The Great Ocean Road (visitgreatoceanroad.org.au), Victoria’s famous southwestern coastal route, starts at Torquay, just over 20km south of Geelong, and extends 285km west to Warrnambool. It was built between 1919 and 1932 with the idea of constructing a scenic road of world repute, equalling California’s Pacific Coast Highway – and it certainly lives up to its reputation. The road was to be both a memorial to the soldiers who had died in World War I and an employment scheme for those who returned. More than three thousand ex-servicemen laboured with picks and shovels, carving the road along Australia’s most rugged and densely forested coastline; the task was speeded up with the help of the jobless during the Great Depression.
The road hugs the coastline between Torquay and Apollo Bay and passes through the popular holiday towns of Anglesea and Lorne, set below the Otway Ranges. From Apollo Bay the road heads inland, through the towering forests of the Great Otway National Park, before rejoining the coast at Princetown to wind along the shore for the entire length of the Port Campbell National Park. This stretch from Moonlight Head to Port Fairy, sometimes referred to as the “Shipwreck Coast”, is the most spectacular – there are two hundred known shipwrecks here, victims of the imprecise navigation tools of the mid-nineteenth century, the rough Southern Ocean and dramatic rock formations such as the Twelve Apostles.
From Warrnambool, the small regional centre where the Great Ocean Road ends, the Princes Highway continues along the coast, through quaint seaside Port Fairy and industrial Portland, before turning inland for the final stretch to the South Australian border.