A Three-Day Great Ocean Road Trip From Adelaide to Melbourne
Our plans to do the Great Ocean Road before leaving Australia weren’t exactly extensive. In fact they came about after I checked flight prices from Adelaide to our first stop in Singapore and realised that we could get flights for $700 AUD cheaper if we left from Melbourne. From there it was a case of checking car rental prices, prices for accommodation and calculating that we’d break even or come in even a bit cheaper if we took a couple of days to drive to Melbourne. From there is was a matter of remembering that one of Australia’s most stunning drives was on that route and that it might be an idea to see it since we have no idea when we’ll be coming back through this way again.
We’d have three days to get to Adelaide to Melbourne after handing in our keys, the question was, how we’d schedule our time so we got the most from our trip. In the end we decided on the following schedule:
Night Before Leaving Adelaide:
We planned to leave on a Saturday, so the night before we decided to take in a spectacular performance at the Adelaide Town Hall by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Our friends Shirin and Martin play violin and viola in the orchestra, which made it extra special and once sitting in the audience, we realized we’d found an untapped bunch of eccentrics way too late! There was the lovely Roderick, dressed in a full three-piece tweed suit and who was sporting his mother’s antique opera glasses, another wonderful octogenarian wearing spangly tights who whispered to me that she wore them inside out so they ‘wouldn’t be too sparkly’ and another lady who sat near us in the audience who spent the entire performance of The Pines Of Rome sucking loudly on a boiled sweet only to reprimand a man who coughed once. And, as anyone who has heard a live performance of The Pines of Rome, you’ll know how loud you have to be sucking on that sweet to be heard over the trumpets! She was so indignant about the coughing man that she turned into a parody of herself. But overall the music was what had us staying awake despite being so exhausted after handing back the keys on our rental property and cleaning all that morning. The ASO was in amazing form and the Town Hall was such a brilliant venue to see them. If anyone’s going to be in Adelaide, even for a day, see if you can get to one of their performances. They do a really interesting and varied program. Recently they played the entire Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire soundtrack to the film, (they did the same with The Empire Strikes Back too!) I’ve been a fan for years because they’ve had a long-running collaboration with my favourite Australian hip hop band, The Hilltop Hoods. Follow this link here to hear some of the magic on Spotify or watch the video below. I’m not sure if our friends Shirin or Martin were playing in this video, but they’ve said they loved being a part of the collaboration.
Day One: Adelaide to Warrnambool
There’s an argument to be made for a longer drive along the South Australian coast through Robe, but we decided to drive the inland route direct to Warrnambool where the Great Ocean Road begins. I’d done the drive before and have to say it’s a lot more interesting nowadays. The miles and miles of straight road through endless stretches of edge-of-Outback sheep and cattle grazing land are definitely still there, but if you fill your cheek pouches at the start of the trip at a brilliant little cafe on the outskirts of Adelaide, you’ll be in the right mood to view it through a positive lens and can’t go wrong.
You could opt to have breakfast in Hahndorf, a picturesque German town around 20 minutes from the Adelaide CBD, but knowing that outside of the always-wonderful Seasonal Garden Cafe, Hahndorf is best for lunch and wanting an earlier start, we had breakfast and Melon and Rye on Adelaide’s outskirts. I can’t say enough good things about this little cafe. I should have taken a couple of pictures of our food but quite honestly, we were too busy eating! They do excellent coffee, fantastic vegan and vegetarian options, if that’s your thing, and an absolutely delightful full sausage and mash breakfast for the carnivores out there. Guessing we might be stuck for food options later on in the drive, we grabbed a cold brew coffee to go and couple of croissants for the road.
Places of note along the drive:
Make a point of stopping at Coonalpyn for a coffee and to see the painted silos. They’re really spectacular and come as a shock given the flat drive to get there. There are a bunch of little cafes along the main road, all taking advantage of the customers who stop for the view but I’d highly recommend the first cafe you see as you come into town. It’s small, charming and does good coffee.
As we’d been driving we’d been overtaken a number of times by a couple of bikies with gang patches. When we got to Coonalpyn we stepped into the cafe to find them having their lunch, talking to a couple of local fire fighters, generally chatting about the weather and being polite human beings. Their lunch looked great and the coffee we ordered was good. I figured any place bikies would go to would have to have good coffee! (Although assumptions have led me to bad coffee before!)
After admiring the silos we kept going only to find ourselves in the Padthaway wine region, a wine region we’d never heard of, but the rest of the world definitely benefits from. A bunch of the big-hitters of Australian wine had vineyards there and the vines definitely livened up the scenery.
The rest of the drive went quite quickly and before we knew it, we were in Victorian cow country and driving through Warrnambool’s outskirts.
