Great Ocean Road

Cycling from Adelaide to Melbourne
via Princes Highway & the Great Ocean Road

Because it is winter here right now, mid-July as I write, I have been procrastinating about leaving on this trip. But I’m determined, now my bike is ready and I’m fit, that during the next stretch of forecast good weather I’m going to take the plunge and ‘go for it’.
I found some good advice on the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum which suggested starting the trip from Melbourne by heading down the east side of Port Phillip Bay and taking the regular ferry from Sorrento across to Queenscliff and thus avoid the apparently boring stretch of road between Melbourne and Geelong. It looks from the map like a short ride from Queenscliff to join the Great Ocean Road at Torquay. The same forum thread also mentioned a web page I hadn’t yet hit upon which has a reasonable overview of the road. Watch for the downloadable pdf map of the Great Ocean Road and a number of other Victoria bike tours, when I visted this page the links to the maps was in the top right corner, or try clicking here. In the end I decided to head to Adelaide by train and cycle back to Melbourne.

My main pieces of literature en route were Meridian Map’s Adelaide to Melbourne Map in their Discover Australia series ISBN 0-9750396-9-5 which is a good resource except all the map except the three main road routes between the two cities is faded out in the print which gives navigating off the beaten-track a bit of eye strain. Still I’m glad it shows the whole route to Adelaide because my other guide: Lonely Planet’s Cycling Australia (ISBN 1-86450-166-9) only highlights the 280 km section between Warrnambool and Geelong. While it is only this section that is considered the Great Ocean Road proper it short changes the obvious main tour which is a grand total of around 1000 km all the way from (or to) Adelaide. L.P. describes the route from west to east (from Warrnambool to Geelong) which is the direction I intend to head cycling with the prevailing wind from the west.

The Route
From Melbourne I took the train west to Adelaide. I ‘invested’ in a VIP Backpackers card which as well as giving you a modest discount at certain listed hostels in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji can get you huge discounts on some tours and public transport. For example the list fare to Adelaide was around $160 and with the VIP card) which I think cost $36) the fare was less than $50! So that one is a no brainer if you are doing any kind of budget travel in Australia. So it was off to Adelaide through the night.

Coorong National Park
The first leg of this trip follows the striking shoreline of the Coorong National Park where a long peninsula of sand dunes runs about 200 km along the coast of south east South Australia. The Younghusband Peninsula encloses the Coorong lagoons, lakes and salt marshes and the Princes Highway follows the shoreline along with several unsealed roads that add variety and an element of remotness to the route. Strange bonsai trees, incredible birdlife, countless lakes, empty roads between few communities all characterize this region.

Day 1
Murray Bridge to Long Pt.
105 km

From Spencer’s St. station in Melbourne I took the overnight Overlander train west toward Adelaide. I confess I didn’t go all the way into Adelaide to start my ride but instead got off the train in the eeriely quiet dark of Murray Bridge. The train pulled in to ‘the Bridge’ at 6:15 am setting up a full day to begin my journey.

The ghost town feel of Murray Bridge awoke rapidly as I rode through the town following directions for Tailem Bend on the A1 Highway. Crossing the River Murray bridge pushing my bike on a skinny sidewalk while the early morning rush hour of truck traffic whizzed by made me wonder what the hell I was getting into. But after a couple of hours I had made my first grocery shop and coffee stop in Tailem Bend and the highway had diverged and the traffic volume plummeted as I started down the Princes Highway.

Near Ashville I left the highway heading west around the shore of Lake Alexandina on a quiet unsealed (sandy) road to Narrung. I passed Malcom Point lighthouse, the only lighthouse in Australia to have been erected on a body of freshwater and took the short cable ferry across ‘The Narrows’ to Narrung.

The road was paved once again from Narrung and I followed it around Lake Albert before leaving it as the daylight was obviously fading following signs to a camp site in the National Park called Long Point. The camp was deserted and I set up tent and cooked supper while a couple of local fishermen drove their trailered boats at breakneck speed into the water, launched and disappeared across the lagoon. The fishermen brought a large flock of pelicans calling and I watched them milling about waiting for the boat’s return. One guy pulled in and after a quick chat left me with three Coorong Mullet to clean and steam for supper. I actually kept them for breakfast which was a fine way to start the next day.

Day 2
Long Pt. to Wreck Crossing
115 km

The day started out nice enough and I made my way back to the road and continued toward the Princes Highway. I left the paved road to take an unsealed road through Noonameera and (I think) Coorong bypassing the large town of Meningie and replacing it with a very scenic run right along the shoreline. No traffic at all until I hit the Princes Highway which was lighter than the steady rain that then set in.

