December 13, 2019

Great Ocean Road, Grampians & Melbourne, Australia – Itinerary and planning (9 days)

Went to Australia this year. The plan was simple – the legendary Great Ocean Road (GOR) roadtrip for 3 days, then drive up to the Grampians for 1 day, and the remaining time to spend at Melbourne city to soak everything up. Going to share this itinerary in 1 long post.

– Actual travel time took like, 10.5 days. The itinerary does not cover travel time, so it really depends on the flight schedule if one were to follow this itinerary. Good thing is, time is not a problem for most planned visits. So it is like, 3 days for GOR, 1 day for Grampians, 1 day for all the road travels and 4 days for Melbourne (broken into 1 day Phillip Island, 1 day Wilsons Promontory hike, 2 days in Melbourne city).
– Time of travel planned is end of November. End of spring, approaching summer. Long daylights, good temperature – although it could swing between a single digit to the 20’s. I did not bring thick clothing which was a mistake – almost froze my balls off along the GOR.
– This was planned based on 3 pax – my wife, my teenage daughter, and myself. I managed to hit 100% of what I’ve planned. If you’re planning for a group of more than 4, this probably won’t work as well for you.
– The main objective is the epic Great Ocean Road roadtrip. That’s why I dedicated 3 days to it. I fucking love oceans, seas and beaches. I’d sacrifice all my other days just to make the GOR trip right. Some would plan GOR as a daytrip from Melbourne but that’s just retarded.
– And because GOR is not quite accessible by public transport, the itinerary involves a lot of driving. If you do not have a valid driving license, or have problems driving long distance, this isn’t going to work for you. You can consider cycling though, but that’s just too fucked up.
– The Grampians itinerary would require certain level of fitness because it involves a lot of walking/hiking. If you’re wheelchair bound or is not fit to hike/walk, you won’t be able to do this shit.
– Because Australia is full of wild animals, expect to see a lot of them. If you have phobia of seeing furry critters or anything bigger than a rat, you’re in for a tough time as well because we saw a lot of those fuckers at close proximity. (I know a friend’s spouse who’d get a fit when she sees a fucking cat or anything with fur so…)
– This is not the best itinerary. There are shit tonnes of better ones out there. This is just my itinerary, shared to give anyone an idea to custom better ones. If you have criticism about the itinerary, save it, I couldn’t care less.

*long post ahead…

Prep (general)
Connectivity – By means of wifi or mobile data. For checking weather, loading maps, getting information (opening hours of an outlet/joint), emergency calls for car break downs, etc. Because this itinerary involves driving, it is absolutely important to have a means of communication at all times for emergency. If only data plan is used (not recommended, see ‘offline map’ comments below), can opt for Skype to make calls (it’s fucking no brainer cheap).

Insurance – Thou shalt not travel to a foreign country without an insurance. Always buy insurance. Avoid AIG or AIA because they’re scammers.

Windbreaker or a 3-in-1 waterproof jacket – it is very windy and cold along the GOR, even during summer. Wind blows from the Southern Ocean, and it can be freezing (as I found out the hard way). Also, don’t bother to style your hair for a good photo, the wind’s a bitch there. Just tie your hair up, or wear a beanie hat.

Lodging – One can just book a motel for the GOR roadtrip. A few areas to consider – Torquay, Lorne, Apollo Bay, Port Campbell. I picked Apollo Bay because it’s right in the middle of my planned roadtrip, and it has a really cool name.

Meal budget – AUD 50 per day per person is more than enough. A typical meal in Australia costs about 10 – 20 bucks and they come in big portion.

Offline map – Most of the areas along the GOR and Grampians do not have 3G/4G coverage so it is important to have an offline map or something (a paper map is ok). I have a paid offline map app called OsmAnd, which uses Openstreetmap and allows one to navigate without having an active internet/data connection, just plain old GPS. I use this app 90% of the time in this trip, including driving.

Umbrella / raincoat – Australian weather is very temperamental, always be prepared for a shower.

Day 1 (GOR): Arrival, get shit together, Point Addis, Lorne

Arrival day.

MEL (Airport) [location] – Also known as Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. Landed late in the morning, added a couple of hours’ buffer for immigration and to get our shit together – by the time we collected our rental, it was already noon. I knew during this time of year, by looking at the Sun and the smell of the wind, I’d get daylight until 8pm, so I had a good 8 hours to go.

