I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published January 16th 2016
The Great Ocean Road is one of those places you have to do at least once before you die, and fortunately, if you're in Melbourne, it only takes a day trip to see it. But with so many sights to fit in and so much ground to cover, it's worth considering an organised tour (yes they're targeted at visitors, but who says Australians can't join these tours too?).
The iconic Twelve Apostles are the reason most people know about the Great Ocean Road (but did you know were only nine of them, and eight now that one has collapsed?)
My tour was for only a day, but there is also the option of staying overnight in Apollo Bay and joining up with a tour stopping by the next day. Most people don't chose to do so, but it does make some sense if you have time; the tour starts with pickups between 6.50am and 7.30am (from your hotel in the city if you are a visitor), while arrival at home is at around 9.00pm, so it's quite a long day.
Stops on the tour include all the major attractions along the Great Ocean Road, like Memorial Arch, Gibson Steps, the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge (I believe some tours see London Bridge instead of this last one), with commentary from the tour guide.
The Great Ocean Road was built by returned soldiers from WWI and the Memorial Arch is a tribute to their effort (this is the third incarnation of the arch). It is not the official beginning of the road (that's usually considered to be Torquay); more the sentimental start.
These high cliff faces and all the formations are found towards the end of the tour though. Before you get there you drive along the base of picturesque headlands, with some scenic famland thrown into the mix too.
Stops in the early stages of the tour include Kennett River, where you look for koalas (we spent almost too long here, since there were only three and they were right next to the car park, so we ended up feeding birds for the last ten minutes), and Maits Rest, where you take a walk through a cool temperature rainforest (one of the few places where our tour guide actually left the bus at a site and give us a tour of the area personally).
Kennett River is a really reliable spot to see wild koalas, but there's only so much time you can spend looking at such sedentary animals.
Morning tea and lunch are both covered in the price of the tour. The former is brought along on the bus and consists of tea and biscuits, while the latter is held at Iluka Restaurant in Apollo Bay. My tour went so long that we stopped for dinner on way home in Colac (the tour doesn't follow the Great Ocean Road on the way home, but cuts inland to save time) so you still may want to bring some of your own food however.
Sightseeing Tours Australia is not the only organisation that offers days tours along the Great Ocean Road, which you notice very quickly by the crowds at every attraction (a lot of them stopping at each attraction at the same time). If lots of people doesn't appeal to you, you can do the Reverse Tour (which does everything backwards and aims to visit places when the crowds have either not arrived yet, or already moved on). The other people didn't really bother me though. Quite the opposite in fact, as without them I never would have discovered the bird-feeding.
It is indeed a great trip. My husband and I did it under our own steam and made a long weekend of it staying at Apollo Bay. We also did the tree top walk, wandered off to see some lovely waterfalls, went on a short tour at Apollo Bay to see glow worms (it was awesome), and took a drive up to Port Fairy as well.