For many of us holiday-starved locals of the southern states, we are yearning for some excitement back in our lives. The rich cultural exchange, exotic food options, picturesque natural settings, all those uniquely wonderful qualities that travel can facilitate. But these experiences still feel light-years away, when will international travel return? Have you considered an adventure in your own backyard?! A rolling adventure perhaps? One of Australia’s premier coastal routes, The Great Ocean Road in Victoria, can be experienced in a whole new light, atop your trusty metal steed, your bicycle.
Bike touring offers a new perspective on traditional travel methods. It is a form of slow travel that reconnects you with the environment around you, reduces your carbon footprint exponentially, allows for deeper personal connections with those you met along the way and introduces you to a whole new approach to guilt-free eating. We recently cycled the length of the Great Ocean Road and was pleasantly surprised to find fewer coaches and international holidaymakers due to Covid restrictions. What is usually a busy tourist route is now largely a delightfully peaceful cycling route. Combining this with a number of opportunities to escape the main bitumen road, we found ourselves cruising gravel coastal tracks, quiet country roads and tree-lined fire trails through the forest- the perfect gateways for more meaningful travel.
The start line- Torquay to Anglesea
A mere one hour from Melbourne’s CBD marks the official start post of the Great Ocean Road at Torquay. A town that celebrates clapped-out Kombis, socks & Birks and some of the glassiest barrels on the south coast. Fill your pannier bags with fresh local produce from Peachs Torquay and set off westward along the Surf Coast Walk, a shared-use track that hugs the coast past Bells Beach to Anglesea 44km away.
Coastal climbs- Anglesea to Lorne
From Anglesea, you will get the chance to experience the sweet feeling of bitumen under your tyres as you spin all the way into Lorne past some spectacular coastal lookouts, all of which you can stop at as you catch your breath for the next hill. The abundance of fine food and boutique accommodation in Lorne makes this the ideal spot to rest those weary legs for the evening. Our top pick to fill the tank is at Mexican Republic for burritos brimming with beans and fresh & fruity fajitas.
Diverting deep into the woods- Lorne to Forrest
You will need to be full of beans for the next leg of the tour as you divert off the main road and head deep into the Otway Ranges to a town called Forrest, an adventurers playground. Sure, there are a few winding hill climbs along Erskine Falls road but there is nothing more rewarding than arriving into a new place under your own steam. This is a place that worships the pristine rainforest, fern gullies and bushland that surrounds this quaint little township. You can spend days here hiking to Lake Elizabeth to spy a platypus or bombing through the 60km of dedicated mountain bike trails. But just because you’re out in the wild, doesn’t mean you have to rough it on the foodie front. Pop into The Corner Store for local handmade delicacies or try the vegan ‘fish’ and chips on the menu at the Forrest Brewing Company who serve up fish fillets made with banana blossoms that have been beer-battered using their very own brew.
Travelling the road less travelled- Forrest to Princetown
From Forrest, you will fly past Hopetoun Falls and the giant Californian Redwoods on your descent down Turtons Track back to the coast. You can choose the sealed road or opt for the road less travelled, the Great South West Walk which weaves from Johanna Beach along quiet country roads and 4wd dirt tracks to Princetown. This part of the journey isn’t for the faint-hearted, with sections dedicated to the cycle tourers method called ‘hike a bike.’ But when you are moving at a glacial pace through this coastal country of the Great Otway National Park it gives you ample time to encounter many furry friends at close range.
If you are hunting down a hot shower and a space to set up the tent head to Princetown Camping Reserve where Mick, the campground caretaker, will hook you up with all the basics. As a designated campsite for hikers on the Great South West Walk, you will likely find yourselves swapping stories of the day’s hardship over a cuppa in the camp kitchen. The feeling of camaraderie is strong and it’s a rare moment to connect with other like-minded souls and discuss the deeper issues, with someone who is otherwise a stranger.
Sightseeing from Princetown to Warrnambool
Within your first 10km from Princetown, you will get to tick off all the big-ticket spectacles of the Great Ocean Road, with Gibson Steps, the 12 Apostles, London Bridge and Loch Ard Gorge along this stretch. The best part of cycling is you simply pedal right past all the traffic jams into the carparks and arrive front and centre aboard your deadly treadly.
After passing through Port Campbell, the seaside village that’s snuggled into the limestone cliffs, we suggest ducking inland once more, this time to Timboon. Featured as a highlight on the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail, it offers award-winning produce and enticing treats suitable for even the most discerning traveller. To name but a few; Railway Shed Distillery, Timboon Provedore, Berry World and the artisanal dessert bar, The Timboon Ice Creamery which offers a wide range of delicious dairy-free sorbets.
Just through the carpark of the Railway Shed Distillery lies a small and winding trail that takes you back into this fairy grotto growth that surrounds the township. Known as the Crater to Coast Rail Trail you can ride it to Camperdown or take the Limeworks Road exit as we did to arrive at the regional centre of Warrnambool. A centre full of surprises with outdoor pop-up cinemas, the Deep Blue Hot Spring Sanctuary, picturesque coves and beaches and some pretty damn good locally roasted coffee at Piccolo Coffee Roasters. This marks the official end of the Great Ocean Road but allows you to relish in the feeling of immense achievement of completing this 250km journey. Sure, it’s not the fastest way to get there, but you might just realize that it’s not only the scenery you get to appreciate along the way but a deeper sense of where you are going and why.