Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Great Ocean Road: A Piece of Victoria's Natural Beauty

This travel post is written by Vera who blogs at Life is in the Small Things. She travelled to Melbourne and spent 2 weeks exploring the city and its surrounding regions in Victoria, Australia with her petite travellers Noey (5 years) and Mei (3 years) recently in September 2014. During this period, Vera and family spent 3D2N along the Great Ocean Road, which is the subject of this post.

This holiday is suitable for families that enjoy self-drive holidays, and immersing themselves in nature while enjoying some spectacular views. 

PT GOR Collage

When my husband and I decided to bring the family on a holiday to Melbourne Australia during the recent September term break, one of the places we readily penciled in was the Great Ocean Road (GOR). It has been a while since the husband and I have visited the GOR, and it's something we have not done together, so we thought it would be fun to do this as a family. The GOR is one of Australia's most scenic coastal drives, featuring awe-inspiring limestone cliffs and incredible rock formations. It is home to iconic surf breaks set against the tall trees and many waterfalls of Great Otway National Park, and lots of wildlife too! In other words, it is a must-see destination.  

Having decided to embark on the journey, the next big question was whether to drive the GOR on our own or take a day tour. The GOR is a very popular day-trip from Melbourne and there are plenty of tour operators offering day trips out to the Twelve Apostles. The biggest benefit of taking a tour is not having to drive, obviously. The trip out to the Twelve Apostles near Port Campbell would take at least 4-5 hours of driving from Melbourne. That's a lot of driving and that's just one way! Taking a day tour would also allow us to continue staying in our Melbourne accommodation and not have to move our many pieces of luggage. It was also possibly cheaper than renting a car that met our needs.

The biggest downside though is that we would be stuck on a bus most of the time and have limited scope to decide our own itinerary and time to explore. In the end, our desire for flexibility won out. If you've travelled with kids before, you'll know that things can change in an instant with them, so flexibility is key! We decided to try to take things at a leisurely pace and stay 2 nights at Apollo Bay, using it as the base to explore the GOR, and I think it worked out much better than if we had tried to squeeze everything into a day trip.

GOR2Dancing to the great view, just because I want to!

Here are some things we did, and enjoyed, on the GOR:

1. Have Lunch at Lorne

Everyone kept telling us to have lunch at Lorne, so we did! We had to check-out of our hotel at 10am (the standard hotel check-out time in Melbourne according to our experience), and since Lorne is a 2-hour drive from Melbourne, that set us up very nicely for lunch at Lorne. We didn't know where to eat but a quick search online on TripAdvisor (my go-to site for hotel and food recommendations) and we decided on the bottle of milk. It was a hit with the whole family -- certainly some of the best burgers we've had! And on lovely enamel ware too. Hee. We ordered both beef and chicken burgers and they were all good. Simply dressed but the meat patties were juicy and flavourful. Delicious.

GOR6A mighty yummy beef burger.

GOR3Menu and our happy campers!

2. Erskine Falls

After lunch we took a drive to Erskine Falls, a short 15 minutes away. This is one of the most popular falls of the Otways, and I'm sure that's in part because it's pretty accessible. From the carpark, a short walk of about 80m will bring you to the upper falls view, where you can get a decent view the waterfall. We continued along the trail to the lower falls view another 200m downhill and were glad we did as this was much more spectacular. My husband had a field day trying to take good waterfall and stream shots (ie. stuff that I the non-photographer do not appreciate quite as much) while the children loved poking about looking for rocks to pick up. Of course when it was time to go, both children bounded uphill like it was nothing, whilst I found it, well, a lot more tough going! Climbing back up is not an easy walk for the unfit, but we all made it, with some puffing.

GOR5Upper and lower view of Erskine Falls.

GOR7By the river at the base of the Falls.

GOR8The trek back up to the carpark. Mei is way ahead of me!

By the way, the nearest toilet is at the Blanket Leaf Picnic Area about a 3 minute drive away. Not a drive you'd want to make with a squirming urgent 3-year old, but doable. Just sayin'!

3. Teddy's Lookout

Heading back from Erskine Falls towards Lorne, we took a short detour to Teddy's Lookout nearby. It might not look like much when you're approaching but it offers some stunning views of St George's River and the Great Ocean Road coastline. We were there during the golden hour of the afternoon and the view in that light was pretty amazing.

GOR9This way to Teddy's Lookout!

GOR10With a glimpse of the view in the background.

GOR11Some stunning vistas of the coastline.

4. Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay was our rest stop while on the Great Ocean Road and we found The Dolphin Apartments a great little place to stay. Spacious, modern and comfortable, and with free wifi (yay!). It was also a short walk (or a really short drive) to the town where we could stock up on provisions or eat at a restaurant. We really appreciated the kitchen (for the preparation of breakfast and quick bites) and the washer and dryer -- essentials when you're on holiday with kids in tow! Our only complaint was that we didn't manage to get the top floor unit and on the ground floor, we got NO VIEW since the property is situated behind a gas station. That was a bit disappointing but we made sure to soak in views whenever we stepped out. I'm sure my husband also appreciated not having to lug our luggage up 2 floors!

