Prior to leaving for Australia, I booked a tour with Grayline, which if you follow my blog, then you know I’m a huge fan of them, ever since Iceland. They have comfortable buses with free wi-fi, engaging tour guides, and wonderful touring packages. In this case, I booked the Great Ocean Road tour with lunch at Apollo Bay hotel (more on that later). (NOTE: Sit on the left side of the bus going there.)
Driving to the Ocean
It’s about a 1 1/2 hour drive to the beginning of the road (which is mostly rolling hills, ports, and farmland), which lands you in Torquay first. This town is known for it’s surfing beaches, beckoning professional surfers from all over the world.
About twenty minutes into the drive, you could see the ocean, peeking out from over the rolling hills, on into our first stop at Anglesea – a sleepy town in the winter, which turns into a hot spot in the summer. This stop allowed us to stretch our legs, walk around the shops and cafes, and gather in the picnic area for some Australian favorites: crackers and vegemite, limingtons, and Billy Tea. The history behind this tea is related to the old mining days, where large tin cans of meat were shipped from France. When the cans were empty, they’d fill them with water, boil them over a fire, and make their tea. If you take this tour, try it. If not, head to Oaks Bakery Cafe, where a large Cappuccino is $4.50 AUD (they also have an amazing assortment of freshly baked goods too).
Our next stop was to Aireys Inlet, to take a peek over the cliffs at Fairhaven Beach – it was the first stop of many pristine, panoramic views of the coast line, and the first that made me realize where I was in the world. Across the way of the Great Australian Bight, was Tasmania, and past that… Antarctica!
Our next stop at Eastern View (which also holds the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch), allowed us time to step foot on the beach. (Note: When I said I needed a beach trip, I had envisioned myself in a swimsuit, not two layers of pants and rain boots).
From Eastern View, we had about a 1 1/2 hour drive to Apollo Bay, which allowed for some of the most beautiful views along the way. It’s the reason why it is so important to sit on the left-hand side of the bus! We saw Kangaroos, koalas, fishermen out rock fishing (some of the most dangerous fishing in the world), dogs running off-leash on private beaches, and miles and miles of beach.
When we arrived into Apollo Bay (named after a famous British ship that was docked there), I immediately headed for the Apollo Bay Hotel lunch. It’s a good restaurant with outdoor seating, and a three-course lunch menu, most of which I couldn’t eat, due to my allergy. (They were as accommodating as they could be with it, but given how busy the place was, they weren’t all that friendly.) My meal consisted of pumpkin soup, chicken curry, and a cappuccino. To be honest, unless you can eat super large meals, and don’t care about food quality, do not get the combo package with the tour line and instead, opt to find somewhere else to dine – there are plenty of other places there.
With the hour we had there, I had about twenty minutes left to walk to the bay, and then walk over to the shops, and grab some Blackberry ice cream, in a gluten-free waffle cone (imagine my delight at this), at The Ice Cream Tub (Dooley’s Ice Cream) – one of the best ice cream shops I’ve been to in the world!
After another sizable drive, we landed at 12 Apostles. The “12 Apostles” are (supposedly) 12 sandstone rock structures, that jut out from the ocean (we all only counted nine). It’s a very busy stop, with a lot of narrow walkways, and a lot of tourists. Patience is needed, but it pays off when you take your time to take in the views, and get in some amazing pictures!
If you want to skip the crowds, and get an even better view, you can pay the $144 AUD to take a 15-minute helicopter tour of them, which I wish I had done. However, if you don’t, the only perk to doing it by land, is to get a chance to see some wildlife up close and personal. I got to “meet” the cutest Wallaby!
Loch Ard Gorge
Our second to last stop was at Loch Ard Gorge, proving that sometimes, you do need to save the best for last. There’s a very famous shipwreck story that goes along with this place, and it’s worth the read, and even more worth the drive.
As with Mt. Etna, Mt. Stromboli, and the Taj Mahal, the emotion this beach evoked from me, can only be described as pure elation. I’ve never been to a private beach with this much beauty, anywhere, in the entire world.
A Beautiful Ending to a Perfect Day
To cap off our tour, we headed to Port Campbell to purchase snacks and drinks for our 2 1/2 hour ride home. It was there we were able to watch the sun begin to set, over another private beach.