Hallmarked as one of Australia’s best road trips, we set out down the Great Ocean Road with high hopes. To say we were sorely disappointed is an understatement.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the trip had its highs, but it also had a lot of lows, and I’ve got to say, I honestly think it’s just a tad overrated. Now, before you jump up and down yelling blasphemy, just hear me out!
To give you a little context, we did embark on this journey at one of the busiest times of the year, the week of New Year’s Eve. If you know anything about Australia you’ll know that Aussies flock to the beach over New Year’s like birds migrate to warmer climates in winter. It’s a matter of survival.
It was also unfortunate that we copped a lot of rain on our trip. But, surprisingly, the rain was the least of our concerns.
Travelling from Melbourne’s south-east, we set out at about 7.00am and drove across the city to our first stop, Bells Beach, which is just outside of Torquay. On the drive out here, the traffic and weather were kind to us, and when we arrived at about 8.30am the only people we were sharing the beach with were a few surfers and early-rising travellers like ourselves.
Personally, I loved Bells Beach. Tucked away from the main highway, its golden beaches and rugged limestone cliffs were just beautiful – we also spied a few particularly attractive surfer boys, which never goes unnoticed.
There are a few different car parks, but I would suggest getting there early as by the time we left they were already filling up. You can surf, swim (with caution) and take a scenic coastal walk around the beach. If you liken yourself to a beach bum, you really can’t go wrong here.
Seven words. “Have you ever, ever felt like this…” Sound familiar? Well if you weren’t an Aussie kid in the ‘80s and ‘90s I wouldn’t be surprised. Aireys Inlet is a coastal region that shot to fame thanks to Split Point Lighthouse, the filming location of one of the weirdest up TV shows from my childhood, Round the Twist. I don’t even really know how to explain it, but it’s on Netflix, so if you get a couple hours to spare, it’s well worth the binge.
You can park your car in the playground just off the main road and take the short stroll up the hill to see the lighthouse up-close and personal. You’ll even see the iconic blue weatherboard house from the show perched on the top of the hill. This whole area is stunning, and it’s a great place to stop to stretch your legs at the start of your journey.
Lorne; the place where everything started to go wrong. All we wanted was to see Erskine Falls. That’s not too much to ask, right?
Turning off the Great Ocean Road, we ventured into the rainforest for the short 15-minute drive to Erskine from the main street of Lorne. For a solid 10-minutes we drove at full speed with no issues, then all of a sudden, we came to a complete stop in the longest line of traffic I’ve ever seen in the middle of a bloody forest.
We sat there for about 15-minutes cursing our bad luck and getting impatient. Then we noticed a burning rubber smell (no idea what it was from but it was awful). Me being the drama Queen I am started coughing all dramatically being like ‘Oh my God, I can’t breath’ (even though I could, it was just uncomfortable to do so). Then we realised that Falls Festival was on out near the falls (a New Year’s music festival). After waiting a bit longer and not moving, we decided we must have been in the line of cars getting checked for alcohol before entering the festival, so we cut our losses and chucked a U-turn to continue our journey.
We were annoyed, but at this point in time, it didn’t seem like the end of the world.
Apollo Bay looks like a beautiful coastal town, but I can say with certainty as it was raining so heavily, and got so misty, we could hardly see the cars in front of us. It was lunchtime though, so we did make a quick pit stop to get food. Everywhere was packed, and walking down the street was the equivalent of fighting the crowds in Times Square.
The restaurants and cafes weren’t much better. We managed to get a seat in one, only to be served up the most disgusting banana and butterscotch pancakes I’ve ever eaten. It looked like vomit and tasted even worse. The pancakes were grainy, the bananas cold, and the butterscotch sauce scarce.
We left feeling a little disheartened.
The Twelve Apostles, London Arch and Loch Ard Gorge
I want to say so badly that things picked up when we left Apollo Bay, but it really didn’t. We had a pleasant drive out to the Twelve Apostles, but when we got there, I discovered what it really means to get stressed out in a carpark.
