Australia is filled with many great drives but none of them can match the dramatic coastal scenery of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road (Highway B100) is located southwest of Melbourne where the highway passes through a number of seaside communities along the rugged shoreline before leaving the ocean to traverse across the Great Otway Ranges. The Great Ocean Road returns to the ocean after this traverse to take in spectacular views of both Cape Otway and Port Campbell National Parks:
A road to connect the various seaside communities on Victoria’s southwest had long been needed because full potential of this area could never be reached as long as ships remained the primary form of transportation to and from these communities. Creating a “Great Ocean Road” was to be the answer.
After World War I Victoria was flooded with returning servicemembers eager to find work. These young, unmarried returning servicemembers provided the perfect labor force needed to construct what would undoubtedly be a truly difficult project because of the areas difficult terrain and remote location. 3,000 of these servicemembers worked for a total of 24 years between 1918 and 1932 to fully construct the highway with many of these workers settling down in the various communities that they worked to connect the rest of the country to with this highway.
This spectacular journey across Victoria’s southwest begins at none other then Australia’s surfing capitol of Torquay. Torquay is home to the Surfworld Museum and is headquarters for a number of brand name surfing companies. What really puts Torquay on the surfing map is that the Rip Curl Pro Surfing Championships are held in this area every year at the lovely Bells Beach just south of town:
As the Great Ocean Road continues south of Torquay you have little indication that this road is famous for its dramatic coastal views as it crosses a wide agricultural plain on its way to the scenic beach side community of Angelsea:
Angelsea is the family friendly version of Torquay with its beautiful beaches protected by the long peninsula capped by Point Roadknight:
From Angelsea the Great Ocean Road begins to gain altitude for the first time as it climbs Urquhart Bluff which provides a great view of the beautiful beaches stretching north towards Angelsea:
From Urquhart Bluff the road continues south where even higher hills begin to rise along the western side of the highway as it passes through the small village of Airey’s Inlet on towards the official start of the Great Ocean Road. Even though the Great Ocean Road begins in Torquay, technically it doesn’t officially start until travelers reach the Great Ocean Road Arch:
This arch was constructed to commemorate the construction of the Great Ocean Road by returning Australian servicemembers from World War I. 330,000 Australians out of a population of roughly 5 million served during World War I with 160,000 of them being wounded and 60,000 Australian soldiers dieing in the conflict. Australia would prove by far to have the highest casualty and mortality rate of all nations that fought in the war.
Returned servicemembers construct the Great Ocean Road.
This arch stands near the area where construction first began to construct the highway back in 1918. The Great Ocean Road opened in 1932 but the first arch to commemorate the soldiers that built it was not constructed until 1939. The arch has had to be reconstructed over the decades for various reasons to include forest fires with the current arch being constructed after the 1983 Ash Wednesday fire that devastated much of this area of the Otway Ranges at the time. This arch is an enduring symbol of what Australians like to call the largest War Memorial in the world the Great Ocean Road.
From the arch the highway begins to more dramatically hug the slopes of the Great Otway Ranges on its winding journey to the lovely beach community of Lorne:
This section of the highway was constructed between 1919-1922 making Lorne the first city opened up to the rest of the state by the hard work of the returned servicemembers that built the road. Lorne has a stunningly beautiful location along the Erskine River that is watched over by the looming hills of the Otway Ranges and framed by scenic, sandy beaches:
Lorne quite possibly has more beach resort hotels then the rest of the Great Ocean Road communities combined which is testament to the beautiful location this city enjoys. Despite the touristy overtones to Lorne it still remains a charming city to visit and should definitely be a highlight of anyone’s trip along this fantastic highway. Visitors to Lorne should make sure they not only enjoy its beautiful beach, but should also make a sojourn into its rolling hills to check out some of the Otway Ranges spectacular scenery such as Erskine Falls and the dramatic views from Teddy’s Lookout above the town:
The stretch of the Great Ocean Road south of Lorne is without a doubt the most difficult terrain the builders of this highway had to contend with. This stretch of highway includes the Great Oceans Road’s most dramatic twists and turns that passes through such scenic locations as the Cumberland and Wye Rivers on its way to Apollo Bay. It took 10 years between 1922-1932 for the builders of the road to complete this section of the highway which is incredible considering the distance is roughly only 50 kilometers:
Besides the twists and turns, visitors traveling south of Lorne on the Great Ocean Road need to keep their eyes open because the thickly forested slopes that surround the road in this area are home to a number of wild Australian koalas:
The trees are absolutely filled with koalas feasting on the gum tree leaves that composes the entirety of their diet. I was actually quite surprised by the number of koalas considering they are by nature a mostly solitary animal but here in this forest it appeared they didn’t mind having all the company around them to include the legions of tourists including myself pointing cameras at them.
