About an one hour drive from Melbourne in the south of state Victoria starts a 243 km road, that was built by the surviving soldiers of World War I. During this time the settlements in the south west of Victoria were only accessible by boat or tough roads. Those who survived came back to Australia and were in duty to build a road, that would connect the bushland to the cities. Together they build the longest war memorial in the world – The Great Ocean Road.
To experience the south of State Victoria to the fullest and allow as much time as possible in the area, we joined a 2 day roadtrip tour starting in Melbourne.
Our guide Steve picked us up at around 6 am in the morning at our hostel. He probably had three coffees already, as he was all smiles and highly engaged. I was still sleeping and awoke somewhere on the freeway outside of Melbourne.
The sheer power of the Ocean and the harsh weather conditions have hit the coast for centuries and that gives the coast today’s unique look. Stunning vertical limestone cliffs, a lush rainforest and little coastal towns, where you find some of Australia’s best surfing spots, are the driving force behind the attraction and fame of the Great Ocean Road.
After Steve talked us into the topic and gave us insight in Australia’s history we arrived at Twelve Apostles. This landmark is a tourism magnet and top reason for most travellers to see the Great Ocean Road. An apostle refers to a cliff mass, that was carved out of the ground by the constant strive of the ocean. Originally there have been 8 Apostles, but due to the force and strength, one collapsed and now there are only 7 apostles left. The 12 in ‘Twelve Apostles’ refers to religious reasons only.
Personally I found the Twelve Apostels were underwhelming. It’s a nice sight, without a doubt, but it is one of those sights, were I got the feeling the tourism industry pushed its fame too much. The whole Great Ocean Road should be regarded as a beautiful sight and not just the most photographed part of it.
Victoria and me took a short helicopter ride above the Twelve Apostels, that was really cool. Plus, it was her first helicopter flight. Yay!
We drove along the road and stopped at various points to see many beautiful parts of the coast. For me, the one that stood out was definitely ‘Razorback’, near Loch Ard Gorge. The waves are crashing against the raw cliffs demonstrating the sheer power of the ocean. The surrounding wilderness and nature walks offer exhilarating views and standing right at the edge of a cliff dropping down to the ocean just a few steps away was definitely an amazing sight.
The miraculous drive took us around Cape Otway, where we hiked through a rainforest and saw many diverse plants and trees. While I’m generally not interested in those sorts of topics, our guide Steve was able to put it an exciting context though and we actually enjoyed our nature hike in the Jurassic Park alike scenery.
We moved on along narrow alleys to find some wild kangaroos hopping around next to the road and while stopping at a camping place we saw koala eating and goofing around high above in eucalyptus trees. They usually sleep between 18-20 hours a day and are mostly nocturnal, so it is quite rare to see them awake.
In the evening of our first day we stopped at a really comfortable backpackers at Bells Beach. While we relaxed after that bloody long day, Steve took the rest of his energy to cook us an outstanding meal at the backyard BBQ grill. Apparently kangaroo meat is cheaper than any other meat in Australia and I have never eaten kangaroo before, so it was quite cool to try kangaroo burgers.
Another early wake up and we soon headed off to a morning hike around a lovely coastal town. A lot of people were taking their dogs out for a walk or were taking a morning run on the beach. It had a refreshingly calm and relaxed vibe and I reckon this town would be perfect for having loads of dogs and just enjoy life at the ocean. I’m not the walking kind of guy, but I enjoyed this walk a lot.
We took a car ferry to the other side of the bay and headed off to Phillip Island. For those of you who are into motor sports you might know Phillip Island for its famous Moto GP circuit, and for everyone else it is known for its amazing wildlife. I love seeing animals in their natural habitat or visiting good wildlife parks. So this promising day had a lot for us in store.
We had lunch at the Maru Koala and Animal Park on Phillip Island and then entered the park. They have a gigantic open grass area with tons of wallabies, small kangaroos and red kangaroos (the big ones). We bought two packs of kangaroo food, which was a mix of grass, leaves and moss and while feeding them we tried to not think about our dinner the night before. Kinda awkward situation.
It was a nice park and we enjoyed it a lot. They had heaps of cool animals living there, they even had two albino kangaroos. They were looking a bit creepy though, to be honest.
In the afternoon we drove to Cape Woolamai watching some very skilled surfers and simply enjoyed the scenery. Can’t get better than this in southern Australia.
Soon we left, so we’d be in time at a particular beach to see the famous penguin parade. Every night about 700 little penguins come out of the ocean after their fishing day and walk in their cute penguin style up the sandy pathways into their shelters.
Now, there are two sides about this wildlife attraction. Firstly, there is a huge complex build next to the beach with a gift shop, restaurants, cafés and all sorts of stuff, to feed and comfort hundreds of tourists every day. I was surprised how high the level of commercialization is. Viewing stands have been built at the beach and you better be there early, otherwise every seat is taken. It’s insane. Strict rangers are walking up and down the stands to make sure no one comes close to the penguins, or even tries to take out his camera. The penguins usually arrive as soon as it gets dark and if anyone would use their flash to take pictures, the penguins would get instantly blind. Therefore it is absolutely necessary to have rangers around to take care.
On the other side, we were told that all of the generated money flows into research and development of the penguin shelters. I guess, it’s okay then. But still, I’m not a fan of giant touristy areas, simply built to comfort tourists. It reminded of the tourist town next to Niagara Falls, which I hated.
We waited for about 45 minutes until the first penguins wiggled out of the sea. It was really cute to see how they walked up the beach in little groups heading to their home. It was not my favourite natural encounter (nothing beats seeing gorillas in the mist in the deep jungle of Uganda), but definitely a very interesting one, as I have never heard about the little penguins of Phillip Island before and it was fun to watch them.
As soon as the penguins headed to bed it was time for us to head back to Melbourne. We had a really fun and adventurous time and I’d recommend anyone to do a two day tour around the Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island if you’re in Melbourne. It’s two days very well spend. Steve & Wildlife Tours were absolutely amazing and we loved our two days with them.
Note: All of those words are mine and we were not sponsored by Wildlife Tours. We simply enjoyed our tour so much, we are happy to recommend it to anyone without hesitation. So make sure to contact them, when you’re in Melbourne. They’re cool guys.