Thursday, 12 April 2018

Roadtripping from Sydney to the Great Ocean Road.

My parents were visiting me in Australia for two weeks over the Easter long weekend, and so we booked in a trip to drive from Sydney to Melbourne, and then road-trip the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to Port Campbell, before driving back up to Sydney via Bendigo. The roadtrip was a bit of an epic drive, and despite my meticulous itinerary and planning, we learnt a lot on the way that I wanted to share with you all in the hope that it will help you if you're planning a similar trip! 

Roadtripping from Sydney to the Great Ocean Road - Twelve Apostles

Day 1: Sydney to Beechworth - 570km/6hours

We started in Sydney on the Wednesday, and drove down Hume Highway via the Dog on a Tucker Box (basically Australia managed to create a tourist attraction out of a location where a dog supposedly pee'd on his owners tuckerbox/lunchbox), to a gorgeous little town in the middle of the countryside called Beechworth. It's a really famous old Gold Rush town that's mainly famous for its honey, and its bakery.

It's probably the prettiest Australian town I've visited, and had a thriving foodie scene that shocked me a little bit! How on earth is there such a great foodie scene in a tiny outback town of 2,789 people?! Anywho, there is, and if you love food just as much as I do you should definitely make a stop there for a couple of days. We were only there for a night and regretted it massively as there's actually quite a lot to do there and so much to eat! Ideally 2-3 nights would have been perfect.

Day 2: Beechworth to Melbourne - 285km/3hours

The next day we woke up early, got some pies from the bakery to take on the road, and headed back onto the Hume Highway. Next stop - Melbourne! We stayed at an apartment hotel on the Southbank, but if you're going to Melbs I always recommend the Sheraton Melbourne, it's not a boring business hotel like most other Sheraton's, it's super trendy and I absolutely LOVED my stay there last year!

We were in Melbourne for two nights, and spent our time exploring the city, walking the Pier at St Kilda, and ate some incredible food! It was my mums first time in the city and my Dad's first visit in about 25 years, so I was keen to show them the best of Melbourne in just one full day. 

We wandered around Southbank, over the foot bridge, and up towards Federation Square and Flinders Street Station. Then it was to the old Royal Exhibition building, before walking down the road to have an iced chocolate at Trunk in their outside garden. Chinatown was next, and then round the Melbourne CBD streets before heading back towards Chinatown for lunch at Supernormal, an incredible Japanese restaurant. We headed over to Fitzroy Gardens, which are the cutest gardens ever! Captain Cook's cottage is located in the middle of the gardens and you can pay a fee to see the inside.

We then got the tram down to St Kilda beach to have a wander down the pier and get an ice-cream. To be honest I don't really get the fuss with St Kilda, it looks like an English seaside harbour, and after seeing the beaches of WA, Queensland, and even Sydney, it was a bit of a let down. The ice-cream however, was delish and just what we needed! I went for Cookies & Cream and oh my days was it dreamy.

After St Kilda, we got the tram to the Docklands thinking it would be a bit like Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth. LOLZ. It was totally dead and there was no one there and nothing going on. 

On our way back to the hotel we stopped off at the bottle-o so I could grab a bottle of wine and some snacks, and then while I got changed and ready to go out with Anna and Nikki, mum and dad headed to church. 

You might remember Anna from Perth, and Nikki from Sydney. We've all been friends since our high school days in Perth, and the two of them came and visited me in London a few years ago and we had a night out at DSTRKT. Since then Anna and I have been to New York together, and Nikki and I went to Canberra (LOL, guess who drew the short straw). So it seemed fitting that the three of us would go out and party in Anna's new home of Melbourne.

We started with drinks and nibbles at Anna's, and then went to Naked For Satan in Fitzroy for rooftop drinks. We then jumped in a taxi and made our way to Level 23 in Crown Casino. It's their fancier club that's on the rooftop, so has insane views over the city! It was one of those nights where you're a bit too happy tapping your card and buying bottles, then you wake up the next day, check your bank statement, and cry. Boo. That'll teach us!

Day 4: Melbourne to Port Campbell - 283km/4.5hours

I woke up the next day feeling surprisingly sprightly considering how much I had drowned my sorrows the night before. The fam and I jumped in the car and started the long drive along the Great Ocean Road. 