The flat road and my early trip enthusiasm gave me one of the best mileage days of the whole trip and I kept my spirits up with coffee at Policeman’s Point and a laugh at Salt Creek which I had been told was the ‘next major place you’ll hit’ which turned out to be a gas station and a memorial to the first ever oil drill in Australia that never actually hit oil in years of trying.

Soaked, I left the Princes Highway and took the parallel unsealed Old Coorong Road to another National Park campsite at Wreck Crossing.

Day 3
Wreck Crossing to Robe
105 km

This day was one of my favorite of the whole trip. It began with cloudy but dry skies and a long ride out to the Highway taking about 40 more km of the Old Coorong Road. I saw only one car the whole way and they looked lost. What I did see a lot of was kangaroos with some great encounters riding alongside them in the mist in a bizarre landscape of marsh land ghostly black swans drifting on red rimmed lakes.

A quick coffee and postcard stop in Kingston, the first town of any significance since Tailem Bend and it was off the Princes Highway and on to the much quieter Southern Ports Highway, a scenic tourist and local route. I stopped for the day at Robe a charming seaside fishing town turned tourist mecca.

Limestone Coast
The sand dunes and sheltered lagoon waters of the Coorong give way to a beach lined coastline open to the great Southern Ocean and at or around Port MacDonnel the shore rises into the cliffs of the Limestone Coast.

Day 4
Robe to Southend
75 km

I slowed my pace a bit this day to take in the delights of Robe, Beachport and finally Southend all sweet seaside towns enjoying the quiet of the off season and luckily for me a fairly dry and sunny day. The Southern Ports Highway had light traffic and this was one of the more casual days.

Day 5
Southend to Nelson
115 km

After a short ride finishing up the Southern Ports Highway it was into Millicent a more industrial town than the delights of Robe et al. From Millicent the route returned to the Princes Highway and turned out as far as Mt Gambier to be the busiest dose of traffic I had to endure. No shoulder on the road combined with busy Friday afternoon traffic making its way home for the week.

I blasted through Mt Gambier and continued on as it got dark toward Nelson. The 30 or so km from Gambier I enjoyed a great deal. The traffic volume eased and I hit a great riding stride burning up the last of the daylight at what felt like a good speed. I pulled into Piccinninnie Ponds National Park in the dark to find there were other campers there!

A cluster of kids came by as I settled into my supper inviting me over to their fire later which I did to be plied by the dads with much whiskey and endless suggestions of where I should go next. It was great to meet some real Aussies and their banter.

Day 6
Nelson to Portland
85 km

A really crappy day! The forecast was so so, I had heard that from the campers the night before and the haste with which they left in the morning told me all I needed to know about what was really coming. The sun managed to lure me out of my tent but almost as soon as I was packed the rain started and it was in to the maelstrom from there.

By the time I was in Nelson just a 10 km warm up away the rain was a deluge. There didn’t seem to be much else for it though, it was either a long miserable day in the tent which was now packed anyway or in to the saddle and get to it, which I did.

So the enduring memories of this day will be varied: the endless stench of rotting kangaroo roadkill through the pine plantations (must have seen and smelt between 200 and 300 roos in one 50 km stretch! I kid you not), I dodged one of the nastiest showers of the day huddled in an outhouse at a ‘rest stop’, I saw the only other cyclist of my first 700 km and the wind racked up to a steady 60 km/h with gusts I’m guessing over 80 km/h by the time I reached Portland. At times it was more sailing than cycling. There were no cars or trucks on the road that day, I bet I saw 10 in total.

I stayed in a pub dorm that night and had two showers to warm up and scrub the grime of 6 days on the road off.

Day 7
Portland to Warrnabool
120 km

My greatest mileage day of the trip. A great sunny day with the wind at my back and the promise of reaching the start of the Great Ocean Road at Warrnambool to urge me on. Another quiet traffic day although there were some Sunday drivers out and about and Port Fairy had a decent buzz to it from visiting tourists. Port Fairy is a great little town, the sort you could live in for ever. Not too big with a really cool dock scene along the river and a number of beaches and other attractions like the lighthouse.

I pressed on after a lengthy stop in Port Fairy toward Warrnambool which is much bigger and also very cool in its own way. I stayed in a hostel that night recharging my iPod and enjoying some backpacker chat with host and other guests.

Adelaide to Melbourne
via Princes Highway & the Great Ocean Road
Great Ocean Road
This was what I had done the ride for! The famous Great Ocean Road. And I was not disappointed. This was the highlight section of the trip but didn’t eclipse the rest. Just east of Warrnambool the Princes Highway takes a more direct inland route while the Great Ocean Road follows the coastline, in most places hugging the side of the cliffs themselves through picturesque seaside towns and through a coastal wonderland of sea stacks, arches and beaches. For many cyclists this section is the ride.

