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Great Ocean Road: The Surf Coast
Great Ocean Road - photo credit Tourism Victoria Located in the Australian state of Victoria, in the south-eastern corner of the continent, is the Great Ocean Road, one of the world's most truly breathtaking scenic routes. Outside of the capital of Victoria, Melbourne, it is the most visited area of the state. Officially, the road runs between Torquay and Allansford, a length of 241 kilometres, but it can also be considered to run from Geelong to Nelson, near the South Australian border. Construction of the road by returned soldiers from World War I began in 1919, and the first stage, from Anglesea to Apollo Bay, was officially opened in 1932.

Our look at the Great Ocean Road begins at Torquay, located 95 kilometres south-west of Melbourne. Torquay is a surfing mecca, due to the strength of surf-related industry in the area (brands such as Billabong, Quicksilver and Rip Curl were started and are based here), the Surfworld Museum, and of course the area's beaches, most of all its close proximity to the world-famous Bells Beach. This beach is 3 kilometres south-west of Torquay, and is a collection of reef breaks, gathering swells from the Southern Ocean and producing waves of between 1 and 4 metres. The professional tournament run each Easter is the highlight of the Australian surfing calendar.

In addition to the area’s surfing pastimes, there are a number of fine coastal walks in the area. The Surfcoast Walk is a collection of trails that amount to a 35 kilometre walk running from Jan Juc, just south of Torquay, to Anglesea. The fit and adventurous can undertake the full distance, while others can take on the shorter walks, ranging from 1 to 5 kilometres, that make up the Surfcoast Walk - Ironbark Track, Jarosite Track, Nature Trail, Koori Walk and others. These walks afford not only spectacular views of the coast, but also opportunities for animal and birdwatching, and, on the Koori Walk, insights into indigenous culture.

Anglesea is 15 kilometres along the road from Torquay, and is similarly adorned with a selection of beaches, ranging from surf beaches to quiet, protected coves. The cliffs along the coast here are popular hang-gliding spots, and the windswept nature of the coast makes windsurfing and sailing a breeze. In addition to all the seaside attractions it is located close to the 22,000 hectare Angahook-Lorne State Park, which provides camping sites, picnic spots, mountain bike and walking tracks, plus an array of native wildflowers. The local golf course is a place of interest, as not only might you encounter the odd birdie or albatross, but also one of the numerous kangaroos that call the course home. Ten kilometres from Anglesea is the peaceful and relatively unspoilt town of Aireys Inlet. The attractions here are similar to those of Anglesea, with patrolled beaches and coastal walks, and a spectacular view of the coast is available from the lookout at Split Point. Located a little further along the road past Aireys Inlet is the Memorial Arch, dedicated to the fallen of World War I.

Continuing along the road, the next major stop is the town of Lorne. The 19 kilometres of road between Airey's Inlet and Lorne is one of the more spectacular sections of the Great Ocean Road. On one side the road passes close by beaches, sometimes hugging cliffs as it winds above the ocean, and on the other are the forests and peaks of the Otway Ranges. After this dramatic drive, the sights and feel of Lorne will not let you down, with its mild climate, sheltered beaches, bushwalking spots, fishing, cafes and restaurants, it has become a popular resort town. Not far out of town are the Otway Ranges and Angahook-Lorne National Park, which will more than fill your need of some nature - rainforest, waterfalls, over 50 kilometres of bushwalking tracks, fauna and flora and more. Over 100 years ago Lorne was Victoria's first place to be declared an area of Special Significance and Natural Beauty - it is still a particularly apt description.

Leaving Lorne, the road is again framed by the Otways, the Angahook-Lorne National Park and the ocean. Again the drive is spectacular. After navigating our way through such diversions as the lookouts at Mount Defiance, Wye River and Cape Patton, the holiday town of Skenes Creek, beaches, picnic areas and walking tracks, 44 kilometres later we arrive at Apollo Bay. Also known as 'Paradise by the Sea', Apollo Bay is a holiday resort, fishing and farming village. The town features a wide crescent-shaped beach, and the Barham River runs into the ocean through the town. The town's 9 hole golf course is picturesque, perched as it is on the point overlooking the ocean and bay. A short drive from the town is the Marriner's Lookout, which provides panoramic coastal views. Also not far from Apollo Bay are the rainforests, waterfalls and trails of the Otway Ranges.

Our final stop on this Surf Coast stretch is Cape Otway, a 20-kilometre drive from Apollo Bay. The Great Ocean Road leaves the coast for a time, substituting views of the ocean with those of the 12,876-hectare Otway National Park. Some of Australia's tallest and oldest trees grow in the heavy rainfall areas of the Otway Ranges, which along with the streams, waterfalls make this a pristine snapshot of nature. Fauna in the area is plentiful - platypuses, rare ground parrots and tiger quolls, the rufous bristlebird, owls, long-nosed potoroos, possums, kangaroos, wallabies and koalas are among some of the animals you might see. Midway between Apollo Bay and Cape Otway is Mait's Rest, where a boardwalk has been built over the tree fern gullies and moss-covered roots of ancient rainforest trees, protecting the delicate ecosystem while providing visitors with unique views of the forest and its animals. Turning left off the Great Ocean Road takes us to Cape Otway, a place of dramatic scenery, with an equally dramatic past. Many is the ship that missed the lighthouse beacon, and foundered to give our next section of the road its name. Cape Otway is the halfway mark in our look at the Great Ocean Road, its southernmost point, a place from which we can look back on the Surf Coast and forward, to the Shipwreck Coast.

The great pulling power of the Great Ocean Road is the play between the road and its proximity to the sea, but there is many a delight to be found by leaving the coast, and exploring inland. Also please remember that the magnificence of the route results in a steady flow of traffic, so take care at all times, particularly in summer and on the weekend.

A full list of accommodation in the Great Ocean Road region can be found in Travelmate's Accommodation section.

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