The Great Ocean Road

JULY 2011…

There is a reason why coastal drives are so popular: the views are simply amazing. From sheer cliffs to rock formations to gorgeous sunset views, there is never a dull moment. And one of the world’s best coastal drives is right here in Australia.

The Great Ocean Road is a 400-km scenic drive running along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the cities of Torquay and Nelson. It is peppered with sandy beaches, surf towns, native wildlife, limestone cliffs and the famous Twelve Apostles.

But did you know that the Great Ocean Road is also the world’s largest war memorial? It was built by more than 3,000 returned servicemen and dedicated to Australian soldiers killed in World War I.

The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch, Australia.

The Memorial Arch that honours the 3,000 servicemen who built the Great Ocean Road.

In an ideal world, I’d rent a car and slowly explore each and every point of interest along the Great Ocean Road. But in the real world, time and money (and driving skills) are not on my side, so I’ll just have to make do with a day trip.

And it seems there are many others just like me, judging by the popularity of the trip. Bus coach tours depart Melbourne daily for the Great Ocean Road, so it was a breeze to get there.

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, Australia.

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road.

The thing about the day trip was that we reached the main attraction – the Twelve Apostles – in the late afternoon. This meant that the sun was in my eyes and my photos were either overexposed or underexposed. Many a times I had to struggle to get a good view of the rocky outcrops while trying not to blind myself. Not exactly my idea of a gorgeous view, but I can’t complain either.

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, Australia.

Up close with one of the Twelve Apostles.

A sign explains that “the rock stacks are the temporary remnants of a retreating limestone coastline, under constant attack by the sea. Cliff faces are being eroded at the rate of about ten centimetres each year.” It also assures you that if you don’t manage to find all the rock stacks, it’s not because you failed your counting classes, but rather that “some are hidden behind headland or obscured by other rock stacks.”

A sign explaining the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, Australia.

A sign explaining how the Twelve Apostles came to be.

A short walk from the Twelve Apostles lookout point is the Gibson Steps, an 86-step staircase down the cliff face to the beaches below. Let me just say that this is no resort beach. The Southern Ocean is known to be rough and huge waves crash to shore.

The wind is no gentle sea breeze either and getting a photo taken with all your hair in place is a formidable challenge. You’ll have to feel the elements for yourself to understand how limestone cliffs millions of years old can yield to this sea. Mother Nature is not to be trifled with.

Gog and Magog, giant limestone stacks on the Great Ocean Road, Australia.

Gog and Magog, two of the giant limestone stacks rising out of the sea.

While the Twelve Apostles is the main attraction of the Great Ocean Road, the neighbouring Shipwreck Coast is a worthy sight as well. It is part of the Port Campbell National Park and a short drive west from the Twelve Apostles.

There are an estimated 638 known shipwrecks along this coast with the most famous tale unfolding at Loch Ard Gorge. It tells of two shipwreck survivors on board the Loch Ard, who drifted to the shore of the gorge and took shelter in a cave.

Loch Ard Gorge on the Great Ocean Road, Australia.

The Loch Ard Gorge where two shipwreck survivors drifted to shore.

For a 12-hour round trip, visiting just these two locations seems to be a waste. There is so much more to see and do on the Great Ocean Road and we barely scratched the surface.

But just like the road trip down the Garden Route in Cape Town, being on the road itself is part of the experience. The main attraction might have been the Twelve Apostles but we were plied with great ocean views all along the way. It is, after all, the Great Ocean Road. Staring out the bus window had never been more fun.

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