There are roads and there are mythical roads! Even though the Australian coastline roads are all beautiful, there is one of them which is outstanding and will stay in your heart and memories forever - the Great Ocean Road! For the simple reason that it is not just a road with stunning views but one of the largest open air natural art galleries in the world! And the entry to it will not cost you a cent!
Street art in Melbourne (or Melb for its inhabitants) and beach art in Brighton. Amazing sculpted rock formations displaced with an incredible creativity by Mother Nature along the coast, either in the tormented Southern Ocean or on its desert beaches or steep cliffs falling into the abysses of the tumultuous waves. It is like a giant outdoor museum with no geometrical arrangements and labels. It is like an English garden (as opposed to a French one) where you cannot even guess any human involvement into the perfect display of the flowers! It is the wild beauty of nature and art in one!
And then the icing on the cake - surfing, wild animals suddenly hopping or trudging from nowhere in front of your car or eyes, amazing waterfalls in the tropical forest at the end of a pleasant hike and old white lighthouses appearing as per magic out of the misty ocean and bathing in the sunset colours.
The Great Ocean Road was built between 1918 and 1932 by returning soldiers and dedicated to the many soldiers killed during the WWI. It constitutes the biggest war memorial in the world!
If you want to be precise, you can drive only from Torquay to Allansford which technically constitutes the 243-kilometer long stretch of the Great Ocean Road. Well, we did not and decided instead to drive all the way from Melbourne to Warrnambool, a town located a little bit further to the west after Allansford. Why? Well, because it is really worth it and the Great Ocean Road is more than just a road!
We started our art exploration in Brighton, a few kilometres south of Melbourne. Dozens of Victorian-style wooden bathing boxes are aligned along the Brighton Beach.
They were built over a century ago in order to comply with the morality requirements for seaside bathing.
However, they have since been brought back to their youth by their artistic owners who painted them in various bright colours.
You can walk around discovering pictures of waves, boxing kangaroos, fish and even the Australian flag and listen to the whispering of the ocean. All these colours and smells will make you happy but also a little bit hungry! The Aussie fish and chips we have been dreaming of since the one we had in Sydney (which was the best ever!) will have to wait a little bit though.
In order to reach the iconic surfers’ paradise Bells Beach, we took a ferry at the very end of the Mornington Peninsula to cross the Port Phillip Bay. The waves are so rough and turbulent and the winds are so strong that you would rather not swim there at all, ever! One Australian Prime Minister - Harold Holt - even disappeared there in mysterious circumstances after he had gone for a swim in 1967! His body was never found…It sounds even worse than the Bermuda Triangle to me!
Even though our ferry was quite massive, if I had had to bet, I would definitely have gone for the ocean and not for the ship...Luckily we reached Torquay, the start of the Great Ocean Road, with no incidents.
We finally got our well-deserved fish and chips from a local café and enjoyed it while admiring the surfers who were gliding on the huge waves at the mythical surfing Bells Beach. We had to watch out for the seagulls who were also hungry and quite bold but what an iconic place for a lunch break!
Bells Beach is famous for being the home of the world's longest-running surfing competition - the Rip Curl Pro Surf & Music Festival - first held there in 1961. It is well known to the best surfers around the world and given the hard surfing conditions is clearly not for amateurs! Therefore, we decided to try some surfing lessons a little bit further down the road at Apollo Bay. However, on the way, we first stopped at Kennett River.
We spotted many drowsy wild koalas resting lazily on the eucalyptus trees and some funny red parrots hopping joyfully from tree to tree (or from head to head)!
Apollo Bay is an amazing peaceful place and we decided to stop there for two days in order to explore the Great Otway National Park.
We also had our first early morning surfing lessons there after a very big breakfast supposed to give us a lot of strength! Even though the conditions were not optimal (it was freezing in January, which is supposed to be the equivalent of July in Europe and so summertime in Oz!), it was amazing to paddle and almost succeed in standing upright on the surf! Well, after having explored the underwater and tasted the salt level of the water for a few times, of course!
You certainly understand after such an experience why surfers are so fit, it is not an easy one but it is so much fun and definitely gives you the sensation of freedom!
After another fish and chips on the beach, it is time to explore the Great Otway National Park - a wonderland of desert beaches, fern forests and magnificent waterfalls. We hiked to the Erskine Falls protected by the shadows of the trees and enjoyed the silence interrupted only by the singing of the birds and the chanting of the falling water.
After so much greenery, we headed to the Great Otway Lighthouse. It was first lit in 1848 and is Australia’s oldest working lighthouse!
We decided to have a look at it from one hidden desert beach.
On the way down to the beach we literally bumped into a wild kangaroo who hopped in front of us and disappeared as a rocket in a blink of an eye! A magical encounter!
The beach was idyllic! The lighthouse was immersed in a mix of mist and sunset colours and we were the only human beings on a very long white sand beach!
The sun rays were sparkling on the sea foam covering the elegantly shaped black rocks along the beach.
On the way back to Apollo Bay we saw a whole family of wild kangaroos having their dinner next to the forest, in the light of the beautiful sunset.
As if this was not already a wow enough moment, we spotted a koala walking along the road in front of our car. We immediately switched off the engine but the koala was already scared and dragged himself to the tree while growling in a warning weird way. We quickly continued our drive in order to leave him alone but it was still an awesome experience!
