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Australia: Driving the Great Ocean Road

Take to the tarmac — a road trip along this scenic coastal route means experiencing Oz at its wildest

Australia: Driving the Great Ocean Road
Great Ocean Road. Image: Getty

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It’s not the bunkers you have to look out for on the Anglesea Golf Course. Local legend has it that a perplexed golfer once hit a tee shot that landed in a kangaroo’s pouch, before the roo hopped off into the rough. Arriving at Anglesea, this becomes immediately plausible. The driving range is absolutely teeming with the beasts, and they seem thoroughly ambivalent.

This marvellously Australian scene is a fitting first stop for a classic Australian road trip: the Great Ocean Road, which stretches west of Melbourne, throwing in much of what is great about Oz on the way. First come the beach towns. Lorne and Apollo Bay are pretty, and they know it. The character is part wholesome family and part bohemian jewellery designer that has decided to leave the big city and head for the coast.

The backdrop to these towns, though, is lush, relatively untamed eucalyptus forest laced with walking trails. What starts out as a hike to one of the many waterfalls hidden inside the bush becomes a mind-clearer. It’s thanks to birdsong, the whiff of the oil from the gum leaves in the air and noises of scurrying creatures in the scrub.

The last leg of the Great Ocean Road is wild in a different way. The postcard-friendly rock formations — Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge — are reeled out, as the Southern Ocean gives them a brutal pounding. But it’s what’s in the water that’s truly spellbinding. From the clifftops at Warrnambool, the traditional if not physical end of the Great Ocean Road, a grey lump emerges from the ocean swells. It’s a southern right whale, on her migratory route towards Antarctica. She shoots through her blowhole; a salute from Australia’s natural wonders towards those who have come to see them.

The highlights

Bells Beach
This is the high temple of the Australian surf scene, as namechecked in Point Break, and plays host to the Rip Curl Pro surf competition every Easter weekend.

The Twelve apostles
The most famous of the Great Ocean Road rock formations are the poster child for the region, even though only eight remain.
Show up around sunset, when dozens of
Little Penguins scurry along the beach on their way home from a hard day’s fishing.

Tower Hill Reserve
Outside Warrnambool, this nature reserve sprawls over the bowl of a volcanic caldera. Roos and koalas can be found here, but you’ve also got a chance of spotting spiny echidnas. The emus, meanwhile, are likely to attempt to steal your picnic.

How to do it

Anzcro has a five-day Great Ocean Road Loop self-drive tour from £486 per person, including car hire and four nights’ boutique accommodation en route.
The Great Ocean Road runs 151 miles along the coast between Torquay and Allansford.

Published in the Trips of a Lifetime guide, distributed with the Jul/Aug 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)