Day One Evening:
We ended up arriving in Warrnambool a little later than expected due to a rather inventive ‘detour’. Our sat nav has been nicknamed Gladys and she was sworn at thoroughly once we ended up on a small road in country Victoria that I swear I’ve seen before in the early Mad Max movies. We were booked in to stay at The Lighthouse Lodge, a gorgeous cottage by the sea that I was pretty alarmed to learn needed a 5pm checkin. We could of course have called ahead if I’d actually read the information on my Laterooms.com sheet and they would have been fully entitled to tell us to take a flying leap off some of the nearby spectacular cliffs, but we were lucky enough to be checked in after hours but they also gave us a room upgrade and tickets to the sound and light show at the nearby heritage village that evening.
I’d read a bunch about the sound and light show. It was one of the things that cinched the deal with us staying in Warrnambool, but knowing how these things could be either mega bad or surprisingly good, I was somewhat worried it would be the former. I needn’t have been. It was fantastic and I’d recommend it to anyone doing the Great Ocean Road. In fact I’d say you’re missing out on a huge amount of context for the scenery you’ll be seeing on the road if you don’t. The show goes for an hour and it was a windy rainy night when we saw it, which made it even better. It’s comprised of a bunch of mixed media, from some great footage projected onto a water fountain to more footage on a projector. The entire thing is interactive and focusses firstly on the Dream Time stories of the local indigenous people and then shifts to the history of whaling on Victoria’s south coast, before moving on to the history of the wreck of the Loch Ard. We enjoyed every minute of it and the wind and rain meant that the whole thing felt even more real, as did the entirely disinterested ducks that swum around on the pond where the film was being projected, no doubt used to ships going down every other night. The only caveat I’d add is that if you do see the show, make sure you’ve got some warm clothes because it was cold.
Day 2: The Great Ocean Road
I knew this drive would be fantastic but it was so much better than expected. Most people know the Great Ocean Road from the pictures of the Twelve Apostles, but anyone who’s just taking a day-trip down from Melbourne for the day to just see this one sight is kind of missing out. While spectacular, the Twelve Apostles are only a small part of this breathtaking patch of Australia.
The pictures you see before you do this drive just don’t cut it. The best recommendation I could give is stop at every single pull-in between Warnambool and the Twelve Apostles. I mean every one. You won’t regret it. The first few sights, The Bay of Islands and The Grotto (the cover image for this post) are jaw-dropping, and I don’t say that lightly. This is Australia at its most beautiful and you’ve got to take the time to enjoy it. Take pictures, sure, but I’d really recommend you don’t pull out your phone or camera for at least five to ten minutes after arriving at each spot and just take in the view.
The Loch Ard wreck site was an absolute highlight after going to the light show the night before in Warrnambool and there’s no way we would have appreciated it as much without the context. We wandered around the place, amazed that anyone had survived the wreck or had managed to scale the cliffs to get help. And just looking out into the sea and seeing all the rocks under the water made us question why the hell anyone would be sailing a ship through those waters in the first place.
There was the only glitch in our travels. A lover of a good coffee, Tony had experienced a series of dire coffees all day whenever we stopped. And we’re not coffee snobs. Not really. Nescafe is fine but if you’re at a series of cafes advertising the best coffee in Victoria and charging for it, you kind of expect the coffee to be good. After the third bevvy that we could smell coming at least three metres away, (And not in a good way. Imagine burnt drain cleaner.), Tony cracked and swore he wouldn’t have another one until we got to Melbourne and has put in a special request that I warn everyone driving from Warrnambool to Lorne not to pay crazy tourist prices for crappy brew. Take a thermos of instant coffee, it’ll be better and you won’t feel like your insides have been scoured by Draino.
We ended our day in a beautiful little cottage set in the bush in Apollo Bay. It was a cold night and the fireplace was cosy, the bed was warm and the parrots hanging out in the eves were adorable. We ended up going to bed super early, listening to rain on the roof and talking about our day. I remember Tony saying just before we went to sleep “Remember when we drove the Great Ocean Road?” I should have said something profound but I think I hit him with my pillow and passed out.
Day Three: Apollo Bay to Melbourne
After the drive the day before, we weren’t sure if there was going to be anything to see on the way to Melbourne that would match what we’d experienced the day before but we weren’t disappointed. There weren’t really many places to stop, but the scenery is beautiful—rugged sea cliffs, a big surly ocean and huge skies, you can’t go wrong. Take the coast road and stop in Lorne for a coffee or lunch. It’s a gorgeous beach town with a really laid back vibe. If the weather’s good, go for a swim and if it’s not hang out in one of the many coffee shops or check out their excellent independent book shop in the main street.
After Lorne, you’ve got a choice, you can either drive directly to Melbourne or take the coastal route. It’s up to you. We decided to head to Anglesea and then directly to Melbourne for our overnight stay in a kitchy Southbank warehouse apartment for the night where we went out for a pint and then came home to collapse!