If you thought the best bits of a Great Ocean Road trip are the ones beside the sea, you’ve been doing it all wrong, writes Lee Atkinson.
The Great Ocean Road might be famous for the coast-hugging section between Lorne and the 12 Apostles, but the entire region is laced with stunning road trips that hardly anyone, other than the lucky locals who live there, knows about and even fewer travellers take the time to drive.
Those that do, quickly realise they’ve found gold. Here’s our pick of five of the best (click to read more).
Lorne to Birregurra
Resist the urge to hit the road after a big breakfast, because this is one road trip best done on an empty stomach.
It takes roughly 45 minutes to drive the C151/152, a lovely winding road that twists through the rainforest hinterland behind Lorne to Birregurra.
But once you’re there you’ll be glad you didn’t eat and drive because this tiny little country village, home to about 828, has some seriously good places to eat.
Brae is a true destination diner, Victoria’s best regional restaurant and one of only two Australian restaurants to make it into the world’s top 100.
But it’s also home to Yield restaurant – and Yield Provisions if you’d rather some really fancy takeaway or picnic fare to eat in the park, as well as several other great cafes in the main street.
Gluten-free? Otway Artisan has you covered with flaky, crusty treats, both sweet and savoury.
Not all great drives are long drives. The 15-minute detour from the Great Ocean Road down to the Light Station at Cape Otway is one that often gets overlooked in the rush to get to the 12 Apostles an hour further down the road.
Those that do turn south, about 20 kilometres west of Apollo Bay, soon find themselves immersed in a woodland of towering trees: mountain ash are the world’s tallest flowering plants, and driving through a forest of these giants is guaranteed to change your perspective.
But it’s not just the drive that makes this such a special little road trip: the lighthouse on the cape is the oldest surviving one on mainland can do.
Built 90 metres above the churning sea, the view from the top is breathtaking, in more ways than one.
Lavers Hill to Forrest
There are many fabulous hinterland drives that wind though the Otway forests, but this one, which follows the C159 from Lavers Hill on the Great Ocean Road though the hamlet of Beech Forest and the C119 north to the township of Forrest is a doozie.
It’s less than 60 kilometres and sealed all the way but will take you twice as long as you expect. It’s narrow and twisty, so you need to take it slow and be prepared to move over if you meet an oncoming vehicle, but it’s worth the concentration, because it is incredibly scenic.
Most of it is deep within the rainforest, so expect to see lots of giant tree ferns and luxuriously lush undergrowth.
Stretch your legs along the way at Hopetoun Falls – one of the most beautiful cascades in the region – and in the Redwood Forest beside the Aire River, or take a walk through the treetops on an elevated walkway (or ride the zipline if you dare) at Otway Fly.
Make it a loop and treat yourself to a meal at The Perch in Lavers Hill on the way back – the restaurant is the highest point on the Great Ocean Road and almost everything on the menu is sourced from local farms and suppliers.
You don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy this food-themed scenic drive across the lush pastures and hilly hinterland of the Great Ocean Road behind the 12 Apostles, which loops up to Timboon and back via Simpson on the C166.
But if you do like to eat and drive – or even if you’re just keen to stock the world’s best picnic basket – you’ll love every minute of this road trip.
Pick up an 12 Apostles Food Artisan Trail map from the visitors centre in Port Campbell before you go and follow the trail to cheesemakers, a chocolatier, fudge maker, whisky distiller, strawberry grower and ice cream artist.
The driving will take roughly an hour but allow plenty of time for taste testing, picking and chatting to the producers along the way. And wear your best stretchy pants.
Lake View Road, Tower Hill
Another shortie but one that you’ll remember for much longer – after all, how often do you drive inside the rim of a dormant volcano?
It last erupted, they think, about 32,000 years ago. The crater has since filled with water, and it became a national park in 1892, making it one of the oldest in Victoria.
To get there via the scenic route, take the Koroit-Port Fairy Road (turn off the Princes Highway east of Port Fairy) and then follow Lake View Road around the rim before winding down to the wildlife reserve and visitor information centre in the middle of the crater.
It’s rich in Indigenous history, crowded with wildlife and laced with walking tracks.
Join a guided walk with an Indigenous guide from Worn Gundidj at Tower Hill for a different view: there are bush and nature tours during the day as well as nocturnal wildlife walks.
You could easily spend the best part of a day here – especially if you’ve got any of those goodies you picked up on the 12 Apostles Artisan Trail.