Driving along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, one of the most iconic drives in the world, has always been one of my travel dreams. So when Colin hatched his mad plan to use relocation campervans to travel from Sydney – Adelaide – Melbourne – Sydney, as soon as I realised it would take us right along the Great Ocean Road I was onboard.
Of course I didn’t realise then just how much driving would be involved in ‘driving the Great Ocean Road’!
Our second campervan journey from Adelaide to Melbourne was a relocation through Kea for $5 a day. This time we had three days to get between the two cities, a distance of approximately 1000km via the Great Ocean Road. 1000km in three days isn’t that far, except for the fact that we wanted to have the time to stop as often as we liked along the Great Ocean Road to look at the sights. So that meant the first day we needed to drive some serious kilometres! Our route took us from Adelaide along the Princes Highway to Tailem Bend before turning towards the regional town of Keith and then south to Mt Gambier and then east into Victoria to Portland on the first day and then along the Great Ocean Road on the second, before driving the final 150km to Melbourne on the final day.
As you can see, compared to our last van, our campervan this time is … well a little more compact! For a couple it would be perfect. For a family it’s a little too cozy. The roof pops up to reveal a double bed for the kids, which the kids thought was just ‘super-ballooper’. A hidy-hole tent in the roof of a car …. woot! The back seats fold down to create another double bed so in terms of sleeping it’s great. But cooking for four while people try to manoeuvre past you in the van or trying to eat at the tiny table … the van just wasn’t big enough.
Another issue is that when you’re driving, the kids seats are way down in the back of the van. That’s fantastic for the driver who’s found his own private zen by listening to his audiobook with headphones in. It’s not so great for the front passenger who constantly has to risk her life by jumping out of the seat belt to pick up whatever snack or toy the kids have dropped or pass over another museli bar, drink bottle or referee fights!
Still if you were travelling around in summer where the kids can play outside more and you have your own table and chairs to eat outside it would be great. We were unlucky enough to strike three bitterly cold days right at the end of summer so spent a lot more time in the van than we would have liked. We also found in a van this size, once the beds are down you can’t get into any of the cupboards. So you need to be really organised! Travelling as a family is a great way to gain insight into yourself and all your many faults. And if travel this last year has thought us nothing else, it’s that we’re not organised people at all!
The first days drive took us 600km from Adelaide to reach Portland in Victoria. Our longest day of driving yet in Australia. The kids were fantastic considering they ended up sitting in the car for over 7 hours with only two 30min breaks. The scenery was amazing. Desert-like farming lands littered with sandstone rocks that has to be some of the toughest land in the world to farm eventually gave way to rustic little towns.
At Keith, the dry landscape transformed into Eucalyptus forests ….
… before all of a sudden we entered the green hills of some of Australia’s most famous vineyards. Lindermans, Penfolds, Wynns. If it’s a shiraz and it’s worth knowing about it’s grown along this road in this area. For adults it’s a pretty exciting drive.
Of course the kids were more impressed with the playground we found for our second rest stop.
Eventually the vineyards gave way to pine logging forests filled with emus.
By Mt Gambier the kids patience had finally worn out, along with the batteries in the iPhone and iPad. We hit a delirious patch in our journey where our conversations ended up resembling something out of a Monty Python skit. It was actually a fantastic family moment. But of course eventually even the hysteria ran out and the cries of ‘when are we going to get there’ started in earnest. We explained that we were just driving for so long so that we could stop and get out to explore lots tomorrow on the Great Ocean road. We explained that once we reached Portland another travelling family, the Guest family with kids the same age were waiting for us. It helped for five minutes and then the ‘When are we going to get there’ started again.
Finally we reached Portland, grabbed out our jumpers and set off to meet our new friends. At the end of a long drive, it was fabulous to not only have other kids for Noah and Hayley to play with (who were amazingly identical to Noah and Hayley in personality) but to have another set of travelling parents to chat to about the highs and lows of travelling with young kids. The Guests were really lovely people and we can’t wait to catch up with them in Asia in a few months.
After a late start so the kids to play together with their new friends, we set off to find the Great Ocean Road. No more than 5 minutes down the road is when Noah started complaining.
