18 Things You May Not Expect when driving The Great Ocean Road
Having just completed a trip along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria for the first time, a few things surprised me. I was expecting spectacular coastal scenery along a cliff hugging winding road and seeing plenty of other travellers on the road but there were some unexpected surprises too which I will share with you. For those who have yet to travel this iconic road in Australia, you may find the tips helpful and for those of you who have done it, you can nod along.
- Don’t worry about travelling too slowly.
Even though we were towing a 24 foot caravan along the Great Ocean Road, we were by no means the ones holding other travellers up. Almost everyone travelling on that stretch of road (with the exception of locals and delivery drivers) are there to see this spectacular stretch of coast and marvel at the twists and turns of the road that hugs the cliff. You will see plenty of caravans, motorhomes, tour buses, mini buses and many international tourists in hire cars along the way. There are numerous roadsigns as you travel along reminding people that we drive on the left side in Australia. Quite a few roadsigns, especially those warning of roadworks etc…are also translated into Chinese language.
- Roadworks will give you more viewing time.
Normally roadworks holding you up on holidays is a nuisance but when they make you stop on the Great Ocean Road you are quite happy to wait it out. Yes! We get to ogle the views for longer and watch the powerful waves rolling in and just take in the marvel that this road is.
- Rock face repairs may be happening.
Another holdup can be while workers are making repairs to the rocky cliff face. Cars in both directions were stopped intermittently while workers abseiled the cliff face and made repairs after recent rock falls. By the dents in the shipping containers used as a safety barrier you wouldn’t want it to be the unlucky ones when rocks tumble as you’re driving past.
- There are lots of Pull Out areas.
There are plenty of pull out areas which are great of course for stopping to take in the views but also to be considerate of other drivers and let them pass if a few cars and vans have caught up behind you. There are more pull off areas on the ocean side of the road than the cliff face side and they are plenty big enough for cars towing vans too.
- The Great Ocean Road doesn’t hug the coastline all the way.
In a number of places you are taken away from the coast and the road gradually climbs up into the Otway National Park and feels a million miles away from the coast. The scenery changes dramatically and you’re now on a rainforest drive. On this stretch of the drive there are also areas to pull off the road and let others pass by, some are definitely not big enough for cars towing caravans, but if you are patient there are bigger and better areas for safely pulling over. From the forest you descend again towards Apollo Bay where you are rewarded with a spectacular vista of the coast again.
- Your Car and Van brakes will get a workout.
Have your car and van checked thoroughly before you go, as your brakes, steering and well everything will get a workout on this drive. Make sure that you have had everything safety checked before you leave home. The road climbs very steeply in some places and the descents are steep too.
- You will drive from sand level to sky high.
I couldn’t believe the variations in the road even when it does follow the coast, from one minute driving along and admiring the beach view out of the window to rising high along the cliff face and looking down at the wild ocean far below. At the highest point, The Great Ocean Road rises 456m above sea level.
- Expect that you will want to stay at every town along the way.
From crossing the South Australian border with 2 weeks of holidaying planned, we made 4 stops going over, in some places staying a couple of nights, and 2 different stops on the way back home. This was our first time along the Great Ocean Road, so even though it’s only a little over 240 kilometres long, we wanted to have time to take in sections of the drive. This still only gave us a taste of where we want to go and stay next time. As per usual the question of how long does it take to do the drive and how long could it take are two different things.
- Did you know The Great Ocean Road is actually the world’s largest War Memorial?
Make sure you stop in at the Lorne Visitors Centre at some stage of the drive and you can get the full history including historical photos behind the building of the road. What a mammoth undertaking it was by returned soldiers to work on this road as a means of repatriation after World War 1. The road is dedicated as a lasting monument to soldiers killed during World War 1.
- There are more spectacular rock formations than just the 12 Apostles
We found that one of the more picturesque spots with less crowds were at the rock formations called The Bay of Islands and The Bay of Martyrs. Again both places were easy to get a park in with a large caravan in tow. Parking areas have been specifically made for big vehicles to easily get in and out of and still within easy walking distance to the lookouts. Any of the lookouts that aren’t suitable for buses or caravans are clearly marked before you enter. Don’t go there!
