WHY GO: the Shipwreck Coast to the Twelve Apostles is, in this Victorian's opinion, the world’s greatest scenic drive. So much more than just a day's drive - go for at least a long weekend.
DISTANCE: approx 500km return to Port Campbell.
TIME: take your time: at least 5 hours driving each way makes a leisurely trip via Great Ocean Road - plus sightseeing..
ROUTE: Princes Hwy through Geelong, then Great Ocean Road from Torquay with detours to other attractions. Alternative inland return via Timboon, Cobden to Princes Hwy and then to Birregurra, Deans Marsh and Lorne.
WHAT TO DO: once you leave the frenetic pace of Torquay, Anglesea and Lorne on weekends, you enter the eastern Otway Ranges where steep, forest-cloaked mountains descend to the water’s edge. This is the realm of postcards and travel shows, so open the sunroof and ease up on the gas. Take advantage of numerous parking bays along the roadside and cruise the winding road through the numerous small communities that nestle between bush and beach. Imagine the hardships of building this road with pick and shovel in the early 1900s.
Apollo Bay has been revamped in the last few years and is a good place to have a break – visit the bakery or a cafe for refreshments, then turn left at the golf course. The harbour is invariably a tranquil scene and there’s sure to be anglers trying their luck. A fishing boat may be unloading its catch of crays or king crabs; there’s a good swimming beach on the township side of the carpark.
As you pass through neighbouring Marengo, the road leaves the coast and rises into tall-timbered ranges that symbolize the Otways. About twenty minutes away, take the Lighthouse Road to Cape Otway, pay an entrance fee and walk a couple of hundred metres to the 1848 lightstation. Whitewashed cottages huddle near the base of the lighthouse, and it’s possible to climb to the original light for some excellent views along the coast. A worthwhile guided tour is available; cottages have been converted to tourist accommodation and there’s a café offering light meals. This is a good time to scan the shipwreck book you (might have) bought at the entrance gate, for the coast from here to Nelson is littered with 19th Century maritime disasters.
Continue through the ranges then descend into the pretty valleys of Glen Aire and the Gellibrand River. From here the Shipwreck Coast is marked by roadside signs indicating some of the 150 wreck sites. Nearby is Moonlight Head where a salvaged anchor is concreted in the rocky foreshore, but it’s only accessible along the beach at low tide after negotiating innumerable steps. Just past Princetown, the instantly recognisable Twelve Apostles (I reckon eight remain) tower above the surging blue swells. A visitor centre has been built inland, and here you must park your car before proceeding to the viewing areas. It’s a long walk for the elderly in particular, and there seems no provision for the disabled to actually see Victoria’s greatest natural icons.
It is the wreck of the Loch Ard that stands apart from the others, and the tale of the two young survivors bears contemplation. Admire the views of Loch Ard Gorge, but take the steps to the beach; it was here that Tom Pierce was washed ashore before glimpsing then saving Eva Carmichael. They recuperated at nearby Glenample Station (a historic homestead sometimes open for viewing) but the tale ends with a whimper. A clifftop cemetery marks the burial place of the few bodies recovered from the sea in 1878.
Port Campbell is another fishing village turned coastal resort in recent years. There are plenty of options for eating and staying overnight, and during the week for much of the year, you'll almost have the places to yourselves - if you can forgive the passing coaches! Later, head towards Peterborough and make sure you stop at The Arch, London Bridge, Bay of Martyrs, and Bay of Islands viewing areas. A range of walking tracks has been developed around the Port Campbell area, so call in at the visitor centre and get a map. This storm-lashed coast also produces some fascinating beachcombing.
For your return trip you can either retrace your route from here, continue to Warrnambool, or head inland through the new gourmet food trail to Timboon, Cobden and then the Princes Hwy. A new rail trail was being developed here so cyclists can expend their energy - we haven't explored it yet!
EATING AND DRINKING: towns and hamlets along the way have shops, pubs and cafés. Lunch at Cape Otway lighthouse is recommended because it’s so peaceful - and it’ll be in good time if you started out early; another couple of hours driving and two hours of sightseeing will find early dinner at Waves in Port Campbell a good option. This leaves time for catching sunset at the Bay of Islands before returning to your chosen Australian Places accommodation.
STAY THE WEEKEND AT Port Campbell
WAVES - modern ensuite rooms most with spa, great bistro style restaurant for breakfast, lunch, dinner. P 03 5598 6111
DAYSY HILL COTTAGES - great for couples or families, self-contained suites or cottages with the lot. P 03 5598 6226
ANCHORS - near-new, two self-contained cottages, spa, private and romantic for couples M 0417 434 400