Being a student allows for a lot of time off during the year. We get a nice chunk of holidays that’s perfectly suited for setting off on an adventure. But you don’t need a great expanse of time to have one. Sure, you need time to get to the other side of the world, but there’s places within our country, and within our state that make for fun small trips. Weekend or even day trips out of Melbourne are pretty feasible, and a good way to appease restlessness of being back at uni and in the one spot.
As a student it’s also easy to let everything fall to the wayside a bit once the semester starts. Healthy sleeping patterns, social life, what are those? The outdoors, what’s that? But, not to sound like your mum, knocking on your door at lunchtime on a Saturday when you’re still asleep, getting out and about has a lot of benefits. It can also be a lot of fun.
We’re getting into autumn, but hopefully we’ve still got a little bit of warm weather left in Melbourne’s temperamental self before everything goes cold for a while. So, why not make use of that sun before assignments really start to bog everyone down and take a road trip? Take a weekend to explore the Great Ocean Road.
This article will be skewed towards those who can drive themselves, but there are ways for people who want to see the Great Ocean Road and don’t have a car. There are some options for tour groups that do day trips along the coast, stopping at the major sites. Having not done one of these tours, I can’t speak for one above the other, but I know it’s certainly possible to do.
If you’re doing the Great Ocean Road by car, I’d recommend turning it into a weekend trip. Two days gives you a nice amount of time to explore the coast and a little inland and get the most out of it, especially once you add the traffic to and from Melbourne. Maybe rope a few friends in to share the driving and accommodation costs and turn it into a group getaway? That way you can also enjoy the scenery instead of keeping your eyes on the road, or pulling over at every possibility to stare at the ocean.
Be warned: there will be a lot of pulling over to stare at the ocean whichever way you do it.
I started my journey at the other end of the road from Melbourne. This was a mixture of a) deciding I’d rather do the long drive at the start of the trip while still excited than at the end, when I wanted to be home in bed, and b) the thing I really wanted to see was the 12 Apostles, and that seemed like a good place to start the adventure. Driving inland from Melbourne, it took around three hours to get to the 12 Apostles. It was incredible to see them, although there is now only eight left, with the most recent having collapsed in 2005. It’s also a little strange to see something you’ve seen on postcards and photos in front of you.
Clustered around the 12 Apostles are a few other lovely stops. To the east is the Gipson Steps which lead you down onto the beach, and you get an awe-inspiring view of the cliffs that loom over you at 70 meters high. Passing the 12 Apostles to the west and continuing on to Port Campbell, you reach Loch Ard Gorge, named for a ship that ran aground in 1878, killing 52 of the 54 people on board. This stop also has a couple walking trails from the site, including one that leads to a graveyard for those who died on the ship.
The London Bridge (renamed the London Arch after a partial collapse) is a little further up the road, and The Grotto is about a minute from there. I wasn’t kidding when I said there would be a lot of pulling over and staring at beaches. I stopped at four more beaches while going west: Helladale Point, Worm Bay, The Bay of Martyrs, and the Bay of Islands. They were all beautiful stops, and any of them could make a nice rest for a picnic lunch, or afternoon tea.
Heading east back towards Melbourne, is Wreck Beach, named for two anchors from shipwrecks embedded in the sand. This stop is a little harder to get to, as the road leaves the coast, plus the turn off towards the beach isn’t well signed (or maybe I just missed it.) Turn down Moonlight Head Road, then there’s signs to follow. Another warning: there is a lot of steps to walk down then back up from the car park to the beach.
Day two was a little more diverse than day one. It was still full of beaches, of course, but there were also lighthouses and waterfalls. You’re going to spend more time out of the car today, so put your walking shoes on.
I started day two in Torquay which was a bit of a backtrack, so depending on where you spend the night, it might change the order of this day. I started with Torquay Beach, Point Roadknight, and Split point lighthouse – the lighthouse from ‘Around the Twist’. Thankfully my adventures weren’t as weird as that show was.
Leaving the beach, I went inland to Erskine Falls, a 30 meter waterfall and river walk. If you feel so inclined and have time to spare, it’s a 7.5km walk from Lorne. Or you can hop back in the car to Teddy’s look out, a viewpoint over the ocean road I recommend stopping at.
The views between Lorne and Apollo Bay were my favourite part of the drive – they were breathtaking. I stopped so often it took me nearly double the amount of time the drive was meant to. Definitely worth it.
The oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia is Cape Otway Lightstation, and the road to it turns off the main road. It’s a little bit of a drive, and it is the one stop that has an admission price, though the ticket gives you access to the lighthouse, a telegraph station, and a WWII Radar Bunker amongst a couple other things. If those interest you, it could be worth it.
My last stop on the Great Ocean Road was not on the ocean, but was another waterfall, Hopetoun Falls. It was a lovely last stop before I headed back on the long drive to home, very ready for bed.
It’s easy to look past the beauty in our backyard, and set our sights on adventures far away. Not that I’m taking my eyes off those adventures, but when you only have a limited time, it’s well worth it to explore the world near home.