Written by: Matt Newkirk
Destination: Victoria, Australia
Visited: March 2019
Winding along a rugged stretch of Australia’s southern Victorian coast, the Great Ocean Road is just an hour and a half away from downtown Melbourne. The twists and turns of the road reveal some of the most picturesque ocean views to be seen anywhere on Earth. The sea here is fierce, and the waves beat against the red rock cliffs that line the shore. Huge pinnacles and arches jut out of the sea, providing evidence of the ocean’s sheer power to eat away at the shore.
We are exploring the Great Ocean Road in a Spaceships campervan Our vehicle is the perfect size for the journey, as it’s small enough to easily handle the winding curves of the road, while still being big enough to provide a comfortable place to sleep at our campsite. We are fully equipped with a table, chairs and two gas camp stoves, so we can take full advantage of the many day-use areas along the coast.
Scenic overlook on The Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia
The Great Ocean Road was built by soldiers returning home from WWI between 1919 and 1932. Before the creation of the 150 mile stretch of road, the south coast of Victoria was only accessible by turbulent seas, and rough bush trails.
The seas here are so fierce that this stretch of coastline has earned the nickname “The Shipwreck Coast”. There are 638 known ships wrecked along the coastline. As you tour the Great Ocean Road, be sure to keep an eye out for information placards which tell the stories of some of the approximately 240 shipwrecks that have been found along the treacherous coast. You can also download this guide which describes many of the wrecks, and where they are.
Anchor from the Marie Gabrielle which sunk in 1869
One of the best places to spot shipwrecks along the Great Ocean Road is Wreck Beach. Located about 40 minutes south of Port Campbell, the remains of the Fiji (1875 – 1891) and Marie Gabrielle (1864 – 1869) can be found here. From the parking lot, you have to climb down about 400 steep steps, then walk to your right for just under a mile to reach the anchors and wenches that can be seen buried in the sand and limestone at low tide.
Split-Point Lighthouse was first lit in 1891
To combat the plague of shipwrecks along the south coast of Victoria, several lighthouses were built in the mid twentieth century. Most of the lighthouse grounds are open to the public, although some charge absorbent fees for a visit.
Built in 1846, the Cape Otway Lightstation sits at the southernmost point of the shipwreck coast. It was in use until the 1990’s, making it the longest active service lighthouse in Australia. Unfortunately, you can’t even look at the lighthouse without paying $20 to enter the locked gates. We weren’t alone in thinking that this is a total rip-off; four other groups besides ours left after seeing the admission price. To put this in perspective, this is about the same as the admission cost of the Louvre in Paris. Unless Leonardo Da Vinci painted the outside of the lighthouse, twenty bucks per person is too much.
The Split Point Lighthouse, built in 1891, is an impressive tower looking over a beautiful stretch of coastline. Those who are traveling on a budget will be happy to know that it is completely free to visit. There is a nice wooden overlook which provides an excellent viewing platform for the lighthouse and surrounding beaches.
Wild Koala, Cape Otway
Compared with Australia’s northern States, Victoria provides a much higher chance of seeing wild koalas. The Great Ocean Road is home to quite a few koala populations. Koalas sleep for up to 20 hours a day and are usually found high up in the branches of eucalyptus trees. As you explore the many stops along the road, be sure to look upwards to spot the lazy furballs.
Cape Otway is one of the best places to spot wild koalas. The thick eucalyptus forest surrounding the road to the lighthouse is known to be full of the little buggers. If you see a group of people stopped along the road looking skyward, odds are they are staring at a koala or two.
Kennet River is well known as a spot to see wild koalas. The best place to look for them is in the trees next to the Koala café, and behind the Kennett River Holiday Park. If you want to really have a close encounter with wild koalas, you might consider staying in the caravan park. The place was clean, and affordable, with great amenities. You can also see a variety of colourful parrots hanging out in the trees with the koalas.
The 12 Apostles, Victoria, Australia
At high tide, many of the beaches along the Great Ocean Road completely disappear, leaving the waves beating into the sheer rocky cliffs. Over time the waves have carved pillars, arches and gorges, adding stunning natural features along the shore, which makes for an ideal playground for landscape photographers. The most famous formations are all surrounding the small town of Port Campbell.
Originally called “The Sow and Piglets”, this group of pinnacles somehow became knows as the 12 Apostles, despite only ever having nine towers. The ninth was lost to erosion in 2005, so today, eight limestone pillars can be seen from the free crowded lookout. Come around mid-morning for the best light for photography.
Loch Ard Gourge, Victoria, Australia
Named after a famous shipwreck, the Loch Ard Gourge is a picturesque little beach with a small cave. When the Loch Ard sailing vessel wrecked just outside of the gourge in 1878, only two of the 50 plus passengers survived. They found shelter in the cave and revived themselves by drinking brandy that had washed ashore in the wreck.
London Bridge Arch, Victoria, Australia
The London Bridge Arch is a small offshore natural archway cut by the pounding waves at the beach. There is a short walk leading to an overlooking boardwalk platform for photography and viewing.
The Grotto, Victoria, Australia
The Grotto is a small natural cave leading to the sea. The short trail leads down to a walled-off viewing area, which allows for great photos, but there is no access to the cave itself.
Sunset on Wreck Beach, Victoria, Australia
The road along the coastline is literally littered with caravan and campervan campgrounds. Here are a few of our favorites.
This campervan campground is situated next to a protected estuary that is filled with wild birds. A large troupe of kangaroos regularly visits the campgrounds in the early morning and late afternoon to chow down on the healthy grass in the campground. There are a lot of nice and private areas to park your campervan with views of the estuary. The campgrounds have pretty good, but well-seasoned amenities, including toilets, showers, a camp kitchen, and even a sad looking (but functional) washing machine. The proximity to the 12 Apostles rock formation makes this a great base to explore The Great Ocean Road. We paid AUD $20 per night for two people. The campground doesn’t have drinking water, but you can fill up your tanks in nearby Port Campbell at the Lifesaving Club Day Use Area. Luckily, our Spaceships campervan came with a large water storage container.
Conveniently located near downtown Port Campbell, this campervan campground has great amenities. With showers, toilets, a camp kitchen, washer, dryer, and drinking water, your stay here is sure to be comfortable. The fact that you can just stroll down the lane into the charming town of Port Campbell is a definite plus. The Sow and Piglets https://sowandpiglets.com/ hostel and brewery is cranking out some awesome craft beer, and $10 pizzas. The camp sites are open and close together, but that’s the price you pay for great amenities and convenience. Sites will set you back AUD $10 per person per night.
Scenic overlook, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
This Caravan park has its very own population of resident koalas. This can make it a bit busy during the day, as it is well known as one of the best places to spot the lazy furballs. Located next to the popular Koala Café in Kennett River, this site has everything that you could want, except drinking water. The amenities are downright luxurious, and you can even pick up groceries and supplies in the café and general store right next door. If you are up for a cold swim, a lovely public beach is just across the main road. Be sure to get there early though, as supplies can run out due to the visitors stopping by, hoping the get a glimpse of the koala population. AUD $35 for two people in an unpowered site.