One of the world's most famous scenic drives, Australia's Great Ocean Road snakes 151 miles along the south-eastern coast between the cities of Torquay and Warrnambool in Victoria.
Tracing miles of scenic ocean-battered cliffs, weathered limestone towers and impressive arches set against the surf, the road offers access to numerous well-known landmarks as well as beautiful beaches, rainforests and waterfalls.
Most road travellers complete the Great Ocean Road (officially the “B100”) as part of a 400-mile loop out of Melbourne, or as part of the 600-mile coastal route all the way from Adelaide to Melbourne, which are Australia’s two closest major cities.
In the mid-1800s the coast was often navigated by ships from Europe, transporting convicts, colonists and gold diggers to Melbourne, many of which were probably ill-prepared for the ocean's ferocity – hence the original name for the area: “Shipwreck Coast”. Visitors today should also respect the strong natural forces that have helped shape this spectacular coastline -- paying attention to tide times and sea conditions on the shoreline. The sun can be fierce, too, so arm yourself with a good pair of sunglasses, a sun hat, some high SPF sun cream, and a generous supply of water.
Of the many spectacular tourist attractions found along the way, don't miss The Twelve Apostles. This cluster of limestone stacks juts out of the water just off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park, between Princetown and Peterborough, and is the road's most famous sight. Eroded by harsh weather, the soft limestone rocks were originally worn away into caves in the cliffs, which then became arches, which in turn collapsed and left rock stacks standing up to 45 metres high. A visitor centre provides information and directs tourists to board walks, tracks and viewing areas. Dawn is the ideal time to see the Apostles, offering up some spectacular photographic opportunities -- although sunset is also a popular time to visit.
Lots of tourists miss out on a trips to The Grotto after they visit the Twelve Apostles, but this sinkhole geological formation is well worth a look. A wooden staircase takes you down to a beautiful cave area under the cliffs, which is home to a big natural pool and several smaller ones.
Another top attraction is the Loch Ard Gorge, also part of Port Campbell National Park and only about a 10-minute drive west of The Twelve Apostles. It showcases coastal erosion in progress via a series of well-maintained trails, ranging in length from about 200 metres to two miles, each leading to stunning views of blow-holes, stacks and other bizarre rock formations such as the Razorback Island arch. You need at least three hours to take in the longer trails at a relaxed pace with plenty of stops for photos – and if you also want to browse some of the items retrieved from local shipwrecks, you'll need drive about 6 miles west to Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre where there is an excellent display of artefacts.