The Wondrous Side of the Road: Australia's Great Ocean Drive
In 1918, to commemorate the fallen Australian soldiers of World War I, unemployed soldiers began construction on a 125-mile road cutting through southeast Australia, a land of dense rainforests, postcard-perfect beaches, arches of ocean-carved rock, and the ubiquitous population of kangaroos and koalas. Today, 60 miles from Melbourne, an old wooden overpass in Torquay reads, "Welcome to the Great Ocean Road." Officially opened in 1932 after 14 years of labor, the road is, quite simply, one of the world's very best scenic drives.
The Great Ocean Road starts in Torquay, hugging Australia's Surf Coast where wetsuit-clad surfers cluster from March to August to brave the world-renowned curls. Crowds swell each year at Bell's Beach, just past Torquay, for the Easter Rip Curl Pro Surfing Classic, the sport's longest-running international competition. The 45-mile stretch from Anglesea to Apollo Bay is another highlight, profiling the region's scenic oceanside topography. Apollo Bay itself serves as the gateway to Otway National Park, which consists of 31,500 acres of temperate rainforest, misty waterfalls, a large koala community, and an intricate series of trekking trails.
After Apollo Bay, the road turns inland across Cape Otway before rejoining the Bass Straight at Shipwreck Coast. The coastline's vicious waves and jagged cliffs are largely responsible for the region's well-deserved name, infamous for causing as many as 80 shipwrecks in less than 40 years. Alongside this stretch of road, Port Campbell National Park provides further glimpses of nature's immense power. Wind and waves have carved innumerable arches, tunnels, and columns from the soft limestone, the most famous of these formations being the Twelve Apostles. These staggering pillars, once arches, have been molded by the restless surf into the golden giants standing today; only seven remain. The recently fallen London Bridge, now evidenced only by its base supports, and Loch Ard Gorge, named after the clipper that went down in 1878 on the rocks offshore, are other prime attractions.
This joyride of curves, switchbacks, and sweeping vistas may only cover 125 miles from start to finish, but don't let its modest "official" length fool youcountless side routes, national and state parks, and remote beaches and swimming holes allow for days of glorious active exploration. In addition to the aforementioned attractions of Otway and Port Campbell National Parks, Point Addis, Ironbark Basin Reserve, and Melba and Angahook-Lorne State Parks should not be missed. Equally intriguing and important to the Great Ocean Road experience, however, are stops at the small sea towns along the way. Each has their own local seafood recipes, offered up with their version of the region's eclectic historywhich is where the real personality of the Great Ocean Road comes through.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication