Don't Stop at the Twelve Apostles on your Great Ocean Road Trip
The highlight of every Great Ocean Road trip is, of course, the Twelve Apostles.
Now, normally I would say, a tourist attraction like this is over-rated and over-visited; why not try this other place instead? Especially if there isn't actually anything more to the attraction than to look at it. Is it really that important to tick the I-was-here box?
But, some touristy attractions are undeniably deserving of their tourist magnet status, like the Taj Mahal and Easter Island. I have to say that the Twelve Apostles are exactly that, for any Great Ocean Road trip. Indeed, we stopped by for this view on our way back as well.
- The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road - What Is It Really Like?
- Port Campbell National Park: More Than the Twelve Apostles
- Limestone Features from Port Campbell to Peterborough
- The Bay of Islands and Shipwreck Coast
- Bonus Great Ocean Road Stop: Warrnambool
- Carbon offset information to Australia
The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road - What Is It Really Like?
My BFF and I chose to do our Great Ocean Road trip during the week. Knowing that the Twelve Apostles is a highly desirable tourist stop, we figured at least on a weekday it should be a better crowd situation than the weekend. We would be there in the afternoon of our second day on the road.
However, even on a weekday, the viewing points looking out to the Twelve Apostles look like this:
To be absolutely clear, it wasn't just this iconic viewing point that was full of tourists. Every possible angle, all the boardwalks - all were occupied.
Are there still 12 'apostles'?
So actually, if you count out the rocks jutting out from the water, you won't get 12. There are only 7 now, because the relentless wave action that carved them out from the old limestone coastline in the first place, continue to erode the pillars. Gradually, the pillars collapse into the sea.
However, the number could go up with time, since new caves and arches will eventually become new stacks standing up in the sea.
So, you can say that the view that you saw during your trip is truly snapshot in time, of a slow yet dynamic coastal limestone system.
Is the Twelve Apostles worth the visit?
If you ask me whether the Twelve Apostles is worth coming all the way to Victoria to see, then I guess it depends on how much you're into coastal landscapes. Probably it's not in that league.
However, if you're embarking on a Great Ocean Road trip already, then it is absolutely worth the stop. The crowd is still tolerable (at least on a weekday). If you're doing it as a road trip, I suppose you could improve your experience even more by staying overnight close by, so that you could reach it early in the morning and potentially beat the crowds.
That said, if you drive out to the Twelve Apostles, and then turn back because you've taken the iconic snapshot, then you should be ashamed of yourself!
Port Campbell National Park: More Than the Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles are part of Port Campbell National Park. Nope, Port Campbell isn't anywhere near the Twelve Apostles; it is actually 11km away. However, the limestone features of this part of the southern Victoria coastline are all encompassed in this Park, starting from the Twelve Apostles.
Yes, I said starting. So, if you were satisfied with reaching the Twelve Apostles, then you missed out. Even if you're just interested in this charismatic coastline, and not interested in the other things you can do along the Great Ocean Road such as hiking, waterfalls, beaches etc., you still missed out.
Loch Ard Gorge - a Must-Stop on the Great Ocean Road
Just a little bit of a drive away, is Loch Ard Gorge, another very picturesque spot. Named after a ship that capsized against Mutton Bird Island a long time ago, this part of the coastline is not a long stretch of coast, but a few little coves hollowed out by the active sea.
To be honest, although I wouldn't have missed the Twelve Apostles, it is Loch Ard Gorge that we liked better. Despite being just as gorgeous, it is a LOT less crowded. You could stand, looking out to sea, hearing the wind whistle against your ear, and just feel the coastline space.
Limestone Features from Port Campbell to Peterborough
There are other lanes along the Great Ocean Road towards Port Campbell, leading to more lookouts. We only had 3 days, so I uncharacteristically skipped many of these. Personally, I think the optimal Great Ocean Road Trip should take at least 5 days, but apparently doctors don't get as many vacation days as corporate scientists.