Point Addis [location] – Point Addis is located at a place called Point Addis Marine National Park. About 1.5 hours drive away from the airport. We did not choose to stay here but merely part of our visit. It was a surf beach so, you get to see people with their surf boards surfing. We spent about an hour here soaking up the sun and view (we’re tired anyway, from the flight).

Eagle Rock [location] – Eagle Rock is located at Aireys Inlet, which is just a short drive away from Point Addis. First, we roamed around the Aireys Inlet Clifftop Walk [location], then we went back to roam around the lighthouse area and all the viewpoints surrounding it [location]. Took a lot of marvelous pictures.

Teddy’s Lookout [location] – Teddy’s Lookout is located at Lorne, about 20 km away from the Eagle Rock area. Along the way, we went past the iconic Memorial Arch [location] that commemorates those who sacrificed themselves digging the GOR by hands. It’s quite a popular landmark, optional to stop (we didn’t). Teddy’s Lookout is a scenic viewpoint on a hill that overlooks a small bay at Lorne (see cover pic). We spent about 30 mins soaking up the cool wind there. (There’s a bunch of trails that one can explore to hike down from the hill, with several more viewpoints, but we didn’t do it).

Cape Patton lookout [location] – Another viewpoint, located 28 km down the GOR from Teddy’s Lookout. The drive was very scenic along the road, and we even saw a goddamn koala bear sleeping on the divider, which caused quite a bit of a traffic jam (and we also saw head on car crash accident along this route, which I suspect was due to a left hand driver driving on the wrong side of the road). The viewpoint of Cape Patton offers the view of the long rocky coast along the GOR, until Apollo Bay, 20km away (you won’t be able to see it).

Apollo Bay [location] – A small town which we chose to stay for the next 2 nights and use as a base to explore the area. By the time we reached Apollo Bay, it was already dinner time. Checked in to a motel, went out to do some groceries (for breakfast/lunch for the next day) and went for dinner. There were a few pubs that stayed open till late, but we settled early in the night.

Day 2 (GOR): Apollo Bay, Californian Redwoods, Cape Otway

Started out late.

Marriner’s Lookout [location] – A viewpoint in Apollo Bay itself on a hill overlooking the entire bay and the GOR. Requires a short hike from the carpark but nothing strenuous.

Californian Redwoods [location] – Long drive inland, towards an area called ‘Great Otway National Park’. The drive itself took us an hour, through a maze of roads and gravel roads, through logging camps and whatnots. Area was a picnic area with majestic Californian Redwoods. We spent quite a bit of time here, eating our lunch and soaking in the forest vibes. (see cover pic, although it doesn’t do justice for the giant redwoods, they’re to be experienced).

Cape Otway Lightstation [location] – Located further south from the inland, it was about another hour’s drive from the woods. Historical place, had to pay a fee to enter the area, which could be exorbitant to some. There’s a few viewpoints to explore, which also includes the ascend to the lighthouse itself. At this place, you’ll also see the path for the ‘Great Ocean Walk’, a hiking route that spans over 100km from Apollo Bay all the way to the Twelve Apostles, and which takes more than a week to complete (those of you mad enough to want to try it, you can read about it here). This was also the place we saw our first (of many) wallaby. A wallaby is basically a kangaroo with better looks and smaller in size. Lots of flies here too.

Apollo Bay coastline [location] – Then we drove back to the motel at Apollo Bay, changed into beach-friendly wear (flip flops + shorts) and took a stroll at the Apollo Bay coastline. A charming little bay, and the stroll ended at the one of the best fish n chips diner [location] to have our early dinner, then stroll back through the coastline into Apollo Bay to get some groceries before calling it a day.

Day 3 (GOR): Great Ocean Road points of interest, Halls Gap check in

Checked out real early from the motel, and started on the GOR at about 5am. The first destination was about 1.5 hours away from Apollo Bay, and these points of interests are known to be hot spots for tour groups – hence the early start to avoid the crowds. But driving at this early has its risk though, we nearly ran over a goddamn goofy kangaroo who decided to jump in front of our car. Managed to swerve it in time, but the kangaroo slipped and face planted onto the road (we laughed at that poor guy).

Gibson Steps [location] – First POI, we’re the only ones there (we reached there at about 6.45am). Sun had just risen, and the sky looked like it was on fire. Supposedly, there’s a flight of stairs which allow all visitors to descend the cliff to the beach level to be able to see a couple of magnificent limestone cliffs [location], but the access to the beach was sealed off when I got there. (I do not know if it’ll ever open again).

