There’s no doubt that the Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic and breathtaking coastal drives. But when you’re venturing a little farther, beyond the border of South Australia into South-West Victoria, you’ll discover some of the most magnificent coastal treasures just waiting for you to explore.
Set out on the Riddoch Hwy and make your way down south, as you gear up for a day filled with adventure and spectacular coastlines. Your view out the car window will slowly transition from undulating green hillsides to the dramatic and commanding deep blue hues of vast ocean waters. Once the hour’s drive has passed, you’ll be greeted by the charm of the small fishing and holiday town, Nelson.
Situated within dry eucalypt forest, Simsons Landing Rd is only a stone’s throw from the township of Nelson, yet it feels like a tranquil escape from reality. This first activity is sure to start your day with some thrill, as you’ll give dry land a break and head out onto the water on a canoe. Nelson Canoe Hire is the longest running canoe company on the Glenelg River. As you paddle off into the distance, you’ll stare in awe at the rugged 50 metre limestone cliffs, sweeping estuary, and abundance of bird, fish and animal life. It truly is the best way to experience the magic of the Glenelg River.
Now that you’ve experienced it from the water, time to ditch the canoe and paddles for something a little less active. Head to the local milk bar, grab a takeaway coffee and snack to replenish your canoeing efforts, then take a seat on the water’s edge as you take in the view. You’ll have one of 29 landings to choose from, plus the campfire, barbeque, and picnic facilities available. Whether fishing, camping or bushwalking is your thing, the Glenelg River truly has something for everyone.
Once a volcanic island, Cape Bridgewater is a picturesque and secluded beachside town that forms a perfect crescent around the rim of an ancient volcano crater. As you take in the remarkable geographical formations, keep an eye out for kangaroos bouncing, echidnas ambling, and koalas snoozing nearby. With 4 kilometres of white sandy beach, surreal landscapes, and some of the highest coastal cliffs in Victoria, it’s as beautiful as it is full of natural wonders you won’t find anywhere else.
Kickstart your journey back in time at Tarragal Caves, with over 11,000 years of history in its formations. The caves are a network of large limestone caves and rockshelters, providing an eerie but thrilling experience unlike any other. The short but steep 50 metre climb is well worth it, granting scenic panoramic views of the Bridgewater Lakes. When you first arrive, be sure to look up… literally. As majestic as it is, it’s neatly tucked into the side of the cliff, and very easy to drive past!
As you continue your journey further south through Cape Bridgewater, Shelly Beach is worth a stop simply for the view! A flat open beach with waves powerfully rolling in day and night, the electric blue water contrasts magnificently against the bright white sand. Certain areas of the beach have a build-up of crushed or small shells–hence the name–something seldom seen at many other Southern Victoria beaches. It’s a long stretch of coastline, so if you don’t happen to score it all to yourself, you’re almost guaranteed to find a secluded spot somewhere.
If you have a few spare hours up your sleeve, definitely head out on the Cape Bridgewater Seal Walk. It’s a 6.8km return walk with breathtaking scenic views and plenty of wildlife, taking an average of two hours to complete. The viewing platform at the end of the trail looks out onto two seal colonies of about 650 Australian fur seals. If you’re short on time, there’s also a little boat shed just 800 metres along the track, where you might catch a group of seals frolicking on the rocks!
As you hop back in the car and drive to the most southerly point of Cape Bridgewater, you’ll stumble upon the path of The Great South West Walk. It’s a spectacular 250km bushwalking trail located between Portland and Nelson, and one of south-western Victoria’s finest. Catering to most ages and fitness levels, you can set forth on short 2-hour walks, full-day treks, or if you’re up for the challenge, the entire loop. A one-of-a-kind experience, you will experience the best mother nature has to offer–from soaring cliffs to dramatic stretches of water, to lush forest brimming with chattering wildlife.
Right on the western point of Cape Bridgewater lies the Petrified Forest, an experience that simply can’t be missed. The forest was once a collection of hollow limestone tubes, eroded by millions of years of rainfall. The water would gather on the sand-covered tubes, eventually dissolving the limestone and leaving behind cemented sand forming hard, trunk-shaped pipes. Most are around three metres high, while some reach as high as twenty! The forest scales the cliff’s edge, where you can gape at the powerful, swirling water below. You truly feel like you’re standing on the edge of the world!
On the walk back, stop at the dedicated viewing point and prepare for an astonishing display of powerful spouts of sea spray during high seas. Mainly formed of basalt and scoria rock, these incredible blow holes are a unique experience perfect for those after something wild and different along the coastline. During summer, you might also get lucky here at spotting a blue whale blow on the ocean’s rippled surface.
Don’t forget to appreciate the Cape Bridgewater Wind Farm on your way out. It’s one of Australia’s largest, where you can get close enough to marvel at their sheer size.
As the end of the first day nears, it’s time to finish on a high and discover the magic of Portland. Whether you’re wanting to delve into history, satisfy your inner foodie, or get back to nature, Portland has something for you.
