The Great Ocean Road_ Is it overrated

Is the Great Ocean Road, one of the most visited parts of Australia, overrated? I kinda thought so.

Don’t get me wrong. The beaches are beautiful, the towns are cute and the coastal views from the road are great (well, on one stretch anyway) but despite all this, I felt it was lacking. Lacking in that extra something special.

It just didn’t wow me.

I am sure I will have some people up in arms about my take on Australia’s classic road trip but not everyone loves the same things; how boring would life be if we did. Just because it didn’t wow me doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there and judge it for yourself. There were a few factors that could have made me feel this way. The unseasonably cold weather. Driving it backwards from Port Campbell rather than from Melbourne. Not having the time to properly explore the area. Not hiking at all – which is almost unheard of for me these days. Not driving the whole thing.

In other circumstances maybe I would have felt differently.

IMG_4784We left Melbourne for our three day camping trip along the Great Ocean Road after a late start packing the car and food shopping. The plan was to drive inland to reach the Twelve Apostles before it got too late, and then driving back along the Great Ocean Road over two days.

The flat landscape and brown, sunburnt grass was bland and uninspiring as we headed out of the city. Summer in Victoria can be brutally hot and the landscape reflected that.

Stopping for lunch in the small, non-descript town of Colac, we were hard pressed to find something worth eating. My lunch of a cheese laden fatayar, a type of Lebanese pie, was tasteless and fatty.

Things didn’t start out well.

After what felt like hours of driving we finally arrived at the Twelve Apostles; the most iconic spot on the Great Ocean Road. There were a lot of cars but we surprisingly managed to find a parking spot straight away. We followed the short Cliffside walkway out to a viewing platform that overlooked the rugged golden beach with crashing surf below.

IMG_4717 IMG_4718The Twelve Apostles were a sight to behold, magnificent and untouchable. Surrounded by churning water, these majestic rocky formations jutted out of the sea in all their glory. Despite their misleading name (there aren’t twelve of them), they were beautiful.

IMG_4724 IMG_4725I could see why this was such a popular tourist attraction. It obviously would have been even better if we didn’t have a large jostling crowd to contend with but I was impressed by the grandeur of these incredible rocks none the less.

Because of the formidable sea cliffs there was no access to the beach below, which made the view over to the Twelve Apostles even more grand.

IMG_4736IMG_4733After a lacklustre beginning, the day was definitely looking up.

A bit further along the Great Ocean Road we stopped at Loch Ard Gorge. Another short path lead us down steep stairs to the sandy beach that formed part of the gorge. Waves gushed through the narrow opening in the cliffs, then pummelled onto the beach. A large Indian family were enjoying the crashing waves; holding hands and standing in a line at the water’s edge to face the watery onslaught together.

IMG_4752 IMG_4755IMG_4746The furthest point we visited on the Great Ocean Road in a Westerly direction was the small seaside town of Port Campbell. Despite only a brief stop there for refuelling and snacks, I liked it. There was a pleasant family friendly beach, a mellow main strip of shops and motels and it had that holiday town, chilled out vibe that I love. It reminded me of the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand where I spent my childhood summers.

IMG_4759Our home for the night was the basic campground at Johanna Beach, to the North West of Cape Otway. I don’t go camping enough these days so it felt great to spend the night in our dome tent, listening to the rain spatter on the mesh. After cooking dinner on the camp stove we took it down to the beach to eat and to watch the sunset. And what a sunset. A fine sea mist captured the last of the light and gave the beach an ethereal feel.

IMG_4775Johanna beach is long, rugged and undeveloped. Yellowy green sea grass covers the top of the sand dunes that drop down to the beach. We sat in the dunes while the clouds lit up like they were on fire, then the sky darkened and the stars blinked to life. It was one of my favourite experiences on our road trip.

IMG_4779 IMG_4767Back at the campsite we lay under a million stars before turning in for the night.

