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From the vast outback to our beautiful coastlines, Australia offers some of the greatest drives in the world. We’ve partnered with Avis to bring you a series of tales from the road. This time, we drove a few hours south of Melbourne to take on the holy grail of road trips – the Great Ocean Road.
The Great Ocean Road doesn’t just hug Victoria’s best stretch of coastline; it positively embraces it. Wrapped so firmly around the bends that it’s bordering on clingy, the winding road gives unobstructed views of every nook, cranny and curve of Victoria’s dramatic Southern Ocean seaboard.
It’s also jam-packed with things to do for basically everyone: surfers, nature lovers, foodies, hikers, and general adventure-chasers. If you’ve got eyeballs and a pulse, then the Great Ocean Road is a drive you should do at least once in your life.
Given its popularity and standing as a holy place for roadtrippers, accommodation along the coast can get pricey, especially in summer. But there’s way to maintain your budget – carry a portable house with you in the car. Yep, camping automatically reduces your budget, and what better way to connect with nature than to sleep in it? Here’s how to spend a weekend on the Great Ocean Road, without spending all of your money.
First thing’s first: at least a few weeks out from your trip, ask your boss for a half-day or even full day off work on the Friday. This is essential for avoiding the grind of the afternoon traffic leaving Melbourne after 5pm. It also means you’ll get to experience the first part of the drive in daylight rather than navigating the winding ocean-side roads in the dark. Cram your car full of camping gear, food and an Esky and then make your way south on Melbourne’s M1. The Great Ocean Road officially starts in Torquay, around a two hour drive out of Melbourne’s CBD, and a delightful beach town in itself.
Stop here for a dose of surf culture with vistas and locals that wouldn’t seem out of place on the set of Home & Away. Enjoy an early dinner of fish and chips at Fisho’s or stop into Torquay Larder for sandwiches and salads you can stuff into your picnic basket for the next day.
The giant waves at Bell’s Beach are worth a stop and a look, if only to gawk at immensity of them and exclaim over the fact that surfers dare to skim their walls of water.
From Torquay, continue south on the Great Ocean Road for an hour until you reach Cumberland River Holiday Park (book in advance, especially during summer). Keep on eye on your GPS because it’s a quick turn off after a sharp curve.
Cumberland River is a paradise; the flat green camping site is nestled beside a clear fresh-water river at the base of a dramatic cliff, directly beside the beach. It’s like all of your Instagram Christmases came at once. Set up your tent before taking in the setting sun from the sand.
Then the night is yours to do all of that great camping stuff: roast some marshmallows, gaze at the infinite night sky and – realistically – go to bed at 9pm because your options are limited once the night grabs a hold.
Wake up with the sun and start your day with a decent breakfast before setting out on the campsite’s hiking track. A short way up the walking trail from the Cumberland River Campsite you’ll find Jebb’s pool, a natural water hole that’s ideal for a dip with small waterfalls you can swim under like the real life mermaid/merman you are. Continue on the trail, passing beautiful, mossy greenery, before reaching yet another waterfall – Cumberland Falls – cascading down over huge boulders.
It’s roughly a two-and-a-half hour return hike with numerous river crossings so beware of high water if it’s been raining.
Once you return from your hike, load up the car and get back on the asphalt, driving south for another two hours to the crown jewels of the Great Ocean Road – the limestone stacks known as the 12 Apostles (of which only eight remain).
There’s plenty of inlets where you can stop your car and take photos of the coast, and each view seems to surpass the last. Take care on the bends and always make sure to pull in for a look rather than take your eyes off the road. Treat yourself to a pub lunch overlooking the ocean at the Wye Beach Hotel. The parma is just the nourishment you deserve after your walk.
Once you arrive at the 12 Apostles in the late afternoon, join the masses (unavoidable at any time of day) as you walk around the numerous viewing platforms to find that perfect shot, then ‘gram it.
Just a three minute drive up the road is the less recognisable but equally impressive Loch Ard Gorge which has a series of easy walks to take in even more limestone shapes that have been carved by the oceans relentless pounding. Take your time here and make sure to visit Thunder Cave, which lives up to its name as water constantly bashes the grotto, making a tremendous racket.
Just a 10 minute drive back the way you came, the Princetown Recreation Reserve camping facilities are basic but all you need for the night. Light up the camping stove and cook some dinner before using the fading sunset light to spot the kangaroos that bound about the site.
Head to the U-shaped bay of the nearby Port Campbell and treat yourself to a pie and a vanilla slice – yes, for breakfast – before taking the direct inland route back to Melbourne.
You’ve come a long way, so it will take around two hours and 45 minutes to get back home, but break up the trip with stops – you could even use the money you’ve saved camping to splash out on a Sunday lunch at the beautiful and modern Brae in Birregurra, where you can cheers to the weekend before making your way home.
Avis car hire is the perfect way to make more of your holiday. Roadtrips give you the opportunity to see different sides of your destination. With such freedom, the possibilities are truly limitless.