The last time I visited the 12 Apostles, before the pandemic, the viewing platform was absolutely packed with tourists and I couldn’t wait to leave. However, last week was a very different story. Despite the borders reopening to visitors, Victoria’s Great Ocean Road remains very quiet and, if you do it right, you could have one of our most famous attractions all to yourself. There was no one around at sunrise and in the evening an enviable family of four sat on the same platform to watch the sunset in folding chairs with pizza.
Have the 12 apostles all to yourself. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin
With no buses and very few cars, you’ll have no trouble finding a park at Loch Ard Gorge, Gibson Steps or London Bridge either. So, for those of you planning a coastal getaway before the summer sun disappears completely, here are 10 things you can see, do and experience while visiting the Great Ocean Road.
Eat your way along the 12 Apostles Food Trail
Timboon Railway Shed Distillery Photo: Supplied
Who knew you could eat well while visiting the 12 Apostles? Twenty minutes from Port Campbell, the regional town of Timboon has become a foodie hub. At Timboon’s Fine Ice Cream you can treat yourself to original flavors such as orange and cardamom, maple and cinnamon or licorice. Directly opposite, the Timboon Railway Shed Distillery distills its own whiskey in the restored railway shed which it has turned into a dining and tasting room. berry world combines a pick-your-own berry farm with a Thai restaurant (you can order takeout for dinner later, if you’re coming home late after visiting 12 Apostles). Schultz organic creamery and coffee (famous milk and yogurt) has its own café in a pleasant garden five minutes from town.
Stay at Timboon Tiny Homes
Photo: Timboon Tony Homes
Size has never been an issue in these immaculate cabins which offer modern amenities in three separate rooms. There is a large bathroom, bedroom and combined kitchen, living room and dining room next to a screened porch that overlooks the Power Creek Preserve. I stayed at Raspberry, which has red cushions and themed murals, but you can choose Mint or Caramel – and if you don’t get the flavor you want, do you have a free ice cream available for guests in the Timboon creamery next door. timboontinyhomes.com.au
Dine with a view in Port Campbell
Photo: Kylie McLaughlin
Underrated in terms of proximity to 12 Apostles, scenic Port Campbell overlooks a natural gorge and is full of great accommodation options including an inn with brewery (sowandpiglet.com). Now they also have Forage on the foreshore, a restaurant that emphasizes local produce and great coffee, with the best views in town. The small wine list includes names such as Bests, Blue Pyrenees and Heroes, and the beer and cider are all local. I’m lucky enough to eat the day wild lobster is on the brunch menu, served as an omelet with a decadent lobster reduction sauce and Jane Dough sourdough from Warnambool. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Spend the night in a Sky Ship
Have you always dreamed of spending your holidays as far away from people as possible? AT Heavenly pods, you can. Five years ago, an enterprising former nightclub owner secured a large piece of land in the heart of Cape Otway, which offers views of the sea and surrounding rainforest. It is also one of the few places in the region to have mobile phone reception. The three Sky Pods and two Sky Ships are designed for adults only, made from shipping containers with a floor-to-ceiling glass front for a 180-degree view with no neighbors. They include cooking facilities and a projection screen to stream Netflix, because once the sun goes down there’s only the stars to watch (or the drama of bad weather, which happens frequently in the Otways).
Hike to the elusive Rainbow Falls
The elusive Rainbow Falls are hard to reach and only accessible at low tide. With the exception of hikers doing the Great Ocean Walk, Sky Pods have exclusive access to this trail, which escorts you through pretty Otways scrub (watch out for echidnas, koalas, wallabies and kangaroos), to a walk on the sand dunes before going to the Beach station. Another mile will take you to the falls, where Rainbow Spring’s water cascades over a huge rock face.
Learn something new at Wildlife Wonders
Play the Squid Game at Lorne’s Live Wire Park
Photo: Belinda VanZanen/Visit Victoria
A series of rope ladders, bridges, climbs and zip lines suspended high between the tall trees of the Otway. It sounds simple enough, but trying to balance yourself on boards suspended by ropes several hundred feet above the ground is harder than it looks. Remember squid game‘s glass stepping stones? Like a treetop version of that. The Shockwave Zip Coaster is a thrilling hybrid of seated zipline and treetop roller coaster that ends in seconds. Come with an abundance of energy, you will need it. livewirepark.com.au
Fall in love with the most beautiful waterfalls of Otway
The Otways are dotted with pretty waterfalls hidden in the rainforest along the northern ridge of Great Otway National Park. While they may not have the size of some of the waterfalls in our neighboring state, they make up for in charm. It’s hard to choose a favourite. Near the town of Beech Forrest, Beauchamp Falls is perhaps the hardest to reach, at least an hour’s walk round trip, while Hopetoun Falls is the easiest, involving a structured trail descending into the forest. Don’t miss the California redwoods, planted in 1939 – a visit feels like you’ve transcended into another universe as the silence and darkness created by the majestic redwoods envelop you.
Upscale cuisine in a casual Surf Coast atmosphere
Photo: Joe Armao
Torquay was lucky enough to welcome back former Surf Coast resident chef Graham Jefferies when he opened his restaurant on Bell Street in Torquay before the hospitality ravaged by COVID, so the reception was probably not as warm as Jeffries had hoped. Pivoting to takeout, he has found fans in families with young children, who have been unable to eat out despite the pandemic. And now that the catering service is in full swing, it’s time to shine the spotlight on this chic and relaxed restaurant that relies on local products. The wine list also showcases some hidden gems of the local wine scene – try a grassy, herbaceous Jan Juc-based Reed Sémillon to pair with seared Murray cod with marinated green tomatoes, grilled cukes and bomb samphire. salty. The sweet corn mousse with fermented peppers and brioche croutons was also a standout on the menu at $84 a head. samesyn.com.au
A bit of luxury at the Sands Torquay
Photo: Sands Torquay
You don’t have to be a golfer to appreciate the old-fashioned luxury of this newly refurbished hotel, which overlooks Torquay golf course and the sea. One and two bedroom suites offer plenty of space for relax after a trip to the coast with separate bedrooms, a large bathroom with bath and separate toilet, a living room and a spacious veranda to relax and enjoy the view. There’s a large heated pool, a new gym in production, and plans for yoga and pilates classes for guests as well as locals. thesandstorquay.com
The writer was a guest on Visit Victoria