By Andrew Rasch
Published: Thursday, August 3, 2023
In Victoria’s South West your troubles seem to melt away, like ice cream in your hands. It’s a place that draws you in, etching itself in your mind until you’re counting the days before your next visit.
This corner of Victoria satisfies the most demanding of nature lovers, with its roaring, misty waterfalls, thundering surf crashing onto deserted beaches, and lush green forests. It’s also home to the 240km Great Ocean Road, which attracts thousands of Aussie tourists and overseas travellers each week.
Weaving through a coastal array of sand dunes, native scrub, and spring wildflowers, before entering dense forests, the Great Ocean Road offers plenty to do and see. Along the drive, there’s easy viewing access to ancient limestone and sandstone rock formations including London Arch, Loch Ard Gorge, The Grotto, and the world-famous Twelve Apostles.
You’ll have ample choice for places to rest your weary head in South West Victoria, from caravan parks to luxury beachfront houses. For the adventurous, there’s hiking, kayaking, biking, and more. If you’re a foodie, you’ll find dining options galore, superb coffee and wine, and cleansing craft brews.
Winter is a perfect time to visit. The lakes are brimming, the waterfalls are streaming, and there’s the aroma of fresh rain.
Brush off your walking shoes, grab your parka and beanie, and transport yourself to this magical place.
1. Port Fairy
About 154km from Mount Gambier, the fishing town of Port Fairy was established in 1843. With historic ties to whaling, it’s home to nearly 4000 people, and won the Victorian Top Tourism Town award in 2021.
Walking is one of the best ways to see Port Fairy. Wander among the 19th-century village landscapes and admire the bluestone buildings along one of the heritage trails on your way to Martin’s Point. Cross the causeway and stroll around Griffiths Island. You’ll see beautiful beaches, native animals – like swamp wallabies or short-tailed shearwaters (muttonbirds) – and a lighthouse, built in 1859, that’s now solar-powered.
Yambuk, only a 10-minute drive from Port Fairy, is home to a 33m giant beach slide. Climb to the top and enjoy the panoramic views before you hurl yourself down through the sand dunes. Bring your fishing rod and try to catch some black bream or estuary perch, fresh from Lake Yambuk.
For dinner, book a table at Port Fairy’s busy Coffin Sally for a tasty pizza, washed down with a local ale or refreshing cocktail.
2. Apollo Bay
After a caffeine pick-me-up at one of Port Fairy’s trendy cafés, drive 185 kilometres – stopping at the Great Ocean Road’s rocky attractions along the way – until you reach the picture-perfect seaside town of Apollo Bay. Located between the Otway Ranges and the Southern Ocean, Apollo Bay is a postcard that’s come alive.
Take a leisurely walk along the beach, where you might be lucky enough to see a seal lazing in the shallows. If you want a thrill, head to Otway Fly Treetop Adventures and traverse the 25m-high walkway through the rainforest canopy. Climbing the 47m-tall Spiral Tower along the way might make you weak in the knees. But if heights don’t bother you, there’s also an adrenaline-pumping zipline tour where you can fly along a series of cables 30m above the forest floor.
For a truly spectacular hiking experience, tackle a section of the Great Ocean Walk. At 110km long, it’ll take you eight days to do the whole thing, but if you only have a few hours, drive to the Cape Otway Lighthouse – the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia. From there, walk about 5km through coastal scrub and across rocky cliff tops to the gorgeous and wonderfully remote Station Beach. This beach is so secluded that you might only have to share it with some penguins.
The winding, 46km stretch from Apollo Bay to Lorne is our favourite part of the Great Ocean Road. It’s often busy, but if ever there’s a place to be stuck in traffic, this is it. Try to share the driving duties, so it’s not just your passengers having all the fun soaking up the incredible views.
Stop along the way to explore the rock pools and creeks, or head straight to the Erskine Falls car park, 10 minutes from the Lorne foreshore. These popular waterfalls sit among thick forest and towering tree ferns, and they’re well worth the 30-minute return trip from the car park.
On your way back to Lorne, stop at the Blanket Leaf Picnic Area for a bite. If you’re in the mood for a challenging walk, take the track through the rainforest to Cora Lynn Cascades, and admire the water surging over the exposed shale ledges. On the way back, look out for an echidna or two shuffling through the undergrowth.
Back in town, relax on the lawn while you eat your delicious, salty fish and chips (ask for a potato cake in Victoria, not a potato fritter) and watch surfers at the famous Lorne Main Beach in Loutit Bay.
After lunch, take a short drive to Teddy’s Lookout for unrivalled views of Bass Strait and the Great Ocean Road. Walk the short distance from the car park (keep an eye out for koalas) and watch the surf breaking into the mouth of the St George River, or gaze at the mountainous peaks towering over the fern-covered valleys.