Photo story: Australia's Great Ocean Road

Twisting for 150 miles along the southern coast, the Great Ocean Road is arguably the country’s most spectacular drive. But this legendary route is more than a road trip, it’s Australia in microcosm.

By Jon Attenborough
Published 29 Aug 2020, 08:00 BST, Updated 4 Jan 2021, 12:30 GMT
View of the Great Ocean Road stretching out along the coastline.

View of the Great Ocean Road stretching out along the coastline.

Photograph by Jon Attenborough

As well as its curious wildlife, the people that call this stretch of Australia home are just as memorable. Dotted along the cape are all manner of free spirits — lifeguards, surfers and dog walkers who live by the beach — all shaped by a life next to the sea. It’s as though the salty air imparts everything with a unique character: from the road itself to the windswept gum trees
and lively local spirit.

A surfer catches the waves at Bells Beach, a renowned surfing spot in Surf Coast Shire, Victoria.

Photograph by Jon Attenborough

Sun-bleached wooden steps leading down to Bells Beach.

Photograph by Jon Attenborough

Bells Beach is well known among the surfing set; due to its famous barrelling waves, it’s been home to Rip Curl Pro, the world’s longest-running surfing championships, since 1961. Elsewhere, Coorong National Park offers a gentler, more peaceful escape from the sea-lashed coast. Strung out along a lagoon, the park is a lush haven for local flora and fauna, which ranges from birds, such as sandpipers and shelducks, to kangaroos, who kick up clouds of dust as they hop along quiet roads.

A kangaroo hops across the road that winds through Coorong National Park.

Photograph by Jon Attenborough

A volunteer lifeguard.

Photograph by Jon Attenborough

A barista pours a flat white at the Grassroots Deli Cafe in Port Campbell — a perfect pitstop on the Great Ocean Road.

Photograph by Jon Attenborough

Along its length, the Great Ocean Road is dotted with laid-back cafes that serve comfort food alongside breathtaking ocean views. Surfers swing by the Bottle of Milk bar in the seaside town of Lorne, with its white-washed walls and colourful parasols, for a post-surf breakfast burger. At Grassroots Deli Cafe in Port Campbell, meanwhile, baristas brew smooth flat whites — an Australian creation that makes the perfect roadside pit stop. 

Bethany Finn, a honey enthusiast, apiarist and executive chef at the Mayfair Hotel in Adelaide.

Photograph by Jon Attenborough

Cape Otway Lighthouse, Victoria's oldest working lighthouse.

Photograph by Jon Attenborough

Nature takes a starring role in the sights and scenes of southern Australia. At the Mayfair Hotel, in the heart of the city of Adelaide, executive chef Bethany Finn harvests honey for her restaurant. The Cape Otway Lighthouse, meanwhile, stands sentinel over the Bass Strait as one of the oldest working beacons in the region and is a popular vantage point for land-based whale-watching. 

Sunset at the Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone pillars located just off the shore between Princetown and Port Campbell.

Photograph by Jon Attenborough

But perhaps the biggest attraction along the route is the world-famous Twelve Apostles. These huge limestone stacks in Port Campbell National Park loom up to 165ft over the crashing surf, formed through erosion millions of years ago. It’s a misnomer, however — only eight stacks have ever existed, and just seven remain today; in 2005, the eighth was claimed by the ocean that created it. 

Dive into the full photo story below

Published in the December 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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