A romantic journey to the Twelve Apostles
Noted as one of the most famous coastal drives in the world, a trip to Melbourne is never complete without driving along the Great Ocean Road.
By Karen Lim
A road trip can be quite romantic and in Victoria, one of the world's most breathtaking and fascinating attractions await you along the famous Great Ocean Road drive. You might have heard of the coastal drive's ultimate destination - the Twelve Apostles - but what truly captivates travellers are the multitude of attractions, activities and beautiful scenery along the south-west coast of Victoria.
Ranging from dramatic scenery to small and quaint towns, Great Ocean Road has plenty to offer besides the relaxing, scenic drive. Reap the rewards of what the magnificent coastline has to give by planning beforehand and making pit-stops along the way. The perfect season to make a trip would be during spring or late summer, so that you get to soak in a bit of the sun's rays without it being too hot. Oh, but do bring along a thick windbreaker or sweater if you visit the Twelve Apostles - the coastal wind is very strong and is usually cold at all times.
Geelong - gateway to Great Ocean Road
Starting your journey from Melbourne, drive along the Princes Freeway (M1) towards Geelong - Victoria's second largest city and gateway to the Great Ocean Road. Though not as vibrant as cosmopolitan Melbourne, this city - famous for its footy team, the Cats - is a melting pot of cafes, bakeries, restaurants and shops. If time permits, stay a night at Geelong to experience what this city has to offer.
Take a walk along Little Malop Street for a cup of latte and watch the world go by. If shopping appeals to you, head to Pakington Street, a nice blend of Melbourne's Lygon and Chapel Streets, where you can find good food and fashion boutiques. However, if you're looking for a romantic dinner with a marvellous view, head to the Waterfront - one of the most prominent and essential stops for every visitor. A cute and impressive display of colourful bollards dot the Waterfront, which makes it a perfect photo opportunity.
The Waterfront is a perfect place to dine on freshly caught seafood and other local delicacies such as kangaroo sausages or maybe even the quintessential Aussie meatpie with mash. Find a table that overlooks the water and sip on wine while you watch the sunset. Take a stroll along the promenade after dinner and soak in the romantic atmosphere which Geelong has to offer.
If you're staying the night, wake up to the smell of coffee and a traditional breakfast at one of the cafes before heading to Eastern Beach for a dip, or if a stroll in the park is the perfect morning exercise for you, Geelong's Botanic Gardens is an ideal location for that.
Torquay - Victoria's "Surfers' Paradise"
Continue your coastal journey but this time, break away from the Princes Highway and drive along the Surf Coast Highway for 20-30 minutes. This will bring you to the scenic coastal drive on the Great Ocean Road along the Bass Strait, which is the ideal route to take in views of the southern tip of Victoria.
If time permits, do stop by Victoria's surf city, Torquay and make a turn to the world's famous Bells Beach, the centre of Australian surfing culture and fashion. For shoppers, this translates to cheap surf wear at warehouse prices!
Bells Beach isn't just about affordable surf wear, it is also home to The Rip Curl Pro, the world's longest running professional surfing tournament held each Easter. So if you're making your trip in April, it might be a good opportunity to catch professional surfers doing what they do best.
Staying one or two nights at Torquay can be rewarding. Soak in the saltwater air from the nearby coast and chill at either one of Australia's most famous beaches - Jan Juc or Bells Beach. If fishing is on your agenda, Torquay is also a popular fishing spot. There are a couple of local wineries nearby and a trip there in the afternoon serves as a relaxing way to unwind and prepare you for a romantic night.
Eating out at Torquay should not be too much of a problem as there are various cafes and seafood restaurants in this beach town. Accommodation is easy - simply book any guesthouse or resort and try to find one that has a balcony because Torquay is the perfect place to watch shooting stars at night.
The coastal drive begins
After a relaxing stop at Torquay, grab breakfast and continue your journey along the Great Ocean Road. It is advisable to get up as early as you can in order to reach The Twelve Apostles before it turns dark.