The morning started with bacon and eggs at our campsite before driving into the gum tree filled Great Otway National Park. Gumtrees equals koalas around these parts and we saw dozens of the languid creatures perched high in the trees as we drove slowly along the road into the park. We even saw a baby that we watched for a while, sitting with its mother and munching on leaves.

IMG_4792Koalas don’t have a lot of energy due to their diet of gumtree leaves that are lacking in nutrients so it isn’t common to see them moving around much.

But we did.

The baby started quickly climbing a thin branch further up from the mother. It was quite the sight and we were worried that the branch would snap and the baby would fall. Once reaching the top of the spindly branch, the baby koala started eating the leaves at the end. It is amazing how fast they can move and we were lucky to see it.

IMG_4795There is a lighthouse at Cape Otway that I was looking forward to seeing but once we drove out there we found out that entry cost $20! I thought that was a great shame as I haven’t been to any other lighthouses where you have to pay just to look at it. So we turned around and left.

With a headache coming on and the longing for coffee getting stronger, we drove to the biggest town along this section of the Great Ocean Road: Apollo Bay.

Apollo Bay is a holiday town with a long main street running parallel to the beach, filled with souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and the like. It was buzzing with people there for the Australia Day weekend and it lent the town a festive atmosphere.

IMG_4797I got my much needed coffee and my headache departed. While walking along the main street the heavens opened for a quick, but energetic down pour. Sitting on the beach later the rain swept in again, catching us off guard and drenching us again. I think the Crowded House song “Four Seasons in one day” must have been written about Victoria in general rather than just Melbourne.

IMG_4798Not far from town there is a large riverside camping ground. We decided to camp there rather than the basic campsite that we had booked in Great Otway National Park. It was windy and we were worried that the campground in the park would be too exposed.

And we wanted hot showers. They were amazing.

After settling in, we went for a walk out to the quieter beach north of town. The wind was blowing gales and the temperature dropped markedly as the day wore on. Sand blew in our faces and tangled our hair. We headed back to the campground.IMG_4802

IMG_4808Dinner was sausage sandwiches with homemade tomato chutney. By the time the sun set it was so cold that my hands went numb. I always thought that Victoria had extreme heat in summer but apparently that is only a small percentage of the time.

It felt like winter in Sydney. The warm interior of the local pub was calling.

There are a couple of pubs in Apollo Bay and we visited both of them. My favourite was the cosy wood panelled Apollo Bay Hotel. It was packed full of people and there was live music. The biggest draw was how warm it was in there. I was reluctant to leave and re-enter the chilly world outside the pub doors.

The wind had died down by the time we left but it started up again in the early hours, complete with driving rain. Our poor little tent didn’t know what had hit it and we had some minor leaking.

Luckily the sun was out again by the time we emerged from our soggy tents in the morning.

Packing up and hitting the road, the Great Ocean Road finally started living up to its name. We hugged the windy coastline, twisting and turning with sheer cliffs on our left and turbulent waters on our right. My favourite part of the drive even though the bends made me feel slightly car sick.

Breaking up the journey we stopped in the small, upmarket settlement of Lorne.

IMG_4809Like Apollo Bay, Lorne was busy with visitors and the beach was packed. There was a cool wind coming off the sea so we didn’t feel like swimming, instead walking around the rocks to the Wharf then back along the tree shaded road instead. The small town centre is full of fashion boutiques, home wares and a myriad of eateries. It had a more polished feel than Apollo Bay which felt a bit rougher around the edges.

IMG_4812 IMG_4816Lunch was fish and chips from the Salty Dog, eaten at a picnic table in the sun. It was pretty good too.

Hitting the road again our next stop was Anglesea, another small coastal village. There weren’t the crowds there that we had encountered in Lorne and Apollo Bay, and our walk out to the beach and along the river felt a lot more peaceful for it. It felt like we were away from it all in Anglesea and I liked that. Large crowds of people get on my nerves.

