Bush Capital to Great Ocean Road (Aussie Road Trip, Part I)

Last month, my mom came to Australia for two weeks to visit V and I, and celebrate her milestone birthday. We spent a few days in Canberra (Australia’s “bush capital”), showing her around and letting her adjust to the 19 hour time difference (!). Then we took an epic eight-hour road trip through rural Victoria down to Melbourne, where we looked around the city and did a day trip down the Great Ocean Road. Afterwards, we loaded up ourselves – and my car – on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry and sailed 10.5 hours overnight to Australia’s island state of Tasmania. There we spent six days trying to circumnavigate the island’s breathtaking coastlines, lush valleys, and primordial forests. We then reversed our course all the way back to Canberra, spending a couple more days sightseeing around our little town and celebrating V’s own milestone birthday before my mom returned to American winter.

It will probably take me two or three posts to share all the cool things we did, so with no further ado – three Americans take an epic Aussie road trip across three states and one territory!

Day 1

My mom had a big day one just getting to us! She drove about 150 miles by car, flew 7,535 miles, jumped 19 time zones, lost an entire calendar day, and somehow had the energy to stay up for a home-cooked dinner! Not only that, but she helped prepare the spring rolls. Impressive.

Day 2

The second day of my mom’s visit was her birthday, so I made us a big breakfast complete with scrambled eggs, toast, fruit salad, coffee, and mimosas. After she opened her birthday present (an iPad), we headed off to one of our favorite places to hike and enjoy nature, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

There we took a walk around the sanctuary lake loop, saw koalas, and picnicked with kangaroos and parrots.


Serious about picnic baskets like I’m serious about wine and cheese!

We finished off the evening with a visit to the QT Lounge skybar and a delicious dinner at the Capital Grille where, as always, the service was top-notch.

Day 3

A sunny day in Canberra, and perfect to spend a few hours looking through the indoor/outdoor Australian War Memorial (Australia’s most-visited museum).

We followed that up with a trip to the annual Multicultural Festival, which fortunately happened to coincide with my mom’s visit. Now in its 23rd year, the three-day festival brings together hundreds of thousands of people in a blend of culture, music, and food that is one of Canberra’s most fun events. Last year I attended it for the first time, and it was my first big outing after my foot surgery (several weeks post-surgery) and my spinal surgery (two weeks post-surgery), so suffice it to say I was a little more comfortable in the crowd this time.

We had kind of a chill evening at home, so we could get ready for the long drive to Melbourne the following day. My car is a Holden Trax (kind of like a smaller version of the Chevy Equinox on the U.S. market), and the trunk is a bit dinky. I (lovingly) restricted us to two small, carry-on size bags each. Even still, between our luggage, purses/day packs, fleeces, and a couple bags of groceries and miscellaneous, whoever sat in the back seat had to share the space with STUFF. Had we been able to take the Nissan, we would have been more comfortable. However, I am not going to trust a 14-year old car that’s had the engine light on for almost a year and a half on that long of a trip. I could just see the ferry operator paging me to disembark in my vehicle and it not starting. So, the Holden it was.

Day 4

Bright and early-ish on a Sunday morning we set out, crossing about 411 miles through the Australian Capital Territory, into New South Wales. I forgot to check the odometer before we headed out, so I’ll try to add up the drive-time mileage and give an estimate of the entire trip at the end.

One fun thing that we did was agree to count every orange car, truck, or SUV (not counting commercial vehicles) along our road trip. It goes along with my theory that Australia just has a lot more orange cars than the United States does. Obviously it’s anecdotal, but if you find it unusual that there would be that many orange cars (including neon, copper, etc. but not including bronze and mustard) that I would feel compelled to make a game out of it, there just might be something to this. I’ll let you know how many we ended up counting in the final trip post! (BTW, we did not count my car, which is indeed a pretty copper color!)

We made a stop halfway for lunch in South Albury, right before crossing the state line into Victoria. After a delicious lunch (and a 15 minute panic in which I’d misplaced the car keys), we were off like a herd of turtles! Maybe I should have taken some pictures of the sheer vastness of the dry, empty space in country (rural) Victoria. VICRoads had a lot of really smart signs out there advising drivers against highway hypnosis and the dangers of drowsy driving. One I particularly loved with regards to bicycle safety was “Driver Think Rider. Rider Think Driver.” The Aussies are great, seriously.

We did make lunch reservations in advance, and took advantage of bathrooms and gas stations when we came across them; it was a bit desolate out there but doable with some planning and attention to Google Maps.

To say that we were pleasantly surprised once we got to Melbourne with views from the two-story, penthouse AirBnB I’d arranged would be a massive understatement.



We had some stress with our arrival and getting into the reserved parking (which I could have handled better, lest you think I always have my act together) so suffice it to say I was thrilled to order in via Deliveroo (similar to Uber Eats), crack some wine I’d packed, and spend the evening enjoying one of the best city views Melbourne has to offer.


