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ZB Travel – Great Ocean Road.

This panoramic touring route was built by World War One veterans, right?

Indeed. Originally, it was just a dusty narrow coastal track, but after the Great War, all manner of public works projects were commissioned to help Australia get through the tough economic times. And thousands of returning soldiers couldn’t find work. So, they were deployed to  widen  the coastal highway, into the world-famous touring route that it’s become.

What distance does it span? How many days should you set aside to explore it?

It’s official length is 240km. Once you get out of Melbourne, you slide by Geelong’s industrial sprawl and head south to the surfing cradle of Torquay, which signals the start of the Great Ocean Road. And from there, the coastal road journey, with scores of hair-pin bends, shadows the Southern Ocean all the way to Warrnambool.

It’s one of the Great Southern Land’s most rewarding drives. Roving by road from Melbourne, across the southern coast on the Great Ocean Road . Heading out of Melbourne on the M1, you’ll skirt the industrial sprawl of Geelong before diverting  outh to Torquay, which officially heralds the start of the Great Ocean Road. Photogenic Torquay is the cradle of Australia’s thriving surfing culture, with the township boasting the interactive Surfworld  museum. From Torquay, Australia’s emblematic coastal road journey transports you to the storied city of Warrnambool. Stretch it out over a couple of days.

Roos Anglesea

Let’s look at the top stops, starting with the golfing Kangaroos?

Just past Torquay, make a beeline for the well sign-posted Anglesea Golf Club.  Do you recall that Tourism Australia TV advert that featured “kangaroos on the green”? Well, Anglesea is the club in question, with resident roos blithely bounding about the fairways, despite the salvo of golf balls bearing down.  For a quick photo-stop with the roos, park up by the Golf Links Road boundary.

Lorne beach

What about Lorne?

A swanky waterfront town of Lorne, with a manicured oceanfront lawn, sheltered beach and bucket-loads of swish hospitality outlets, Lorne is a perennial hit with Melbourne’s city-slickers seeking a quick weekend retreat or more leisurely layover. For the road traveller, it’s a great place to stretch your legs, grab a coffee and fuel-up.

apollo bay

Is Apollo Bay a good overnight stop?

From Lorne to Apollo Bay, the Great Ocean Road runs tenuously close to the booming surf – in fact the coastline is seldom out of sight. Apollo Bay is my recommended overnight resting point, and the gorgeous township features a variety of attractions in its own right. Apollo Bay is set against a majestic backdrop of gently tumbling hills, whilst it faces out across the sprawling crescent-shaped expanse of coastline. It is home to an eclectic populace of fishing folk, artists, musicians and nature-lovers. Plus a great range of accommodation providers and seafood restaurants. The Great Ocean Road Visitors Centre is located here which includes an “eco-centre”, exhibiting Aboriginal history, rainforests, shipwrecks and the history of the road’s construction. For the extra-intrepid visitor, the Great Ocean Walk is a 33km trek that connects Apollo Bay with Cape Otway.Traversing wild coast and windswept heathland, the coastal walk has become increasingly popular with visitors, and the information centre will eagerly assist you with any logistical needs. Plus, there are great short walks into the rainforest. Back on the bitumen, the Great Ocean Road veers inland from here, traversing the verdant valleys and lush terrain of the Otway National Park.

hopetoun falls aireriver otwaynationalpark

Now, the Twelve Apostles. How many apostles are actually still standing?

Barely half, but they remain a  star feature of the Great Ocean Road beckons: the Twelve Apostles. This spell-binding collection of toothy rock stacks are Australia’s most-photographed coastal feature. The well-designed viewing platforms enable you to size up these limestone outcrops from all perspectives, and their relentless battle against the ferocious forces of the sea.  Some apostles have already been consumed by the pounding ocean, and only seven fangs of rock are still standing.

twelve apostles

You think London Bridge is the more impressive rock feature?

A short drive westwards unfurls more striking natural attractions. According to the nursery rhyme, London Bridge is falling down. And true to the spirit of the rhyme, London Bridge has indeed fallen down. Formerly a double-arched rock platform linked to the mainland, visitors could once walk across one of the arches.

london bridge

Tell us about the dirty truth that was unearthed, when London Bridge collapsed.

In 1990, one of the arches collapsed, stranding two terrified tourists on the newly formed island, before being rescued by a helicopter.  Low and behold, the stranded couple happened to be an English businessman and his travelling secretary, who were having a furtive affair. The businessman’s wife discovered the dirty truth, while watching the television coverage of his rescue.

What town marks the finish line of the Ocean Road?

The grand road trek finishes in Warrnambool, an historic town  cloaked in Norfolk Pines – and even pohutakawas. Originally settled as a whaling and sealing station, the town’s history has been  immortalised at the Flagstaff Hill, a replica village comprising period cottages, churches, sailing ships, workshops and a shipwreck museum. A nightly sound and laser light show dazzles the crowds, showcasing the tragic loss of the Loch Ard clipper ship in 1878. Loch Ard ran aground on nearby Muttonbird Island, approaching the end of a three-month journey from England to Melbourne, killing 44 people, with only two survivors. The emotional production was designed by the same special effects team who electrified the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony.

Mike Yardley’s travel notes from Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show.

For more travel tips, advice and inspiration, check out the website of New Zealand’s premier travel magazine, For the Love of Travel.

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