If you don't already know (add me on Linkedin!), I've been working with Tourism Australia for the past 18 months with my full-time job. I'm their SEO Manager at their media agency, and so I know their website inside out. Any time I'm going somewhere in Australia, I know off the top of my head which of their 800+ pages I need to go to to get the best information, and so far, they've all been super accurate on recommending the best things to see and do. So when we were planning the Great Ocean Road roadtrip, I went to two key pages on the site and planned our roadtrip around the things on those pages that appealed most to me and my parents.

We started at the famous Bells Beach, but we sadly couldn't get anywhere near it as the surf championships haha! First lesson: Make sure you check for any local events before you go somewhere.

It was mid-morning an we were all pretty hungry as we hadn't had breakfast yet, so we headed over to the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie and Ice-Creamery in the hope if an epic ice-chocolate at their cafe. Sadly as it was Good Friday they had an Easter Egg hunt on, meaning it was completely packed with bus-loads of kids and families. So we kept driving and found an adorable little cafe inside a garden centre. It reminded us of England, and I had an epic slab of Carrot Cake with thick cream cheese ice-cream (which actually needed a bit more sugar as it tasted a bit too savoury...).

Next up we drove to Lorne, a cute little town along the Great Ocean Road. The drive from Bells Beach to Lorne was STUNNING. Literally breathtaking, and we obvs stopped by the Great Ocean Road sign to get some snaps. The Great Ocean Road is actually a war memorial dedicated to those lost in WW1, and is the world's largest war memorial. It was actually built between 1919-1932 by veterans from WW1 who returned to Australia jobless. The government created the project to give them work, and the entire way along the road I was just in awe of how these men could have created such a beautiful memorial to their friends and fellow soldiers.

The traffic into Lorne was insane, it was Good Friday and it felt like every other tourist in Melbourne had the same idea as us. We eventually got there and grabbed some pies in Lorne from Louttit Bay bakery. Apparently this is the best bakery in Lorne...I have zero complaints and happily chowed down on my beef, bacon, and cheese pie while looking out over Erskine Falls.

Yep, we carried our pies all the way to Erskine Falls! It's only a 10-minute drive from the bakery, and we were lucky to find a parking spot immediately. We carried our pies to the closest lookout to the car park, ate them on a bench overlooking it, and then walked the pies off by clambering down the too-deep steps. Erskine Falls was beautiful and it was so crazy standing in a forest that felt like a tropical rainforest in Queensland so close to Melbourne, but Victoria actually has a surprising amount of temperate rainforest.

Next on my list was Kennett River to try and see some actual wild Koalas. Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland are the only states you can see wild Koalas, and after living in Western Australia and New South Wales, I was DESPERATE to see some wild ones rather than wildlife park ones! Sadly there was a huge fire on the Grey River Road in Kennett River a couple of years ago, so a lot of the gum trees have gone which means the Koala's food source is gone. We were *very* lucky though and spotted a sleep Koala in a tree at the very start of the road in the residential area. HOW CUTE IS IT.

Content with seeing a wild Koala, we then made our way to Port Campbell. By this time it was late afternoon and we still had a fair way of the drive to go. We drove to Cape Otway lightstation as the parents love a lighthouse, but the drive was crazy long and when we eventually got there we discovered it's $20 entry EACH. That's $60 for the three of us...just to see a lighthouse! Excessive or what. We abandoned that and kept on driving to Port Campbell. On the plus side though, we saw another Koala!

We decided to do the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge etc the following day - when we drove past Twelve Apostles close to sunset the crowds were so huge we could see the trail of people from the road. We had no desire to battle our way through hundreds of people, so instead decided to go early the next morning. If I give you one piece of advice it's this, do not daytrip the Great Ocean Road. Stop off in Port Campbell overnight and visit the Twelve Apostles the next morning. There were no crowds and we had it pretty much all to ourselves!

We found the hotel in Port Campbell, dropped our bags, and headed to 12 Rocks Beach Bar for dinner. It's a relaxed cafe/restaurant with the most incredible view over the beach, and really fantastic food. I chose fish and chips, and it was the biggest portion of fish and chips I have ever seen! We had a really lovely evening sitting on the deck overlooking the beach as the sun went down, eating and drinking a beautiful bottle of Australian Chardonnay.

