It’s in all of the guide books as a must-do. Drive the Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s best seaside schleps. So we packed up some camping gear, booked a site 2-3 hours outside of Melbourne and set off on the road-well-trodden.
Don’t get us wrong, our end point at Great Otway National Park was stunning. But half of the journey to get there was actually nowhere near the coast at all.
An hour or so stretch between Lorne and Apollo Bay hugs the coastline, snaking around sheer mountain drops, river crossings and lush forest. It’s an undulating and challenging drive.
Much of the rest of the drive to the Twelve Apostles is nothing to write home about.
Is this really one of the best coastal drives on earth?
One thing we took from the journey was how much we take for granted Great Britain’s stunningly dramatic coast.
The white cliffs of Dover; The Jurassic coast in Dorset’s perfect coves and arches; North Cornwall’s dramatic coastline; The Needles off the Isle of Wight.
The stunning beaches of the Gower in South Wales. Our tiny island is flush with out of this world views.
The Great Ocean Road is a great marketing tag line to draw in the tourists. But in our view this road ain’t so great.
We ended up at Bimbi Park, a campsite nestled amongst the trees in Great Otway on Australia’s second most southerly tip. It’s Australia at its most tranquil. We literally slept under koalas in the trees, cockatoos screeching overhead.
We even heard (but didn’t see) the grunt of the wombat burrowing somewhere around our tent. It felt a million miles from Melbourne.
The rainforest walks close by (Mait’s Rest is an easy 30 minute round trip) are astonishing, with its 100 metre Giant Ash trees.
We were also required to honour a favour here, and make a short video for James’ 7-year-old nephew Tom and his class at school, who’ve been learning all about rainforests 12,000 miles away back in Blighty.
Some of the more secluded beaches were a great diversion from the tourist trail too (Johannah Beach in particular).
The split point lighthouse just east of Lorne is worth a tour if you have a spare hour; we learnt about the hundreds of shipwrecks on this coast over the decades and how the Birmingham built lighthouse helped prevent further tragedies.
It’s also the home of classic cult kids show Round The Twist, where we’ll confess we perhaps got a little over excited.
But the star attraction on the GOR is still The twelve apostles, a collection of sandstone stacks jutting out into the ocean.
Yes, they’re beautiful, albeit awash with transient tourists ticking off their Kodak moments from their air conditioned coaches.
It’s also another feat of canny marketing; there are actually eight remaining ‘apostles’, and there never were 12 in total, but were renamed from the 1960s to attract more visitors.
It reminded us of the far lesser known but arguably more impressive Bedruthan Steps on the North Cornwall coast in the UK. Far fewer tourists jostling for pictures, too.
Perhaps we missed some of the other wonders of the Great Ocean Road further West from the Apostles towards Port Fairy and Portland.
But the towns we did drive through were largely characterless – Lorne, Apollo Bay and Torquay had little beyond an uninspiring, low-rise strip of hotels, bars and restaurants. Most felt soulless and there only to feed the tourist masses.
Again, imagine the same drive but with the grandiose Victorian seafronts of Llandudno or Torquay (UK) to admire along the way. Or maybe all of these observations and yearning for our home shores are perhaps a sign we’re a little homesick!
Nevertheless, none of this is meant as a slight on the Great Ocean Road. It’s well worth two or three days of your time. And if you stay off the beaten track it’s a real taste of Australian scenery.
We just feel that superlatives are often bandied about too easily. Whoever came up with the name should be congratulated; just don’t expect to gasp in wonder at every turn.