Head out of Torquay town and follow the brown or green road signs that direct you to the Great Ocean Road. Don't fret if you don't see the coastal line yet as the road eventually opens up at Anglesea to a horizon of sparkling blue ocean waters that stretch forever - this is only the beginning of the three hour drive along the Great Ocean Road.
For this half of the drive, you will be weaving in and out along the cliff side and at certain points, road bends can look a bit daunting but if you're not a reckless driver, you will have nothing to worry about. But do watch out for coaches and tour buses.
Driving along the world's most famous coastal road, one can't help but marvel at the gorgeous surroundings - cliffs, lush greenery, posh houses resting on cliffs and the rays of the sun shining through eucalyptus trees, stir emotions which only this journey can bring. Switch on some bossa nova music (or whatever your preference is) and soak in the surreal feeling of it all.
The actual coastal drive stretches from Anglesea to Lorne and to Apollo Bay, which is also the most spectacular part of the road. There are plenty of photo opportunities at numerous pit-stops along the way. Despite the strong winds, do make an effort to stop for a minute or two to snap a picture or admire the breathtaking beauty of the coast.
The scenic drive changes after passing Apollo Bay as this is when the road goes inland, amidst green pastures, rolling hills and farms. You might even stumble upon some Australian wildlife crossing the road, so do watch out for them! If you feel like taking a break, stop by one of the cottages for Devonshire tea and scones with jam and cream, then continue your journey till road signs direct you to the Twelve Apostles.
The Twelve Apostles
The ultimate must-do destination for all visitors to Victoria is, of course, the Twelve Apostles. These gigantic limestone rock stacks that rise from the Southern Ocean were in fact part of the mainland but 20 million years of erosion have created this magnificent "art".
No words can describe the spectrum of emotions that come with seeing the Twelve Apostles but one definitely feels very small when standing on the wooden walkboards, admiring the compelling beauty of these rocks. The roaring ocean and strong gusts of wind bring to mind the destructive force of nature. If there is one word to describe the Twelve Apostles, it would have to be "majestic".
Not all of the rocks can be seen from the viewing area and helicopter rides are available for anyone who wishes to see the magnificently sculptured shipwreck coast from a bird's eye view. Bookings for helicopter rides can be made in advance and the local pilots will also give an insight into the history of the coast.
But what happens after you've visited the Twelve Apostles? Although this might be the main highlight for many visitors, if you drive a few more kilometres from the Twelve Apostles towards the direction of Warrnambool, you will reach Loch Ard Gorge - an example of nature's work in progress.
As you walk down the steps, be prepared to be blown away by the the soft sand, cliff faces and the ocean waters rolling into the gorge. Explore the caves at the back of the gorge and face the ocean to admire the treacherous waves crashing in.
The view is breathtaking and one feels a sense of serenity watching the waters from this vantage point, because right outside this gorge was the area where hundreds of lives were lost in shipwrecks. Standing in the gorge often evokes a multitude of emotions and more often than not, it stops us in our tracks and commands our admiration of its beauty - one which only Loch Ard Gorge can provide.
The adventure does not stop here
Victoria is a place of hidden gems and a road trip can go on forever if you have the time - it does not necessarily have to stop at Port Campbell.
There are plenty of options to choose from: extend your trip from Port Campbell to Warrnambool or even Portland. There are loads to see and plenty of activities to participate in, ranging from quiet, relaxing visits to the forgotten towns, or a truly Australian experience in the outback.
Or else, make your way back to Melbourne via the inland highway, A1, and pop by the countless fruit farms and wineries along the way.
A trip to Melbourne is never complete without driving along the world famous Great Ocean Road, taking in the scenery, exploring Victoria's shipwreck coast and surf city, as well as sampling local cuisine and visiting Victoria's second largest city, Geelong.
The scenery, memories and grandeur of this road trip is bound to last a lifetime, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!
For more information visit www.australia.com.
Photos: Tourism Australia
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