I think the Great Ocean Road is overrated. I’m sorry, but there it is.
It’s an opinion, not a fact.
And, for better or worse, I’m entitled to it!
This is not a hate campaign, I didn’t detest the Great Ocean Road and I’m not saying you should never go, but for me it just didn’t live up to the hype.
All the key ingredients were there, the upgraded campervan we’d scored, the open-ended itinerary-free days stretching ahead of us.
Yet, somehow all these separate components just didn’t mix together to create the fabulous road trip recipe I’d hoped for.
Despite being part of my big birthday trip, the Great Ocean Road, unfortunately, felt just a few steps too close to getting old and boring for comfort.
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The Scenery is Mediocre
It’s very similar for hours on end and ironically actually covers probably the least picturesque coastline I’ve seen in Australia.
Ever a fan of the beach I’m usually able to stare out to sea, watch, photograph and loose myself in waves for hours; but the Great Ocean Road views – meh, got to be honest, they bored me a little.
Sure, there are certain parts worth jumping out the car for – the cliff faces, arches and stacks of the Twelve Apostles section in Port Campbell National Park are actually pretty good – but in general the scenery is a fairly flat, washed-out, colourless, uneventful coastline.
Now there’s nothing wrong with that, I can walk along such beaches for hours without being bored, hell I grew up on the British coast, so know all about the moody overtones and intricate beauties these places bring.
However, the fact is that nobody is putting these pale stretches of wind-swept, seaweed-tinged coastline in their top 5 lists of things to visit; nobody is decorating flyers with them or selling tours by the bucket load to go and see them.
They are the forgotten places, the places you go to forget, not the places of overt beauty everyone clammers to get the sunset shot of.
They are the places you visit when your camera is at home, the places in the shadows we can go to hide and find quietness.
From fellow campervaners like us, to cyclists, motorbike-riders and the bus-loads of tours taking over the place, the drive feels more like an overrun fairground.
(Point 2 why I think the Great Ocean Road is overrated is underlined by the fact that I hate fairgrounds.)
When I go on a road trip I go to get away from it all, to get off the beaten track, to discover and uncover and recover a sense of wilderness.
I don’t go to be surrounded by people all elbowing each other out of the way to get the best photo.
So if you were hoping to get to the Great Ocean Road to yourself, forget it!
Overcrowded = overrated in my book.
It’s a Boring Drive
It’s long and slow.
It’s thin and a bit windy, but not in an exciting, hell-raising, bone-rattling kind of way, so don’t get your hopes up.
No, the Great Ocean Road is more like a rollercoaster for the retired; a fact exacerbated by the high chance you will very often be stuck behind an incredibly slow moving person, unable to overtake them.
Now I’m no speed demon, no crazy thriller seeker, in fact I hate rollercoasters (see point 2 about the fairgrounds), but when you’re stuck at a snail’s pace with nothing but a rather monotonous coastline to view out a car window and no good tunes to listen to because you’re hired vehicle isn’t adapted to play your ipod, you can see why anyone’s mind might start wandering to such riveting topics as the need to start a pension fund.
Add to this, the fact that often the Great Ocean Road doesn’t even hug the coastline and it literally just feels like you are driving on a road, you know, the normal sort you use to get places.
Except this time, the road is the place and you’ve nowhere to get but the end of it, which is starting to feel like light years away.
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It’s Ridiculously Long as Well
Nobody really tells you this, especially given its lack of official ending, so let me inform you that it goes for ages, especially when you’re crawling along at the pace it seems to necessitate.
Sure, there’s the official start with its commemorative archway (the road was built by first world war veterans as a lasting memorial to the Australian servicemen who died during the conflict), but basically you don’t seem to reach the end of it until you get to Warrnambool, some 243km from the start.
After 2 days of near-constant driving (coffee breaks count as necessary safety stops in our very health and safety-conscious lifestyle!), we’d had enough and pulled out around Port Campbell, just after the famous London Bridge archway.
