VICTORIA'S GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Starting from the northern end, Victoria's Great Ocean Road could possibly be said to start from TORQUAY, although officially it starts at LORNE. It then meanders south westward, following the coast for much of the way very closely, until it moves inwards through the magnificent Otway Ranges National Park and then later rejoins the coast, to follow it all the way down through spectacular Port Campbell National Park, Warrnambool and Port Fairy to PORTLAND, not far from the South Australian border. For the purpose of this feature we will start at Torquay, 20 minutes or south due south of Geelong and follow the road that is reputed to be one of the most spectacular coastal routes in the world. This road also incorporates the infamous SHIPWRECK COAST.
Torquay is internationally know for its world class surf beaches. All year round surfers can be seen riding the waves off the sandy beaches and in January they come from all over the world to compete in the surfing championships held here at Bell's Beach. SURFWORLD is one of the town attractions, along with a variety of excellent restaurants and cafes, TIGER MOTH WORLD out at the airport, where aficionados of these delightful light aircraft can fly in them as passengers for anything from an hour to a day along the coastline. It's a great experience. Torquay has a plethora of good bed and breakfast accommodation, plus caravan parks, hotels and motels. At the beach is an excellent tourist information kiosk, with a mountain of free literature on what to do and see in the area, where to stay, where to fish, the clifftop walks and other rambling tracks, including the POINT ADDIS KOORI (Aboriginal) CULTURAL WALK and the SURF COAST WALK. On the foreshore opposite the Zeally Bay Caravan Park and the delightful MERMAID CAFE is a really great novelty. Set into the foreshore is a mighty mosaic, many metres across, with a uniquely sculpted sundial as its centre piece. Four local artists gave their time freely to create it after they received a grant to cover the cost of the mosaic pieces. It illustrates many Aboriginal and sea themes and no one visiting Torquay should miss it. BELLBRAE HARVEST is another attraction worth tracking down just out of town. It is a superb berry farm and terrific herb garden, set beside a tranquil lake full of water bird life. Here you can pick and purchase berries in season. The herbs are available all year round along with other farm produce from their store and they've a great restaurant. Don't miss it. The tucker is really tops.
Moving south westwards, the next town is ANGLESEA, a popular holiday spot with caravan parks, a golf course where kangaroos ignore the players and "SEAMIST", just out of town at Wensleydale. Here guests take part in TRAIL RIDING and other outdoor activities. At Anglesea there is also a great HEATHLAND CLIFF WALK.
Next stop is LORNE, one of Melbourne residents' favourite summer playgrounds, with excellent beaches, plenty of seafront restaurants and cafes, bed and breakfast facilities, hotels, motels, ERSKINE FALLS CABINS, ERSKINE HOUSE (on the beach), foreshore caravan parks, a jetty, a foreshore bowling club and the award winning CUMBERLAND RESORT, towering over the foreshore, with plenty of five star accommodation (including spa ensuite bathrooms and multi sports and conference facilities). After Lorne, the road really hugs the ocean beaches and becomes very winding. Next comes APOLLO BAY, a popular small seaside fishing port, where there are caravan parks, hotels, motels and some great bed and breakfast accommodation, nestling between the ocean beach and the protective hills that form a pretty backdrop. You can often buy fresh lobsters from the fishermen at the wharf. Apart from fishing, one can go horse riding, bushwalking and boating here. A good spot to stay is the new, four and a half star VALKEI VILLAS, on the Great Ocean Road. They comprise two storey, elegant family villas, with upper floor living areas complete with long, wrap around balconies providing great ocean views. These three bedroom, two bathroom units have spas, log fires, superb kitchens, well equipped laundries, under cover parking bays, very spacious lounges, air conditioning and much more, costing from $130 per night for two people. (Their email address is email@example.com). Tel:+61 3 5237 7538. Two other good places to stay in Apollo Bay are the CLAERWEN RETREAT in Tuxion Road (with guest house, cottages and studio accommodation, plus a restaurant, salt water pool and spa) and the WHITECREST HOLIDAY RESORT on the Great Ocean Road, whose suites all have panoramic ocean views. The road now leaves the coast and the ocean becomes obscured by the thick foliage of the OTWAY NATIONAL PARK, as one winds and climbs up and down and around through rainforest country, moving on through MELBA GULLY STATE PARK. (You may wish to take a detour off coastwards to CAPE OTWAY LIGHTHOUSE, where often inspections are available).
