Drive from Melbourne to Adelaide along one of Australia’s most famous coastal routes.
By Ellie Schneider
What to expect
- Surf at world-famous Bells Beach.
- Take in the beauty of the 12 Apostles.
- Stay in luxury accommodation at seaside towns.
- Time: 5 days
- Distance: 728 kilometres (452 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Melbourne
- Price: $$$
Day 1: Melbourne to Lorne
Drive into the pretty port city of Geelong, 75 kilometres (47 miles) south-west of Melbourne. Stop for brunch at one of the many local cafés - King of the Castle, Box Office and Freckleduck all have excellent coffee - before stopping at the award-winning Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Here, you can meet resident emus and kangaroos, learn to throw a boomerang and marvel over ancient art techniques, all while gaining valuable knowledge of local culture. The centre's cultural education program will fill you with the wonder and wisdom of Aboriginal culture passed down over generations.
Next, continue on to Torquay. Torquay is where the Great Ocean Road begins and is often dubbed the ‘Surf Capital of Australia’ thanks to its world-famous Bells Beach. It is also the birthplace of leading surf brands Rip Curl and Quicksilver. If you're a first-time surfer, book a private lesson with the Torquay Surf Academy, which includes equipment and a personal coach. Afterwards grab a sandwich or house-made pie at the Torquay Larder.
The great waves continue at Fairhaven and Eastern View - worth a stop for avid surfers - en route to the seaside holiday resort town of Lorne, a 50-minute drive from Torquay. Once in Lorne, take a dip in the water or keep your feet dry and spend a few hours visiting the galleries and boutiques along the main street. Book well in advance for dinner at fine dining restaurant Brae, which serves a set menu created from the highest quality local ingredients. There are also six luxury guest suites on site.
Day 2: Lorne to Port Fairy
Enjoy breakfast on the banks of the Erskine River at Swing Bridge Café before heading off on the two-hour drive to see the 12 Apostles, a series of towering limestone pillars jutting out of the Southern Ocean. Park at the 12 Apostles carpark and follow the paved pathway to the lookout. A 15-minute walk from the 12 Apostles is Gibson's Steps. Descend the 86 stairs, which are carved into the cliff face, to reach the beach, where you'll be rewarded with a close up view of the Apostles. For another unique perspective of these geological formations, book a scenic helicopter tour which takes in the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge.
Also try: From Apollo Bay drive 35 minutes to Cape Otway Lighthouse, the oldest surviving lighthouse in Australia. Climb to the observation deck at the top of the lighthouse for fantastic views across the Southern Ocean.
Continue along Shipwreck Coast, named after the wild seas that sent at least 700 ships crashing on the rocks. Explore the coastal town of Warrnambool where, from May to October, southern right whales calve off Logan Beach. Nearby, stop into Worn Gundidj at Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve for guided walking tours from an Aboriginal perspective. Your guide will lead you through a nature reserve inside a dormant volcano where kangaroos, wallabies, emus, koalas, echidnas and hundreds of bird species roam freely. At the end of the tour, try your hand at throwing a returning boomerang.
Day 3: Port Fairy to Coonawarra
Carry on along the route to the historic township of Portland, a one-hour drive from Port Fairy. Watch fishing boats unload their catch on the waterfront before taking the 10-minute drive to photogenic Cape Nelson Lighthouse. Here you can take a tour to delve into the maritime history of the region. Drive around to Bridgewater Bay Café where you can rest and refuel before taking the 2.5-kilometre (1.6-mile) Cape Bridgewater Seal Walk. The viewing platform at the end of the trail looks out to a colony of roughly 650 Australian fur seals. Book a cage snorkel dive to get up close and personal with these playful animals.
Back on the highway, drive 50 minutes through Nelson and across the South Australian border. Stop at Mount Gambier, which sits on an ancient extinct volcano and is circled by vivid crater lakes. Take the 3.6-kilometre (2.2-mile) trail around Blue Lake, which turns cobalt blue from December to March. You can also spend a bit of time exploring the stunning Umpherston Sinkhole. This unique natural attraction was once a cave formed through dissolution of the limestone. The sinkhole was created when the top of the chamber collapsed downwards. It was turned into a picturesque garden by James Umpherston around 1886 and is open at all times. From dusk each evening the area comes alive as resident possums venture into the floodlit gardens to feed.
Hop back in the car for the one hour drive north to Coonawarra, a region famed for its cabernet sauvignon. Drop into one of the 20 cellar doors, such as Wynns Coonawarra Estate or Balnaves, before checking into Punter's Vineyard Retreat, which offers panoramic views across the vines.
Day 4: Coonawarra to Victor Harbor
Drive half an hour north from Coonawarra to visit the World Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves National Park, where 26 limestone caves house the fossilised skeletons of giant marsupials. Four of the caves are open to the public via a self-guided tour. From here it's a three-hour drive to the quaint town of Strathalbyn, where more than 30 heritage-listed buildings sit on the banks of the Angas River. The town is home to specialty antique shops and the idyllic Soldiers Memorial Gardens, a great spot for a picnic lunch.
Jump back into the car for the 40-minute drive south to Port Elliot. Swim at Horseshoe Bay or surf off Boomer Beach before arriving in nearby Victor Harbor. The seaside town is famed for its horse-drawn tramway (which dates back to 1878) and links Victor Harbor with Granite Island. Ride the tram across the causeway to Granite Island, which is home to a colony of little penguins. If you're visiting Victor Harbor between June and October, book The Big Duck boat tour to see the southern right whale breeding sanctuary of Encounter Bay. Stay the night in luxury waterfront accommodation at The Bluff Resort Apartments overlooking Encounter Bay.
Day 5: Victor Harbor to Adelaide
Travel through the rolling hills of Mount Compass to the McLaren Vale wine region, a 50-minute drive north from Port Elliot. Visit galleries and taste wine at some of the 45 cellar doors, including Yangarra, d’Arenberg and Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard. McLaren Vale is also a haven for foodies. Sit down for lunch at Coriole Restaurant, and let chef Tom Tilbury prepare you a selection of seasonal dishes accompanied by matching wines.
From here, it’s an easy 45-minute drive to central Adelaide. Wander the cultural boulevard of North Terrace – home to the South Australian Museum and Adelaide Botanic Garden – then browse the department stores in Rundle Mall. Take the 35-minute tram trip from Rundle Mall to Glenelg Beach for a seaside stroll before heading back into the centre for dinner at any of the city's hottest restaurants. Try Press Food & Wine, Peel St or Ruby Red Flamingo. Finish your trip with a restful night at the plush five-star Mayfair Hotel.
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