As I look back on the Australia trip, the stars seemed to align for my day on The Great Ocean Road (the GOR) – the weather began sunny and bright on the cool side. When I was researching “things to do in Melbourne”, driving The Great Ocean Road was at the top. For me, I would need to find a tour company for my visit as I don’t drive on the other side. Knowing that it would be a long day (at least 12 hours), the thought of a big tour bus with no leg room, no guarantee of a window view and 40+ other people was not fun so I looked at private tours. Private tours will always cost more money but in my opinion are always worth the extra to support local small businesses and have personal attention.
I would discover Longhorn YOUnique Tours (their motto “where it’s all about YOU”) and lucked out that not only were they visiting the GOR on the day I wanted to go but there was a small discount online that day. Communicating by email was easy and they accepted credit cards (have to earn points!).
Garry, the owner, would pick me up at 7:15 am at my hotel and I immediately knew that I picked the right tour guide. I would occupy the front seat in the Land Rover and was surrounded by bottled water, candies, tissues and anything else I would need for the day (little did I know about the treats in the back). The best surprise, I would discover about an hour later? Wi-fi! Yes, wi-fi in the Rover. I would post this photo to Facebook from the Rover after our first stop.
My traveling companions for the day would be a Danish couple who would sit in the back seat and did not want to rotate seats during the day (lucky me, I would have a great view for most of the day as a passenger up front in my comfy seat with leg room). The couple would alternate English/Danish so Garry was pretty much my own private guide for the day. I would learn that he quit his job in his early 50’s to go to college for his hospitality degree so he could be a registered tour guide. He, of course, was the oldest in the class but told great stories of what he learned and how after a few jobs as a guide with a company, he felt he could do it better on his own – he was right! All the details, stops, pacing, stories were wonderful.
The Great Ocean Road was built by returning World War I soldiers and dedicated in memorium to the soldiers who didn’t make it home from war. It opened in 1932 and is a bit over 150 miles going along the coast with access to beaches, through the rainforests, past the cliffs of limestone and sandstone. Passing through many notable towns such as Lorne and Port Campbell, we would see all of the highlights that the tours tout and a few more I hadn’t heard of. Our stops included the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch, Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge, a rainforest walk, animals in their natural environment, the 12 Apostles and well as many scenic viewpoints along the way.
Our local wildlife stop was a bit of fun as we would see the birds and koalas that lived near the campervan park. The way the birds flocked to Garry, you’d think they knew him from his many visits but his secret? Food in his pockets.
We would stop for morning tea and rather than visit a cafe, we pulled into a picnic area and Garry set up tea and home made treats (how he has time to bake?!). This was a relaxing tea break and a nice personalized touch that the big bus tours can’t provide. At the picnic bench we bonded over tea and Tim Tams (ok, he can’t bake everything and these are quintessential Australian treats).
We would spend the next few hours in/out of the Rover exploring scenic look-outs, a lighthouse, beaches, etc. learning of the history along the way before arriving at The Bay Leaf cafe in Apollo Bay a little late (thankfully the owner stayed open until we arrived). Lunch was included in the tour cost and it was a great way to refuel after a busy morning. I opted for a burger and fries, the others chose pasta and salmon. As the cafe was closed, we had the place to ourselves.
We had a few more hours of travel before we would arrive at the Twelve Apostles (we would learn that there are only eight left from erosion/collapse). I had previously told Garry that I wanted to do a helicopter tour and with a set time scheduled for our Twelve Apostles visit, I had to choose helicopter or walking tour. By this time, the bright sun had yielded to grey cloud cover (of course, just in this area during my time there). I ran to the Twelve Apostles helicopter office on the other side of the parking lot and there was no line (the big bus tours had already visited).
Garry suggested doing the 15 minute tour to London Bridge for $129 rather than the 10 minute $99 tour (prices subject to change). Lucky for me, there was a couple waiting to board this tour next and there was one seat left. As I got closer it was the smallest helicopter I’ve seen with seating for 4 people (pilot included). Thinking I would win the front seat with the pilot, I was informed by the couple that the husband “needed” the front seat due to a leg/hip/some excuse injury….Whatever…. I could probably claim the same and was taller needing leg room but I wasn’t going to argue with them – travel karma would work it all out.
We were off quickly, rising over the field and heading along the coast to see the Apostle formations from above. I was ready with my camera and having learned from my safari mistakes, I was recording the whole flight and taking photos at the same time (once I figure out how to edit the video, I will post on YouTube and here). Despite the clouds and grey skies, it was still pretty awesome. Our pilot explained the sites as we flew over and along the coast. Lucky me, since the helicopter pilot is on the right and I was seated behind him, I had a great view as we headed down the coast (I may have relished this a bit as the couple had to wait for the flight back for photos despite trying to hit me on the head with her camera in the back). The flight adds to your experience and is worth the extra cost in my opinion – you’ve driven for hours to get here so take advantage of it all.
Once we landed, I called Garry on his mobile as they were walking back from the viewing platform. I met him and he said I had ten minutes before we were to leave. I said “just enough for me” and told him he didn’t need to walk me out to explain the sites as the pilot had already done so. With that I was off….. in my “Wildwood South Jersey boardwalk” speed walk. I managed to get to all of the viewing spots on the boardwalk for my photos and back in time. Never underestimate me when I want a photo –
After the Twelve Apostles we had two more stops before turning around to head back to Melbourne via the highway. Of course, by this time, the sun was back, the skies were clear and my Iphone died (i didn’t think to bring the power cord) . One stop without the “dark and stormy” shipwreck story background consisted of a marital affair that was revealed when the couple ventured out on the cliff (London Bridge) only for part of the bridge to fall (yes, London Bridge went falling down) into the ocean stranding them for which they had to be rescued, not before being outed in the media.
The sun was setting on this wonderful, long day and I was mesmorized by my rearview mirror as I said “goodbye” to the GOR as we turned toward the highway into our own “dark and stormy night”. Thankfully, no shipwreck or tortured love story, just the rains catching up to me. The stars aligned and held out as long as they could for my lovely day along the Great Ocean Road.