There were at least a dozen workers in the carpark directing traffic, so when we first drove in, despite the crowds, we didn’t think getting a park would be too difficult. That was until we realised that the carpark attendants were essentially ignoring the cars and only offering direction to tour buses. When there were no tour buses coming in, they just chatted amongst themselves like the chaotic scene around them was non-existent. At a rough estimate, I would say the car park is only big enough to hold about 100 cars. While we were circling the area fruitlessly, I would say we were probably one of about 30 cars. Meanwhile, people leaned lazily against their cars having a beer, or grabbing a bite to eat despite lines of cars waiting for their park.
After about 20-minutes of stressful circling, we were ready to cut our losses and skip the site altogether. Luckily for us, we had no idea how to get out of the damn carpark because if we had of left when we were going to, we wouldn’t have lucked out and finally scored a park.
So, car safely slotted into a space, we started the brief walk through the underpass to the viewing platform on the other side of the road. There were people everywhere. People walking slowly, people walking into you, people not looking where they were going, people walking in a criss-cross pattern – name an annoying trait and there was someone doing it.
When we reached the viewing area, we were pushed and shoved, we had people stop directly in front of us, blocking our way so they could proceed to take photos for about a billion years and we had to fight just to catch a glimpse of the view over people’s heads.
The view was definitely beautiful, and I’m glad we did get to see it. But, now that I’ve been, I would never go again. A few minutes of gazing at pretty scenery was not worth the mayhem.
The other attractions that were along the same stretch of road weren’t quite as bad, but they weren’t any picnic either.
Arriving in Portland late in the afternoon, our mood picked up slightly. This beautiful Victorian-era town perfectly represents country Victoria. With a seaside carnival going, beautiful ocean views and eye-catching architecture, it was a welcome sight after a long and exhausting day.
But Portland left a really foul taste in our mouths. We had booked a night’s accommodation at one of the cottages out at Cape Nelson Lighthouse. The venue had great reviews, which is understandable considering how beautiful and spacious the cottages were. But, for the first time in my life, I left a bad online review for a business.
Why? Well, you check into the accommodation at a local pub in town, where they give you instructions and a key to your cottage which is clearly labelled with the cottages name and number. You then drive 15-minutes out to the lighthouse. Pretty straightforward right? Well, it would have been if they gave us the right key and instructions to the right cottage.
Have you ever walked into a hotel already occupied by an angry middle-aged couple? We have! And trust us, it’s not a pleasant experience. When we contacted the accommodation provider, no compensation was offered, no apologies were made, and no one came out to assist us. They simply told us where to find a spare key to the right property and to make sure that one also wasn’t already occupied when we entered it.
The real kicker? They only had to manage three cottages… talk about a major f*#k up.
As payback, we cleared out the breakfast provisions they provide to guests. A dozen eggs, two packs of bacon, half a dozen mini cereal boxes – we took it all. We figured we deserved it after the most uncomfortable 30-minutes of our lives.
Although, Portland redeemed itself slightly with the spectacular Cliffside views and walks that we thoroughly enjoyed the next morning. The moral of the story… check out Portland, but don’t book one of the cottages at Cape Nelson Lighthouse.
If you read our last blog post, you would know that Cape Bridgewater was a hidden gem that we could easily spend the rest of our lives exploring. The people were friendly, the beach amazing, and the food was on-point.
Cape Otway National Park
Jenna and I are both scared of heights, so why, why did we think it was a good idea to do a treetop walk over a rainforest canopy in the heart of the Cape Otway National Park? Jenna had also forgotten her asthma pump so the trek out to the walk itself wasn’t particularly pleasant either.
However, the views are beautiful, and if you can get past the rickety, seemingly flimsy metal walkway, you’ll love it! Okay, the walkway isn’t actually flimsy, but when you’re in the midst of fending off a panic attack, things start to seem worse than they actually are.
Honestly though, after a couple days of predominantly coastal scenery, the beautiful lush forest was a welcome sight. Not to mention the fresh air, which is nothing like what you get in the inner city or outer suburbs of Melbourne.
Although, make sure you pay close attention to the roads when you head back to Melbourne via the national park. We somehow managed to take a wrong turn and ended up driving on windy forest roads with perilous looking cliff drops for about 40-minutes.
After a long couple of days adventuring, we came to the conclusion that the Great Ocean Road just ain’t for us.
Fingers crossed our next adventure will be a tad more successful!