Great Ocean Road


26 December 2022
The great open road awaits... : credit: © Patrick Cruywagen
Our Editor takes on Australia’s Great Ocean Road in an auto Discovery 2 that his mate bought for only £300. But will he make it back to Melbourne?

Sometimes adventure crops up in unlikely places. I was halfway into a two-week holiday in Australia. Most of my previous visits to this 4x4 mecca involved heading to the Outback for work. I have been very lucky: attending two Outback Challenges, crossing the Simpson Desert once and also doing what is known as the toughest 4WD track in the world, the Canning Stock Route. Most Australians only leave the cities they live in to work in a bar in London.

This trip was supposed to be different for me, meeting the girlfriend’s family in Sydney and Melbourne and catching up with friends in Perth. JetStar, Australia’s version of Ryan Air, had other ideas. The airline overbooked my flight to Perth on the Monday after the Melbourne Grand Prix weekend, so I was going nowhere. There was no space for me or several others on the plane to Perth.

The man who doesn’t like swimming takes in the ocean view​​​​​​

I was in dire need of an adventure to take my mind off the injustice of it all. How about a road trip along one of the finest pieces of tarmac in the world, the coastal Great Ocean Road? Whilst in Melbourne I was supposed to have a 2016 beefed-up Defender as a runaround, but because its owner Andrew Curry hadn’t finished fitting two new ARB lockers and some other bits and bobs including a bullbar, he instead left a £300 Discovery 2 Td5 auto for me at the airport. He then sent me a WhatsApp message to say, “it’s a bit rough and the suspension is shocking”. My Dad always used to say beggars can’t be choosers – he was right.

A more valuable reminder than you might think

Before leaving Melbourne for my unplanned road trip, I checked the oil and coolant levels. Andrew had also failed to tell me that it didn’t have a spare tyre. Nothing like living on the edge in a country where saltwater crocs and deadly spiders rule. I leave the city and take the highway to Geelong. I straight away realise why this D2 was so cheap: the suspension is shot and vibrates. A lot. Fortunately the max speed limit is only 50mph for the first hour or two. Once I get it above 40mph the vibration disappears and my ears thank me.

In Geelong I stop at the local ARB store for a browse. Years ago I did a tour of the ARB factory in Melbourne and the team showed us the technology behind its world-famous lockers, bullbars and suspension systems. As I walk into the store I notice a massive poster showing several 4x4s driving through a rather long stretch of water. One of them is a red Defender and I’m behind the wheel. It was taken during the ARB 40th birthday legends trip – ten journalists from around the world got to drive some legendary old 4x4s through the Simpson Desert. The Defender did ever-so well while one of the Land Cruisers needed to be towed for long stretches. I’ll just leave it there.

I purchase a beanie and some bits for my ARB compressor in my Defender at home. I feel hopelessly unprepared as I have no camping equipment. Not even a cooler box. All I have is a duvet and a pillow. Who needs all of that stuff anyway, I try to convince myself…

Surfing is popular...

...but not without its dangers!​​​​​​

From Geelong I point the nose of the Disco south and head for the coast along the B100 — there’s nothing like the purr of a Td5 engine for company. Long may it continue, I pray. First stop is Torquay, the surfing capital of Australia. The place even has a surfing museum where you can find out about the fascinating history of surfing in Australia. Surf shops line the main street and all the big brands are represented: Rip Curl, Billabong and Roxy. Need a surfing guide or want to take a surfing tour? There are people here who will do just that for you. I can barely swim so instead head to the tourist information shop at the surf museum. The kind man behind the counter gives me a map and points out some of the things that I must see during my adventure. “The best parts of the Great Ocean Road are between Lorne and Apollo Bay,” he says.

