How to nail a family-friendly road trip on the Great Ocean Road
There’s plenty of fun to be had for the whole family on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
It’s one of Australia’s must-do drives – 243 stunning kilometres snaking from seaside summer playgrounds to the unforgiving waters of the Shipwreck Coast. The B100, otherwise known as the Great Ocean Road, lives beautifully up to its name, but it’s also the gateway to a host of attractions that make it a fantastic road trip for families any time of the year. It’s possible, although not advisable, to drive the distance in a single day, but you could easily spend five days or more exploring the nature, the food, the history and the playgrounds – creating memories the family will treasure ou could easily spend five days or more exploring the nature, the food, the history and the playgrounds – especially with a little extra legroom or luggage space, courtesy of a medium or large SUV from Thrifty.
Slideshow: From Teddy’s Lookout; Otway Fly Treetop Walk; Hyundai Kona from Thrifty; Otway Fly fairy garden; Loch Ard Gorge; Hopkins River beside BIG4 NRMA Warrnambool Riverside Holiday Park; Flagstaff Hill.
Torquay and Bells Beach
A great place to start any road trip is at the very beginning, and No. 1 Great Ocean Road happens to be the address of RACV’s Torquay Resort, which ticks all the family-friendly accommodation and entertainment boxes with pools, a playground, jumping pillow and games room for the kids. Torquay is also home to Go Ride A Wave which every year introduces thousands of Victorians to the magic of surfing via beginner lessons at Torquay, Anglesea, Lorne and Wye River. Book the kids in for a lesson then drop into Bells Beach to catch the seasoned surfers roll in on the Southern Ocean swell. Watch from a carpark perched above, or descend via stairs to the hallowed sands.
Anglesea to Fairhaven
Heading west, the seaside villages of Anglesea, Aireys Inlet and Fairhaven roll by in quick succession, and you can take time out from driving at any one of them to walk a slice of the beach-fringed Surf Coast Walk, which stretches 44 kilometres along the clifftops from near Torquay to Fairhaven. A dozen trailheads make it easy to tackle as much or as little as you like. Reward the kids for their efforts with an old-school paddleboat ride or hire kayaks at Anglesea, then tuck into a cheap and cheerful lunch of filled rolls and old-school slices from Anglesea Bakery. The red-capped Split Point Lighthouse near Aireys Inlet is worth the detour for 360-degree coastal views and entertaining history – one lighthouse keeper scratched a hole in the black paint at the back of the lantern to keep tabs on it from the pub.
If you haven’t dipped your toes into the ocean by now, holiday hot-spot Lorne could be the place to do it. Lawns roll down to the sand here, and at Lorne Sea Baths the kids can jump out their energy on the town’s famed foreshore trampolines. In whale season you might spot one from the Lorne Pier, and if waterfalls are your thing head to magnificent Erskine Falls, one of the highest drops in the Otways, or park and picnic in the cool, treed Sheoak picnic area then take a 30-minute return walk to pretty Sheoak Falls. Rev up the kids with an hour-long session on Livewire Park’s Short Circuit High Ropes Course up in the blue gums of Lorne’s hinterland. For an eyeful of magnificent turquoise ocean, head to Teddy’s Lookout perched above Lorne (you can drive to the carpark on George Street then walk to two lookouts). The lower platform overlooks the ribbon of road crossing St George River and snaking on round the bend – it’s the perfect spot for an impromptu history lesson on the returned World War One soldiers who carved out this legendary road with pickaxes.
Torquay is home to surf lessons. Image: Go Ride A Wave.