We did not have much time to explore the town but it is known to be a good spot for walks and water sports. Perhaps when the kids are older!

GOR12A pretty delicious dinner we got a Sandy Feet Cafe & Health Food at Apollo Bay. The husband was a bit doubtful about the health food bit but we enjoyed their modern Australian menu. 

5. Cape Otway Lightstation

Cape Otway Lightstation is one of the highlights of the GOR, and it certainly was one of the highlights of this portion of our trip!

To be honest, the drive from Apollo Bay to Cape Otway isn't the most exciting, since you cut across the peninsula on an inland road with no ocean views. The husband and I joked that this really should be called the Great Forest and Farm Road instead of the Great Ocean Road! But what we did find exciting about driving through Great Otway National Park were the sightings of wild koalas. Yes, koalas in the wild! Naturally we spent a lot of time trying to peer into the trees but the best indicator is really just to stop whenever you see other cars and buses pulling over. 

GOR15Wild koala on the move!

(Another good spot for wild koalas is Kennett River. There is a road just behind the caravan park leading to a picnic ground and you can spot lots of koalas in the trees along this road.)

It is a long drive off the main road to the lightstation grounds but it is well worth the detour. Cape Otway Lightstation is the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia, having started operation in 1848. It continues to be in full working order but was decommissioned in 1994 when the cost of keeping it in operation proved to be too high. Today the lightstation and its grounds remain open for visitors to tour and get a taste of some history while enjoying some spectacular views. The lighthouse itself is incredibly picturesque and you will not be able to resist taking many shots of it. We certainly couldn't!

GOR16A reminder of all the shipwrecks off Cape Otway, which led to the building of this ligtstation.

GOR17Walking through the beautifully serene grounds, on which the original buildings still stand. Behind us is the Telegraph Station.

GOR18The lightstation. Standing since 1848!

GOR19Looking back on the grounds from the top of the lightstation.

GOR20Looking at the mechanism that rotates the reflector, which is what causes the light to flash.

One word of warning: it can get very windy! This is not surprising, given that it is situated at the tip of the peninsular after all, but do dress warmly. If it gets too cold, we found the cafe a welcome spot for some coffee and hot chocolate, and a big bowl of piping hot soup.

GOR13Soup and crayons make for happy kids! 

GOR21One last look at the lightstation.

6. Twelve Apostles

We couldn't make a trip to the GOR and not visit the Twelve Apostles, only the most visited site along the entire Great Ocean Road. The Twelve Apostles are a collection of limestone stacks off the coast near Port Campbell, and the dramatic and awe-inspiring quality of their form and placement have made them a major tourist attraction. The last time I visited the Twelve Apostles was, incredibly, about 26 years ago! The rocks look smaller than I remembere (and probably really ARE smaller, thanks to erosion) but still look just as impressive. The site is part of Port Campbell National Park and there are boardwalks which offer an easy stroll with great views of the famous rocks.

GOR22Yes, he was busy counting the structures. Apparently there are only 8 left standing but I didn't tell him that.

GOR23Rocksss.

GOR24Trekking up and down the boardwalk which helpfully gives you different vantage points from which to view the rocks.

We drove back to Apollo Bay after visiting the Twelve Apostles but if you have a bit more time to spend around Port Campbell, my fellow co-contributor Angie recommends staying at Macka's Farm Lodge, located a short distance from Port Campbell National Park where you can experience a working farm and get close to some animals. You can also visit Berry World at Timboon, a 20-minute drive from Port Campbell where the kids can enjoy picking their own berries. Unfortunately it wasn't quite the season for berries when we were there or we would have paid them a visit!

The GOR stretches past Port Campbell all the way to Port Fairy, but we didn't have the time to make it all the way to the end. I hope to do it on a repeat visit to Melbourne.

We packed up and returned from Apollo Bay back towards Melbourne in preparation for the next leg of our journey in the Yarra Valley. We had planned to stop at Weeribee Open Range Zoo on the way back, having heard good reviews of this zoo, but unfortunately the weather was grey and wet on the day of our intended visit. So we ended up doing a rest stop at Weeribee Plaza instead, and got in a spot of shopping! One of those large sprawling malls, it was a great place to grab some lunch, buy necessities and do some browsing. I didn't think it was a bad trade-off.

Our trip to the Great Ocean Road as a portion of our holiday that was not specifically child-oriented. Rather, it was us bringing our kids along to see what we adults wanted to see, but I dare say both adults and kids enjoyed it. I hope this inspires you to make the trip too.

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