Review: Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne avoids the coastal crush

There are spectacular natural landscapes to be found in just about every direction from Melbourne, but the iconic Great Ocean Road attracts most of the attention. It can get a little hectic around mid-afternoon as the majority of tour buses reach the famous 12 Apostles sea stacks at the same time, but this small group tour lets you avoid the bulk of the crowds. Review: Louise Reynolds

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne. Image: Louise Reynolds

5 stars

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne

This small group Great Ocean Road day tour offers a slightly later departure from Melbourne to avoid the mid-afternoon surge in visitor numbers at the 12 Apostles. Travel along the coast in air-conditioned comfort taking in all the must-see sights, and finish with a pub dinner on the way home. Duration: 13 hours (approx.)

Victoria’s winding Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s classic drives, and encompasses idyllic holiday townships, spectacular coastal vistas, diverse natural landscapes and the famous 12 Apostles rock formations.

It should come as no surprise that the Great Ocean Road is one of Victoria’s biggest draw cards for both domestic and international visitors. Today I’m joining The Little Penguin Bus on their small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne — but I’ll be avoiding most of the day tripping crowds by departing Melbourne slightly later than the big tour buses. It’s one of the things that sets this tour company apart from other tour operators in the region.

This boutique tour company also guarantees small group sizes — a maximum of eleven passengers. Today, it’s just three lovely Americans, myself and our Kiwi-born, extremely knowledgeable guide Nicky — so there’s plenty of room to spread out on the bus!

The Great Ocean Road, which stretches for 243km from Torquay to Allansford, took 13 years to build. Its construction provided work for returned servicemen from the Great War and the unemployed of the Great Depression. When completed, the road was dedicated as a memorial to the fallen from WWl.

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne. Image: Adam Ford

Recent wild weather has closed a short section of the route, so we travel inland from Melbourne and join the Great Ocean Road-proper at Skenes Creek. We backtrack a short distance to Kennett River to try and spot koalas, and we’re lucky enough to find four! I’ve lived in Australia all my life, but it’s still a treat to see a native animal in the wild (even though in this case ‘the wild’ is the middle of a busy caravan park!).

A short time later we reach Apollo Bay — the largest town on the Great Ocean Road, and our lunch stop. There’s ample time to stroll along the beach, grab a bite from one of the numerous cafes or sample the award-winning treats at Dooleys Ice Cream. This local institution has the best liquorice ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne: Maits Rest. Image: Louise Reynolds

Leaving Apollo Bay, we soon discover that the Great Ocean Road isn’t all about the coast. It also passes through pristine rainforest. We take a break from the drive to do a short walk through the rainforest at Maits Rest. The 800-metre boardwalk winds past stunning tree ferns and tall mountain ash trees — some up to 300 years old.


 

Emerging from the forest, the Great Ocean Road soon reaches the Shipwreck Coast and its famous rock formations and sea stacks. The massive limestone monoliths have been formed over the centuries by erosion. One of the best spots to view sea stacks is from the beach beneath Gibson Steps. The walk down and back up the 86 steps is well worth the effort.

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne. Image: Louise Reynolds

A highlight of the tour is our stop at Loch Ard Gorge — scene of a famous 1878 shipwreck. The colours and shapes of the rock formations, cliffs and ocean are astonishing. There are three easy 15-minute walks to help you get the best views. We take the time to complete them all before moving on.


 

The day’s grand finale is the 12 Apostles — the famous of the limestone sea stacks. We’ve timed our arrival perfectly to avoid the mid-afternoon crush when the big tour coaches from Melbourne arrive and visitor numbers peak. Although there are still at least one hundred people milling about, there’s plenty of room for everyone.

The 12 Apostles are said to be Australia’s second most photographed attraction (after the Sydney Opera House). I do my bit to maintain the ranking. As the sun drops below the horizon the sky is awash with magical pink and purple hues. It’s spectacular! Remember that if you book this tour in winter or spring, you too will get to enjoy a 12 Apostles sunset!

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne. Image: Louise Reynolds

While it’s a big day, the pace on this small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne is leisurely and relaxed. The small group size ensures a very personal experience, and the tour price is extremely competitive. The best part is that someone else does all the driving — leaving you to focus on the spectacular setting.

Additional images: Bigstock

 

About the writer

Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world – and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, Louise has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Her favourite way to explore the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. Louise also has a passion for her home state and loves exploring regional Victoria.

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