Day 5: Port Campbell to Bendigo - 283km/3.5hours

We arose bright and early ready for another day of adventure! The drive to the Twelve Apostles was a quiet one with very few cars on the road, and we were really lucky that the crowds of day-trippers were still hours away so had the breathtaking view pretty much all to ourselves.

There are actually only nine Apostles left, as three of them have collapsed into the ocean, but they're still mightily impressive. It was Easter Sunday morning when we visited, and it seemed rather apt to spend the morning in the presence of Mother Nature's very own Twelve Apostles.

After the Apostles we drove just a little way down the road to Loch Ard Gorge. I was a terrible blogger and failed to get the famous 'insta' photo down on the beach, but we had another long drive ahead of us so we got a quick snap, then moved on to London Bridge and The Grotto.

I think The Grotto was my favourite point on the Great Ocean Road other than the Twelve Apostles. It was so peaceful and quiet, and it felt like Cornwall.

And then it was time to drive to Bendigo, a famous city in Victoria that was the home of the gold rush in the 1800s. We drove the 3.5 hours, just stopping off for a quick sandwich in a tiny deli in the most random little outback town, and arrived in Bendigo in the afternoon to discover an Easter Parade had just finished, and we couldn't actually get to our hotel to park the car! Eventually we found a way, and checked in to The Shamrock, a major landmark in Bendigo that was built in the 19th century. Prince Charles and Princess Diana stayed there, and to be honest it looks like they haven't refurbished it since - it's incredibly dated, but the staff were really friendly and the location was perfect!

Being situated on Pall Mall (yes, Bendigo has a Pall Mall - it's a little different to the London one!) meant it was easy for us to find our way around, and we marvelled at the grandiose London-esque Victorian buildings that lined the streets. It was weird having these huge incredible buildings dotted around, and then the crappy Australian buildings across the road haha.

We had a walk through the city's gardens, and up towards St Kilian's Catholic church for Easter Sunday mass. We were pretty surprised to find such a young priest there, and were SHOCKED when his sermon was passionate and enthusiastic...and THEN he picked up his guitar and started singing! My mum and I were cringing when he told us he was going to sing us a song as we were panicking he would be awful...but then he was amazing and our mouths literally dropped in surprise. It was a couple of days later when we Googled his name and realised he had been on Australian X Factor and is now a Youtube star and author with a movie about his life in the works! Is that crazy or what!?

After church we wandered back to the hotel for dinner in their cafe/restaurant. As it was Easter Sunday there weren't many places open (apparently Masons of Bendigo is amazing if you're there on a normal day), so we didn't have a lot of choice for places to eat. But I actually ended up having the best meal I'd had in ages. I chose the Rockling fillet with creamy mashed potato, an avocado and tomato salsa, and a lemon caper foam. It was honestly incredible and it exceeded my expectations massively. 

Day 6: Bendigo to Sydney - 836km/8.5hours

We got up pretty early on the Monday and had breakfast at the hotel before driving over to the Catholic cathedral. As I walked through the doors of the Cathedral I was stopped in my tracks by two huge beams of sunlight stretching down through the building, and my heart skipped a beat. The entire Cathedral was bathed in a golden glow, and my mouth dropped in awe. There was no else inside, it was peaceful and tranquil, and I slowly made my way down the aisle to the front where the golden glow washed over the alter and Baptismal font. It was just magical.

The drive back to Sydney was long and uneventful, but we saw a bunch of sheep being driven across the road, and we also hit a load of traffic between Goulburn and Sydney which meant instead of the anticipated 8.5 hours drive, it turned into a 10.5 hour drive. It was brutal, and if you have more time I'd recommend stopping off in Canberra overnight just to break it up a bit. We did however, see the Big Merino in Goulburn! We're not sure why, but Australia has a fascination with 'big' things, as you can see in this article haha.

We eventually got back to Sydney, exhausted, but proud of our epic roadtrip around NSW and Victoria!

Total Kilometres: 2,285
Total hours driven: 30

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1 comment

  1. This is something I would love to do one day - definitely making a note of your tips for when I do. Such gorgeous photos too and the light in the cathedral is stunning.


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