Victoria Coastal Drive: 8 Fun Things To Do Beyond The Twelve Apostles
When planning a self-drive trip in Victoria, Australia, the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island and The Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road are a must-see for sure. Although, there are so many other fun things to do beyond these!
According to a survey conducted by Tourism Australia, 74% of Singaporeans feel that the best way to see Australia is on a guided tour. I beg to differ. My first self-drive trip in Victoria was very much like a guided tour—moving from destination to destination with little flexibility.
Recently, I decided to do another Victoria road trip with family. Although, things were different this time. I wanted to re-discover Victoria at a comfortable pace, to stop and smell the flowers… to be surprised. So, I abandoned the idea of having a specific itinerary. There was only one condition: We’d drive along the coast, because we were suckers for the ocean views. But who isn’t?
Tip: When planning a self-drive, leave room for spontaneity. You never know what you may discover.
Prior to the trip, we had only booked our stays based on the number of hours it would take to drive from one town to another. Everything else in between was completely spontaneous. The good thing is that the towns within Victoria are all about 1-3 hours’ drive from one another, so it’s very easy to add destinations or make random stopovers along the way.
Armed with our rented car and data roaming, we embarked on what turned out to be one of the best road trips I’d ever had! Here are some highlights we discovered along the way that turned out to be a lot of fun.
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1. Hunt Down Those Colourful Bathing Boxes By The Beach
Ever wondered where those colourful beach houses in posters or wedding photos come from? Originally, I didn’t know that they were called “bathing boxes”, so I had done a search on my phone the day before for “colourful houses by the beach”, and voilà, I found that there were two places in Victoria you could go see them: 1) Brighton and 2) Mornington Peninsula. We were enroute from Phillip Island to Torquay, so Mornington Beach was a better option for us.
After a 10-minute trudge through the soft sand, you are welcomed by a backdrop of vividly coloured beach boxes that are perfect for taking crazy photos. Otherwise, feel free to take a rest on one of them while looking out at the gentle waves coming towards you. Bliss!
2. Spot Cute Lighthouses
Did you know? There are some 20 lighthouses lining the Victoria coast, from Gippsland to the Great Ocean Road, with many of them dating back to the 1800s. For us, this was entirely unplanned. We had spotted it nestled on a hill in the distance and decided to turn off the road when we saw the signs leading up to Split Point Lighthouse in Aireys Inlet. Parking was free, and it was a 5-minute walk from the lighthouse.
We didn’t go up the tower, but you can do so if you wish to, or even get a ticket for the daily 40-minute tours that begin at 11am, 12nn, 1pm and 2pm. Other famous ones are Cape Otway Lightstation, Cape Schanck and Point Lonsdale. The grounds for most lighthouses are open to the public, but there may be periodic restrictions. Check each lighthouse page for details.
3. Pinch Some Fresh Seafood at a Fishermen’s Co-op
One of the best things about driving along a coastline is probably the easy access to fresh seafood. Being Singaporeans who will travel for our food, we were on the hunt for incredibly fresh catches at reasonable prices. And a fishermen’s co-op restaurant was the answer!
A quick search on your phone will give you San Remo Fisherman's Co-op (situated right before you drive onto the bridge that connects San Remo to Phillip Island), and Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-op (just a short turn of Great Ocean Road in Apollo Bay). Needless to say, we had BOTH, because the food was so good! The fresh oysters and buttered scallops are a must-order at San Remo, while the ‘catch of the day’ and crayfish are popular at Apollo Bay. Both have pretty decent fish and chips.
4. See Dolphins on a Car Ferry
While figuring out what we should do in between Phillip Island and Torquay, we decided to take the car ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliff. Not only does it save travel time and petrol, we had read somewhere that if you were lucky, you’d get to see dolphins! So, being the animal lovers that we were, it was a no-brainer. And we were rewarded with sightings of six dolphins!
The overall experience turned out to be fuss free. You just pay for the ride, drive on, get out of your car and have a cup of coffee or a snack from the cafe in the comfortable lounge area. Or venture to the upper deck for open air views of the bay. Then, after 40 minutes, get back in your car and drive off. Easy!
5. Go Glamping on Top of a Hill
For a different stay experience, I’d certainly recommend staying at Pebble Point for one night. It’s basically a nice little hotel room, with clean hotel furniture perched on top of hill, covered in a tent. It isn’t super luxurious, but comfortable enough. Also, the view from your tent is gorgeous. It was wonderful being able to just sit in front of the room after a long day of driving, sipping a cup of tea while looking out over the greenery. The heating pads in the beds were also a huge plus and incredibly comforting.
Each tent has its own toilet that’s nice and clean. However, it’s not connected, so you need to take a short walk outside to get to your toilet. But we didn’t feel it posed that much of a problem. The other possible downside is that if you happen to be there on a windy day, be prepared to hear the flapping of your tent throughout the night. Well, it’s an “outdoor” experience after all. I would say it’s worth the experience, and given that it’s conveniently near The Twelve Apostles, it makes for a good stopover for the night. Be sure to book early as it tends to be a popular stay for people wanting to see The Twelve Apostles.
6. Look Out on a Lookout
What’s a coastal drive without making stops to just stare at the vastness of the ocean? Besides the popular Loch Ard Gorge and Twelve Apostles lookout spots (which are absolutely breathtaking and you should go there at least once in your life), there are quite a few lookout spots along Great Ocean Road that are splendid as well. Cape Patton Lookout Point, Bird Rock Lookout, Port Campbell Scenic Lookout to name a few.
We went up to Mariners Lookout when we were at Apollo Bay. It is a short but steep 10-minute walk up the hill from the tiny car park. The best thing about these lesser known lookouts is that it’s not super crowded, so you can just enjoy the amazing view in peace and quiet. Not to mention, be able to take a few memorable photos whilst you are up there!
7. Make a Chocolate Stop
After a few hours of driving, how about stopping over at a Chocolate shop? We had a chocolate craving, so a quick search on my phone revealed quite many Chocolate shops in Victoria—Chocolate Mill in Mount Franklin, G.O.R.G.E. Chocolates near Princetown, Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery in Yarra Glen—so we wasted no time to factor in a pit stop at the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery when we were driving Westward from Lorne.
We pulled in and were delighted to find free chocolate and ice cream tastings, as well as shelves and shelves of different chocolate products and flavours! My favourite was the chocolate-flavoured hand creams. The cafe serves a wide selection of handcrafted ice-creams, chocolate beverages, desserts and pastries for you to indulge in. We left on a chocolate high.
8. Explore a 19th Century Port Town
Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, about an hour’s drive from The Twelve Apostles, is a historical 19th century port and town, and houses Victoria's largest maritime shipwreck collection. Wander about the 10-hectare village area, and step into over 40 buildings and vessels to learn more about what life was like for the residents during that time.
Before you walk down the village streets, trek up this tiny hill to see the Warrnambool Garrison as well as the Warrnambool Lady Bay Lighthouses, built in 1887 and 1858 respectively. For those with young children, be sure to get a bag of nibbles to feed the farm animals that you will discover along the way.
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