But if you think we were done at Loch Ard Gorge, and that you can turn back after Port Campbell, you're mistaken. If you keep driving towards the next town, Peterborough, there are a few notable limestone features.
This arch, closely attached to the limestone cliff, is the first one you encounter. I think it is mainly interesting for the surprisingly neat rock arch. Otherwise, I don't consider this as among the top stops you should make on the Great Ocean Road.
Very close to The Arch, is another feature called London Bridge. You can no longer see this feature as it was, when it was named. The first 'span of the bridge' has collapsed into the sea, leaving the further 'span' alone. As capricious as it sounds, that kinda makes it less interesting now.
However, there is one stop that I particularly liked along this stretch of the Great Ocean Road. If you're lucky, there won't be many (or hopefully any) other people there. The Grotto is an arch, but there is a little open-air grotto that has been hollowed out between the arch and the cliff.
A series of steps lead down into the grotto, where you can look out to sea through the frame of the little arch. This is among my favourite views on the Great Ocean Road.
The Bay of Islands and Shipwreck Coast
No, you can't stop at Peterborough either! At least, not without walking out to the Bay of Islands coastline with portions morbidly named Shipwreck Coast and Bay of Martyrs. This advice goes double if you (or someone travelling with you) are a history buff, who likes to learn about the human history of a place.
Placards along the coastal walk explain the shipwrecks that once regularly occurred off this coast, due to the changeable weather and sea conditions of Bass Strait (anyone who has ever been baffled by the variable Victorian weather, nod here). I won't go into it, but suffice to say that the contributing reasons are still relatable today: ship builders built bigger and faster ships to increase profits from the England-Australia trade at the expense of safety, and outdated sea charts were still in use even after lighthouses were built. I wouldn't be surprised if new maps were not purchased for 'cost saving'.
Today, it is mainly a quiet nature reserve, a wide and curvaceous bay charmingly accented by limestone pillars.
Bonus Great Ocean Road Stop: Warrnambool
But, but... Warrnambool is technically no longer on the Great Ocean Road!
That's technically true, yes. Yet I'm suggesting that you drive on from the Bay of Islands to Warrnambool anyway. As in, really drive the entire Great Ocean Road until its end, just outside this town.
You've been patient with me so far. Let me explain why.
To be honest, we only went there because we felt we would rather drive on and spend the night in Warrnambool instead of doubling back to Peterborough. But it turned out to be a stop that we were quite happy with.
Now, there are signboards pointing you to Logan's beach, with a nearby whale viewing platform (December was the wrong season for whales, though). But that's not the viewing point that I want to point out to you. We actually liked Thunder Point.
The rocks are different from the pale limestone within Port Campbell National Park, darker and craggier. Thunder Point is not a gently sloping coast, but rough and rocky and sinuous. The waves rush ceaselessly towards the coast, retreat, and surge repeatedly in attack. Roiling, frothing, folding onto itself. It was hypnotic.
It was our third day, and we needed the whole day to drive back, if we wanted to make any additional stops at all. That was the only reason that stopped us from spending more time watching this coastline than we did.
Fluker post: Help marine scientists carry out whale survey
Somewhere on Thunder Point, there's also a whale survey point for the Merri Marine Sanctuary. The sign requests visitors to place their camera on a specific cradle, take a snapshot (whether there's a whale in it or not), and email the photo to a designated email address for Fluker Post.
I don't know if it's still wanted, but I obliged.
Then Suraya reminded me that we really had to get going. So, we reluctantly made our way back across Merri River, check out from our Airbnb, and headed back towards Melbourne.
Three days is not enough for a Great Ocean Road Trip, never mind the heresy of a day trip! Not if you know you're not supposed to stop at the Twelve Apostles!
Carbon offset information to Australia
A return flight between Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne produces carbon emissions of approximately 5,074 lbs CO2e. It costs about $25 to offset this.
So, have I convinced you to explore the Great Ocean Road coastline beyond the iconic Twelve Apostles? Share the tip!