Australia’s Most Dizzying Drive
There’s always something liberating about a road trip, but this one along Australia’s wild coastline will make your heart race. Navigating hairpin turns on the edges of cliffs high above the sea is nothing short of exhilarating. Until 1932, when the Great Ocean Road was completed (built by returning World War I veterans), this stretch of Earth was one of the most isolated in the world. Besides the fisherman who lived in nearby villages that were accessible only by boat, few humans had laid eyes on the juxtaposition of land and sea here. Set between Torquay and Warrnambool, the Great Ocean Road is an awe-inspiring feat of construction, and a tribute to Australia’s rugged landscape.
To really hug the curves and get the most out of this thrill-inducing ride, rent a convertible or a motorcycle. Actually, any kind of small car will do, but don’t even think about getting on a bus with a tour operator. Even though the nearly 240km (150 miles) drive takes just 31⁄2 hours—maybe even less depending on how fast you drive—allow at least 3 days for the journey. You’ll want to stop and experience some off-the-road adventures too.
The most eastern portion of the drive, starting in Torquay, is called the Surf Coast and is home to the world-famous Bells Beach (see ), featured in Point Break. If you brought your surfboard, stop your wheels and ride some waves. Even if you don’t surf, plan to spend an hour or so watching other enthusiasts. Each April, the world’s best surfers come here to compete in the Rip Curl Pro Surf and Music Festival.
To spend some more time surfing or to try your hand at fishing, chill out in the cool town of Lorne before continuing on to Apollo Bay—the drive is especially harrowing as the pavement narrows and twists along a cliff edge. In Aireys Inlet, take a horseback ride on the beach or in Angahook-Lorne State Park with Blazing Saddles ( 03/5289 7332; www.greatoceanroad.com.au/blazing_saddles). If you’d rather stretch your legs, the state park also has a number of good hiking trails through the rainforest. For a quick 30-minute stroll just past Apollo Bay, walk along the Maits Rest Rainforest Boardwalk.
The road then cuts inland past the Otway Lighthouse, built by convicts in 1848. This area is a great place to see some wildlife at the Cape Otway Centre for Conservation Ecology and perhaps spend the night. You’ll want to be alert for the next part of the drive, as it spectacularly winds along 61m (200-ft.) sea cliffs. Be sure to stop and see the Twelve Apostles, a world-renowned series of wave-chiseled rock formations; the London Bridge, which looked like the real thing until the middle portion crashed into the ocean in 1990; and the Loch Ard Gorge. Before you hit Port Fairy, stop in the Aboriginal-run Tower Hill Nature Preserve ( 03/5561-5315; www.worngundidj.org.au).
The Great Ocean Road officially ends in Warrnambool. If you want to try the curves going the other direction, turn around and head back toward Melbourne. But even adventure junkies need a break sometimes. If you’ve had enough adrenaline for one trip, take the easier inland route back and head an hour north into the rural Southern Grampians Ranges. You can stay next to a fully operating sheep station at the Royal Mail Hotel’s Mt. Sturgeon Cottages ( 03/5577-2241; www.royalmail.com.au).
Great Ocean Road Visitors Centre ( 03/5275-5797; www.greatoceanrd.org.au).
When to Go: Anytime, but particularly in the summer and fall (Nov–May).
Melbourne Airport, approx. an hour-long drive from the eastern start of the Great Ocean Road.