After a little more than a month into this experiment of living and working on the road in a 4×4 expedition ready Toyota Hilux, we went through one of the most popular and crowded areas in Australia right over the holiday break – Victoria’s beautiful and magnificent Great Ocean Road.
Especially around the peak season the popular tourist stops along the road can become simply unvisitable. As with so many beautiful places these days – think Barcelona, Yellowstone, Venice, Thailand or Amsterdam – there are throngs of people trying to squeeze through. There’s more people taking selfies or family snapshots, and bottlenecks at the most spectacular lookouts. There are traffic jams into the parking lot, if you are “lucky” enough to get a parking spot and don’t end up having to walk for miles along the busy road with cars constantly whizzing past.
So, how can you avoid that?
One of the big challenges of this, for us, new lifestyle is the constant logistics and planning – every minute there’s a new decision to make, something unexpected to figure out. We take for granted the comforts and conveniences of having a routine and knowing our surroundings at all times.
So to really experience a place, you can’t fall back on the easy decisions you might make when vacationing – in fact, you ought to do the opposite of what most tourists and holiday folks do.
One solution could be to simply avoid all the main tourist attractions and only visit places off the beaten track. Well, that’s one way to do it, but not one that will work if you want to experience all the wonders and adventures of an amazing place – after all, there’s a reason for these places being so popular!
While driving through long stretches of bush and desert we spend a lot of time reflecting on our experiences to make the next ones even better. Here are our four tips to enjoy your time on the Great Ocean Road. If you’d rather watch this with some eye-candy, check out our Travelvlog on YouTube!
Four Tips to truly experience the Great Ocean Road
Number one: Get off “the” road. Well yes, the Great Ocean Road is ONE road, a stretch of highway B100 from Torquay to Allansford over 243 km (151 mi). But there are side roads and tracks leading away from the crowds and into the bush for great scenery and peacefulness. Now, the only caveat is that you will need a 4wd vehicle. Then again, if you are traveling around Australia, you DEFINITELY want a 4wd vehicle anyways.
This is what happened to us: We asked Google for directions to Princetown, a somewhat forgotten but charming little place with a pub and a store and two campgrounds one of which would be our base for the next two nights. It showed us two options. One following the Great Ocean Road which travels away from the coast in this area or a more scenic route by the ocean adding a mere “15 min” to the journey. Of course we jumped at the latter option and off we went. The road turned out to be gravel and eventually turned into a 4×4 only track. Oh boy oh boy – there was sand, narrow tracks, huge holes and washed out sections – and it took us nowhere near 15 min. BUT, it was fun and scenic, and we were all alone.
So if you are the adventurous type with a good vehicle and spontaneous mind – go for it – take the dirt tracks and not the road and you will be rewarded.
Number two: Hike, don’t drive. Yes, you heard that right. While the Great Ocean Road is undoubtedly a highway and mostexplored from the inside of 2,000 lbs of metal, there is another way to experience this amazing coast line – The Great Ocean Walk. It is a 100km backpacking hike along the coast, and it is remote, rugged and simply breathtaking. There is no need to hike the entirety of it – even though that sure sounds like a blast! Just walk a small section towards your Great Ocean Road sight of choice.
Our campground in Princetown directly connects to the Great Ocean Walk. From the comfort of our tent it was an absolutely stunning 16 km round trip hike to the Twelve Apostles via the Gibson Steps. And what a hike it was! For the majority of it we did not meet another soul and had amazing scenery and crashing waves all to ourselves all while catching closer and closer glimpses of the Twelve Apostles up ahead.
Once we got in the vicinity of the Gibson Steps mayhem broke out however… Thousands of people all at once trying to snap a shot of the coastline, walk down to the beach or take a selfie in front of the Twelve Apostles sign. We had a VERY quick peak around and then turned straight back into the solitude of the walk and towards Princetown. We decided we wanted to see these rock formations again the next day. This time though, in a different way.
Which leads us to tip number three: Get up early. Yes, this one might be the most uncomfortable of all, but it is oh so worth it! After our experience at the Twelve Apostles the day before, we wanted to see them again in a – quite literally – different light. This meant getting up at 4:30 am, but our campground was only a 12 min drive from the Twelve Apostles. When we got there by 5:30 am we were by no means alone. However, we found easy parking, there were no bottlenecks and the other 30 or so people who had made the same tough choice that morning easily spread out over the expansive viewing platforms. We all had a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and, what’s more, the best light to photograph the rock formations!
After sunrise, we slowly continued driving westwards stopping at Loch Ard Gorge and London Arch (formerly London Bridge) where we still had some of the viewing platforms entirely to ourselves and finally to The Grotto. By the time we got there, it was 10:30 am on Boxing Day, December 26th and that was the cut off point. People started arriving in droves and no peaceful moment was to be had anymore. So we left the road to the rest of the tourists again and headed out.
But there was no need to simply hurry onwards just yet. Which is tip number four: Take your time. Soak it all in. Truly enjoy the scenery. It is very tempting to tick off boxes while traveling Australia: Twelve Apostles, The Grotto and then to Melbourne, Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef or Uluru. Try not to. Stop. Listen. See. There is so much more.
The little town of Peterborough, for example, towards the western edge of the Great Ocean Road and around the Bay of Islands is a joy to behold. It has an incredibly relaxed atmosphere, an amazing coastline and empty beaches. We spent a thoroughly enjoyable lunch break there just gazing out and taking it all in. See the important sights, by all means, but also find some time to just be among the other natural wonders of the coast which might not be as well known but are still amazingly beautiful spots to take in.
Slow Down. Reimagine. Live better.