Drive-through off-licences are popular in Australia – Pat dropped into this one on the strength of its name alone

Next up, some supplies. I don’t have a BBQ so I buy a few bottles of water, some sarnies, fruit and salads. Just as I’m about to leave Surf City I spot a Thirsty Camel. Allow me to explain. It is not an actual animal but rather the name of a chain of drive-through bottle shops. I’m a real tourist and pull in for a picture of the Disco parked next to it. The owner looks at me as if I am crazy, so I buy a six-pack of Fosters. “You must be a foreigner,” he quips, before adding, “we locals don’t drink that stuff.” I leave Torquay as fast as the Disco 2 will take me.

I see a sign advertising an international surfing competition at Bells Beach and so I head there. Thousands of others have had the same idea. It is going to take me at least an hour or two to park up and walk down to the beach so I just drive on. In 1970 Bells Beach, which I can see to my left, was declared a Surfing Recreation Reservation. In fact, the Rip Curl Pro, which is held here every Easter weekend, is the longest-running surf contest in the world. I make a pledge to myself to stop and watch some surfing somewhere less busy.

Gum tree forests are magnificent

The next town is Anglesea, spelled slight differently to the Anglesey in Wales. I stop to take in the coastal views and study my map. I cannot believe that there are so many places on the Great Ocean Road with the same names as UK towns: Torquay, Anglesea, Peterborough and London Bridge. There is also a Winchelsea and a Lorne, the name given to the square Scottish sausage. They certainly know how to make British visitors welcome in these parts.

The D2 purrs on to our next stop, Aireys Inlet. I park up at the bottom of a hill and take a walk up to the iconic Split Point Lighthouse. There are coastal walking tracks in every direction, so I take one and the views over the dramatic cliffs and coast make it oh-so worth it. I would like to get a shot of the D2 and the lighthouse and so I do just that, thanks to Google Maps. There is a road through a suburban area that takes us to the back of the lighthouse. Other walkers and visitors must think why is he taking a picture of his banger and the lighthouse? I quickly move on.

Aussies love their road signs. And have fun with them, too

I do love the bright yellow Australian road signs warning me of all types of exotic wildlife, but it is one particular white sign with black lettering that has me tickled pink. It reads: Drive on left in Australia. There are hundreds of these signs on the Great Ocean Road — as someone who has driven big 4x4s in right-hand drive countries such as Italy and Angola, the sign makes perfect sense. Speaking of signs, I next pull over at the Memorial Arch at Eastern View. This big Great Ocean Road sign and wooden arch was erected as a tribute to the 3000 returning World War I soldiers who built this road under some pretty tough conditions.

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Smiles for miles

The next part of the Great Ocean Road is my favourite. As the D2 rounds a bend I’m treated to spectacular sweeping coastal vistas. I just want to stop and take a picture of each and every one, but then I’ll never get back to Melbourne again.

By the time I reach Lorne I have had Great Ocean Road overload, so I head inland for 10kms to the Erskine Falls. The road to the falls involves a bit of steep climbing and the D2 moans when I floor the accelerator pedal. I back off a bit on the descent to the car park. It’s about a ten-minute walk to the falls viewpoint, but I run it in five. The falls still seem quite far away, so I plod on to the bottom viewpoint: that’s much better. Then I jump over the barriers and hop from rock to rock as I make my way right  to the bottom of the falls: that’s much, much better. The 30m Erskine Falls are the most popular waterfalls in the Otway Region and so my detour has been well worth it.

Ross Young and his Toyota Land Cruiser ute

At the edge of Lorne I spot several campers and an old Toyota Land Cruiser pick-up in a wooded carpark. I stop off there, too. The Toyota is owned by a guy called Ross Young and he paid $12,000 for it in the Margaret River area of Western Australia. That is about a five-day drive away. I tell him what my Disco 2 costs and he nearly drops his expensive camera. I take a Fosters from the D2 and go and sit on some rocks to watch the surfers. Sunset is only an hour away so I decide to hit the road again.

