The Great Ocean Road: King of the Road Trips
Its scenic vistas grace coffee book covers and travel brochures the world over. Its on every visitor to Australia's to do list, and each of its kilometres will take your breath away with amazing ocean views, mountainous landscapes and oddly shaped geological features! Im talking about the Great Ocean Road, one of the most celebrated coastal drives on the planet and the ultimate touring route for road trippers, driving holiday enthusiasts and the just plain curious. Its official length is just shy of 250 kilometres, so no great effort is required to complete the drive, and the rewards are pretty spectacular for what you put in. It could be seen as the perfect introduction for novice road trippers, but be warned that no trip you make in the future will quite compare!

Geelong is the official gateway to the Great Ocean Road, and lies 74 kilometres west of Melbourne, a drive that will take about an hour. Its a pleasant city, with a recently refurbished waterfront that is great for a drink or a meal. If you fancy stopping over here for a day or two then you can explore the Bellarine Peninsula, home to a variety of calm beaches and quaint historical towns. But twenty kilometres on from Geelong lies the real attraction of the region, Torquay. Home to the infamous Bells Beach where the annual Rip Curl Pro is held, Torquay is a surfing stronghold with a large concentration of factory shops and industry outlets- perfect for picking up a cheap board! Theres a bunch of great walks around there as well, so bushwalkers out there dont forget your hiking boots.

Continuing west from Torquay and now you are firmly on the Great Ocean Road. 15 kilometres will get you to Anglesea, whose high cliffs guard secluded coves and idyllic beaches hidden away from the public eye. 46 kilometres from Torquay is the next major stop, Lorne. The 20 or so kilometres that precede Lorne are perhaps the most breath taking of the whole drive. Hugging the cliff side high above the water, the road takes you past the peaks and through the forests of the Otway Mountains. It is no wonder Lorne is such a popular holiday spot for Melbourne-ites, especially considering that the Angahok Lorne National Park lies just out of town.

A 40 minute drive from Lorne will get you to Apollo Bay, another major hotspot for visitors from the city. The white sands of the crescent shaped beach here are perfect for sunbasking, surfing or fishing, and the nickname of 'Paradise by the Sea' seems a perfectly justified one. The harbour here is a quaint attraction, one that hosts the large fishing fleet which is responsible for supporting most of the towns economy. You can buy fresh seafood here, or if you dont fancy cooking it then enjoy a seafood meal in one of the many restaurants on the foreshore. For a break from the crowds, there are a couple of quiet spots between Apollo Bay and Lorne that are great for camping. The Wye and Kennett Rivers both have camping grounds, and Blanket Bay is another place that is far removed from the 'madding crowd'.

The next stretch of the journey is the 97 kilometre run to Port Campbell. The road deviates from the coast here, taking you inland through the Otway National Park. Surrounded on both sides by thick rainforest, stop offs here will reveal streams, waterfalls and some of the oldest and largest trees in Australia. Living in this tropical environment is a diverse range of fauna, including the old Australian faithfuls such as the kangaroo, wallaby and koala as well as some rarer species such as tiger quolls and long nosed potoroos. Its a beautiful snapshot of nature that you can enjoy before reaching the limestone geological features that characterise the Port Campbell region.

The most photographed and widely known of these features are the Twelve Apostles. These tall limestone pillars tower out of the sea, and can be viewed from the high cliffs of the mainland. Nature is taking its toll, and a number of the pillars have gone crashing into the sea, leaving a total of seven standing. There is a large carpark and visitors centre here, and expect to share the experience with a bunch of other tourists. Port Campbell is just a short drive further on, and there are numerous accommodation options here, from hotels to caravan parks.

Most people reach Port Campbell and then turn around and head back. This is a shame, as the 94 kilometre stretch between there and Port Fairy is a beautiful drive that goes through the Port Campbell National Park and past the scenic Bay of Islands National Park. Warnambool is the official end of the Great Ocean Road, but continue for an extra thirty kilometres and you reach the cosy and quaint hamlet of Port Fairy. An old fishing village, this is the cherry on the cake of your journey- a relaxing place to wnd down and reflect on some of the amazing things you have seen along the way. And if the holiday blues start to kick in... well dont despair, you can just turn around and do it all over again!

Gavin Wyatt