Driving the Great Ocean Road: One of the Best Drives in the World
There are plenty of drives you can take in this world that are a mixture of stunning, adventure filled, awe-inspiring, or any other description you can think of. Plenty of them end up on people's bucket list of drives to make in their lifetime. The drive along the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne over to hit the main highlight attractions along the route is, without a doubt, one to take at some point at least once. The Great Ocean Road weaves in and out along the southern coast of Australia and inland a bit within beautiful tree cover.
My original plan was to arrive in Melbourne and take the quicker inland route mainly on M1 to reach Port Campbell and see some of the sights in that area before driving the Great Ocean Road back to Melbourne the following day. The plan seemed like an even better idea when we landed and the weather was to be pouring rain, sometimes torrential, throughout the entire day. This plan however was completely thrown out the window upon arrival to the Hertz rental car desk when the agent informed us that large sections of the Great Ocean Road would be closed the next day for a bike race. There's no better day to experience life than today!
So going on 36 hours of no sleep, driving on the left side of the road for the first time, dealing with a sinus infection that was exasperated due to the long flights, and the pouring rain coupled with cold temperatures, we hit the road to drive the Great Ocean Road.
Starting The Great Ocean Road Adventure
The day began with a couple hour flight from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I would have a few hour layover. Then a long 8 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur down to Melbourne, Australia. Because I was flying AirAsia, my flight did not land at the Melbourne Airport. It instead landed at Avalon Airport which is nearer to the city of Geelong than to Melbourne itself. This actually was a preferred airport as Avalon airport was 41 miles (66 Kilometers) closer to the start of the Great Ocean Road compared to Melbourne Airport.
After renting our vehicle from Hertz (which included getting a free upgrade from an economy car to a midsize SUV), it was time to begin the drive to reach Geelong where we would enter onto B100 (or better known as The Great Ocean Road) just past in Torquay.
The weather was quickly becoming an issue for us considering we were dressed for the summer/tropical weather we had just flown in from Cambodia, it was time to change into some warmer clothes. We stopped at Split Point Lookout which had a beautiful view of the ocean and Lighthouse. We then walked over to The Lighthouse Tea Rooms where we were able to get changed into pants and long sleeves and then sit down for a breakfast croissant sandwich and a coffee before continuing on.
The first stopping point after being better dressed for the weather was the Memorial Arch as Eastern View which is a wooden arch and statue that commemorates the work of returned WWI soldiers who built the Great Ocean Road.
This is really where the road becomes the photogenic beach road that you think of (although the freezing rain was not necessarily what you think of) and one of the stops included the Artillery Rocks. There are plenty of pull offs and stopping points to explore along the coast, but with the poor weather, it was better to be more selective of where to stop.
The Inner Section of The Great Ocean Road Drive
After a few hours of traveling along The Great Ocean Road the rain was continuing to provide the biggest challenge in sightseeing. The many small towns along the route are nice quaint beach towns that are nice to see along the way. After passing the town of Marengo, the Great Ocean Road turns in and leaves the coastline and replaces it by heading into forest tree cover. Mixing this tree cover with the constant rain made for an interesting change of scenery more of which you would expect from a rainforest.
After a while of driving in the trees, we came upon a decision that would end up being an incredible waste of time and energy that in hindsight, I should have just continued on with the drive. We were deep within the Great Otway National Park and there was a turn to take us all the way back to the coast to visit the Cape Otway Lightstation. This would add an extra 30-40 minutes of round trip driving to get to and then return to the Great Ocean Road to continue on. Well, on arrival to the Lightstation the rain was at a point of relentless pounding that just made it not worth it to step outside of the car, let alone to pay the entrance fee to visit the Lightstation. So, slightly defeated in this moment, I turned back around and got us back to the Great Ocean Road to continue with our drive.
This is the point of the drive where our entire plan to reach Port Campbell before sunset to then be able to visit the 12 Apostles and other sights at or near sunset almost came crashing down, literally. We came up to stopped traffic along the section of road that was right smack in the middle of the Great Otway National Park section. After a few minutes, we exited the vehicle to see what the problem was. It turns out that a large tree had came crashing down and was entirely blocking the 2 land road. It looked like it had only been felled quite recently, so workers to get out and remove it would not be there for hours more than likely. The only way to another road to bypass it was to backtrack an hour to Skenes Creek
and then take C119 further inland up to C159 and then connect back onto B100 after roughly 1.5hrs due to weather. This was going to completely prevent us from reaching our destination by sunset.
Well, my buddy Kyle and myself decided to take charge of the situation and not allow this tree to ruin the plan. We directed the smallest vehicle in line to come forward and to get to the very edge of the road and, with Kyle's direction, they were able to squeeze under the left side of the felled tree since it was slightly raised compared to the middle section that was directly over the road. We got a few more of the smallest vehicles under and then it was time to see if we would be able to continue. If you remember, Hertz had upgraded our vehicle from a small economy car that would have easily made it under to a midsize SUV. With Kyles direction and clearance, I was able to maneuver our vehicle under the side of the tree by the absolute smallest of margins without hitting the top. And with that, we were able to conquer that challenge and save ourselves what would have been a minimum of a 4 hour disruption to our drive. Travel is all about taking what you are given and making it work in the best way possible and sometimes it takes that extra bit of creativity to make it work.
The Jewel of The Great Ocean Road Drive
The Gibsons steps stop was closed, so we finally made it to The Twelve Apostles rock formations which are a collection of limestone stacks just off the shore of Port Campbell National Park. The rain had thankfully finally stopped coming down, but the skies were still a dull gray and the cool wind was blowing. We had made it before 5pm so sunset was still a couple hours away, so after a little bit we decided to continue on past Port Campbell and stop at a few extra stops within Port Campbell National Park. These included:
Loch Ard Gorge
These were all nice to explore and, even better, was that the weather was continuing to improve by the minute to the point that the sun was coming out just in time to return to the Twelve Apostles for sunset!
The sunset view from the Twelve Apostles was, without a doubt, the highlight of the drive. We had overcome a litany of challenges during the drive and with a little bit of luck, had an amazing end to the day. Even better was that while we were enjoying the views, a couple walked up to us and told us that they were one of the cars that we had helped get through under the fallen tree earlier and they were able to enjoy the sunset view because of our help.
The End of The Great Ocean Road Drive
The Great Ocean Road continues on for another 50 kilometers before it ends in Allansford where it merges back into A1. There are plenty of extra rock formations, coves, and trails along the way if you continue with the drive, but due to time constraints, Port Campbell was our stopping point for the night before heading back to Melbourne. The drive back to Melbourne was basically highway driving with views of rolling farmlands and much quicker to return back to Melbourne CBD.
As adventure stories go, of course the weather that day on the return trip was absolutely stunning with beautiful blue skies. So at least the bike riders that would be going along the Great Ocean Road while it was shut down would get to enjoy it at its best.
Travel includes so many different moving parts and situations that are completely out of your control. All you can do is take the things you can control and keep a positive attitude and make the absolute best of whatever situation you end up with and you will come out with memories to look back on either way!