Given the sleepy life of koalas, I had always thought that the koala warning signs along the roads were only for fun as it would probably take a koala a day to cross a narrow road. Actually koalas can move quite quickly when they feel threatened and, from a koala’s point of view, a 4WD seems a pretty big threat to me!
The coastline after Apollo Bay is a real work of art. The names of the rock sculptures are poetic and make your imagination wander in a delightful surrender.
After a huge delicious homemade chocolate muffin for breakfast from a local café, we started our open air museum tour with the most iconic of these natural sculptures - the 12 Apostles - seen from the beach, after descending the Gibson Steps carved in the vertiginously high cliffs. You cannot see all of them from there but those that you can - oh my, they are gorgeous!
You can walk along this beach forever! The view is magical - golden sand, powerful blue and white waves sliding on the small black rocks immersed in the water, green seaweeds and ochre rocks majestically rising up from the ocean like lonely soldiers.
The layers of the rock formations look like the assembled pages of the book of their long life! They were formed by the erosion of the limestone cliffs during many centuries! First, the ocean carved the cliffs to form caves, which later became arches and finally collapsed forming 50-meter high rock stacks.
Even though the weather was warm and sunny when we were there and the place looked like a peaceful piece of paradise, you must remember that there are many dangers everywhere. The waves of the Southern Ocean and the winds coming from the south are really harsh and quite extreme most of the time.
We headed up for another view of the apostles from the viewing platform and yep, this is the view caught on all postcards!
This is the magic of the 12 Apostles!
The first thing you start doing over there after having recovered from the first hit of beauty and bliss is counting the stacks. Well, it is hard to count as you cannot see all of them at the same time but you quickly realise that there are clearly less than 12 Apostles left by the erosion.
The current number is controversial and varies between 7 and 8 but it is just maths after all. The magic will be there whatever the exact number is! Furthermore, as some apostles collapse, new ones are formed by the eternal carving work of the ocean. It is an endless process of creation and destruction, life and death, the cycle of the universe.
The many shipwrecks lying on the bottom of the ocean along the coast are the silent witnesses of the harshness of the water and the weather conditions and gave the coast its name - the Shipwreck Coast. One of them is Loch Ard - a three-masted ship that navigated for 3 months in 1878 from England, destination Melbourne. The captain was unable to see the Cape Otway Lighthouse because of a heavy fog and the ship crashed in the reef and sank in a few minutes. Out of the 18 crew members and 37 passengers, there were only two survivors - Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce who came ashore at what is now known as Loch Ard Gorge.
The beach and the blue green transparent water of the ocean there look amazing and it is hard to believe that such a tragic event could have happened at such a paradisiac spot. However, you would be a fool to swim there as the currents are strong and many rocks are invisible to the eye on the bottom of the ocean.
Walking around the cliffs, you will spot two beautiful rocks standing close to each other which look like coming directly out of a postcard. They were named Tom and Eva after the survivors from the Loch Ard ship.
At the end of the Loch Ard Gorge cliffs walk is the Razorback, another beautiful rock sculpture, which looked to me more like the remaining walls of some castle ruins.
You can play with your imagination as to the shapes of the carvings on this abandoned ‘castle’ or the surrounding smaller rocks.
A little bit further down the road is another rock sculpture of the Great Ocean Road - the Arch, surrounded by endless cliffs. The view is majestic!
You need to drive a little bit further to the west to the last iconic sculpture of the Great Ocean Road - the London Bridge. It used to be a rock looking like a bridge on which people could actually walk. It connected the mainland with an arch in the middle of the ocean.
Nowadays it looks more like an arch after the bridge collapsed in 1990 leaving two unfortunate tourists, who had (luckily) just crossed it, on the remaining rock in the middle of the ocean. They were rescued by a chopper a few hours later.
The rock is close to a golden beach and the pallette of colours when we were there was amazing! All your senses are bewildered and touched by so much beauty and grandeur and this is what art is all about. Art for art’s sake!
You would not want to leave this last spot. You will want more beauty and breathtaking views. Your soul and senses will be wide awake and still thirsty for art elixirs. You will find them at the Bay of Martyrs, part of the 33-kilometer long Bay of Islands Coastal Park - technically not part of the Great Ocean Road but definitely the continuance of this amazing coastline, paradise for some and hell for others. The gleaming rock formations are sprinkled all around the blue and turquoise water of the bay.
We made a last stop in Warrnambool before heading back to Melbourne for some street art. There were long white sand beaches and lots of surfers!
I think that I love the Australian way of life and the unity of the Aussies with nature.
This was it, the Great Ocean Road! It was the end but we still could not get enough of the art we had been immersed in for three days.
We found our last masterpieces on Hosier Lane in Melbourne.
The street art there was full of dizzy colours and ideas.
There were so many different styles, shapes and characters but all of them transmitted the same positive energy and joy.
Looking around made us feel some kind of spiritual fulfillness and serenity, despite, or actually thanks, to the crazy creatures on the walls.
This closed beautifully the chapter of our amazing surfing through the open air art gallery created by men and nature. See you soon, beautiful Melb! See you soon, guys, for our next stop - Western Australia with its untouched nature, wineries and black swans.
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