IMG_4825 IMG_4831The last place we visited on our Great Ocean Road trip was the iconic Bells Beach, famous for hosting the Rip Curl Pro – the longest running surf competition in the world. It is also the beach where the last scene of the movie Point Break was set (although it was filmed at Ecola State Park in Oregon), where Patrick Swayze’s character Bodhi surfs a once in a lifetime wave to his death. The waves are known to be fickle at Bells so when there aren’t big enough swells for the Rip Curl Pro, the competition moves to Johanna Beach, where we stayed on our first night, instead.

IMG_4834We were running short on time to get to the airport for our flight back to Sydney so we didn’t walk the numerous stairs down to the beach but admired it from the lookout point above instead. The swell wasn’t big but there were a few surfers out there.

So it wasn’t a bad long weekend by any means, it was just less than spectacular. I would give it a second chance if I found myself in the area again, being sure to do some hiking next time. I think I would like the area much more if I had more time to spend and if I was able to explore more on foot.

The Great Ocean Road may not have been great, but it was good.

Have you ever been anywhere that you were less than impressed with?


21 Comments on The Great Ocean Road: Is it overrated?

  1. Louisa Klimentos
    March 10, 2015 at 9:26 am (2 years ago)

    When i drove along the Great Ocean Road ,i didn’t do the whole road because i visited the Grampions then drove to the twelve appostles ,did some walking then drove to Wilsons Promontory.So i only remember the twelve Appostles,which look larger in real life than a photo.Recently i came across this video ‘Flying the Great Ocean Road 5October2014-the Bucket list Flight’,on You Tube .After watching this video I realised how natural and beautiful this area is.Flying over it will make you see The Great Ocean Road in a different perspective.I recommend that people should watch this You Tube video.Doing a scenic flight over the region will be fantastic but i believe it would be rather expensive.i hope you all will like it.

  2. Louisa Klimentos
    March 3, 2015 at 11:49 pm (2 years ago)

    Keep travelling now that you are young and healthy because you never no what the future holds.Have you been to Kanangra boyd National park NSW? Me and my husband went to kanangra walls and when we decided to drive back to Sydney,we took the turn off that said to Jenolan caves.I didn’t realise that we were driving through a plateau.The gorges were steep and the canyons were beautiful .However you are quite high up and the roads are very narrow.You have to drive with caution because at each corner ,each turn is sharp and we nearly were hit by a ranger in another car.The drive was rather stunning and was worth it .Not many people use this road and don’t realise how nice this national park is.Always try to go off the beaten track because then you will experience the real beauty of Australia and not the heavily advertised tourist destinations .It is always about making money and is big business.I am glad you liked kangaroo island .I went there during winter .The weather wasn’t the best but it did not bother me because Flinders chase national park was incredible .Remarcable rocks are alot bigger than i thought .Seeing the Sea lions and New zealand fur seals in the wild was a fantastic experience.Hope to go to New Zealand one day and i know that i will absolutely love it .So in the future i may have to contact you on some good advice

    • theworldonmynecklace
      March 4, 2015 at 10:23 am (2 years ago)

      I haven’t heard of that national park Louisa but I will definitely check it out. I love the Blue Mountains area. Nwe Zealand is an incredible country so I hope you get there one day

  3. sarahrah
    February 23, 2015 at 8:30 pm (2 years ago)

    Despite your less than amazing experience your photos alone have left me wanting to see it for myself as it does look beautiful. I do know what you mean by being underwhelmed by a place though. I actually have been to Australia for a brief visit for a friends wedding and I drove from Sydney to Melbourne spending a few days in each. At the risk of receiving the wrath of Aussies and lovers of all things Australia I was a little underwhelmed myself. Not that I didn’t like it, I saw some lovely things, but it just left me feeling that I wouldn’t rush back. I’m sure I will return someday as I do have family there but it is no longer on my priority list even though there is much I didn’t get to see. I have to admit that the cost is a big factor in this feeling as well as it is a very expensive destination and from what I’ve heard NZ offers a lot more in the way of natural beauty. Ok now I’ve really asked for trouble!