The Twelve Apostles [location] – Just a short distance away from Gibson Steps. This is the most famous viewpoint that we see on postcards featuring GOR. The views were magnificent and it was freezing there. Spent an hour there – almost the whole place empty to ourselves – enjoying the views. Took shitloads of pictures (see cover pic).

Loch Ard Gorge [location] – Located further down the road, place has quite an interesting story about a shipwreck and its survivors [wiki]. This is a big area that has several viewpoints and also an descend to the beach at Loch Ard Gorge itself. We spent about 2 hours here checking out all the viewpoints up until Thundercave [location]. Quite a bit of walk around, all beautiful views of the coast / limestone cliffs.

By the time we finished Loch Ard Gorge, it was too early for lunch. Supposedly, one can opt to space out the time till lunch, and eat around Port Campbell [location], which is just down the road. However, we brought our own lunch and did not stop by Port Campbell.

The Arch [location] – About 14km away from Loch Ard Gorge. It was just a simple viewpoint of an arch naturally formed by erosion. Quite a view there.

London Arch [location] – Also called ‘London Brige’, because it used to look like a bridge, until it collapsed. Now it is an arch, but bigger than ‘The Arch’. We had our lunch there while enjoying the view.

The Grotto [location] – Also an arch, but smaller and located closer to inland. There’s a pool under it which was calm, and looked amazingly azure. When we got there, there was a bunch of tourists from China with a bunch of camera equipment seemingly wanting the whole place by themselves. Could not get a good picture because of them. Fucking shitbags.

Bay of Martyrs [location] – Located about 6km away from The Grotto. Just a viewpoint of the magnificent Bay of Martyrs coast.

Bay of Island [location] – last stop on the Great Ocean Road for the day. Further up the road, was the Bay of Islands, an even better view of the ocean. Place has a few viewpoints and all of them were very nice.

Halls Gap [location] – We started our drive to Halls Gap to check in for the night at about 3pm. The following day after this would mark the beginning of our Grampians itinerary. Located about 200km away at Grampians National Park, the drive took us a little more than 2 hours through country roads. We made a few unplanned stops to admire some views, so the drive took longer than usual.

We arrived just in time to pick up some groceries (for next day’s breakfast + lunch) and had a great dinner at a restaurant before calling it a day.

Day 4 (Grampians): The Grampians – Wonderland points of interest, The Reed & balconies, MacKenzie Falls

The Grampians is a location with rocky mountains and vast landscape for your eyes to feast upon. There’s gonna be a lot of hiking and walking around. This would be the time to get all the outdoor stuff such as rain jackets, hiking boots, flashlights, etc. We started quite early on the day after our breakfast.

Wonderland carpark [location] – We drove to this location and started on the hiking path towards the Pinnacle. Or alternately, one can hike all the way from Halls Gap (to various other parts in the following Wonderland points of interest). We saw some nutjobs who did that. There will be several POIs along the hike.

Grand Canyon [location] – This is the first POI. The hiking path had a sign pointing towards the left at the beginning of the trail, which is the path to take to go through the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon is basically a viewpoint inside a large crevice which we’re hiking through. If one were to view this with Google Map satellite view, you can see we’re actually inside a crack.

Cool Chamber [location] – 2nd POI once we got out of the crack. By this time, we’re already panting as hiking through steep granite rocks weren’t as easy as we thought. Nothing special about this ‘cave entrance’ but, it’s just a gap under a really big rock formation which one can crawl under.

Bridal Veil Falls [location] – 3rd POI. Supposedly, there’s a waterfall here but it was all dried up the day we visited. Only some trickles of water could be seen which hardly resembled a ‘fall’ let alone a bridal veil.

Silent Street [location] – Enter Silent Street, which is another crack but a much smaller one. At the narrowest gap, one could hardly squeeze through between the 2 rock walls. It was an amazing sight/experience.

The Pinnacle [location] – Our final destination for the trail, the edge of the rock mountain which overlooks the valley south east of Halls Gap. Amazing view (see cover pic for the day). The hike took us about 1.5 hours at a leisure pace to reach here, and we hung out for about 40 minutes here before hiking back to the carpark. From here, one also can hike back to Halls Gap on foot – path would have been longer and steeper I suppose. Here’s the path. We took our lunch on the way down from The Pinnacle.

The Reed [location] – We drove to this location from Wonderland carpark, about 15 mins drive away. It’s a viewpoint of the other side of the rocky mountain patch. We saw almost flat inhabited greens over the vast landscape and its marvelous.

