The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most scenic routes. It runs for 243 km (almost 151 miles) along the south east coast of Australia and joins two cities, Torquay (just south of Geelong) and Allansford (just east of Warrnambool).
Why was it built?
Before the road was built, there was only a rough track and travel was difficult and took a very long time. Although the idea for such a road began in the 1880’s, it was finally built to provide work for thousands of soldiers returning from WWI and as a permanent memorial to those who were lost in the service of their country.
The area was surveyed in August 1918 and then the back-breaking work began. Three thousand men (known as ‘diggers’), already exhausted by war, had no machinery to help with this enormous task – only picks, shovels and carts pulled by horses. However, they were happy to have work and the road is their legacy – an enormous feat of human effort and endurance.
The Road opens
The Great Ocean Road was officially opened in November 1932 by the Lieutenant Governor, Sir William Irvine. A memorial arch was built at Eastern View and in the early years of the road, this is where travelers paid their road toll. It cost drivers 25 cents AUD and passengers 15 cents AUD. When the Road Trust handed the road over to State Government as a gift in 1936, the toll was abolished.
What can you see on the route?
The Great Ocean Road is rightly recognized as one the most scenic drives in the world. It winds along cliff tops, swoops down to run alongside beaches, crosses river estuaries and travels through rainforests and National Parks.
The road hugs the coast tightly in many places so you are rewarded with breathtaking views of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean. From Anglesea to Apollo Bay, the road passes through picturesque towns situated where the mountains meet the sea. Stop off at the main beach in Lorne for stunning views of Louttit Bay which is surrounded by hills.
Some of the most scenic coastline in the world can be accessed via the road. Stunning limestone formations have been created over the years of erosion from both waves and rain. These include Loch Ard Gorge, the Grotto and the famous Twelve Apostles.
These limestone pillars rise out of the Southern Ocean in the area of Port Campbell National Park. Around 20 million years ago, they were part of the cliffs but the combination of wind and waves has gradually carved them into caves which eroded further to become arches and now columns, with the tallest being 45 meters high.
Sadly, this erosion is continuing and the stacks shrink by around 2 centimeters each year. There are now only 8 stacks remaining. One double-span bridge was given the name ‘London Bridge’ but it has now been renamed ‘London Arch’ after the arch nearest to the shore collapsed. Two terrified tourists were left stranded and had to be rescued. Another Apostle which had been 50 meters tall, fell in 2005.
Through mountains and forests
From Apollo Bay to Gellibrand Lower, the Great Ocean Road travels through the Great Otway National Park where there are some of the last rainforests in Australia. You could choose to stop off and take a walk to Erskine Falls, go koala spotting at Kennett River, take a walk through tree ferns, Australian Blackwoods and Myrtle Beeches at Melba Gully State Park. If you travel through this area at night, you can see thousands of glow worms – don’t forget your spotlight!
The trek to the bottom of the Erskine Falls is well worth the effort.
Travelling the Great Ocean Road is a great way to see Australia’s wildlife. From Warmambool, you can watch the annual migration of Whales. Travelling though Tower Hill State Game Reserve, you will see koalas, kangaroos, emus and many water birds. See how kangaroos graze alongside golfers at Anglesea. Cape Bridgewater is the place to see hundreds of fur seals or swim with dolphins at Queenscliff. You could even canoe on Lake Elizabeth and find a platypus swimming along beside you.
Food glorious food…
Keeping yourself fed and watered on the Great Ocean Road is a pleasure as you taste your way through the regions. Fishing co-ops in Lorne and Apollo Bay are a great place to get fresh fish or check out the wharf in any seaside town to see if there is any seafood available. Farm in Colac, Heywood, Gellibrand and Deans Marsh produce wonderful berries that would go well with the gourmet cheeses available in the area. The cool climate means that there are a lot of wineries in the area too, so try Colac, Apollo Bay, Timboon or Geelong.
In Geelong, you can taste real bush tucker, learn about ancient aboriginal remedies and see boomerangs thrown the way they were meant to be thrown! At Lake Condah, you can stop off to see stone houses and fishing traps that are all that remains of a permanent Aboriginal village. Stop off at an extinct volcano near Tower Hill and find out why it’s such an important site to Gunditjmara people.
The speed limits on the Great Ocean Road vary from 80 km/h (50 mph) to 100 km/h (62 mph) away from built-up areas where the limits would vary from 50 km/h (31 mph) to 70 km/h (43 mph). The road is quite curved in places so it’s best to watch your speed.
Fall in love with driving again…
…by taking a road trip along the Great Ocean Road. And whatever you do, don’t forget your camera!