    • theworldonmynecklace
      February 23, 2015 at 8:43 pm (2 years ago)

      Haha Sarah, I will incur wrath too but I have to agree with you. Quite a few places I have been to in Australia have been a little disappointing. I think for me I generally prefer the landscapes of greener places like Canada, NZ, Iceland, France etc but I do really love Sydney – primarily for the natural beauty – the city itself is nice but the beauty is in the native bush and beach communities that most people visiting the city don’t see much of (Bondi isn’t counted). Definitely make sure you come to NZ – I am moving back in Feb 2017 🙂

    • Louisa Klimentos
      February 27, 2015 at 11:37 pm (2 years ago)

      You didn’t say what you saw.Did you drive along the coast or inland through the rural belt .Did you stop at any of our national parks to have a good look? I bet you never had time to do so .You only came for a brief visit So you can not judge.Travel Australia extensively before making a comment.I am sick of relatives who try to down grade Australia I have been to England where i was born and to Cyprus where my parents come from and never complained.The only problem was that i was not treated very well by my relatives and when they came to Australia ,they did not appreciate anything I did for them . The difference between Australia and New Zealand is that you can see alot in a short distance in NewZealand ,however because Australia is so massive ,the natural beauty is more wide spread .Most tourists only get a chance to see the East coast of Australia and all stop at the same places and have never seen the less visited places .So you can ‘t really judge.Back in the 1990’s .when everything was alot cheaper here in Australia ,not many people complained .Since the Australian dollar is so strong ,everthing seems so expensive ,tourists seem to have a very high expectation of Australia.

      • theworldonmynecklace
        March 2, 2015 at 6:22 pm (2 years ago)

        Well actually Louisa, I live in Australia and I think it is a beautiful country with lots of amazing places, I just didn’t think that the Great Ocean Road is so great. Did you even read my post? Doesn’t seem like it. I clearly stated where I went

      • Louisa Klimentos
        March 3, 2015 at 3:56 pm (2 years ago)

        The Great ocean walk is better because you can see more by foot than by car.Some one did a flght from Torquay to Warranbool. and you can see the natural beauty of the Great ocean road .You can see it better fliying over it.It does look rather nice.Unfortunately the Great ocean road winds through rural regions and is more inland.If you are visiting Victoria,please do the Great ocean walk .If the hikers from the South Island of NewZealand were impressed, I think most people will really like it Also visit Wilsons Promontory.Yes I did read your post but I thought you Stated to Sarah that you been to alot of Places in Australia and were a little disappointed May be i mis understood your comment.Atleast your not harsh like some of the UK people .Most of England is green rural country side but like to put Australia downSo where is their wilderness?.Anyway enjoy your Travels around the world Best of luck,regards,louisa

      • theworldonmynecklace
        March 3, 2015 at 4:54 pm (2 years ago)

        I have heard that the Great Ocean walk is beautiful and I would like to do it some day. I really want to get to Wilsons Prom as it seems to be a lot of Victorian’s favourite place in their state and the photos I have seen are incredible. There are places in Australia that I have been underwhelmed by but there are some places I have really loved too. I just got back from Kangaroo Island and it blew my mind – so beautiful there.

  4. Sally
    February 23, 2015 at 8:22 pm (2 years ago)

    Beautiful pictures. I have heard a lot of people say it was good but overrated. I felt this with Bali and Gili T. I guess we are all different and different things excite us. Life would be boring any other way!

