Victoria ’s Southern Coast, a parade of earthly wonders
The hemline of our continent, Victoria ’s southern coastline is a parade of earthly wonders topped off with a stellar array of polished pleasures. Grabbing the headlines in this part of the world is the Twelve Apostles, an icon that needs no introduction, but you don’t have to wander far to discover quiet lagoons patrolled by stalking birds, rainforests where the trees wear a velvet second skin of moss and fungus and a coastline that will tear your heart from its moorings – small miracles that will never be seen from the window of the tour buses that proliferate.
Torquay, which marks the eastern end of the Great Ocean Road, is Australia’s Surf City. Check out the town’s Surf World Museum, the world’s largest dedicated to the sport. Moving west, Lorne is the capital of cool in this part of the world. Backed by the green hills of the Otway Ranges, Lorne’s tourism potential was recognised more than a century ago, and the town marries a Victorian taste for promenades with its barefoot manners. Apollo Bay is a rung down the style ladder but it’s a good choice for a base if walking is on the agenda as well as beaches.
The most famous beach in this part of the world is Bells, home to the headline event of Australia’s surfing calendar, the Rip Curl Pro Surf Classic, held each Easter. Even on a fairly flat day the waves roll into long, straight cylinders as they fold onto the beach, and there’s usually plenty of room for swimmers as well. At Lorne, the broad sandy crescent at the town’s front doorstep beach is protected by the sheltering arm of Point Grey, which tames the rollers of the Southern Ocean to molehills and makes this a big hit with families. One of the most spectacular beaches you’ll ever see is Gibsons, just west of Princetown, Look for the parking lot where the road veers suddenly toward the sea and take the steps leading down the 70-metre cliff face to the beach where the ocean is rearranging the coastline, exploding against the steep beach and sending creamy fingers groping across the sand. A short walk will take you to a rock pinnacle stranded in the waves, an appetiser to the Twelve Apostles, the pre-eminent icon of Victorian tourism. Swimming is out of the question, but the scenery more than compensates.
Golf on the wish list? On the outskirts of Torquay, Peppers The Sands is a resort with its own 18-hole course.
Set on a hillside at Wongarra, near Apollo Bay, Points South Cottages. The beach is a two-minute walk away, there’s a surf/kayak school just down the road, and you might want to pack your bike.
Perched high in the hills above Skenes Creek, Chris’ Beacon Point has accommodation as well as a swanky restaurant.
Most hotels pay lip service to the principle of conservation, but conservation is knitted into the very fabric of this five-room inn, from the mud-brick walls to the huge array of solar panels that provides 100 per cent of the power. The Great Ocean Ecolodge lies at the very heart of Cape Otway, adjoining the Otway National Park, and activities focus on the wildlife and ecology of the area.
The knockout drive in this part of the world is the Great Ocean Road, the 250-kilometre coastal route between Torquay and Allansford, near Warnambool. The scenery reaches its postcard moment in the 45- kilometre stretch between Peterborough and Princetown, where the road snakes along the clifftops above a succession of geographic jawdroppers. The most celebrated is the Twelve Apostles, rock pillars that have been isolated from the coast by the raging sea. Among the minor classics, Turtons Track is a gravel road that weaves though the rainforests of the Otway Ranges.
Rising from the coast into the steep ranges east of Cape Otway, Great Otway National Park is mostly temperate rainforest where soaring messmate, manna gums and mountain ash soar from an understorey of ferns that surround them like lacy green petticoats. Highlights of the park include waterfalls, lakes, walking trails and Cape Otway Lighthouse, the oldest on Victoria’s Bass Strait coastline, poised majestically on the brink of its promontory 100 metres above a fierce sea. The Otway Ranges also has an exceptional hiking/cycle trail in the Old Beechy Rail Trail, which follows the line of a narrow-gauge railway built more than a century ago.