Moody Blues: An Australian Coastal Road Trip

22 September 2015

After swooping through misted rainforest to reach the wave-thrashed, bull kelp-laced beaches of the Great Ocean Road, I’m struck with a strong sense that there’s nothing between here and Antarctica.

It’s an exhilarating vibe that prevails all the way to Adelaide as we trace Australia’s ruggedly beautiful southern edge through an astonishing diversity of scene-scapes: carved coastline, river gums, wetlands, wine country, evocative historic settlements, even outback-style vistas.

 The rugged road hugs the coastline

Between Lorne and Apollo Bay, the Great Ocean Road coils tightly through rearing headlands and cliffs - a giddy drive that shouldn’t be rushed given the numerous lookouts and sea-spray shrouded bays.

A tunnel of gums dotted with koalas leads to mainland Australia’s oldest lighthouse – Cape Otway Lightstation – a uniquely atmospheric base for exploring the densely forested Otways.

Spending the first two nights of our leisurely road trip in the self- contained, doily-free Lighthouse Keepers’ cottages, we eagerly anticipate sunset – when it’s just us and the wallabies watching the whitewashed tower sparkle against a glowering Bass Strait.

Smashing waves drown out conversation in the evening, making it hard to imagine a more romantic getaway.

The Great Otway National Park offers walks to wild, empty beaches as well as rainforest trails featuring waterfalls and lush fern gullies.

 The cliffs offer no compromise to the traveller

At Wreck Bay, anchors of doomed ships appear at low tide and the sand quivers in rhythm with the roiling ocean, underscoring why hundreds of wrecks lie strewn along this treacherous coast.

Between the Twelve Apostles and Bay of Islands, you can almost see the unrelenting ocean gouging crumbly cliffs - a vision ideally savoured in solitude by following tracks which splinter eastwards from the road.

Incandescent green dairy country rolls out towards Port Fairy, a storybook-cute settlement of bluestone and whitewashed whaler's cottages and merchant's mansions. Although renowned for its music festivals, there’s always something going on here.


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Fishing Village Straight From A Story Book

A working harbour and a sprinkling of gothic buildings gives Portland, Victoria’s first European settlement, an appealingly grungy air.

Uplifted reef has created a moonscape spotted with delicate flora at nearby Cape Nelson. Flocks of albatross and, in season, blue whales, can be spotted close to shore.

 The Cape Nelson Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage

At the Cape Nelson Lighthouse Keepers’ cottages, cosy luxury sumptuously offsets the cheek-flushing scenes outside. Whilst the open fireplace and espresso machine inspire a contented inertia, walks through coastal heathlands lead to a seal colony and rock pools.

South Australia’s Limestone Coast is typically associated with the Coonawarra wine region and fetchingly historic seaside towns such as Robe, Beachport and Kingston– all of which warrant lingering.

We fell for the sleepy lure of Port MacDonnell, an uncontrived fishing village that could be straight from a Tim Winton novel.

Ivy-draped cells of the former lockup line the path to our self-contained, luxurious apartment in the former policeman’s residence at the magnificent Customs House.

 Port MacDonnell's magnificent Customs House

Driving towards Carpenter Rocks reveals honeycombed cliffs, fairy penguins and sheltered coves offering excellent snorkelling. Skirting this section of coast are photogenic shearing sheds and homesteads.

Crisscrossed with alluring, well maintained dirt roads, these rural flatlands invite random weaving towards Coonawarra wine country.

Although it’s hard to resist the dozens of wineries just a 10-minute drive away, Penola’s historic streetscapes backdrop rich narratives. Just eight kilometres from Penola, a tour of Yallum Park homestead presents a rare opportunity to experience a time-frozen Victorian mansion.

From here there’s the choice of driving through the vast Coorong wetlands or another top up of wine and heritage along the Padthaway route.

Either way, you’ll be reluctant to look away from the windscreen.


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Melissa Rimac

Melissa Rimac is a travel writer and photographer.