“When are we going to get to the bit where we can stop and stop and stop? You promised today wouldn’t be a big driving day”
“We have to drive one hour to get to that bit, Noah. Sorry we let you play with your new friends rather than starting early. Isn’t that great? But now we have to drive for an hour to make up time.”
And two minutes later … “When are we going to get to the bit where we can stop and stop?”.
And two minutes after that.
And two minutes after that.
Eventually we did get to the ‘stopping and stopping part”.
First, a wind farm just outside Warnambool, a great chance to teach the kids about greener sources of electricity.
Just after Warnambool was the start of the 243km Great Ocean Road. Built after WWI by returned soldiers, not only is the road stunning but it’s the worlds largest War Memorial.
Our first stop – the Bay of Islands.
The western half of the Great Ocean Road is a plateau of limestone rock that ends abruptly in the sea. It’s a swampy marshland, so reminiscent of the moors in England that I’m not surprised the early English settlers headed here to start farms. Of course the big difference between here and the English moors are the giant cliffs ending in the sea.
The water from the swamps trickles down through the limestone wearing it away, before wind and waves finish the erosion, creating stunning cliffs, caves, blow holes, arches and island stacks out in the sea.
If you can’t guess, the kids were pretty happy to be out of the car exploring. Even if it was freezing cold!
Next it was onto the Grotto, a sea cave set halfway up a cliff with a rock pool fed by ocean spray. The roof of the cave has collapsed over time, leaving an amazing arch set atop a sunlit calm rock pool that makes an amazing backdrop against the violent southern ocean. It was the kids favourite part of the day – a secret cave set in it’s own little sheltered world above the sea, rock pools, rocks to climb and sections where you can actually see the processes of erosion and cave building at work … is it any surprise they loved it?
From the Grotto, it was onwards to the Twelve Apostles, the most famous iconic section of the Great Ocean Road. Even on a wet, windy, freezing day it was amazing. Colin’s not really one for ‘sightseeing’ and usually opts to stay in the car while we head off to Pink Lakes and bush walks, but even he thought it was ‘nice’! Translation? It’s definitely worth seeing.
The name, Twelve Apostles comes from the fact that there used to be twelve of these island stacks. Every few years another collapses under the forces of erosion. Currently there are eight. Noah and I loved the way you could see each the layers of sandstone in the cliffs so clearly and line them up each of the pillars. We wished we had a map of the layers showing us when each layer was laid down. Noah was also pretty excited to know that the cold wind that was biting through his jumper and the giant waves came all the way to Antarctica. After staring at the world map lately talking about where we’re off to next he’s pretty keen to head down to Antarctica to see ice and Penguins!
Remember I mentioned the area is still being eroded and parts are collapsing? It’s fascinating to look at and be able to see nature in action but this is one place you really do want to stay on the path.
And still we’re driving ….
After the Twelve Apostles, the road heads inland for an hour taking you through farmland and eucalypt forests. It’s gorgeous but the kids were pretty confused about the lack of ocean on the ‘Great Ocean Road’. They were excited when we finally got back to the beaches after hitting Apollo Bay.
Of course after staying so long in Portland this morning to play with friends, we now realised it was 5pm and we still had 100km to go so despite seeing beach after beach with the most kid-inviting rock pools to explore we couldn’t stop at a single one. Disappointing to say the least! If you’re doing the drive with kids I’d recommend either starting really early or doing it over two days. You’re going to want to stop every five minutes!
The end of the road …
Finally we reached the end of our drive and the Great Ocean Road – Torquay. But not before a quick stop at Australia’s most famous surfing beach – Bells Beach. If you surf you will have heard of it. If you don’t … well remember the movie ‘Point Break’ where Keanu Reeves heads out into giant, back breaking waves in search of Patrick Swayze? That’s Bells Beach.
What a journey!
I have to say, long road trips with the kids have turned out to be much better family time than we ever realised. Yes the days are long, the kids get ridiculously tired and there are times when we just want to throttle each other. One of our favourite games has become ‘who can stay quiet the longest’. But it’s also great together time to talk. I’ve learnt more about the kids ideas and dreams chatting together on the drive than I ever thought possible.