Australia’s Great Ocean Road is “one of the world’s most spectacular drives,” said Tony Perrottet in Condé Nast Traveler. The “antipodean answer” to California’s Highway 1, this 145-mile stretch of pavement west of Melbourne embodies the “very edge of Australia.” When World War I soldiers laid the road in 1932, this “once fatal shore” was among the most isolated parts of the country. Even now, “nowhere else in the world” can you travel alone in such a “wild and undeveloped” landscape. With “craggy mountain ranges and swaths of primal rain forest” on the right and the “sparkling blue horizon” of the Southern Ocean on the left, I took to the open road.
Starting in the “surfing boomtown” of Torquay, I headed west, “crescent beaches unfurling one after the other” in front of me as the last signs of modern civilization became barely visible in my rearview mirror. “The seaside villages became more antique, the shop fronts less polished, the coast more haunted.” En route to my halfway point, Cape Otway, I quickly discovered that the Great Ocean Road is home to the “most fertile wildlife habitats in Australia.” Rainbow lorikeets perch in trees, “screeching drunkenly on fermented nectar.” Koalas hidden in eucalyptus trees “growl and croak, sounding like old boozers in a pub.” Kangaroos are so prevalent I had to dodge them as I drove.
I stopped off at Wreck Beach, a treacherous cove where the remains of colonial shipwrecks lay scattered among the rocks. “Remote, mysterious, with a faint whiff of danger” brought on by the crashing waves, the shore is “no place for extended reveries.” I caught sight of a rusted anchor jutting out from the rock like a “nautical Excalibur” before clambering back up the ragged cliff. Nearing my destination, Port Fairy, I came upon the road’s famous Twelve Apostles—a series of gargantuan limestone pillars “that loom up from the deep like the decaying towers of Atlantis.” Each forbidding structure emerges from the churning waters, “clawing up from the sea like the arms of drowning sailors.” Though a “bastard of a coastline,” it certainly seemed a beauty from the safe confines of my car.