If you’re like everyone else and pondered what the term ‘Groke’ could possibly mean, let us enlighten you. ‘Groke’ (v.) is an old Scots word that refers to someone who stares at you while you eat, in the hope that you’ll share your meal with them. We can confirm that this place certainly lives up to its name! Voted Portland’s #1 burger and cocktail bar, it’s the perfect place to sink your teeth into a deliciously juicy burger while marvelling at the vibrant pop art adorning the walls. If a burger isn’t tickling your fancy, don’t fret–the diverse menu includes a range of options like salads, loaded chips, share plates and some ‘oo la la’ mains.
After for something a little more elegant? Small coastal town meets elevated dining, Clock by the Bay offers delectable Modern Australian cuisine with a French twist, set against the stunning backdrop of the town’s bustling esplanade. Housed in the beautifully restored and grand old Post Office, allow yourself to get cosy with a glass of wine or cold beer and gaze through the heritage arched windows overlooking Portland Harbour. When the weather permits, enjoy dining alfresco as you breathe in the salty air and soak up the balmy sun.
Before you settle in for the night, don’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy the remarkable Port of Portland. Victoria’s only naturally deep-water port, it’s also enjoyed by Portland locals and tourists looking for a relaxing end to their day. Drive up the Lee Breakwater forming the northern boundary of the harbour where you can pull up the van, watch the waves lap against the rocks and settle in for a beautiful sunset with some drinks and snacks in hand. Make sure you also keep an eye out for whales frolicing in the distance, as here is one of the best vantage points to spot the majestic blue whales and southern right whales that frequent Portland.
Time to put your feet up and unwind after exploring all the best that South-West Victorian coast has to offer. Portland has an extensive offering of accommodation ranging from budget through to luxury, perfect for short or long stays.
Rise and shine! Hopefully you slept well, as this morning we’ll be up with the birds to make the most of Portland before making your way down the coast.
Wake up to the gentle surf of Nuns Beach, and watch the sunrise paint the water’s surface a striking metallic gold. Sip on a takeaway coffee from Twelvefold, take the dog for a run, or just simply take a seat on the sand and breathe in the serenity. As you listen to the waves crash on the shore, enjoy this moment of calm before embarking on your big day ahead.
An absolute must-do experience for any visitor, the Portland Cable Tram serves a 7.4km route meandering through Portland’s stunning foreshore. Be taken on a journey through time as you jump on board the beautifully restored saloon and grip cars, and learn all about Portland’s rich history from passionate volunteers. A unique way to see the sights, you’ll be able to hop on and off at some of Portland’s best attractions all while enjoying the fun of the ride.
Unfold the stories of Portland’s rich history at the Maritime Discovery Centre. Built in 1998, it houses the museum as well as the Portland Visitor Information Centre. The highlight has to be the phenomenal Sperm Whale skeleton, where you can step inside its rib cage and appreciate the sheer size and majestic nature of these titans of the deep. Observe images of Portland’s past, explore treasures from the shipwreck trail, and marvel at the 1858 Portland lifeboat that is one of the oldest remaining vessels in Australia.
Sitting proudly on a green grassy bluff at the north end of town is Whalers Bluff Lighthouse. With a very endearing appearance, the lighthouse is 12 metres high with red window frames and red head (or lantern top) and balcony. Commanding spectacular views of Portland’s Harbour, it’s a great spot to take a brisk walk, set up a picnic, or simply look out over the bay. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled while you’re there… if you don’t catch whales breaching in the distance, you might just spot a gorgeous Koala and her joey peacefully munching away at eucalypt leaves in surrounding trees.
Before you embark on the last leg of your road trip, make time to stop in at Port Fairy and enjoy a delicious dinner by the water. Awarded #1 in the Top Tourism Town awards of 2021, Port Fairy is a charming village with glimpses into history at every corner. With a buzzing local art scene, stellar food and wine, and plenty to do on, in and by the water, Port Fairy is a must-see destination along the Great Ocean Road.
Stop for dinner on your voyage at The Wharf @ Port Fairy. Residing by the Moyne River, the restaurant serves up divine Modern Australian cuisine and sources local, fresh and seasonal produce for a truly delicious and innovative food experience. Whether it’s indoor or outdoor dining that tickles your fancy, take your pick and admire stunning water views from every angle. Enjoy some fresh fish and chips while you trail the wharf precinct, stop to dangle your legs over the water’s edge, and watch the seagulls flock to score a spare chip.
With full hearts and bellies, it’s now up to you on where your road trip will take you next! Warrnambool is a short 26 minute drive away, or there’s Port Campbell a little further down the coast at a 1 hour 10 minute drive. If you’re still itching to go further, the hip seaside town of Lorne is 2 hours and 30 minutes away, or surfing capital Torquay is a 2 hour 30 minute drive. No matter where you find yourself, the South-West Victorian coast is brimming with world-class destinations and experiences that have to be seen to be truly believed.
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.