When a trip to Melbourne, Australia all but fell in my lap, I relished at the opportunity to visit a bucket list destination: The Great Ocean Road. As my husband was working most of our trip, I couldn’t quite plan the meandering itinerary I wanted to. In fact, I didn’t want to get my hopes up, and planned to join a guided day-trip from the city if my husbands schedule proved too hectic. However, things worked in my favor, and I did something I never do. I booked a hotel the same day that I planned to stay.
(Those who know me as the girl who books her trips 9 months out have their jaws slack in astonishment.)
I quickly settled on Anchors Port Campbell, a secluded pastoral property with just 3 fully detached cabins. The cabins are spacious and appointed in a smart monochrome decor, and even have a kitchen. The bathroom is complete with a huge tub overlooking the gorgeous farmlands, animals, and ocean beyond. The teak chairs out on the deck were perfect for enjoying a glass of Timboon Shiraz as the sun melted over the horizon.
The owner of the property, Tanya, gave us a great orientation of the property and the area, and helped us scheme the best way to maximize our time along the Great Ocean Road. Her tips completely helped us have the most serene experience (by avoiding crowds), and stop at all of the breathtaking locations along the way.
Catching the sunset at the Twelve Apostles was a chillingly beautiful experience. In fact, having this experience makes staying in Port Campbell a natural choice for a night along the Great Ocean Road, as the Apostles are only 6 miles away! Watching the waves hundreds of feet below the sheer cliffs is a memory that I will hold dear, and was definitely a highlight. The other unforgettable memories of this night involved wildlife! We saw a beautiful red fox, and had a close encounter with a kangaroo (who hopped down the center of the road for a full 5 minutes, totally oblivious of us behind him!)
Early morning is an equally dreamy time in Port Campbell. Having the opportunity to be, seriously, the only ones at the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, and London Bridge is an experience I can only hope you have the chance to cherish in your lifetime. My personal favorite was Loch Ard Gorge. With three easy hikes with incredible vistas along the way, it is a photographers dreamscape.
Many day trips don’t get a chance to get as far west as the London Bridge, or the Bay of Islands — both of which I don’t think you should miss! The main natural wonders along the Great Ocean Road are quite far from Melbourne, and thus definitely shouldn’t be attempted in a day trip. Staying at least one night allows you so much more flexibility to explore. If given the chance, I would definitely have stayed longer and devoted entire days to exploring Anglesea and Lorne on the way back to Melbourne. My tendency for exploring a place deeply had 5-day itineraries working in my head as we passed through.
In general, working back towards Melbourne as the day gets later is, in my opinion, the key for avoiding traffic and enjoying the sights free of crowds. Though pulling off from the left to take in the ocean vistas may require a slight bit more finesse (especially for those used to driving on the right), it’s completely worth it for the tranquility factor.
One of my favorite stops was a spot called Wreck Beach, which is a few miles off the beaten path along a dirt road. It intersects with the Great Ocean Walk trail. There are over 300 stairs leading down to the wonderfully desolate beach, which appears straight out of a fantasy novel. The sense of being marooned is heightened at low tide when an anchor from a shipwreck is visible.
I read many posts online about how people shouldn’t self-drive the Great Ocean Road, and I disagree with a couple caveats. First, it should be attempted by a confident driver. For my California readers, the drive is akin to Highway 1 along Big Sur: not for the faint of heart, but doable. Second, it absolutely shouldn’t be your first time driving on the left. We got in a couple days experience driving the Mornington Peninsula, as well as downtown Melbourne (hook turns, anyone?) before making the Great Ocean Road drive. Third, don’t be in a rush: it takes a full day to get back to the city from Port Campbell with stops, so plan accordingly. With attentive and confident driving, the opportunity to explore at your own leisure is of prime benefit!
The Great Ocean Road was a bucket list dream realized for me, and is reason enough to venture to Melbourne.
Stay tuned for my next post about why Melbourne is the best city in the world, and deserves ample time in your Australia itinerary!