    • theworldonmynecklace
      February 23, 2015 at 8:39 pm (2 years ago)

      Totally agree Sally. It was good but not amazing and it does seem to be the sentiment of a few people I have talked to

  5. Melinda DiOrio (@MelindaDiOrio)
    February 21, 2015 at 8:52 am (2 years ago)

    Wow, even if I had never done this drive (we did it last October) I would have thought this trip was pretty spectacular by your photos and text! I’m sorry you thought it was less than amazing. I thought it was the greatest road trip I have taken yet, and we did it in just one day! I actually can’t wait to go back someday and spend a weekend there, camping like you did. We did do some hiking (spotting a koala and a a beautiful waterfall), but it seems from your photos that you got to experience a lot of it too. I’ll also add that although I did have The Great Ocean Road on my itinerary (we were just staying in Melbourne for a few days), I didn’t do that much research, so I didn’t have any prior expectations – maybe that’s why it seemed pretty amazing to me, because I didn’t have anything to compare it to.

    I can relate to your feeling though – when I visited Boracay in the Philippines a couple years ago it happened to me. I had heard Boracay described as the most beautiful white sand beach in the world – as a paradise, and by many people. In my mind, I pictured it as a beautiful and isolated paradise, which is the exact opposite of what it is – it’s tourist central! A strip of shops and bars/restaurants geared towards Americans and Europeans on holiday. The beach WAS beautiful, and we did have a great time, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Since that trip I always try to do as little research as possible about a place so that my expectations aren’t unrealistic! And I try to just appreciate the fact that I’m fortunate to visit these beautiful places. Not everyone will have the opportunity to see these amazing sights!

    Here’s a link with a few photos from our time on The Great Ocean Road if it’s of interest to you! I enjoyed reading your perspective!

    • theworldonmynecklace
      February 21, 2015 at 9:11 am (2 years ago)

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it Melinda. I think it does also depend on what you compare it to. I have driven some spectacular roads in NZ, Iceland, Canada and the US that I found a lot more impressive than the Great Ocean Road but of course that is from my perception of what is beautiful. More than anything I think it is a nice drive but overhyped

  6. Katrina the Two Week Traveler
    February 20, 2015 at 2:38 pm (2 years ago)

    I really enjoyed Great Ocean Road although lodging and food was so expensive! It was such a beautiful drive down the coast but I went in winter so I didn’t get to spend as much time outdoors as I would have liked. The 12 Apostles were amazing though (there used to be 12 but some have collapsed into the sea).

    • theworldonmynecklace
      February 20, 2015 at 2:50 pm (2 years ago)

      Glad to hear that you enjoyed it Katrina! I definitely thought that the 12 Apostles were amazing. I read somewhere that they are called the 12 apostles because there were 12 apostles in the bible, not because there were originally 12 sea stacks but who knows!

  7. zascha
    February 19, 2015 at 7:47 am (2 years ago)

    I’ve never been, but it does look quite good from your pictures.
    And you’re totally right in what you said above, it would be boring if we all liked the same things 🙂

    • theworldonmynecklace
      February 19, 2015 at 8:29 am (2 years ago)

      I know I was picking the pictures and thinking ‘Why wasn’t I impressed?’. There were definite some stunning spots along the Great Ocean Road but overall I found it to be nothing special

  8. Jane
    February 18, 2015 at 10:36 am (2 years ago)

    My hiking friends really liked this stretch, so I agree you would have probably enjoyed it more if you were walking it. I am allergic to crowds and so I wouldn’t have enjoyed the touristy people-packed spots much either. The photographs are beautiful though, even if you were a little disappointed. 🙂

    • theworldonmynecklace
      February 18, 2015 at 10:51 am (2 years ago)

      I think you are most probably right about that Jane. Hiking would have greatly improved my experience and it’s a shame we didn’t have the time to do it because of time restraints and bad weather. There was definitely beauty there but I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed

  9. Karn
    February 17, 2015 at 2:17 pm (2 years ago)

    The drive did wowed me on my first trip but it’s a place that you would only visit once or twice. However, I did trying hiking around the beach and the national park in the region and I’m pretty impressed. Now there are reasons for me to revisit the Great Ocean Road again.

    • theworldonmynecklace
      February 17, 2015 at 2:35 pm (2 years ago)

      Hiking along the beach would be great. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had done some hiking


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