Location: Melbourne to Adelaide
Distance: 975 kilometres
This is a road trip to flush the cheeks and startle the eyes. Intoxicating scenery and a far-from-anywhere vibe is a constant on the coastal route from Melbourne to Adelaide.
From the quivering, wave-gouged coastline around the Twelve Apostles to the Limestone Coast wine region, this route offers exceptional diversity. Vividly carved cliffs, temperate rainforests, bird-rich wetlands, rural vistas, evocative historic settlements and even outback-style vistas all await.
- Spectacular coastal scenery with year-round appeal.
- Old-style beach communities such as Lorne, Apollo Bay, Robe and Beachport.
- Heritage and endless wine tasting opportunities in South Australia’s Limestone Coast.
- Romantic lighthouses at Cape Otway and Cape Nelson.
- Short rewarding walks through rainforests and along beaches.
Day 1 - Melbourne To Apollo Bay
Although the riverside town of Winchelsea is only 114 kilometres from Melbourne, it's a great place to stretch your legs and marvel at the grandeur of Barwon Park mansion.
A 46-kilometre roll through forest later reveals Lorne. A town abuzz with eateries, galleries and arts events, it's also a great base for nearby rainforest walks. Be sure to imbibe at the iron lace-festooned Grand Pacific Hotel.
Forested headlands plunge straight into sea along the Great Ocean Road's cliff-hugging 45-kilometre stretch between Lorne and Apollo Bay. As you swoop into bays shrouded with salt spray and strewn with bull kelp, pause at tiny settlements such as Wye River and Separation Creek, where you can picnic among wallabies.
Day 2 - Apollo Bay To Cape Otway
It’s only 31 kilometres from Apollo Bay to Cape Otway, but a rewarding diversion is Beech Forest, a central point for accessing nearby waterfall walks and majestic California redwoods.
Cape Otway Lightstation has an inviting cafe with a roaring fire. There’s plenty to explore nearby, and drives to wilderness beaches such as Blanket Bay have the added bonus of koala spotting. Wave-thrashed Wreck Bay and Moonlit Bay underscore the Shipwreck Coast label.
Day 3 - Cape Otway To Port Fairy
There’s no need to rush to the Twelve Apostles. Close to Lavers Hill (38 kilometres from Cape Otway) is Melba Gully, a rainforest embellished with waterfalls and towering tree ferns. Take the Johanna Beach detour ror wild ocean scenes.
The splendour of the Twelve Apostles is best appreciated in solitude; simply follow the tracks veering offroad after the main viewing area. A few kilometres further, the Bay of Islands features dramatic rock stacks and short walks boasting splendid, un-peopled views.
Drive through farmland for another 63 kilometres to Port Fairy, a time-frozen riverside village of bluestones galore where more than 50 buildings are National Trust classified.
Day 4 - Port Fairy To Mt Gambier
Start your day with the promenade along Port Fairy’s Moyne River and out to the shearwater hub of Griffiths Island. If you’re someone for whom too much heritage is never enough, detour to Irish-inspired Koroit.
Emerald dairy country lines the road along the 65-kilometre route to Portland, the oldest European settlement in Victoria still oozing gothic edginess. Less than 12 kilometres from here is Cape Nelson, where uplifted ancient sea beds offer moody walks through heathland and an atmospheric cafe awaits in the former lighthouse stables.
Travel for 115 kilometres to Mt Gambier, a low-slung regional city with distinct pink sandstone buildings and the Riddoch Art Gallery. The surrounding Limestone Coast volcanic hinterland is pockmarked with caves, such as World Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves, and freshwater ponds that make for surreal diving and snorkelling.
Day 5 - Mt Gambier To Penola
Slumbering coastal village appeal, the quirky Feasts Classic Car Museum and a selection of calm beaches await at Port MacDonnell, just 28 kilometres from Mt Gambier.
From Port MacDonnell, you have your pick of empty beaches as you drive towards Carpenter Rocks, after which it’s fun to trace a rural back-roads route towards Penola, home to 1800s street scapes and the grand, uncannily preserved Yallum Park mansion.
Surrounding Penola are dozens of cellar doors brimming with the resonant red wines that have made the Coonawarra region famous.
Day 6 - Penola To Robe
Drive for 104 kilometres past paddocks dotted with red gums and photogenic ruins towards Robe, a chic seaside town resplendent with handsome limestone buildings and cottages edged with lavender.
Beachwood is a worthwhile detour on the way. This historic village is known for its long jetty and nearby Bowman Scenic Drive.
Day 7 - Robe To Adelaide
After a relaxing morning in Robe savouring atmospheric cafes, eateries and galleries, it's time to drive to Adelaide. For much of the 336 kilometres, the vast Coorong Wetlands form a meditative backdrop.
Words and photographs: Melissa Rimac