So far in Australia, we’d seen much of the east coast, from Cairns far up north to Sydney (see our posts here, and here). We’d also spent several days in Melbourne, primarily to attend the Australian Open. The next stage of our adventure Down Under was to drive the Great Ocean Road – reputed to be one of the world’s best road trips.
Melbourne to Adelaide (or our Australian Road Trip Part 2)
The Great Ocean Road starts just outside of Melbourne, and follows the south coast westward for approximately 250km. Our plan was to drive this scenic route slowly over a couple of days, making time for plenty of stops. We’d then continue west to Adelaide where we’d board The Ghan train for the last part of our Australian trip.
The Great Ocean Road
From the seaside town of Torquay, an hour southwest of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road winds its way along the southern coast to Allansford. There are many lookouts along the way. Each provides amazing views of sheer cliffs dropping into the ocean and rolling surf (and the occasional brave surfer).
About half way long (approximately a 3 hour drive from Melbourne) is the popular stop-off of Apollo Bay. There’s not a lot to the town itself, although it has a nice beach and a few shops and restaurants. Apollo Bay also provided the best value of any accommodation we had in Australia, at the Apollo Bay Backpackers Lodge. For A$70/night, we got a decent-sized apartment with a full kitchen and living room, shared with one other couple – it’s hard to beat.
The 12 Apostles
The main view everyone comes to see on the Great Ocean Road is the 12 Apostles. Granted, you can’t see all 12 anymore, but the view is spectacular. Despite the abundance of tour groups, this viewpoint was well worth a stop, a wander, and a few pictures.
Some people do the Great Ocean Road as a daytrip from Melbourne. That would make for a really long day. Staying in Apollo Bay for a night would make the trip more enjoyable. Spending a couple of nights would be even better and provide a chance to explore the small towns.
Continuing on to Adelaide
Beyond the end of the Great Ocean Road, the highway (we use that term loosely) continues a bit more inland. Traffic is almost non-existent as the tourist hordes are left behind.
Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve
One interesting stop was the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. We wanted to stretch our legs a bit, and the free admission reserve has several walking trails. We spotted a few emu, an echidna, and even a couple of koalas high up in one of the trees. Wild koalas are hard to spot!
We spent our second night in Port Fairy (a further 4 hours from Apollo Bay), a cute little town with a long beach and a few good restaurants (we can recommend the strangely named Coffin Sally restaurant for some tasty pizza).
Cape Bridgewater Seal Walk
On the third day, we made a detour off the main highway to visit Cape Bridgewater to do a 5km coastal walk to visit a large seal colony. The views along the walk were incredible and we got to see dozens of seals from the viewing platforms. That night, we stayed in the small town of Robe in South Australia, which had a similar feel to Port Fairy with a beautiful, long beach leading to a marina and some walking trails. Unfortunately, our schedule didn’t allow us much time to really explore the town, so we wished we had had a bit more time.
The last stage of our road trip was the final 4-hour drive into Adelaide. This part of the drive was largely inland on empty highways, and was the least scenic. We made up for this (and then some) by taking a one hour detour to visit the famous McLaren Vale wine region on our way into Adelaide. As we do!
Wine Tasting in South Australia
Adelaide really is the wine capital of Australia. There are several different wine growing regions around the city, including the well known Barossa, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale areas.
Barossa is probably the best known, but McLaren Vale also has some great wines. We checked out a few wineries we’d read about, including d’Arenberg, Alpha Box & Dice, and Maxwell Wines. At Maxwell Wines we were even served by a woman from Niagara who had read our blog! We’re famous!
McLaren Vale is best known for its shiraz and grenache, but is often overshadowed by the more famous Barossa Valley. The wines we tasted were good, but didn’t blow us away. It’s too bad we didn’t have a bit more time to explore the region. We’re sure there are some gem wineries we didn’t get around to.
On our only full day in Adelaide, we decided to visit the more famous Barossa Valley, about an hour northeast of Adelaide. We booked a tour with Bums on Seats Tours and we’re glad we did, because it ended up being a really fun day. It was just us, four friendly Aussies, and our great driver/guide, Dave. We visited and tasted at Kersbrook Hill Wines (technically in the Adelaide Hills wine region), TeAro Estate, Kies Family Wines, and Kabminye Wines, then finished off the day sitting on the patio of Barossa Valley Brewing.
We, especially Christine, much preferred the wines we tried in the Barossa Valley over the Hunter Valley. There seemed to be a wider range of varietals, and even some amazing dessert wines and ports (and we don’t usually go for sweet wines).
Again, we wish we had had an extra day or two in Adelaide. All of the bigger cities we’ve visited in Australia have felt surprisingly liveable. Downtown Adelaide was filled with bars and patios, a cool outdoor mall, plenty of take-aways restaurants, and is totally surrounded by parks. Several Aussies asked why we were going to Adelaide at all. They told us to skip it. Now that we’ve been there, we’re not sure why it’s not a more popular destination. We highly recommend Adelaide – it’s a cool city surrounded by several wine regions, the closest beach is a 35 minute tram ride away, and it’s the gateway to Kangaroo Island if you want to see some wildlife (Christine visited it 8 years ago).
What a Great Roadtrip!
Many people see the Great Ocean Road on one really long day trip from Melbourne, or maybe a round trip with a one-night stopover in Apollo Bay. And it seems that most people skip Adelaide entirely. We purposely slowed the pace down a bit, and split the trip over 4 days so that we could really appreciate southern Australia and we were not disappointed.
In Adelaide, we jumped on The Ghan! The train would take us through the centre of the Australian Outback to our final stop, Darwin.