Words by Jemah Finn.
Is the Great Ocean Road really all that great?
Last week I hit the road to explore the place where I grew up; the Great Ocean Road.
It is a peculiar concept to be a tourist in your own hometown, but this particular stretch of road is so vast and unique that I have never had the chance to fully explore the natural wonderland. Mother Nature has acted as a real scenic chameleon, allowing the backdrop to lend itself to so many unique forms. From rainforests to farmland to the turquoise waters, there are so many layers to this iconic location.
With a suitcase packed with nothing but bathers and hiking attire, I travelled to my home state. (Yes South Aussies, I am a Victorian. Yes, I know I say ‘dance’ funny and please stop telling me I am a bad driver… actually nah, ok that is probably warranted but don’t blame my atrocious driving on my Victorian heritage)!
I may have lived in this iconic location for 10 years of my life, but the scenic route has so many off road tracks and secret local spots, it is a difficult place to cover in its entirety.
So this time when we went ‘home’, we didn’t want to do the same old thing. Instead, we decided to go off track. We went on trailless walks and swam where no-one else was.
Apollo Bay to Geelong we drove. The journey lead us through lush green rainforests and eventually took us to an area tainted by charcoal ash, lingering smoke and a distinct feeling of sadness. We saw multiple layers to this divine area of Australia. We admired the cascading waterfalls and held back tears as we drove past the homes lost from the recent bushfires.
After a week of exploration, I thought it would be only right for me to develop a list of positives and negatives about the Great Ocean Road to help you determine whether crossing the border is worth it.
Weather- like Melbourne, the weather has a slight issue making up its mind. Don’t bother checking the daily forecast, Mother Nature likes to play tricks on the meteorologists. Expect the sun to be out one day and torrential rain the next. Definitely pack a jumper, unlike me! Luckily, if it is a cooler day, there is still so much to do, like exploring the rainforest or checking out the shops.
Tourist season- Peak holiday season does make for busy main streets, lack of parking and big lines at the local fish and chip shop. If you can’t handle an abundance of tourists, maybe visit a smaller town along the Great Ocean Road like Wye River. There is still so much to do in these places and they are equally as beautiful as there busier counterparts, but there definitely isn’t as many people. And if you decide you want to brave the busy areas, it’s only a very short drive to Lorne or Torquay!
Sunburn- Aussie Sun, seriously! Do not be fooled by the overcast weather, always wear your sunscreen! 10 minutes in the seemingly harmless sun is enough to give you one heck of a sunburnt face and some ripper tan lines! Slip, slop, slap people!
Diversity – you can never get bored along the Great Ocean Road. Regardless of where you stay, there are endless activities to do. There are boundless walking tracks, waterfalls, shops, cafes, beaches, lessons (surfing, canoeing etc.), boat tours and much more. Everything is within a short drive too, so you can switch between activities and landscapes within minutes!
People- as many of the towns are relatively small, everyone knows each other! Most of the locals are super friendly. If you have the time to stop and have a chat – definitely do. They might let you know a cool place to visit or give you some insight on the town. It can be hard to spot a local in peak holiday time, but if you go in the off season, you are guaranteed to meet some incredible locals!
Water- the water is crystal clear! So clear you can see the fish swim around you. There’s nothing better than waking up early and running straight down into the refreshing water! There are areas for the keen surfer, beginner surfer or even those who just want to paddle in the shallows. TIP: don’t be like me and get caught in a rip or dumped by a 5ft wave… be safe in the water and you will be repaid with a fantastic time! Surf lessons or a boat tour are a must. And of course, don’t forget to check out the world famous Bells Beach in Torquay.
Rainforest- Drive 5 minutes inland and you will start winding up hills into the incredible rainforest. Roll down your window and listen to the distant sound of waterfalls and birds, nature’s own orchestra is beautiful to the ear! You must visit the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures near Apollo Bay and go zip lining or walk at the top of the trees, it is truly magnificent!
Food- ICE-CREAM! Nothing says beach getaway like getting a nice scoop of your favourite ice-cream, and it is even better when it’s made locally! Visit The Ice Cream Tub in Apollo Bay and try Dooley’s ice-cream. I guarantee that it is the best! Don’t stress about the calories either, with all the hikes you will do, you will burn that cup of rocky-road ice cream off in no time!
Family– I went with my family, and it was such a great way to catch up with everyone without getting cabin fever. With so much to do and so much to see, it is a great way to reunite with loved ones without sitting around all day. Action packed days were also a great way tire you out and prepare you for a nice night relaxing with BBQ and a game of cards! It is so nice to look back of memories with your family in such an incredible place.
Free stuff- I think one of the best things about a holiday like this, is that so much of what you do is FREE. It won’t cost you a penny to go on a hike, swim in the ocean or to catch some live music at the pub. It is such a brilliant family holiday that won’t empty your bank account, rather it will fill your hearts (as corny as it sounds)!
Workout for fun- Unlike some holidays, you shouldn’t need to stress about gaining a few kilos. There is many active adventures to go on that are fun. It honestly doesn’t even feel like exercise when you are distracted by idyllic views. My suggestions: Check out Maits Rest and Hopetoun Falls.
The Great Ocean Road is a must have on your bucket list. It is perfect for the adventurer and also ideal for those looking to relax. The location really does cater for every holiday appetite; young or old, families or friends – and it is right on our doorstep. Don’t stress about your budget either, you can do the trip on next to nothing – what more could you want?
Also, a bonus of visiting this area of Australia is that you will be supporting the communities that lost so much during the devastating bushfires that tore through their homes and livelihoods over Christmas. These towns rely on peak season for their income, so now that it is safe, get back there and support those who need it most!
So yeah, I do think that the Great Ocean Road is great and something that us Aussies should be super proud to call our own!