hitching a ride on dad and grandad’s shoulders we take the walkway from the carpark, under the road and out to the coastline. The magnificent limestone formations and sweeping coastal views are even more impressive up close than in photos, and all ages soon find themselves oohing and ahhing in glee.

Later, the kids watch transfixed as their grandparents take off on a 15-minute helicopter joy ride over the limestone stacks. When they return, there are such beaming smiles all around it’s hard to tell who has had more fun.

This article appeared in volume 51 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

Image © Visit Victoria

Information

Visit Great Ocean Road

Getting there

Torquay is 95 kilometres southwest of Melbourne and is the official start of the Great Ocean Road.

Hot tip

Don’t rush. Split up your journey and stay at a few different places along the way. Plan day trips out to the various tourist attractions so you don’t spend all of your time in the car.

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