- Pick your time to visit the 12 Apostles
We made the mistake of going to this viewing area in the early afternoon but quickly learnt that you will have more breathing space if you time your visit outside of tourist bus times. One of the tour operators told us that from lunchtime onwards the buses from Melbourne start arriving so trust me those are the times to avoid. You will be jostling for elbow space to photograph this beautiful landscape and dodging selfie stick wielding visitors every step of the way. Good luck to them, it was quite amusing to watch and something that you don’t see in the tourism brochures, but revisiting in the morning or late afternoon and evening is a vastly different story. Not to mention the light is better anyway.
- Gibson Steps was not as hard to get to as I thought.
I was bracing myself for a long, hard and slow climb back when visiting Gibson Steps but again to be on the beach and see the giant offshore limestone stacks is breathtaking for all the right reasons and the 86 steps to get down and back up off the beach again were no harder than some other climbs we’ve done to get to spectacular scenery. Moderately fit people can do it, there’s no rush.
- Go and visit the 12 Apostles and other rock formations no matter what the weather.
Even if the weather is a bit dull, drizzly or windy, make the effort to go and see the spectacular limestone formations along the coast. The benefits are that they may just be less crowded, the weather can pass quite quickly from gloomy and rainy to a break of sunshine, long enough for you to be wowed. You never know how lucky you may be to even catch a rainbow at the right time in the right place.
- The roadside along the 12 Apostles is temporary fenced for a long way.
During peak times this is obviously to deter people just parking anywhere they like along the roadside and potentially endangering their lives or someone else’s. To see the Apostles you must enter a carpark away from the cliff side where there is ample parking for any size vehicle. There is a kiosk there and plenty of public toilets then a walk through under the road to the viewing areas. Very safe, very easy. On that note it is really obvious when you are there that some of the Instagram shots and other pictures you see online have been taken from places outside of barriers. Pretty ridiculous really for the sake of a photo that frankly just lets me know what idiots these people are. If they aren’t thinking of their own safety then think of the safety of people that would have to rescue you should the worst happen or think of the damage you are doing to the environment of the area. Paths, bridges and fences are there for a reason and should be respected. How about just getting more creative with the space you have? Rather than admiring some of the photos I see of people enjoying pretend picnics on cliff areas of coasts, they now make me angry because I know they have been taken recklessly and for what reason?
- Helicopters are like dragonflies.
There are helicopter tours you can take that depart from the parking area at the 12 Apostles and other nearby places. Flights start from $145 per person for a 15 minute scenic view. They depart so regularly that there is always at least one or two in the sky at any time.
- Gourmet delights await you.
There are a lot of food, breweries and spirit producers you can discover along the way. One particularly good side trip to take is the 12 Apostles Gourmet Food Trail. Along the way you can sample and buy whiskey and other nice tipples, cheese and milk products, chocolates, ice cream, fudge and more. There goes any hope of being good, oh well it’s a good thing that there are lots of steps and walks in the area to work (some) of it off.
- You can see plenty of Australian wildlife along the way.
Take time to stop at some of the towns as your drive the route and you will be rewarded with animal encounters in the wild. Read up a little before you go and you will find that certain areas are well known for the wildlife in their towns. Without deviating too far off track or when you stay along the way, you can see birds, koalas, kangaroos and more in the wild.
- Lastly, once will not be enough.
Actually even twice is not enough, it will only give you an insight into planning the next time you visit this must see coastline. The first time is a great way to get a feel for it and on returning you will no doubt, like us, have ideas on where to linger longer next time while you delve deeper into what to see in each area. There were so many highlights along the way from scenery, wildlife, places to stay and things to do, all of which I will feature in stories to come.
If you haven’t made the drive along the Great Ocean Road, feel free to ask any questions and I will gladly answer what it’s like to do this iconic drive with a caravan.
Happy travels and please heed the signs,