This is actually the most spectacular part of the road (from Twelve Apostles to London Bridge), so if you do want to at least say you’ve been on the Great Ocean Road, I’d very much skip the first part and cut down just for this section (very possibly via the much nippier A1 which beelines straight from Geelong to the coastal town nearest these natural attractions, Port Campbell).
Never Take a Great Ocean Road Day Trip
Not only do you have to leave the city at around 7am in the morning, but you probably won’t be back there until around 10pm – a pretty long and exhausting day of sightseeing by anyone’s standards.
The vast majority of your time will no doubt be spent staring out a coach window trying not to fall asleep and wondering why you paid money to do so.
Occasionally, I imagine, you’ll hop out the coach to snap a picture of something, only to be hurried back on-board fairly promptly due to the amount of ground yet to cover.
243km doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is when you have to drive slowly and get out to take photos every 5 minutes!
As it was, doing our own self-drive and picking out own places to stop got boring enough, so I’d hate to think what it would be like if someone else was in the driving seat!
For me, as the inevitable passenger due to poor driving skills, but exemplary navigation abilities, it was a disappointment to find that the Great Ocean Road rendered my map reading skills unnecessary.
Essentially you just keep going straight. From A to B or W. Anglesea to Warrnambool.
This rather takes the sense of adventure out of a good road trip.
Now, I know it’s a Great Ocean Road and not a 4wd track, but still, who doesn’t want a sense of the wide, open space of possibilities when you set off in the car or van for a few days.
Sadly however, with no free camping available (except deep in the Otway National Park a good few km away), no hidden side roads, no undiscovered tracks and no tucked away tiny villages the sense of freedom and excitement on the Great Ocean Road quickly shuts down.
The Waterfalls are Average
What you do have along the Great Ocean Road are a number of average-looking waterfalls, some surfers to watch and a couple of lighthouses, one which charges the extortionate rate for $20 per/adult just to walk to.
Needless to say, we gave it a miss!
Perhaps I’m spoilt, I mean I’m lucky enough to have seen some incredible waterfalls, surfers and lighthouses in my time, but a lot of these were in Australia itself – from Gunlom Falls in Kakadu National Park, to surfers at the Gold Coast and Byron Bay Lighthouse – and so I just don’t understand why those on the Great Ocean Road get such large kudos when they’re really nothing special.
Ok, well maybe the surfers on Bells Beach are pretty famous and impressive, I’ll give you that one!
But the towns, in particular, are nothing special.
People had raved to me about how pretty Lorne was, but to be totally honest, I found it looked more like the faded glory of some British seaside towns.
The sort that had their heyday in the 70’s and now all their teashops just look slightly depressing and dull, not yet cool enough to become kitsch.
It Can be Wet and Cold
Ok, so the weather didn’t help my perception, wet, windy and cold as it was the whole time we were down in Melbourne.
Being hardened a Queenslander now (!), I sadly find anything below 20 degrees a bit scary, especially when it’s late November, the beginning of summer in Australia.
As such, I left the glorious sunny beaches of Noosa and took a trip to the cold ones of Western Victoria.
Perhaps, in hindsight, it wasn’t the best foundation for a great holiday!
Nonetheless, I don’t believe I’ve totally lost my ability to enjoy the wild and windy coastlines that were such a part of my childhood.
It’s just that the Great Ocean Road sits somewhere in the mediocre middle.
I mean if you want really wild, windswept coastline in Australia, drive the Nullarbor.
And if you want beautiful tropical palm trees and white sand visit the Queensland’s coast. But if it’s icy winds, weak tea and thrashing waves you want, really I’d just recommend the UK – the Great Ocean Road is a hell of a long way to go for it!
Much as I sound strongly opinionated on this one, I’m totally up for being told I’m wrong!
Do let me know, what are your thoughts about the Great Ocean Road?