Leaving Wilsons Promontory behind, we headed for the road we had heard so much about, Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. As we travelled out of the Prom we passed through the small towns of Yanake and Fish Creek, then heading west through the larger towns of Leongatha, Korumburra and Loch. Rather than driving through the big smoke and rush of Melbourne and Geelong, we instead detoured south, down into the picturesque Mornington Peninsula.
Driving through a maze of little country roads and vineyards, we arrived in the rural town of Red Hill for lunch and to stock up on more local produce and groceries. Making our way further down the peninsula, we came to the seaside town of Sorrento, a thriving tourist town with a gorgeous long timber pier extending out across turquoise coloured waters. We had booked passage on a ferry for our car and boat to cross Port Phillip Bay, from Sorrento to Queenscliff. This half hour ferry trip gave us a rest from driving and the opportunity to see the historic town of Queenscliff, a place with so much character, enticing shop fronts, heritage hotels and delightful eateries, all beckoning me to explore them as we passed.
From Queenscliff driving south-west through Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads, by mid afternoon we had reached Torquay and the beginning of the 253km stretch of the Great Ocean Road. We stopped briefly at Bells Beach to take a peek at its world-renowned surfing break. I was tempted to take my surfboard off the roof and catch a few waves, but Mr G and the adventurer were keen to press on. It began to get quite windy as we wound around the continual twists and turns, following the road as it ran alongside the ocean and rugged coastline for many, many kilometres. Every half hour or so, a decent-sized town would appear Anglesea, Aireys Inlet (where we spotted the towering Split Point Lighthouse) and then the largest town of all Lorne. Further on smaller, more secluded spots appeared such as Wye River and Kennet River. These offered a chance to pull over off the road, take a break and grab a bite to eat from their character filled general stores. They also looked lovely locations for quiet camping.
Our next stop was Skenes Creek, just 4km before reaching Apollo Bay, and we camped there for three nights. Camping next to a small, secluded beach at Skenes Creek was definitely a hidden treasure. We ate pancakes for breakfast, walked and fished on the beach. The camping ground was a step back in time, a no frills experience but charming, with a very retro-looking laundry. It was a timely pause to catch up on dirty washing and change a boat trailer tyre that was worn to a thread after navigating such a long stretch of road with many turns and bends. We had the unique pleasure of watching some friendly fellow campers cook a whole glazed duck in their Webber barbeque and had our first dinner out in two weeks at an Italian restaurant in Apollo Bay. The town of Apollo Bay is midway along the majestic Great Ocean Road, in the shelter of Cape Otway and on the lowest slopes of the magnificent Otway Ranges. A small fishing fleet still operates out of the harbour. The colourful, weathered timber boats bring in a daily haul of local seafood, that is sold at the Fisherman’s Co-Op (Co- Operative) and served in the many restaurants and cafes located within the town. Apollo Bay is a popular overnight stop for tourists travelling the Great Ocean Road and a great family holiday destination with boating, fishing, surf beaches and magnificent bushwalks in the nearby rainforests.
Refreshed and repaired from our stay at Skenes Creek, we were ready to keep driving west along this scenic coastal road to our next destination. We barely got started (when just 20km out of Apollo Bay) we took a brief detour south off the main drag down Lighthouse Road and into the Great Otway National Park. This stretch of road is known for an opportunity to see koalas up close in their natural habitat. As we made our way along the road we saw many cars parked awkwardly on the side of the road and people standing at the edge of the forest looking up into the trees. We stopped as well and spotted many sleeping koalas in the high forks of eucalyptus branches, and others more active, busily munching on eucalyptus leaves and having a stretch and scratch in the sunshine. These furry creatures were fascinating to watch. At the end of Lighthouse Road, sits Cape Otway Light Station perched on towering cliffs where Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean collide. It is Australia’s oldest surviving lighthouse, built in 1848. Although the light station is no longer functional being replaced by a solar-operated light signal some years back, the original building still stands. It was a grand sight, with its stone construction, painted white with a classy red trim. We were able to go inside and climb the internal spiral stairs to the top. The views of the ocean and surrounding coast seen from the narrow balcony at the top were spectacular.
Continuing along the winding road west towards Lavers Hill, the landscape changed. We could no longer see the ocean by our side, rather for the next 50km we drove through timbered forest. The little town of Princetown with a classic Australian post office and general store is worth a quick detour, before you take in the following stretch of coastline. A few kilometres further on are the iconic golden cliffs and crumbling pillars of The Twelve Apostles. This collection of limestone stacks off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park, are both awe-inspiring and mesmerising to observe. We only stopped there for an hour, although I could have stood and looked at them for much longer. Then further along this stretch of road there were more rock formations and gorges just as grand to stop and admire. We enjoyed brunch in the scenic town of Port Campbell, another popular holiday destination with a sheltered beach and a protected bay and wharf for boating. We were nearing the end of the Great Ocean Road and felt thankful we had taken a few days to travel this stretch and absorb all it offers to the traveller passing by. The towns of Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland followed, and as we left Southern Victoria the South Australian border loomed within our reach. We were looking forward to another new landscape to explore.
Unlike our time at the Prom and along the Great Ocean Road where cooler temperatures prevailed, South Australia was hot in December, a 39°C dry heat. As we crossed the border at Mount Gambier the blanket of heat hit us hard, as did a welcome party of loud, enthusiastic, invasive, blowflies. An overnight camp in the seaside town of Robe was a welcome relief, where a southerly breeze and a dip in the sea out the front of our campsite cooled us down. Later that evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner out – prawn, pancetta and pineapple pizza. Early the next morning we continued the scenic drive up the Limestone Coast that stretches from the Victorian Border to the Coorong National Park. We passed by a narrow ribbon of saline wetlands, saltpans, coastal dunes and wild ocean beaches with the occasional pop of colour of roadside signs offering fresh fish, rabbit and kangaroo. We had planned to take a break from the tent for a couple of nights. After fourteen nights in a row of camping and driving long distances, we were going to spoil ourselves. We booked three nights in a gorgeous heritage-listed farm cottage in McLaren Vale on the Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia, we couldn’t wait to get there!
© Excerpt from Our Delicious Adventure - Recipes and Stories of Food and Travel by Jane Grover