Also visitors should keep their eyes open for graves such as this one of a man who lost his life trying to salvage cargo from the W.B. Godfrey, a ship lost off the nearby shoreline in 1891:
Most of all keep your eyes peeled on the fantastic scenery. This stretch of the Great Ocean Road becomes its most dramatic the closer it approaches the southern coastal city of Apollo Bay:
Apollo Bay is a lovely town that is the laid back equivalent of Lorne. Apollo Bay’s location has nearly everything that Lorne has but is located far enough south where this small community is not over run with mobs of tourists like Lorne can get at times:
Make sure to not only enjoy the beautiful beach and various seafood restaurants in the city but to also get out and see the nearby Otway Ranges by taking a drive up the scenic Barham River Road just south of town. This road gets you up close and personal with the rolling hills, large trees, and beautiful waterfalls that compose the Otway Ranges.
From Apollo Bay the Great Ocean Road leaves the ocean to traverse across the heart of the Great Otway Ranges. Notice how the agricultural lands instantly gives way to the lush forests of Great Otway National Park:
The Great Ocean Road quickly gains in altitude the further west it goes providing spectacular views of the mountain tops cleared for agriculture:
Within a short distance the road then drops in altitude and enters into the Great Otway National Park which creates a dramatic contrast to the area of the ranges used for agriculture because of its thickly forested slopes that give the park an almost primordial feeling that a dinosaur is going to jump out the bushes and eat you:
The best place to view this primordial wilderness is by stopping at Mait’s Rest which has a nice nature trail that give visitors an up close and personal view of the world tallest flowering plants, mountain ash trees that soar up to 100 meters in height:
From Mait’s Rest travelers on the Great Ocean Road have the option of taking a short 25 kilometer side trip south to see the beautiful Cape Otway area of Victoria:
The Cape Otway area is filled with rugged and dramatic coastal scenery that claimed many sailing ships over the years. Due to the loss of life from the many shipwrecks that occurred along these shores, the Australian mainland’s first lighthouse was constructed here in 1846:
The Great Ocean Road from Cape Otway next travels across a large river plain before rising once again in altitude at Castle Cove where the road begins to head back deeper into the Great Otway Ranges towards Laver’s Hill:
As the Great Ocean Road from Cape Otway exits the national park land it descends into the wide and scenic river plain of the Aire River that flows a short distance from the interior of the Otway Ranges and into the ocean:
This large, marshy plain is not only scenic but has also provided extremely productive grazing land for the herds of cattle that are raised here:
Once across the Aire River plain the road rises up a short hill that provides great views of the wild waters of Castle Cove Beach:
From Castle Cove the Great Ocean Road heads north deeper into the Otways to reach the small village of Laver’s Hill. Along the way travelers have the option of once again taking a short side trip to see the famous surfing waters of Johanna Beach:
Johanna Beach is famous with the surfing crowd because of its large surfing waves that have been used as alternate before for the Rip Curl Pro Surfing Championships if the waters at Bells Beach in Torquay are not suitable for the competition:
At Laver’s Hill once again another side trip is available, which is one I highly recommend, to take a walk literally on top of the forest at the Otway Fly Tree Top Walk:
The Otway Fly is a piece of preserved forest literally surrounded by farming land that has had walkways and lookout towers constructed to give visitors a view of the forest that people would otherwise never experience from the forest’s bottom:
From Laver’s Hill the road continues to traverse through the lower western slopes of the Otway Ranges that provides many great views of the surrounding bushland:
Eventually the highway exits the Otway Ranges and opens into the large, flat agricultural area that composes most of western Victoria that is irrigated by the various rivers that flow from the Otways:
The final and most visited area of the Great Ocean Road is Port Campbell National Park which is where the flat agricultural plain gives way to the wild waters of the southern ocean:
Port Campbell National Park is famous for its coastal cliffs such as these seen from Gibson Beach:
Besides the dramatic coastal cliffs the ocean is also responsible for carving same amazing coastal rocks such as these ones at Loch Ard Gorge:
However, without a doubt the most famous site of the park and the Great Ocean Road in general is one of Australia’s iconic images, the 12 Apostles:
Only seven of the original 12 Apostles stand today, if twelve ever stood in the first place but it is still quite a site to see first hand. Highway B100 does continue past Port Campbell National Park connecting more seaside Victorian communities with the rest of the state but its ceases to be known as the Great Ocean Road since the construction of the road by the World War I soldiers ended at Port Campbell National Park.
It makes you wonder though if those soldiers working on this road all those years ago ever realized what a worldwide famous landmark their efforts would later become? The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s biggest tourist attractions which is quite evident by the fact that local authorities have to construct signs such as this to make sure all the foreign tourists drive on the left side of the road:
During the peak holiday periods from December through February the road can get quite backed up by all the caravans trying to traverse the curving roads of this iconic Australian drive. So if possible avoid peak travel periods because visiting the road is a great experience all year around as long as it isn’t raining. Truly no visit to Victoria or an extended holiday in Australia would be complete without taking a drive down this incredible highway that features such various landscapes, beaches, forests, and wildlife.
Just make sure you drive on the proper side of the road if visiting.