Lifting the lid on the hidden treasures and overlooked wonders on the road from Apollo Bay to Port Campbell and everywhere in between.
So you’ve driven the Great Ocean Road before. Snapped a selfie at the 12 Apostles and headed home. Sure, you probably had a great time, but we’re sorry to say you missed some of the best bits.
Here’s our cheat sheet to everything else that’s worth seeing on the Great Ocean Road between Apollo Bay and Port Campbell that will give you a new perspective on the legendary 12 Apostles.
Getting fresh in Apollo Bay
Laid back and down to earth, Apollo Bay might be on the well-worn Great Ocean Road tourist trail, but it’s still a working fishing village at heart. Head down to the working harbour and you can watch the fishing trawlers unload their catch. The port’s famous for its southern rock lobster (crayfish). Head up to Fisherman’s Co-op and treat yourself to a grilled lobster, chips and salad for half the price you’ll pay in a restaurant – served with a glorious harbour view. They also cook up fabulous feasts of scallops, snapper, octopus and super-fresh fish and chips. Stroll along the breakwater afterwards and you’ll probably spy a couple of wild seals sunning themselves at the end of the wharf or playing in the waves.
Scallops are the other Apollo Bay speciality and you can’t say you’ve done Apollo Bay until you’ve scoffed down a scallop pie from the bakery in the main street. For something a little more upmarket head upstairs to The Birdhouse, a brand-new restaurant for fine dining with equally fine views.
Or duck into the old post office for pizza and a flight of gins distilled in a gorgeous old copper still at the Apollo Bay Distillery – if you’re a gin lover you’ll love the grapefruit gin and the gin-blending masterclasses.
Shining a light on Cape Otway
Take a guided walk with a conservationist from Wildlife Wonders for a wildlife experience that actually makes a difference. Much more than just a wildlife park, this new social enterprise dedicated to monitoring, conservation, and restoration projects, has a focus on the local wildlife and fauna found in the forests of the Otways.
The 20-hectare property is protected with a predator-proof fence that keeps out cats and foxes, so it’s a great place to see wild koalas, potoroos, kangaroos and bandicoots, and even the endangered spotted quoll. Even better, all proceeds go directly into conservation.
The Lightstation at Cape Otway is not new – built in 1848 it’s actually the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia – but it’s one of those spots often bypassed in the rush to get to the 12 Apostles. It’s worth the 15-minute detour off the Great Ocean Road for the views alone – the 21-metre-high tower is perched on 90-metre-high cliffs overlooking the point where Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean meet and you can climb up to the top and step out onto the iron balcony that encircles the light.
The giant lead crystal lens is worth, in today’s money, more than $5 million. Stick around for one of the free history talks because it’s the stories behind the characters that lived and worked here – in the lighthouse, the telegraph station and the top secret radar station – and of the shipwrecks, ghosts and resident dinosaurs (yes really) that really shine. For a real taste of what life might have been like for the lighthouse ‘wicky’, stay overnight in the historic lightkeeper’s cottage.
Walks and waterfalls of the Otways
The Great Ocean Road might be famous for its great ocean views, but the lush rainforests of the Great Otway National Park are just as great – and because most travellers stay glued to the coast, it’s easy to find yourself in some pretty magical spots with hardly anyone else around. Maits Rest Rainforest Walk is only minutes off the Great Ocean Road (16 kilometres west of Apollo Bay), but it is next-level beautiful, with 300-year-old myrtle beech trees, towering tree ferns, rare meat-eating land snails (the Great Ocean Road is as weird as it is wonderful) and lots of glow worms.
You can see these spectacular 30-metre-high falls from above on a viewing platform, but it’s worth following the track through the rainforest to the fern-fringed pool at their base.
If Lord of the Rings had been filmed in Australia, this place would be one of the star locations. Chances are you will run into a film crew just a bit further down the road at The Redwoods. This silent forest of massive Californian redwoods beside the Aire River was planted in 1936 but has never been logged. Some of the trees are now more than 60 metres tall – it’s one of the most photogenic spots in the Otways.
Find yourself in Forrest
Another spot that locals love but most travellers don’t know about is Lake Elizabeth, platypus capital of the Otways. It’s near the township of Forrest. Surrounded by some of the prettiest (and gnarliest) mountain biking trails in the country, it’s the place to go if you like two-wheeled adventures.
Other reasons to spend time in Forrest include the Forrest Brewing Company – try the pork belly with sticky beer glaze or the ‘brewer’s board’ loaded with local produce – and Platypi Chocolates, where the hot chocolate is the bomb, literally; watch and drool as the hot choccie bomb slowly explodes in your mug. Don’t forget to call into the Forrest General Store before you leave – where else can you do a gin tasting while waiting for your takeaway toastie?
Otway Harvest Trail
Let your belly lead the way on the Otway Harvest Trail, a food-themed way to really explore the Great Ocean Road’s unsung treasures. There are more than 50 sites on the trail, mostly in the hinterland, and in this stretch between Apollo Bay and Port Campbell you’ll find plenty clustered around Timboon.
Start with some chocolate from Gorge Chocolates, then a cheese tasting at Apostle Whey Cheese, perhaps some fudge from Dairylicious, and definitely a stop at both the Timboon Railway Shed Distillery and The Timboon Ice Creamery.
If you’re self-catering, pick up some organic yoghurt at Schulz Organic Dairy. Shopping for breakfast supplies has never been this much fun.
Clifftop views and deserted secret beaches
The Great Ocean Road might be one of the most popular road trips in the country, but there are plenty of wild and beautiful places where even on busy days you’ll be able to walk the length of the beach and practically have the whole place to yourself.
You can also avoid the jostling masses at the 12 Apostles lookout by climbing down Gibson Steps (they are signposted just east of the main lookout). These steps are carved into the side of 70-metre-high cliff and lead down on to the beach and to the foot of two giant rock stacks, nicknamed Gog and Magog. It’s a completely different way to see the rocky formations the Great Ocean Road is famous for.
Port Campbell is just a 10-minute drive from the 12 Apostles, but many don’t make it that far. So they have no idea that it’s home to the Sow and Piglets (which is what the 12 Apostles were originally called) Microbrewery and gnocchi that has a cult following from Forage on the Foreshore – the rock lobster omelette is the breakfast of champions. You can also head here to see an underwater world of limestone pillars, canyons, caves in the Arches Marine Sanctuary that are every bit as impressive as the above-ground ones down the road.