Day 8
Warrnambool to Port Campbell
80 km

A beautiful sunny day to start the final leg along the Great Ocean Road. After a meandering ride through the farm land of Nullawarre the Great Ocean Road reaches the coast and breathtaking vista after scenic pullout. The road becomes quite windy and as you can see from my mileage figures the pace slows a bit. But it is all worth it to take in the historic and scenic stops along the way including Bay of Islands, London Bridge among others. This was a comfortable day and I reached Port Campbell mid-afternoon with plenty of time to read, walk the quiet town streets and chat with a couple who had been leap frogging me from before Port Fairy, they in their camper van.

This night one of the hotels in town caught fire which was cause for some obvious excitement.

Day 9
Port Campbell to Cape Otway
80 km

A tough but spectacular day. Despite a very good forecast it began raining as I approached the famous 12 Apostles and in the few short minutes before I reached the overhanging roof of the visitor info centre I was drenched. Luckily I had taken in all the stops along the way so far including Loch Ard Gorge so I pulled in to the info centre to wait it out. I was joined after a while by a couple of Tasmanian motorcyclists who entertained (and shocked) me with their insight on the various tourists who walked by on their way to the lookout for the 12 Apostles.

After waiting it out a couple of hours I said good-bye to the motorheads, wolfed down a big lunch and brewed up some tea. In a lull in the rain I got back on the saddle and headed back out in to the downpour. At Princetown I turned off on to the Old Great Ocean Road and despite the rain found this to be one of the most beautiuful parts of the inland ride. Part way along this unsealed road I startled a herd of cows coming my way. Nothing unusual there except they bolted and headed back the way they came. A farmer came ripping around the corner in his 4WD and I expected to get an earful. But nope, he rolled down the window and with a beaming smile thanked me for halting the stampede as they’d missed their turnoff!

Eventually the old road rejoined the main Great Ocean Road at the base of the infamous Lavers Hill, a 20 km climb in to the Otway Ranges. Given the choice there’s no way I’d have combined that weather with that climb at the end of the day but that’s the way it goes and I pulled up over Lavers Hill down the other side and pedalled well after dark on to Otway National Park. I was too tired to make it to the camp ground so I dropped in to a ditch for the night hoping for a dry day the next morning.

Day 10
Cape Otway to Lorne
85 km

And it turned out dry! I packed my bags and then stashed them in the bush and took the 20 km round trip down to Cape Otway lighthouse. It felt great to have the freedom of the bike without the load and the ride out to the liggthouse was pretty cool. The lighthouse itself has an entrance fee which after seeing so many and living around lighthouses most of my life I rerally couldn’t see forking out for. Nevertheless glad I went down there for the wallabies, parrots, cows and of course more great coastal scenery.

Then back to the road and on to the Mait’s Rest Rainforest walk which was interesting and added to the by now astounding diversity of stuff I had seen on this ride.

A long sweet descent out of the Otway Ranges took me down to Apollo Bay and the first of the very touristy and picturesque seaside towns of the Great Ocean Road. I had lunch and a gallon of coffee here before heading along the stunning stretch of road to Lorne.

Despite the fact that the traffic picked up and the towns changed the character of the ride which so far had had a pretty ‘out there’ feel to it the charm of the Great Ocean Road is really a great experience. The road is mostly literally cut into the side of the cliffs overlooking the ocean and passes numerous beaches, river estuaries all the while surrounded by draping koala infested rainforest. It is truly stunning and all told I found the traffic light enough especially as there was little or no truck traffic. I imagine at other times of the year though it is probably pretty busy.

At Lorne I almost kept going but after a sound meal looking across at the beach I figured this was a town worth spending the night in so I sussed out the Great Ocean Road Backpackers and took a dorm room there. Turned out fairly busy with travellers from all over spending the night. Fun to hear all their stories and laugh together at some pretty awful Aussie TV.

Day 11
Lorne to Geelong
80 km

The last day of my ride and another great weather day. Glorious sunshine and more great scenery. I stopped for lunch at Torquay and here had to make my mind up whether I was going to head east and take the Queenscliff-Sorrento ferry and put in another 150 km around Port Phillip Bay or just head in to Geelong and take the train to Melbourne.

Luckily a couple of quick phone calls made the decision for me and I booted in to Geelong to wrap up my ride at the Geelong train station clocking in at about 1050 km since Murray Bridge. Happy to be done.