“Look at this gorgeous little bay. The water looks incredibly clear and calm.” “Yah, we should bring our swimming gear and make time for a short swim. It will be the middle of spring, so I am sure that being Australia, it will be warm enough.” This was me and Bogdan, looking at a video from Loch Ard Gorge and planning our Great Ocean Road trip. Now every time we remember that talk we burst into laugh, because the situation couldn’t have been more different than we have envisioned it. We were greeted by sharp winds from Antarctica and not by the warm Australian sun, so instead of wearing swimming gear, we had a thick water and windproof jacket and instead of swimming, we were soaked by a huge wave.
After meeting the cute kangaroos and having a good night sleep, it was time for our favorite vacation activity: a long road trip, this time on the famous Great Ocean Road. Considered one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives, the Great Ocean Road stretches on more than 200 km, is a memorial dedicated to the fallen heroes of the World War I and was built by fellow returned soldiers.
Along the road, at every turn, you will find sandy beaches, steep cliffs, lush rainforests and impressive rock formations. To see it all, you will need at least 3 days on the road, but if you are short on time, as we always are, I suggest you stop at least in these places:
Bay of Islands
For me Bay of Islands is a hidden gem in plain view. Why I say that? Because usually tourists visit Great Ocean Road as a day trip from Melbourne, are interested in seeing the 12 Apostles and don’t have time to go further south, so they miss on one of the highlights of the Australian south coast: the Bay of Islands.
Besides resembling the 12 Apostles with its lofty rocks rising out from the ocean, it also has a beach, where, when the weather is nice, you can sunbath or swim.
As you imagine, we didn’t have such luck. When we visited it, it was extremely cloudy and windy. In fact, we have never experienced such strong winds. We could barely stand. But despite the bad weather, the beauty of the Bay of Islands was still visible. I can only imagine how wonderful it is on a sunny day!
You can admire the Grotto from above or you can follow the paved pathway and descend the staircase to explore it at eye-level. Either way, this fascinating rock formation, which is part-cave, part-arch and part-blowhole will delight your eyes.
If years ago you could have admired the London Bridge, a natural double arch where visitors could walk to the edge of the arch, nowadays you can only view the London Arch, as the central arch collapsed. Although not as charming as other places from the Great Ocean Road, I still recommend you to take half an hour to check it out.
The similar Azure Window from Malta was considered a wonder of nature (it collapsed during a storm), as there wasn’t anything similar in the area. But the Arch, being surrounded by some pretty impressive rock formations, is most of the time overlooked by visitors.
Even though it won’t charm you, do visit it, as you will be amazed by the power of the ocean crashing in against it.
Loch Ard Gorge
If in the pictures we saw before our trip, Loch Ard Gorge looked like a very peaceful and quiet place, with calm turquoise water, during our visit it was exactly the opposite. Imagine that we were on top of the cliffs, at a height of more than 30 meters and we were soaked by the hugest wave we have ever seen.
Being a collection of lookout points, this precinct located less than 4 km from 12 Apostles will require at least 2 hours of your time to properly visit it. From the parking lot, there are 3 easy trails you can take to discover the area and admire some stunning formations like The Razorback, Island Arch, Tom and Eva, Mutton bird Island or The Blowhole.
The 12 Apostles, the most visited tourist attraction from the Great Ocean Road, is a collection of 8 limestone pillars (originally there were 9 pillars, but one collapsed in 2005), which were formed during millions of years by strong winds and waves that come from Antarctica.
Due to strong winds, in the 4 hours we spent at 12 Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge, we experienced all types of weather. If in the early morning, the sky was very dark and it was drizzling, half an hour later the sun appeared and we enjoyed a much better view of the majestic rock formations. But it didn’t take long for the clouds to resurface and to start pouring. And then the sun came out again. The entire time we spent there, the weather was changing every 15 minutes.
From 12 Apostles you can take a 20 minute walk to Gibson Steps, a staircase that allows access to a beach, from where you will have a different perspective of some of the Apostles. Unfortunately, the day we were in the area, the access to the beach was closed, as the waves were too strong and it would have been too dangerous to descend on the beach. What a shame, as I have seen some amazing photos taken from beach level! L
Maybe it was the bad weather, maybe it was because we had previously seen the fantastic Algarve coast in Portugal, or perhaps the spectacular drive on Pacific Coast Highway in California has ruined all other coastal routes for me, but the truth is that I wasn’t that smitten with the Great Ocean Road. I was impressed by the grandiose steep cliffs and carved limestones, but if I am being honest, I simply consider that there are more breathtaking coastal routes than this one. Regardless of this, I still believe that the Great Ocean Road is a must if you are in the area and I am more than grateful for having the chance to explore it and witness the incredible power of nature.
- In case you drive from Adelaide to the Great Ocean Road, I suggest you make two pit stops at the Umpherston Sinkhole (a beautiful sunken garden) and Logans Beach Whale Watching Platform. Located close to the main road, these two places are perfect for stretching your legs after many hours of driving.
- If you plan to stay overnight in the region of Port Campbell, I would suggest you book a chalet at Great Ocean Road Tourist Park. It is about 20 km from 12 Apostles, but it is very clean, modern and comfortable and is way cheaper than similar accommodations in Port Campbell.