Road Trippin’ Along The Great Ocean Road

When in Melbourne, there are a couple of things you absolutely must do. And one of them has nothing to do with Melbourne itself. It’s the Great Ocean Road. In global terms, it’s probably one of the most scenic coastal road trips you can go on. So you better tick it off your list.
Heidornmännchen walking along the beach at the Twelve Apostles

So here we were, at the end of our full week in Melbourne. And it was time to get back on the road. But not just any road. The Great Ocean Road west west of Melbourne. As much as we were really keen on our 4 day trip along the coast, we were also somewhat sad that we were already leaving Melbourne.

We had just gotten used to our nice little apartment and were enjoying the downtime. And we really wanted to make sure we maintain enough flexibility on our world trip, so that we can decide to stay longer if we really like a place. However, unfortunately the various restrictions in New Zealand and Australia with regards to entering the country have forced us to pre-book outbound flights before even entering the country.

And this, in turn, always meant that we needed to stuff everything we wanted to see and do into that pre-determined timeframe. While we understand the rationale behind it, these requirements seems relatively outdated in a day and age. If we wanted to immigrate illegally, I seriously doubt a plane ticket would stop us from doing so.

Anyway, nothing we can do about that now. So let’s rather focus on the good stuff and get started with our little report on our 4-day trip along the Great Ocean Road.

To Book a Tour or Not To Book a Tour

That’s the big question! There are various tour operators that offer a bunch of different bus tours to the Great Ocean Road as well as other sights around Melbourne. Initially it felt tempting to go for a tour since you wouldn’t have to drive yourself, accommodation is usually included and you wouldn’t have to worry about where you need to go or what sights you need to see. And there were some really cheap day tours available as well.

However, after some initial research on the sights along the way and the distances we’d need to cover, it quickly became clear to us that the tours weren’t really such a great deal afterall. Not really because of the cost…that was fine. But rather because some of these tours meant spending close to 12 hours a day in a bus and essentially rushing to the Twelve Apostles and skipping a whole bunch of other stuff to see in the region.

Coupled with the lack of flexibility, we figured it would be a much better idea to just hire a car at Melbourne Airport and do our own little tour. And now that we know how much driving we did and how much we saw along the way, we’re actually a bit shocked how anyone can even consider to do this as part of a day tour. But hey, to each to his own.

Day 1: Melbourne to Apollo Bay

There are many particularly big cities along the Great Ocean Road, which sometimes makes it slightly more difficult to plan your trip. You simply don’t know how big or small the towns will be and even though Google Maps will give you a good idea of their size, you still don’t know whether they’re places you’d like to stay overnight.

We eventually decided that we’d make overnight stops in Apollo Bay, Princetown (rather than Port Campbell) and Warrnambool. This allowed us to split the trip into 4 sections which each had their own set of attractions and made logistical sense. So even though we were always on the Great Ocean Road, every day was very different in terms of the route and the sights.

The first day took us on a slightly longer initial section all the way past Geelong (this will ring a bell with our Shell colleagues) and into Torquay. Torquay isn’t just the start of the Great Ocean Road but also happens to be the capital of Australia’s surfing industry. This is the town where brands such as Quicksilver and Rip Curl were founded and the town is still home to their head offices.

And once you move on to Bells Beach, you immediately understand why this is where the local surfing industry is based. Imagine extremely wide and big waves coming towards the shore in steady intervals all day long. When we arrived at Bells Beach, there were dozens of surfers in the water and they were clearly having a good time.

Afterwards we proceeded to make our way down the coast towards Apollo Bay, occasionally stopping at nice little lookouts or checking out some of the Koalas you’ll find along the way. They’re actually very easy to find. Just look for the huge groups of people that are staring up at the sky. 99% of the time it’s because they’ve discovered a Koala in the tree tops.

Day 2: Apollo Bay to Princetown

On the second day of our roadtrip we spent the entire day in and around Great Otway National Park. The typical spots that people visit in this area are Cape Otway (which has a fairly popular lighthouse), various waterfalls, a tree top walk and Californian redwoods. Obviously there’s lots more you can do, but those seem to be some of the highlights people go for and which are reasonably achievable within a day.

We started off with Cape Otway, but decided not to go to the lighthouse. Unfortunately the local tourism authorities or whoever manages the place have turned what is essentially just a lighthouse into a slightly larger area. They mix in some mini museums and all sorts of other little historical gimmicks in order to justify the excessive entry fare.

I can’t remember the exact number but it must have been around $20 AUD per person. And unfortunately, the entry gate is cleverly located at a spot from where you can’t actually see the lighthouse. That’s frustrating, because let’s face it…it’s just a damn lighthouse. Anyway, we weren’t willing to shell out that much cash for a glimpse at a lighthouse. It’s not like we’ve never seen one before.

360° Photosphere of the Tree Top Tower

Anyway, we continued down our route and made our way to the Tree Top Walk in the northern section of the Great Otway National Park. The tree top walk is actually quite interesting because the trees are incredibly big and you rarely get to see a forest from that point of view. As you’ll see on the photos, the entire structure is very high.

Curious what it sounds like here?

Afterwards we made our way to the Californian redwoods, which are obviously also very nice to look at and incredibly peaceful. But the surprise of the day was something else. We decided we wanted to grab a quick afternoon coffee along the way, so we turned into the parking lot of a very small café in the middle of nowhere (more or less).

The was another car in front of us (a Mercedes SUV) which had entered the lot first. I proceeded to park right next to it. As I was getting ready to exit the car, I looked out the window. That was when I realized that the driver of the other car next to us looked A LOT like Dieter Zetsche, the former CEO and Chairman of the Daimler board of directors. I mean, he was literally the first person who came to mind when I saw him.

Obviously I was unsure at first (what are the odds?), but then I noticed that when he ordered his coffee and a cookie we spoke with a German accent. His wife was spoke to him in French, but apparently he remarried a French woman in recent years. Just google “Dieter Zetsche Ehefrau” and you’ll see pictures of them. Yes, I took photos, but I won’t post them here for obvious reasons.

Anyway, it quickly became quite obvious that this was indeed Dieter Zetsche, on holiday in Australia. That in itself isn’t surprising, but still, what are the odds of bumping into THIS particular German in a random tiny café that was off the beaten track?

Anyway, as funny as the encounter was, we obviously left them alone and headed for our overnight stay in the super tiny town of Princetown.

Day 3: Princetown to Warrnambool

Our third day on the Great Ocean Road was the big highlight of the tour. It was the day we would finally arrive at the Twelve Apostles and all of the other stunning coastal scenery that everyone comes here for.

Just to be entirely honest: I could tell you all about the various different lookouts we stopped at or what the different places felt like. But this is one of those cases where photos tell a much better story than I could ever put into words.

That’s why I’ll leave you with this endless collection of photos. Enjoy the views. We sure did! 🙂

Twelve Apostles

360° Photosphere of the Twelve Apostles

Curious what it sounds like here?

Loch Ard Gorge

London Arch

360° Photosphere of London Arch

The Grotto

Day 4: Back to Melbourne

Driving all the way back from Warrnambool to Melbourne was relatively uneventful. You basically spend close to 3 hours on the highway driving through the middle of nowhere. There’s not much to see but it’s the quickest way back. And as beautiful as the coastal road is, driving it all over again would be far too exhausting.

We knew we had to prepare for our flight to Cairns the next day, so this was the best option for us.

The Great Ocean Road definitely shouldn’t be missed if you’re in or around Melbourne.

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