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Australia’s Great Ocean Road combines transportation and tourism on the southeastern coast. Writer Kate Hughes takes us on a tour of the highway where motorists can see koalas, kangaroos and dramatic cliffs.
Text: Kate Hughes
Country: Australia

ne of the most famous routes in the world, the Great Ocean Road in Australia is like no other. Running along the country’s southeastern coast in the state of Victoria, the road is part transportation, part memorial, and part tourist attraction. Hugging rugged cliffs along the ocean, the road draws natives and visitors alike.

Before the road was built, the area was accessible only by a rough track or by boat, and residents were very isolated. Planning for a road to connect coastal towns began in the 1870s, and construction began in 1919, lasting for 13 years. Building the road took thousands of people. Many men returning from World War One had no jobs and so ex-soldiers were hired to build the road. Without modern machinery, thousands of workers dug some stretches by hand. Once finished, the road was dedicated to all the men who died in the First World War, making the Great Ocean Road the largest war monument in the world.

One of the main issues was finance and money had to be borrowed to complete the work. The head of the board, Mr. Calder came up with a way of paying off the road; he created a tax or toll. Anyone who used the route had to pay. Once the road had been paid for it was handed over to the state of Victoria and people could use it for free. In 2011 a plan to put a toll on the road again was put forward by a mayor of one of the towns along the route because the cost of repairing the road was so high. As yet, no toll has been added and people continue to enjoy the road free of charge.

While the road is still important for goods delivery and links the towns along the coast, most people now visit for vacation. It has been voted the best tourist attraction in Victoria due to the diverse nature and wildlife and the spectacular vistas along the route.

Gorgeous landscapes

The landscape along the road changes dramatically, but the coast itself is the biggest attraction. Cliffs made of soft limestone drop to the ocean. Erosion created stacked pillars known as the 12 Apostles after the followers of Jesus. Only seven are visible today as the sea has continued to wear down the coast, and there were only 10 when they were discovered. Some say that there is scientific evidence that there were 12 at one point, while others say the apostles simply ‘sounded like a better name’. However many there are, 1.7 million visitors a year take in the dramatic view. “They are beautiful, cool and natural and a must-see if you are in the area,” says Lily from New Zealand.

Nearby is another feature of the limestone coastline, Loch Ard Cove. The cove is named after an 1878 shipwreck. The jagged cliffs caused many ships to run aground in this area, especially before a lighthouse was installed. The wreck of the Loch Ard was particularly dramatic as all but two survivors drowned. In those days many people were travelling to Australia to start a new life, and the boat was full of people about to finish this journey. A local farmer rescued the two survivors from the rocks.

A lighthouse was installed to try to prevent any more fatal shipwrecks. It sits at Cape Otway and looks out at the channels from the sea known as the Bass Straits. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1994 as newer, electronic ones were built. Now the lighthouse, the oldest standing on Australia’s 25,000 kilometres of coastline, is a popular tourist attraction.

Visitors don’t just look at the sea—they jump in it. Surfing is a huge part of Australian culture, and many international surfers travel thousands of miles to experience riding the waves along the Great Ocean Road. The same sea that caused so many shipwrecks is fierce and dangerous to surf. Surf schools teach beginners to surf safely. More advanced surfers head out to bays around Loch Ard Cove to take advantage of the strong waves. Others prefer to enjoy the sea from the safety of the beach. “I enjoy surfing but I am only a beginner, so when I travelled the road I just watched,” said Geoffrey from Australia.

Wildlife also attracts people to the road. Hundreds of koalas live in the trees that line the way. Koalas are native only to Australia and are known to be one of the laziest animals in the world, sleeping 20 hours per day. However, this slow-moving lifestyle makes them much easier to spot. They eat only eucalyptus and can be seen in the branches of the trees. A five-minute walk from the road will allow for plenty of sightings, and while koalas will not normally approach humans, they are far too sleepy to move when people start taking photos.

Even more famously Australian than the koala, kangaroos can also be found along the trail. Drivers are always warned not to get too close, as a kick to the chest from a kangaroo is extremely dangerous. Seeing the animals is still a great experience. “My favourite part of the trip was when we camped overnight, and the field next to us had about 30 kangaroos just playing about,” says Matt from England.

One of the ways for people to travel the road is to camp along the way. Lily, from New Zealand, says that her favourite experience on the road was camping in Otway National Park: “you could look around 360 degrees and see multiple koalas hanging in the trees.” The small towns along the coast also offer accommodations for people who prefer a more luxurious place to stay when travelling. A third option is travelling by campervan. More comfortable than a tent, in the summer you will see many people driving these along the road to experience all the scenery.

A day, a week or a month, take your time!

Despite the incredible range of sights along the road, it is also possible to see much of The Great Ocean Road in one day. Its proximity to Melbourne means that many tour companies provide trips in buses along the route. For those with a tight schedule or limited money, a one-day tour, leaving at dawn and arriving back in Melbourne late at night, allows travellers to see the main attractions of the road quickly. For those wanting to take more time, there’s the Great Ocean walk. Opened in 2004, the walk comprises over 100 kilometres of trails along the coast so people can explore the landscape at their own pace.

The road gets even busier in May when the Great Ocean Road running festival is held. A stretch of the road is shut to traffic and people compete in ultramarathons, marathons and half marathons along the coastline.

While the Great Ocean Road attracts thousands of visitors to Australia every year, it is a big hit with the Aussies too. Many Australians will take long holidays to visit the important landmarks of their country. Liam from Perth, 2,700 kilometres west, says “the Great Ocean Road was top of my list for places to explore in my country despite being so far away from my hometown.” Others local to Melbourne remember the road as part of their childhood. Lauren of Australia states “my mum loves the trip and I remember going as a kid and thinking it was awesome.”

Loki of Melbourne says, “It has an amazing mix of beach, camping forests and waterfalls for all your outdoor adventures.”

Great Ocean Road

● The Great Ocean Road is in Australia, in the state of Victoria.
● The road is 243 kilometres long.
● The road was officially opened in 1932 and took 13 years to build.
● The road was built by 3,000 ex-soldiers from the First World War.
● There was a toll on the road until 1936. The cost was 2 shillings and 6 pence for drivers and 1shilling 6 pence for passengers.
● Over 7 million tourists and locals travel the road each year.
● The road passes through Great Otway National Park, which is 102 square kilometres.


Road trip along the sea

The Great Ocean Road in Australia is one of the most famous routes in the world. It runs along the southeastern coast of Australia in the state of Victoria. It is used for transportation, but is also a tourist attraction and a memorial.

The road was planned in the 1870s, but construction began in 1919 and it took 13 years to build. Many ex- soldiers from WWI returned to Australia but could not find jobs and so they were hired to build the road. The road is dedicated to all the men who died in the First World War, so it is also the world’s largest war monument.

The landscape along the road changes dramatically, but the greatest attraction is the coast itself. You can see a series of beautiful stacked pillars caused by erosion called the 12 Apostles. Loch Ard Cove is another beautiful site, named after the wreck of the Loch Ard, which left only two survivors.

Surfing is also very popular in the waters along the road. There are surf schools that teach beginners how to surf safely but more advanced surfers prefer Loch Ard Cove. Another big attraction is the wildlife. Hundreds of koalas live in the trees that line the way and you can also see kangaroos playing about.

Travellers can camp along the road or stay in hotels in one of the small towns along the coast. But one of the more popular options is to travel by campervan. It is more comfortable than a tent and allows you to experience all the scenery while you travel.



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Road trip along the sea



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The Great Ocean Road

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