The Balconies [location] – From The Reed, we took a short walk to The Balconies, which offers the same view as The Reed, but with some interesting rock overhangs which one can foolishly climb on to take unnecessary risk to impress their viewers in Instagram (the time we visited, the authorities had erected a high fence to prevent people to get to the rock overhangs). We walked back to The Reed, and drove to our next destination.

MacKenzie Falls [location] – Took us 10mins to drive here. There are several viewpoints to explore around the area. Broken Falls [location], Cranages Lookout [location] and the MacKenzie Falls itself [location]. We had to descent several flights of steep stairs to reach the bottom of the falls, which was a bitch to climb on the way back. But it was all worth it, if you’d seen the majestic falls itself. We spent close to 40 minutes at the bottom before climbing back with our remaining energy.

We finished all the areas at about 4pm, and drove back to the lodging for some rest before heading back out for some dinner and groceries for the next day’s car journey to Melbourne.

Day 5 (Drive to Melbourne): Drive to Melbourne, return rental, transfer to the city

We started the day late, rest from all the walking we did the day before. The journey to Melbourne took about 2.5 to 3 hours, along scenic routes. By the time we reached the airport to return the rental, it was already around 1pm. We took some time to grab lunch, and to buy the transport card (MyKi) prior heading to the city by bus. When we were there for the AirBnB check-in (we opted that for the washer/dryer, which wouldn’t be available in hotel rooms), it was already close to 3pm. We had a short rest before heading out to the shopping district of Melbourne at Bourke Street to soak in some atmosphere and grab dinner + some lunch for the next day (going on a day trip excursion to Phillip Island). Cover pic was taken from the balcony of the AirBnB joint.

Day 6 (Melbourne): Phillip Island day tour

For day 6, I signed up for a day tour with a local company called Go West – which had the same name (or same company?) with the day tour I took in Italy – to Phillip Island. Here’s the itinerary from the website.

11:00am-11:50am hotel pick up
11:50am depart from Melbourne
Brighton Beach bathing boxes, visit the beach and take some time to admire these historic landmarks
The Moonlit Sanctuary Conservation Park, including the spectacular “Conservation in Action” wildlife show, which showcases a number of lesser-known Australian species in a series of interactive and engaging ranger presentations.
Point Grant and The Nobbies
Penguin parade
After penguin parade depart for Melbourne (varies seasonally), dinner stop on the way (at own cost)
8:45pm-11:45pm (varies seasonally) return to Melbourne CBD

I’d recommend the tour, it was good. Lunch/dinner were not included but, it was fine. We started at about 11.40am, and got back to the lodging at about midnight. Some of the POIs visited in the day tour was interesting, but the highlight of the day had to be the ‘penguin parade’, which was a natural phenomenon of penguins sneaking back to their lair from days/weeks/months out at the ocean to feed their family. It was both cute and sad at the same time. They usually do that at night to avoid predators, and we got to see all these in the dimly lit flood lights. It was an amazing experience which I’d highly recommend. My family would not stop talking about it for days.

Day 7 (Melbourne): Queen Victoria Market, Sea Life, Luna Park, St Kilda, Chinatown

We’ll be taking a lot trams around for day 7, so it’s MyKi card being on the standby inside the pocket.

Queen Victoria Market [location] – QVM was just a walking distance away from our AirBnB so, we walked there. It was basically a marketplace full of street style vendors hawking their merchandise. There’s also a wet market session here selling produce and meats, which could be interesting to some. Place is huge, we spent close to 2 hours here, before taking a tram to the Flinders St and walked to Sea Life (an aquarium).

Sea Life [location] – It’s an aquarium but you might one to skip this as it wasn’t that good. I planned this because I thought it would be good, you know, being Australia and all that. It was expensive like fuck, and there’s not much stuff to be seen inside. It might appeal to some younger visitors but, it was a flop for me/family. We were out in under an hour, and headed for lunch. (it sucked so bad, we never mentioned about it again).

Luna Park [location] – A historical theme park, believed to be one of the oldest in the world. We took a tram here. One can opt for pay per ride, or unlimited rides for the whole day. Not cheap so, we opted for the ‘per ride’ ticket – about 12 bucks per pax. We did its most famous ride – the Great Scenic Railway – which essentially is an oldskool roller coaster operated with nothing but a manual handbrake by a ride operator (standing on the coaster itself). It was a lot of fun, and great atmosphere that reminded me of the 80’s. We spent about an hour here.