There are two good cafes on Lavers Hill, as you reach the T-intersection, 50 kilometres out of Apollo Bay. It is a good place to stop for a snack, a meal, souvenirs, postcards, cold drinks, petrol, or just to stretch one's legs. The birdlife up here is quite magic and can be viewed through the cafe windows as you eat. Shortly after this, you will have the opportunity to stop off and explore one or more of the ancient tree fern gullies, with trees believed to be old when Captain Cook first discovered these shores. The MAIT'S TRACK and MELBA GULLY boardwalks over several kilometres are through some of the world's oldest and most beautiful, cool climate rainforests, filled with lush giant and tree ferns, huge moss covered trees and tinkling streams, where platypus still swim shyly by. Now there's another 30 kilometres of rural country to drive through before the road again drops to closely hug the beach. Soon you will be able to pull over to view the TWELVE APOSTLES (there's only nine left these days) - offshore craggy columns whose bases are forever beaten by the ocean tides. A little further along, you should stop off to view the spectacular LOCH ARD GORGE and a bit further along again there's the LONDON BRIDGE formation (whose central span collapsed into the sea a few years ago) and more. (This area is known as PORT CAMPBELL NATIONAL PARK). All these attractions are easily accessible from free car parks just off the highway and are quite clearly sign posted. From Port Campbell township, is is approximately another 70 kilometres to WARRNAMBOOL.
A large coastal township, Warrnambool is famous for its LOGAN'S BEACH, where SOUTHERN RIGHT WHALES come to calve and feed their young usually during July, August and early September every year, which is the cold winter months in this part of the world. There are a number of first rate caravan parks, motels, hotels and bed and breakfasts establishments available for travellers and there are numerous facilities and tourist attractions to keep them staying for a few days or more. These include the surf beaches, PERTOBE PARK (with its lakes and many picnic and play facilities for children), many top sporting facilities, a good shopping centre, plenty of licensed restaurants and cafes, FLETCHER JONES GARDENS, historic WOLLASTON BRIDGE, TOWER LAKES STATE GAME RESERVE, the BOTANIC GARDENS and FLAGSTAFF HILL MARITIME MUSEUM. Entry to the Fletcher Jones Gardens and the Botanic Gardens is free and it costs nothing to photograph colourful old Wollaston Bridge, the iron suspension work having been created of old tram wires. Tower Lakes State Game Reserve is set in the old craters of long extinct volcanoes - entry is free and there, from the moment you park your car, you will be met by curious emus and kangaroos, (you must not feed them), as well as other native creatures aplenty. Take the boardwalks out across the crater lakes and listen to the frogs and waterbirds. The multi coloured strata of the crater walls is extremely photogenic. There is a good little orientation centre near the car park, staffed by the rangers who take care of the animals. (This reserve is on the western side of the township as you proceed towards Port Fairy). Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum is a recreated old whaling township, with wheelwright, working blacksmith, ships' chandlers, Mission to the Seamen, boats, lighthouse, church, bank, row of shops, a delightful cottage cafe, a souvenir shop, a theatrette and the usual exhibits of the whaling industry, plus a reference room for serious study. Staff may be seen walking around in period costume and it is easy to spend several hours browsing around this excellent museum.
Historic PORT FAIRY is only half an hour's drive further along the road and this is an early whaling and sealing township, where many of the early cottages and buildings are still very much in use. It has a lovely old world charm and can be found at the mouth of the river Moyne. As the name suggests, many early settlers were Irish, which accounts for the fact that before it became known as Port Fairy (after a ship called the 'Fairy') it was known as Belfast and the BELFAST ICE WORKS can still be seen overlooking the river and across the road from that lovely B&B haven, the MERRIJIG INN. At the wharf can be seen many colourful boats moored and fresh fish, oysters, lobsters etc can be purchased from their fishermen's cooperative shop at very good prices. Quite a few of the period furnished, historic cottages can now be rented by holiday makers, whilst new ones, emulating the old, have been built for the same purpose. Then there's the upmarket GOBLE'S MILL B&B in a former Mill facing the river and just along the road in the same category is THE DOUGLASS, all sparkling white and looking very inviting. Your first stop in town should be the Tourist Information Centre though, almost opposite the very early CALEDONIAN INN and next door to tiny LUNCH, which is a really first class place to enjoy a midday meal. The friendly staff in the information centre will happily offer clear, free maps of all the township's major buildings and walks, as well as plenty of other literature at no cost to the visitor. They can also help with accommodation bookings in caravan parks, old world hotels or motels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast establishments for those who need it. You can take a walk around GRIFFITH ISLAND (famous for its Shearwater colony), inspect the graves in the old cemetery, take a boat trip around the bay, browse in the Historical Society's Museum, or have a good look at the old town hall, the historic court house, the old State School and early churches, the fine two storey pub - Star of the West, Seacombe House, the old lecture hall, library and post office, the powder magazine, or hire a bike and pedal around this laid back, quiet township. It isn't quiet in January though, as that is when they always hold the highly popular Moyneyana Festival, in aid of the local hospital and then Port Fairy is fairly bursting at its seams.
