One of my 2017 travel highlights was definitely my week-long road trip down the Great Ocean Road, from Adelaide to Melbourne. To be honest, Australia hadn't even really been top of my travel list, and initially I was just going to stop by on my way to Fiji. But, I knew I had the chance to see Australia's iconic 12 Apostles, and I'd heard the Great Ocean Road was legendary, so when an Australian friend offered to loan us her custom van, my girlfriend and I jumped at the chance to take this epic roadtrip. It turned out to be an incredible experience, and so I thought I'd share some of my top tips for making the most of this adventure.
grab a travel buddy!
I travel solo a lot of the time, and really love an independent adventure, but I can't imagine having taken this trip without my girlfriend... and not just because she's the one who still remembers how to drive a vehicle with more than 2 wheels... Logistically, a camping road trip is a lot easier with a couple of people, but more importantly, it was just so much more fun having someone to share the adventure with. So, grab a partner or friend and get ready to hit the road.
get a local SIm card
I highly recommend getting a local SIM card for your (unlocked) smartphone. You’ll never know when you want to do a little on-the-spot research, and it's obviously wise to have if you're camping in remote areas and need assistance. Plus, let's be honest - you'll probably be keen to post your epic shots on Instagram. Australia has a few carriers available; Jo and I chose Opus since it they had a good promo deal of 12GB of data, plus calls and texts, for only $20. We got our SIM cards at the airport when we flew in, and it just took a couple of minutes and kept us connected all the way across Aus.
download useful apps
Two apps I would highly recommend for this trip are maps.me and Campermate. I always use maps.me to download offline maps for when I’m in a new area; even if you have a local SIM card, you never know when you’ll be out of service, especially as you travel through rural areas (although we had coverage most of the time). We also used Google Maps a lot, too - it's great for travel because once you lock in your location & destination while online, it will continue to track you, even if you go offline.
Campermate was an awesome way to find free campsites along the journey. Other campers can rate sites and leave comments so you know what to expect. The app also has paid campgrounds listed, but it was easy to find free ones for the length of our stay (especially in South Australia, in Victoria province it was a bit tricker but the app made it totally possible). For more of my recommended travel apps have a look here.
Speaking of beaches, I cannot recommend Long Beach, Robe, in Southern Australia, enough. It was one of our first stops, and one of my favourite nights of the trip. This is an absolutely gorgeous long stretch of beach (hence the name), and when we drove up in the afternoon there were loads of surfers and beachgoers hanging out. We drove right onto the sand and found a little spot to park our van. As the evening wore on, the people all left and we had the entire beach to ourselves as we watched one of the best sunsets of our lives. We spent the night here, solo, and kept the van door open so we could listen to the waves and feel the breeze from our bed. Around 10pm some friendly cops drove up and asked if we were spending the night…I, terrified of doing the wrong thing, asked if that was okay, and they just said “yep!” and wished us a good night. I think they just wanted to make sure that we were parked far enough away from the coastline that the changing tides were't an issue, and also just to keep tabs on campers copping a squat on their lush beach. Fair enough!
Oh, and did I mention that the cost of camping on Long Beach is exactly $0? Yes, that’s right. It’s free.
surround yourself with kangaroos
I adore these bouncy little marsupials, and was delighted with how many we saw on our trip (unfortunately we also saw a lot of kangaroo roadkill so please drive carefully!) But, hands down, the best kangaroo quality time I spent was at Princetown Recreation Reserve Camping where dozens and dozens of kangaroos were literally all over the campground the whole night. This campsite is located only 6km from the Great Apostles, so is the perfect place to spend the night before you see the Apostles themselves. This is the only paid campsite we stayed at, but it was only $20 for the night, and the kangaroo company, hot showers, and barbecue stations made it all money well spent. You don't need to book in advance, and we rocked up mid-afternoon without a problem finding a spot - the campground was pretty much empty.
beat the crowds at the 12 apostles
When I travel I typically avoid the main tourist hotspots, since I already know what crowds of tourists with cameras look like. But, seeing Australia’s 12 Apostles was meant to be the highlight of our road trip down the Great Ocean Road, so Jo and I decided the best strategy would be to get there at sunrise, before anyone else arrived. When we woke up before dawn at our kangaroo filled campsite, the weather could not have been worse. The wind was howling, the rain was freezing, and we were tempted to stay under the covers of our camper’s cozy bed. Of course, we'd never actually let ourselves miss the adventure, so we put on every piece of clothes we’d brought and made our way to the apostles. Nobody else was crazy enough to be out in such weather, and as we made our way down to the beach the only other soul around was a penguin, huddling against the rocks. Seeing the Apostles in all their glory, with waves furiously crashing down all around, was absolutely incredible, and we’re so grateful Mother Nature put on such a show.
take your time
The 12 Apostles themselves are breathtaking, but the trip between Adelaide and Melbourne (or vice versa) has so much more to offer. While you can drive the Great Ocean Road in just a couple of days, I recommend spending at least a week on the road, which is what we did (and honestly, we could have doubled that time easily). There is so much to see! The whole drive is dotted with funky little surf towns filled with good vibes and ubiquitously excellent coffee. We stumbled upon an open air jazz fest, markets, and Jo even arranged a surprise day of horseback riding for me in Airey’s Inlet. We would generally drive in the early mornings so we could stop along the way for supplies and exploration, and still arrive early enough at campsites to pick a good spot before others arrived, leaving the rest of the day for hiking, chilling, and enjoying the wilderness.
go with the flow
You really don’t need to plan very much for this road trip. There’s lots of choices for places to stop along the way, and essentials like gas, groceries, and water are very readily available throughout the whole journey. Especially if you give yourself a good amount of time, it’s totally fine to wake up each morning and see where the day takes you. After all, that’s arguably the best part of being on a road trip: to bask in the freedom and adventure of it all.
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