They call it the 'Great Ocean Road' for good reason … not only does this legendary Victorian carriageway provide one of life’s great drives, it can also be a great place to take a trailerboat trip.
From Torquay to Warrnambool, this slice of pristine coastline is awash with picturesque villages, beaches and rock formations, conjoined by a meandering stretch of bitumen that more than delivers on the promise and premise of its name.
By day the region buzzes like a metropolis with a stampede of coaches, choppers and campervans, all madly whisking camera-toting tourists to the Twelve Apostles.
With a boat at your beck and call, a semblance of purity and innocence can be somehow be maintained. It’s possible to fish all day, savour the spectacular views from a sea perspective, then hole up in a classic coastal hamlet.
The journey essentially begins at Geelong, a bustling port city that has a waterfront infused with colour and character.
There are grand homes, a steam-driven carousel and 104 gaily painted bollards to feed the imagination, plus a host of funky restaurants to slate the appetite. Our kids took a dip in a filtered pool at Eastern Beach while we grazed on fresh prawns at the Bathing Pavilion.
If you’re leaving your Geelong accommodation to chance, arrive early and scout around … don’t, as we did, trust the last-minute booking websites, for the cheap sleeps front the highway and are of the red-brick ilk.
Thirty minutes away, the surfing paradise of Torquay has a boat ramp at Fishermans Beach, which opened last December to great fanfare. Some locals, however, reckon it was $1.7 million poorly spent because vehicles still have to drive over sand to reach the water.
The famed coast-hugging sections of the Great Ocean Road begin in earnest shortly after leaving Bells Beach.
Some 3000 diggers returning from World War I were employed for the road’s construction, which began in 1919 and culminated in 1932. They reckoned conditions were reminiscent of the battlefront and there’s no shortage of military reminders – Shrapnel Gully and Sausage Gully, for example, inherit their names from Gallipoli.
Anglesea has a long sandy beach at the mouth of the Anglesea River. The river provides opportunities for smaller powerboats.
The sheltered waters of Pt Roadknight, just along from Anglesea, are also worth exploring. There is a boat ramp (use with care), plenty of parking and public toilets. Spectacular rock formations are part of the surrounding scenery.
At a leisurely pace we arrived in Lorne for lunch. There are two boat ramps near the pier, one belonging to the Lorne Aquatic Club and only useable at high tide. The other is a beach best suited to tinnies and 4WDs.
The pioneering town has more of a picnic feel these days, with great parks, lookouts, shops and pubs to while away the time. Teddy’s Lookout gazes south-west over the rolling foothills and meandering road from Lorne to Apollo Bay.
On the outskirts of Apollo Bay, at Marengo Holiday Park, we found a cosy cabin with ocean views, having come 110 kilometres from Geelong.
The cabins are named after shipwrecks because the coastline has claimed more than its share of ships and lives. We stayed in 'Fiji', next door to 'Eric The Red'.
Apollo Bay Boat Harbour was constructed in the 1950s, replacing a jetty that ran out from the southern end of the beach. The sand that accumulates in the harbour forms a beach along the southern side, with a boat ramp and jetty in the centre.
The haunting history and notoriety of this region becomes tangible with a visit to Cape Otway lightstation, 21 kilometres from Apollo Bay.
Once back on the highway, the Twelve Apostles stand only 80 kilometres away. From windswept plains they suddenly appear, a parking area and display centre betraying their location.
They are rugged yet delicate, dignified in an almost spiritual sense, the embodiment of Mother Nature, You could stare at them for hours …
There is more to see, however, such as Loch Ard Gorge where a tallship of that name sank in 1878 with the loss of all but two lives.
Spared were a boy and girl, both 18, and when word got out the nation prayed for romance … alas, the allure just wasn’t there.
To see the raging gorge today, one realises how truly miraculous their escape was.
Nearby, the rock formation London Bridge became London Arch when a section succumbed to the sea in 1990. Similarly, one of the Apostles was reduced to rubble in 2005.
At nearby Port Campbell the only launching is via a crane off the pier (a crane licence is required for operation).
Another alternative is Boat Bay, about six kilometres west of Peterborough. A narrow and perilously steep ramp requires users to reverse for 60 metres with little margin for error.
Most of the bay shoreline is guarded by steep limestone bluffs but this particular bay nestles into a gorge containing a 70 metre long beach.
Warrnambool is a great place to take the family for a holiday, particularly if you have fishing on your mind. Hopkins River estuary is one of the state’s best waterways and has two boat ramps.
Port Fairy, our last port of call on this journey, is an historic fishing town with an excellent two-lane cement boat ramp that includes a wash-down area and fish cleaning table. Watch out for the large stingrays and seals waiting for leftovers.
For all its beauty, the Southern Ocean can be perilous and uncompromising. A reliable craft is essential for any ocean foray.