From Port Fairy it is under an hour's drive to PORTLAND, which is the end of our journey along the Great Ocean Road. As the name suggests, this town has a large port, from which meat, fish, aluminium and other produce are shipped overseas constantly. Like Port Fairy, it is one of Victoria's earliest white settlements and has many historic buildings - a list of which can be obtained from the Tourist Information Centre. Two grand guesthouses date back to the very early days and today provide four star bed and breakfast accommodation for discerning guests - they are 'BURSWOOD', (where you can sleep in a four poster bed, if you wish) and VICTORIA HOUSE. Both have been built in two storey, Georgian style. Each is very elegantly furnished with antiques and offers afternoon tea and sumptuous breakfasts, as well as beautiful guest lounges. Victoria House can be found at 5 Tyers Street and their telephone number is +61 3 5521 7577. Burswood is located at 15 Cape Nelson Road and their telephone number is +61 3 5523 4686. At the other end of the scale is a brand new, arresting, two storey, architect designed private home that is let out on a nightly basis. It is the two storey BRIDGEWATER LAKES HOUSE, sited alone on a property looking down into the Bridgewater Lakes and right across the myriad sand dunes of Discovery Bay. This house has a mighty lounge, with comfy furniture and panoramic views, as do the bedrooms. It has one bathroom, which is ensuite to the master bedroom, a carport, colour television, radio and video cassette recorder, a log fire in the lounge and a superbly appointed kitchen. It is sited off Cashmore Road, just out past Portland Airport and costs $100 per night for two people (less for multiple nights). The owners work in Darwin, but the house is serviced by the next door neighbours Sue and Paul Jensen on their ALPACA FARM. For bookings or further details telephone them on +61 3 5526 7118. Of course, Portland also has a number of caravan parks, hotels, motels, backpacker facilities and smaller bed and breakfast establishments As to the town's attractions, these include tours of the ALUMINIUM SMELTER, HISTORY HOUSE, the POWERHOUSE CAR MUSEUM, the LIFEBOAT MUSEUM, the MARINE DISCOVERY CENTRE, the BOTANIC GARDENS, myriad arts and crafts stores and antique galleries, a THEATRE ART GALLERY, SUNDAY MARKETS, a whole range of organised local tours such as SEALS BY SEA TOURS from Cape Bridgewater, the CAPE NELSON LIGHTHOUSE, the unique geological strata known as the PETRIFIED FOREST and BLOWHOLE at BRIDGEWATER BAY (20 minutes from town), kayaking and canoeing on BRIDGEWATER LAKES (also 20 minutes from town), POT HOLING, sea cliff walks, the old fortifications at BATTERY POINT, various kinds of fishing and all the other sports (bowls, golf, squash, tennis etc), GLENELG RIVER LLAMA TREKS (out of town), several WINERIES, including the KINGSLEY WINERY with its most unusual homestead and of course Portland is on the Mother Mary McKillop Tourist Drive (details are available at the Tourist Centre).
Nearby are several magnificent National Parks and off shore the sea is a playground for whales, dolphins, seals and penguins. This particular stretch of coast has been a nightmare for sailors though and during the 18th and 19th centuries at least 163 shipwrecks have been documented and there were quite possibly many more we have not learned about. Twenty five of these sites are located in the literature on the Shipwreck Coast, so that people can locate them if they are interested. All this and more can be seen, learned and enjoyed in this very special corner of Australia.
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