St Kilda Pier [location] – From Luna Park, we walked towards St Kilda Pier. The walk took us along the beachfront walk teeming with picnickers and pubs, it was a nice walk if it’s sunny. (it was for us). At the end of the pier itself (see cover pic), there were penguin colonies along its wave barriers (bunch of rocks), which you can spot penguins doing their things inside (sometimes freak out over people peering into their lairs). After harassing the penguins, we walked back to the streets to take a tram back into the city.

Chinatown [location] – …to Chinatown. I don’t know about it being the oldest but, it was certainly big. Felt like I was in Hong Kong around the area. We went for a hotpot, which was surprisingly good (or better) than what we have in Penang. Because the Chinatown is adjacent to the most happening mall area in the city, there’s basically no limit as to how much one could roam around here, and we basically got ourselves lost in the thousands of shops buying stuff we felt like buying. We reached back to our AirBnB around 9pm at night (not before getting something for the next day for lunch), and called it a day (as I found out, we walked more on this day than the day we hiked at the Grampians).

Day 8 (Melbourne): Wilsons Promontory day tour

For day 8, I signed up for another day tour with a local company called Bunyip, which I think is a subsidiary of Go West. One way to kill a day (not much to do in the city anyway). Here’s the itinerary copied from the website:

7:00am-7:15am hotel pick up
7:15am-7:30am depart from Bunyip Office
9:00am arrive at Koo Wee Rup
10:00am stop at Fish Creek for a final stop before hitting the Prom
Exploring some of the excellent hiking tracks such as Lily Pilly Gully or Mt Bishop with its amazing summit views
Walk on Squeaky Beach, the one of Australia’s most famous beaches, as the quartz sand really does squeak as you stroll alongside rolling surf and windswept vegetation
View Giant Rock which is one of the massive granite formations
Wildlife spotting at a deserted airfield
Viewing Tidal River, learn more about this extraordinary national park in Australia’s southernmost region
5:45pm leave the Prom and head back to Melbourne
8:00pm return to Melbourne hotels

The day we picked had a wet weather, it was on and off rainy throughout, and it was freezing cold. Had it been a blue sky day, the views would have been immaculate, but the views there were good (see cover pic, taken from Mt Bishop summit). The experience of hiking to Mt Bishop was great and enjoyable, although not as good as the Phillip Island day tour. The time we reached back to our AirBnB, it was already close to 9pm (Wilsons Prom is damn far from Melbourne CBD).

Day 9 (Melbourne): CBD area sightseeing

I left the remaining of regular landmarks for the final day, mostly done on foot. These could be done in random, but I originally planned to follow this sequence to save time on travelling… but it turned out that most of the landmarks weren’t that interesting to us anyway, so most of them got skipped in the end…

Flinders Street Railway Station [location] – A historical railway station/landmark. Having been to some better railway stations in Germany/Italy, this seemed too normal to us.

Federation Square [location] – A square right next to Flinders Street Railway Station. The time we were there, there’s some some of construction going on, and there was a small area with Christmas program/market going on there. There were a lot of kids hanging out there and we didn’t take more than 10 mins to stay.

Princess Bridge [location] – Bridge was next to Flinders Street Railway Station, overlooking the river Yarra River. It was quite a view over the city’s skyline. We used the bridge to walk all the way to National Gallery of Victoria.

National Gallery of Victoria [location] – Museum of modern arts. Supposedly free, but a lot of exhibit area required separate tickets. Having been to the Vatican Museums, this is akin to visiting your next door grocery store operated by an illegal immigrant with double patch of sweat marks under the armpits. I got out of there in under 20 minutes, because it sucked. (I should have known better, I do not know what was I thinking picking this place to visit).

St Paul’s Cathedral [location] – Again, we were spoilt by the sights of cathedrals, churches and temples in Rome. If you’ve been to Rome and seen its churches there, you will never appreciate anything non-Europe. Believe me. We were out in under 5 minutes.

Hosier Lane [location] – The famous street with grafitti. That place reminded me so much of our Georgetown, Penang. People flocking to the middle of the road taking pictures of walls. (see cover pic).

After Hosier Lane, we decided to skip all the landmarks that we’d planned, and went to do more shopping instead (the city was still having a Black Friday sales on a Monday). But I’m listing the landmarks out anyway, in case anyone decides to follow through…

Treasury Gardens [location]

Fitzroy Gardens [location]

St Patrick’s Cathedral [location]

Parliament House [location]

State Library Victoria [location]

This concludes the 9 days itinerary. We flew back on the next day, morning flight. (we could have easily done a 1-week itinerary, if we only do 2 days in Melbourne CBD + Phillips Island, perhaps spend more time on GOR).

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