Local’s guide: Great Ocean Road

Bay of Islands Great Ocean Road 12 Apostles my nrma locals guide
Bay of Islands Great Ocean Road 12 Apostles my nrma locals guide

Travellers come from all over the world to gaze at the Twelve Apostles, but there’s much more to discover along this 250km stretch of rugged coastal road.

  • Fine dining at Brae, in Birregurra
  • Mountain biking in Forrest
  • Nature walks and photography in the Otway Ranges

You’ll find this spectacular, bucket list experience just over 11 hours’ drive south east of Sydney, past Melbourne and Geelong. Every day, tourist buses shuttle international visitors to the region’s main attraction, the Twelve Apostles. But with nearly 250km of coastal road stretching from Torquay in the east to Cape Bridgewater in the west, locals know there’s plenty more to find if you know where to look. Think hidden beaches, deserted coves, quaint villages and destination dining.

Where to eat

An epic drive is matched by an epic array of quality places to eat and drink. You’ll find great coffee and breakfast at Wye General store and cafe, or you could wake up early and watch the horses train on the beach over breakfast at The Pavillion in Warrnambool. Meanwhile, in Port Campbell, locals love the seasonal offerings of Forage On The Foreshore.

For top of the range dining you can’t go past one of Australia’s best restaurants, Brae in Birregurra (you’ll have to book well in advance). Then there’s the nearby Bespoke Harvest in Forrest (part of the Otway Harvest Trail), the Timboon Cheesery near Port Campbell (part of the 12 Apostles Food Artisans trail); the Pickled Pig in Warrnambool; and, in Port Fairy, the two hatted Fen, as well as Conlan’s Wine Store for a menu of sharing dishes.

Of course, no trip to the beach would be complete without fish and chips. In Lorne try the Lorne Pier Seafood Restaurant, and in Apollo Bay, the Apollo Bay Fisherman’s Coop. Still hungry for seafood? Don’t leave without trying an Apollo Bay Bakery scallop pie.

Where to play

The Twelve Apostles may be the star in these parts, with numerous helicopter and scenic flights offering unforgettable views, but there’s plenty more to see of this rugged coastline. In summer, locals swim at Childers Cove. For striking limestone cliffs and stacks without the crowds, try Bay of Islands and the Bay of Martyrs, both near Peterborough. And, while tourists flock to see Loch Ard Gorge and Gibson Steps, locals prefer lesser known The Grotto, west of Port Campbell.

Meanwhile, in from the coast, the Great Otway National Park has spectacular Californian Redwood Forests (Beech Forest provides great access), walks and waterfalls (such as Hopetoun Falls and Beauchamp Falls), or look for kangaroos and wallabies on walks by Aire River. For mountain biking fun the town of Forrest is a must visit. If you want to get up among the treetops, try zip lining at the Otway Fly, Trees Adventure at Otway Park or the new Livewire Park in Lorne. Alternatively, take a family break in Anglesea where kids can learn how to surf on gentle waves or try stand up paddle boarding.

Where to splurge

It was one of just two Australian restaurants to make the list at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards in 2017, and picked up the most hats possible – three – in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide. Brae is a formidable force in Australian dining and, since opening its doors in 2013, has significantly influenced the food and wine industry with its focus on highly seasonal, local and organic produce. The man behind the restaurant is Dan Hunter, who worked in several top international restaurants before spending six years as head chef at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld. His dishes are designed to celebrate ingredients and the reputation of the restaurant has transformed Birregurra into a must visit village for foodies around the world. The experience may not be cheap (the set menu is $240 per person, plus $145 per person for matched wines) but it’s extremely popular, with certain times often booked out months in advance.

Where to stay

For those looking to splash out, a relatively new addition at Brae are six luxury guest suites, allowing diners to overnight in style. Each suite features a king size bed, turntable, record collection and a cocktail bar ($615-$715 per night).

If you’re looking for something more affordable and family friendly, NRMA Port Campbell Holiday Park offers a range of two bedroom creekside cabins, villas, studios and powered camping sites, and is the perfect spot to base yourself while exploring the coastline or the rainforest hinterland. Guests can also use the dedicated camp kitchen, barbecues, TVs, games room and wifi.

Image credit: Paoli Smith Designers; Visit Victoria

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