Many come for the magic of the 12 Apostles, though there’s only eight left now. They’ll visit London Bridge, the Gibson Steps and explore Loch Ard Gorge. Lots don’t make it to the lesser known but equally beautiful Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Islands.
As beautiful as the coastal scenery is, there’s much more here than towering cliffs and spectacular rock formations. More than seaside towns that beckon with alfresco cafes that look onto blue waters. And there’s even more inland where blue ocean meets green forest in a place where nature is king.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve driven the Great Ocean Road, yet it never loses its appeal. Regardless of whether it’s stormy or sunny, this road and all its treasures is undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest drives. Countless stories have been written about it.
Last weekend, deep in the Otways, we began yet another story. For three days and nights we had a renewed taste of it’s many moods.
THE OCEAN SIDE
This rugged coastline has a treacherous history of battered vessels, shipwreck stories and amazing rock formations … from the Apostles to the Grotto, the Arch and Loch Ard Gorge. The latter is named after the ship Loch Ard, which ran aground on Muttonbird Island at the end of a three-month journey from England to Melbourne. For all it’s wretched history it has one of the most stunning beaches.
Whilst it might look like we’re the only ones here, in the photo above, there are loads of tourists behind us, mostly from China. Every weekend thousands of visitors converge, many on tour buses. However, if you stay close by and rise early it is possible to enjoy these sights by yourself, at least briefly.
Not far away from the Apostles, are the Gibson Steps, 86 of them, which lead down to the beach via a narrow stairway attached ominously to the cliffs. Out in the water, is an up close and personal sight of an Apostle. It’s awe inspiring to be so close to the ever changing moods of the Southern Ocean. A tip: watch out for the tide that can come in very quickly.
THE GENTLE SIDE
Away from the ocean, the Otways National Park hugs and wraps you like a warm comforting blanket, even as you’re dwarfed amongst the ancient giants. In this lush setting time slows down.
Walk through canopies of lush tree ferns and follow the sounds of trickling streams, that invariably lead you to a cascading waterfall. In winter you might be lucky enough, as we were, to enjoy a rainforest walk by yourself.
Step amongst towering Californian Redwoods at Beech Forest, a place that stirs the soul and leaves you feeling tiny yet infinitely at one with these giants of nature.
THE INVIGORATING SIDE
The Otways is waterfall heaven, and at its best in winter. A walk to Beauchamp Falls, Hopetoun Falls and the stunning Triplet Falls awakens every sense.
Zipline through tree tops and walk high above the canopies at the Otway Fly. The 600 metre long and 25metre high elevated walkway is the world’s tallest treetop walk. For fewer crowds head to At Lake Elizabeth for a morning canoe ride where you might spot the elusive platypus. The 4km circuit walk around this lake is peaceful, that is if you’re not converged on by a pack of fun runners.
Exhilarating, invigorating. All this exploring is enough to make a girl hungry.
THE GOURMET SIDE
Good thing we’re in the middle of a gourmet trail with plenty of mouth watering options. There are 12 producers on the circular food trail and you can start your tour of decadence from anywhere, Port Campbell, Timboon and an area known as Cooriemungle.
First up was Dairylicious where I met the affable Linda who’s gone from designing wedding dresses to making delicious fudge. This place was fudge heaven.
Not far away Timboon Cheesery (at Schultz Organic Dairy) has a great assortment of cheeses, yoghurts and small goods to sample. Hubby had recently serviced the dairy equipment at Schultz so it was a great chance to see firsthand where he’d worked.
Beer lovers will be in their element at Sow and Piglet and whisky drinkers shouldn’t miss the Railway Shed whisky Distillery at Timboon. For me, a certified chocoholic, Gorge Chocolates was a winner. By now I reckon you’ve got a good idea of the deliciousness of the area.
For more details on the 12 Apostles Gourmet Food Trail you can read a great post by friend and fellow blogger Glenys here.
THE WILD SIDE
You won’t find this track on any Great Ocean Road touring route. But if you have a four wheel drive and you like to explore off the beaten track this little detour is a ripper.
This is the Old Coach Road, so called because it was an old horse and cart track and once a busy route along the cliff tops. It was a route that took travellers between Moonlight Head and Princetown, often stopping at the long gone Rivernook Guest house. Today it’s a scenic alternative to the bitumen of the Great Ocean Road, but it’s strictly four wheel drive territory, especially if it’s been raining. There’s sand, mud, bogs, descents and a few climbs which made for some whoopy roller coaster moments.
We found this detour just out of Princeton, turning off at Gellibrand River, near the Princeton Recreation Reserve which we had to check out and that’s now firmly on our camping “to go to” list. There’s no crowds out here. Out on the tracks the only traffic we came across was the four legged variety: wallabies, a fox and a whole lot of cows, quite possibly the best fed moos in the country!
After about five slow kilometres we reached a campsite designated for Great Ocean Road Walkers doing the trek along the coast. The Great Ocean Walk is a 100km walk from Apollo Bay to the 12 Apostles, that can be tackled in sections or in its entirety. It’s a great way to see this beautiful part of the country, though I think I’ll stick to driving!
Of course there’s more than five sides to any story, let alone the Great Ocean Road: there’s more adventure, wildlife encounters, farmstays, luxurious clifftop hideaways and lighthouse tours. You can camp it, glamp it, trek it, stroll it, cycle it, take to the air, go koala spotting, you can even go night searching for glow-worms.
If there’s one tip I’d give, it’s don’t rush it. You need time to soak up the magic. Unless you’re a local, and you can do it again and again.
No matter how many times we visit we still view it with new eyes. And that goes for any destination … so enjoy the journey, wherever you are. Don’t be reluctant to return to places you’ve been to before. You never know what new things you’ll find. Remember too, half the fun is getting there.
As the sign below says … “You are here for one small moment in time” so make the most of it. Live, laugh, love, take chances and lots of pics and always remember to look out for that magic. It’s all there along the way, just waiting to be discovered.
Happy exploring, wherever in the world you are.
In love and light