It’s fair to say the 12 Apostles are the true icons of the Great Ocean Road.
And, with good reason. They are mighty and their world-renowned reputation well deserved.
It also makes total sense why most visitors turn north just past Warrnambool and track up towards the Grampians following along the Great Southern Touring Route.
But, if you have the time, I really recommend continuing along the coastline west of Warrnambool some time.
This stretch of the Great Ocean Road is much less visited than the icons to the east, but rewards the intrepid traveller with some incredible sights and truly unique locations.
These are my personal favourites:
This little seaside village is a delight. It’s very easy for time to melt away as you stare out across the beautiful beach. There is actually a cafe right-on-the-beach which makes the perfect place for a scenic coffee and chat.
After your tea or coffee it’s time to drive on to the Petrified Forest and the Blowholes on the other side of the cape.
You almost need to pinch yourself once you start walking amongst these amazing lunar-like landscapes. Just to check you are still on earth and haven’t slipped through some vortex and landed on the moon. It’s like nothing else I have seen on my travels anywhere in the world. The forest is actually a collection of sandstone stacks that have been hollowed out over millions of years by rainwater.
Tip: The Bridgewater Blowholes are a great spot to watch the power of the ocean below you. An excellent boardwalk and viewing platform have been constructed but hold on to your hat! It can be seriously windy as the wind howls in from the ocean. Watching the waves crash into the rocks below is mesmerizing. It’s only about a five-minute walk from the ‘forest’ to the blowholes.
This amazing sight, only minutes west of Warrnambool, is one of Australia’s most unique locations formed more than 30,000 years ago by a series of volcanic eruptions. This landscape may have been shaped by violent beginnings, but today it’s a place of nature, stillness and calm. The sweeping views across the crater are jaw-dropping.
A network of short walks fan out across the reserve and I really recommend doing one or two. They are a great way to absorb your surroundings. Some are dead flat whilst others have some steeper sections. You’re likely to spot animals such as koalas, emus, kangaroos, wallabies and echidnas as you wander. You can do both self-guided and guided tours.
Tip: Visit the on-site visitor centre, which has incredible environmental and cultural displays, organises guided tours and also provides a fascinating insight into how our First Peoples lived off these lands.
First up a warning: you might not want to leave! This quiet regional town has so much going for it. It’s obvious that over time there has been great care taken to preserve the heritage of Port Fairy, and much of the early 20th Century architecture still remains.
The true ‘hero’ here though is water. The tranquil Moyne River on one side of the town and Port Fairy Bay on the other. If you wander along the eastern side of the river you can access the beautiful beaches of Port Fairy Bay directly. Choosing the western side will lead you the Port Fairy Coastal Reserve and Griffiths Island. The marina area packed with impressive yachts is also a great spot to visit and linger taking in the views.
Tip: The lighthouse on Griffiths Island is a must-see. Built in 1859 it makes for a great photo stop. Early and late in the day keep an eye out too for wallabies hopping about the island.
The regional city of Portland makes a great base to explore the region and further west. There are plenty of excellent accommodation options to choose from including the Henty Bay Beachfront Holiday Park where I stayed. This is a great-value-for-money option with many cabins facing directly out towards the ocean. If there is a site in Victoria with better views I’d be keen to see it. A woke up to a simply amazing sunrise and star-gazed in the evening with almost zero light-pollution to contend with. A great budget option.
The highlight of my time in Portland was Cape Nelson. A very short drive out of the city. Here you can walk a section of the Great South West Walk and stare out towards Bass Strait as it crashes into the cliffs below you. You may even get to see mighty Blue Whales in summer and Southern Rights in winter so keep an eye out!
Tip: The Cape Nelson Lighthouse has stood for more than 150 years and is still in operation today. There are guided tours; just book ahead. The lighthhouse keepers cottages have also been recently renovated. As a history buff I loved my time here!
This small holiday town is only two kilometres from the South Australian border. For a small village it packs a punch in terms of attractions!
Nelson is a place that is all about the outdoors and interacting with nature. Walking and hiking, fishing, boating, canoeing and swimming. You can also visit the Margaret Rose Caves a short drive away. The town is also the gateway to the stunning Glenelg National Park which encompasses more than 27000 hectares of pristine wilderness. Or if you prefer the beach there is an incredible 45 km stretch of white sands stretching all the way back to Cape Bridgewater to explore!
The real icon of Nelson though is the Glenelg River. It is as mighty as the Murray and is truly a little known gem.
If you are tempted to stay the night – and why not, you are almost 700kms from Melbourne after all – you can’t do better than The Deck at Nelson. A great holiday home perfect for one or two families to enjoy together. This was sunset during my stay from the expansive deck. What about that view of the river!
Moonscapes, volcanic craters, azure blue waters, white sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, small towns and villages and wonderful scenery reward the traveller that doesn’t turn north at Warrnambool.
After my experience I highly recommend adding a road trip west of Warrnambool to your Victorian ‘must do’ list. You won’t regret it!
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawuurung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Ancestors, past present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.