Beautiful Melbourne!

Day 5

We got up early and headed to the meet-up point a few blocks away for our day tour. Yes, I was very keen to see the Great Ocean Road for the first time since 2005, but NOT so keen to spend 12-14 more hours of a day in my car! So, organized tour it was, and I let someone else worry about the planning, the driving, and the logistics. Despite me not being the best passenger due to my occasional vertigo issues, it was well worth it. I brought some Dramamine and survived, unlike another passenger in the bus who did not fare so well.

It took almost two hours to get to our morning tea stop in Lorne. About 15 minutes prior to that, we had stopped at the Memorial Arch for a quick photo opp. If you look at a map, it’s not the official starting point of the Great Ocean Road, but people are keen to get pictures there so we joined in.

At Lorne, we enjoyed the seaside as some cheeky parrots tried (unsuccessfully) to enjoy our chocolate biscuits.

We then continued on another 14 miles, which took about 40 minutes given the windy coastal road, to arrive at Kennett River where we spotted a koala snoozing in a eucalyptus tree. Too many humans, no pics!


Laughing kookaburra leads the way!

We rode another 25 miles through Apollo Bay, where we stopped for a short lunch, and then on 12 more miles to Mait’s Rest Rainforest Walk. Nothing like a little bushwalk to burn off Lebanese food! I only wish we could have had a little more time here – 25 minutes wasn’t enough for me to stroll through and bird watch the way I wanted.

In general, I avoid group tours for this reason – someone is always late and dragging the group behind, and you aren’t really the master of your own destiny when it comes to time. Especially as Australia is an English-speaking country, I haven’t found a lot of need for tours here because I can organize things myself. However, even with the downsides of group tours, I’m glad I didn’t attempt this drive because I would have seen less, enjoyed myself less, and been more tired and more stressed with where to stop.

The next stop was an hour away (or about 43 more miles), at the picturesque Twelve Apostles Marine National Park and Port Campbell National Park.


It’s hard to explain just how windy it was here – a picture is worth 1,000 words?


Twelve Apostles

I’m NOT posting the pictures where our hair was blowing so much we looked extra crazy!

We then went to our final stop for the day, Loch Ard Gorge, less than a mile or so from the Twelve Apostles. Named for a ship that went aground on Australia’s “Shipwreck Coast” in the 1870s, the area has a number of plaques outlining tales of misfortune that occurred there. In particular, one young lady and man were stuck there overnight on a freezing beach after everyone else on their ship (including the young lady’s whole family and all the crew) had drowned.


It’s interesting to note that in December 2005, I actually took a similar tour down the Great Ocean Road with my friend A. She had come to visit me in Australia during my student days, and we toured Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Hunter Valley, Melbourne, and Tasmania. For me, this trip did make me a little nostalgic when I saw things I remembered seeing before, although I have to confess that after almost 14 years, there was quite a bit of it I didn’t remember clearly. I did take notes and photos during the trip, but it was from a different era of my life, pre-social media, pre-posting photos with captions, and if I recall well, A. organized most of the trip. In 2005 in particular, I was busy – I visited nine countries, started grad school, and had a computer crash in early 2006 in which I lost some photos (which is the first and last time I’ll ever let that happen). In other words, I was very happy to take this trip again and it did not feel like a repeat after so much time had passed.

The Island Archway that was connected when I visited in 2005 (below, left) actually collapsed in 2009. See how it looks now as two separate pillars, named after the young man and lady who shipwrecked there (below, right). I could do a lot of other interesting comparison pictures from my 2005 and 2019 trips (and probably between my first and second times in Australia writ large), but for now I’ll keep the old ones separate and leave them for a flashback post some other time.


Loch Ard Gorge, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Image result for great ocean road

Credit: Adventure Tours Australia

As you can see from the map above (not totally to scale), the Great Ocean Road is quite long. In fact, it stretches over 151 miles (243 km) and was built by returned WWI soldiers; Australians consider it the world’s longest war memorial. Some people spend a couple of weeks touring the Great Ocean Road, including a significant amount of time in the small towns, beaches, and tourist attractions along the way. I would love to do that, alas, I worked with the time I had. It is doable from Melbourne as a very long day trip – I recommend taking a tour even if you’re an experienced driver. You will enjoy the sights much more!

So ultimately, we headed back to Melbourne via an inland route, arriving into the city around 21:00. That last leg took nearly three hours and was roughly about 140 miles. It was an extremely long day at approximately 323 miles round-trip, but well worth the effort to see this exquisite coastline and appreciate its unique heritage!

In my next post, I’ll cover what we explored in Melbourne city, our experience sailing on the Spirit of Tasmania, and our trip to Cradle Mountain. Until then…





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Sarah W Gaer

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