Lorne to Apollo Bay
From here the Great Ocean Road unspools in soft loops so close to the sea that surely you could reach out and touch the water. Rockpools abound for exploring or a warmish dip on a cool day – search for treasure in the caves and pools of Pirates Cove, between Skenes Creek and Apollo Bay. Drop into Kennett River’s Kafe Koala and General Store for a rotisserie chook or chunky house-made melting moments, and keep an eye out for koalas, kookaburras and cockatoos (though please don’t feed the natives). At Apollo Bay drop into Dooley’s for award-winning ice-cream, including pepperberry, vegemite and unicorn poo flavours, then make a beeline for Victoria’s newest eco-tourism venture Wildlife Wonders, just outside town. Set on 12 hectares of Otways bush landscape designed by Brian Massey, an art director of The Hobbit, and protected by a predator-proof fence, it’s a haven for residents ranging from koalas to wallabies, bandicoots to bower birds. Discover these native creatures in their own environment on a 75-minute walk accompanied by knowledgeable conservation guides. Your admission fee helps fund further conservation.
In the Otways
After Apollo Bay the Great Ocean Road turns inland to meet the cool and ancient Otway Ranges. You can backtrack a little and detour north via Skenes Creek and spectacular Turtons Track to reach Otway Fly Treetop Adventures. “Everybody gets happy here,” says botanical guide Dave McDonald of the lush, hushed rainforest surrounds. “It’s just the atmosphere, they’re beaming.” The 600-metre-long treetop walk gives visitors a sugar glider’s view of the rainforest, while the more adventurous can play sugar glider themselves zooming above the treetops on a zipline suspended up to 30 metres above the ground. And for little ones, there’s a fairy village tucked in the undergrowth, handmade by members of the Colac Men’s Shed. Being a rainforest, this is waterfall territory too, and you’ll find the turnoffs to Hopetoun and Triplet Falls not far from the Fly.
Make furry friends at Victoria's newest eco tourism venture, Wildlife Wonders.
The Twelve Apostles
The farther you travel on the Great Ocean Road, the wilder the seascape. After the Otways detour the road veers inland twice more – you couldn’t blame those workmen for seeking an easier path – before returning to the coast with an elemental flourish at the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park. Nature takes the lead here and it’s simply spectacular. Get the kids to count the remaining limestone stacks of the Apostles, and take time to walk down to eerie Loch Ard Gorge, named for one of countless ships that foundered on this coastline. You can hear its story a little further along the road. Beyond the Apostles and Port Campbell, stop in at the Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs carparks – if it wasn’t for the more spectacular Apostles up the road these would be famous landmarks in their own right, and you won’t be fighting for a view.
The B100 officially ends at Allansford, but just 10 minutes further on, Warrnambool offers a wealth of family-friendly experiences to round out your trip. First you might like to lay your head at BIG4 NRMA Warrnambool Riverside Holiday Park, nestled on the tranquil Hopkins River, with a bouncing pillow, tennis court, mini-golf course and swimming pool with waterslide for the kids (RACV members save 10 per cent when booking over the phone). Flagstaff Hill’s moving sound and light show is where you’ll hear the sorry tale of the Loch Ard and its two survivors, and its historic village provides a fascinating insight into the lives and stories of the treacherous Shipwreck Coast. At Tower Hill Nature Reserve, a Worn Gundidj tour takes an energetic and literally hands-on approach, connecting Aboriginal culture to the unique geology and environment. Search for bush tucker and hear how an 1855 painting shaped the landscape there today. For those in need of rejuvenation after their Great Ocean Road adventure, Deep Blue Hot Springs has a newish open-air sanctuary with pools drawing mineral-rich water from an aquifer 850 metres below the ground. Relax in hot and cool pools, sensorial caves, rainforest showers and a moonstone garden. Children older than five are welcome to all but the twilight sessions. Finally, before you head home get the kids to run off some energy at the eight-hectare Lake Pertobe Adventure Playground with its flying fox and paddleboats.
Holiday here this year with RACV
There has never been a better time to holiday in Australia and support local businesses and the tourism industry. Whether it’s a weekend getaway in country Victoria or an extended Australian adventure, RACV Members get more when they travel with discounts and benefits on everything from travel and accommodation to tours and other experiences so you can easily holiday here this year.