Local wildlife abounds

The Jamieson Creek Bush Campground where I plan on overnighting, is only about 20 minutes away. As I turn off onto the track to the campsite, I see a wallaby standing in the middle of the road. It takes one look at my Disco before haring off. I booked a pitch online for the campsite but as I don’t have a tent I just sleep on the back seat of the D2, but not before chatting to a young Kiwi wildlife ranger who is taking an epic trip on his motorbike. He points out the Southern Cross to me and the closest stars to the earth. He also explains the difference between the stars on the New Zealand flag and the Australian flag. Time for bed. I sleep with my feet hanging out of the door and find myself surprisedat just how much shut-eye I get.

Early starts have their rewards

I’m up before sunrise and as I don’t have anything to pack, I can head off straight after washing my face and brushing my teeth. I’m rewarded with the most incredible sunrise. I stop to just watch the ocean and the orange skies above it. This is without a doubt one of the highlights of the road so far. The early morning joggers and dog walkers are out as I slowly enter Apollo Bay. I find a bakery buy a few large Anzac cookies and a cup of coffee before pushing on.

The road now goes inland for a long stretch. Just after Maits Rest I take the long detour to the Cape Otway Lightstation. The road there is narrow but scenic, and I see several kangaroos on the way. Unfortunately, the lighthouse is closed and I don’t feel like waiting around three hours until it opens, so I take a walk along the coast until I can spot it. It is the oldest lightstation on the Australian coast and according to my map and guide it has played an important role in the maritime history of this ocean-locked country. Time to get back to the Great Ocean Road.

Sofia Bardal has been touring Australia for three years in her Jeep

The road briefly returns to the coast at Castle Cove so I stop at the viewpoint. There is an old Jeep Grand Cherokee parked up there and so I chat to the owner, Sofia Bardal, from Patagonia, Argentina. She paid $4500 for it and has spent about $1000 dollars repairing it. “I have been travelling through Australia for about three years now and have done about 25,000km. I am not in a hurry so I don’t really push the engine beyond 2000rpm to save fuel.” I take a photo of Sofia and her Jeep before heading inland again.

The road between Yuulong and Gellibrand Lower has lots of switchbacks and hairpins, hence the 35km/h signs. The D2’s tyres screech at one of the hairpins and I see a cross with some flowers. I slow down to about 20km/h and see that someone has written RIP Dad, David, but I don’t have the time to read the other two names on it. A sobering reminder to obey the local road signs at all times.

Just two of the Twelve Apostles and a coastal view you absolutely have to stop for

Soon I am back on the coast road again and it’s around lunchtime when I reach the jewel in the crown of the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles, probably the most famous sea stacks in all Australia. I stop just before them, at the very steep Gibsons Steps. From here I take a walk onto the beach: luckily the tide is low and I can walk out to the stacks. They’re impressive in the afternoon autumnal light. I allow myself another stop at the Twelve Apostles Visitor’s Centre and do another walk, this time along the clifftops, so I can view them from another angle. Helicopters packed with tourists hover overhead as they enjoy a birdseye view of one of Australia’s greatest tourist attractions. Epic stuff.

My time on the Great Ocean Road comes to an end at Port Campbell. From here I head inland and take a different route back to Melbourne, just for a change of scenery. By the time I leave the D2 at the airport for Andrew who is flying in from Thailand on the same day as I fly back to the UK, I have done over a thousand miles in it. Just over half of this was on the Great Ocean Road, one of the great driving roads of the world. While I never made it to Perth as planned, I turned a negative into a massive positive. While you might need a Land Rover to cross the Simpson Desert, you don’t need one to do the Great Ocean Road, though it did feel good doing a classic drive in a classic Discovery. Most Land Rover experts are in agreement that there are no finer engines for an overland trip than the reliable Td5.

So, if you ever find yourself with some time to kill in Melbourne, buy yourself a £300 Discovery 2 and take the Great Ocean Road. One life, live it – right?


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