Dairy farms diversifying into cheese, ice-cream and even winemaking, a disused railway shed repurposed as a distillery making award-winning whisky, and a slew of superb restaurants – Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is a feast for all the senses.
In a world of dual-lane, cruise-controlled, town-bypassed highways, the Great Ocean Road offers a rare pleasure beyond its compelling vistas: the simple joy of challenging driving as it snakes warily around the coastline. As well as several small towns where the coffee is good and the surf breaks are perfect, the food demonstrates a growing pride and understanding of the local produce.
The Otway hinterland, with its stately trees, waterfalls and jagged topography is home to cheesemakers, beef and pig farmers, breweries, wineries, berry farms and olive orchards, which can be discovered via the Otway Harvest Trail (otwayharvesttrail.org.au).
Excitingly, one of the country’s finest chefs, Dan Hunter, now calls the Otways home, opening Brae in December last year.
Along with being an Australian rite of passage, the Great Ocean Road drive is a great family trip, with plenty to keep children entertained beyond long walks through tall forests and along rugged limestone coasts – from learning to surf to the thrill of the flying fox at Otway Fly – while the burgers and pizza that feature on menus along the 250km drive will appeal to all.
The Bottle of Milk
52 Mountjoy Parade, Lorne/24 Bell Street, Torquay.
A second branch of this funky burger joint opened in Torquay in 2013, five years after it began in Lorne (where they also run Pizza Pizza at 2 Mountjoy Parade). The breakfast burgers (BLAT on a sourdough bun from Geelong’s La Madre Bakery) is as welcome as the Seven Seeds coffee, and there’s also muesli, omelettes and French toast. On weekend nights the DJ cranks up, with local beers on tap.
A La Grecque
60 Great Ocean Road, Aireys Inlet.
(+61 3) 5289 6922. alagrecque.com.au
The Talimanidis clan has been part of the local culinary landscape since the 1970s – Kosta and his family now in this beach setting, and brother Chris in Apollo Bay (see below). The menu is modern Med, fresh and fun: lamb bourek with mint yoghurt, mussels in cider, spatchcock cassoulet.
Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant
280 Skenes Creek Road, Apollo Bay.
(+61 3) 5237 6411. chriss.com.au
This critically acclaimed tree-house-like restaurant focuses on seafood, with Chris Talimanidis using his Greek heritage deftly to flavour it. Of course, there’s red-wine braised, chargrilled octopus, and if the rabbit stifado is on, say yes.
Wye General Store & Cafe
35 Great Ocean Road, Wye River.
(+61 3) 5289 0247. thewyegeneral.com
A stylish institution hums as families swing by for all-day breakfast, burgers that can be as sassy as pulled pork with coleslaw, pickled fennel and chipotle aioli; and come summer, simple, fresh dinners of steak, pan-fried fish and spaghetti. The in-store bakery produces fabulous bread and pastries, and if the crowds are too much, there’s a daily line of heat-and-serve evening meals to take home.
Wickens Delicatessen & Provedore
Shop 1, 137 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay.
(+61 3) 5237 1045.
Owner Robin Wickens may now be preoccupied with his role as chef at Dunkeld’s Royal Mail, but his daytime cafe soldiers on with house-made crumpets and ratatouille eggs for breakfast, then sardines on toast and braised lamb salad for lunch.
Fat Cow Food Co
10 Main Street, Timboon.
(+61 3) 5598 3177.
If there’s a signature regional dish, it’s hamburger and chips, and this cafe does it extremely well, with hand-cut chips and the burger’s sourdough bun filled with local contents, including L’Artisan cheese. Beyond the usual suspects, the blackboard specials might include Moroccan bean soup, spiced calamari with quinoa salad and an Indian chicken curry.
Gentle Annie Berry Gardens
520 Pennyroyal Valley Road, Pennyroyal Valley.
(+61 3) 5236 3391. gentleannie.com.au
This pick-your-own berry farm and orchard is open November to April, with a licensed cafe and a store selling homemade jams, fruit sorbets and, of course, the fruit, if you’re not in harvest mood.
1 Campbell Street, Port Fairy.
(+61 3) 5568 2324. merrijiginn.com
The restaurant at this old inn is one of the region’s best. Tanya Connellan’s elegantly simple menu champions local produce. Her playful twist on Peking duck – glazed, smoked eel, pancake-wrapped with Hoisin – is a triumph. She forages for samphire to accompany chargrilled snapper wrapped in seaweed. The local Shaw River Annie Baxter buffalo cheese is as impressive as the wine list, while much of the salad comes from the kitchen garden.
The Pantry Door at Basalt
1331 Princes Highway, Killarney.
(+61 3) 5568 7442.
While the Basalt wines cellar door is open only on Sundays, this delightful cottage restaurant and cafe is a smart pit-stop for breakfast or lunch on Port Fairy’s outskirts. There’s whisky porridge and caramelised banana, and wild mushrooms with eggplant puree and labna for breakfast; mac and cheese (made with Shaw River buffalo cheese) and goat curry for lunch. Try the tempting pastries with a coffee, or take home jams and salad dressings from the pantry shelves.
The Meating Place
43 Main Street, Birregurra.
(+61 3) 5236 2611. birregurrafarmfoods.com.au
The name of this weekend brunch and lunch cafe (wood-fired pizza and grills) comes from the adjacent provedore, a weekday butcher, wine and local-produce store that serves coffee and cake.
4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra.
Chef Dan Hunter’s new restaurant at the former Sunnybrae site follows the critical acclaim he received at Dunkeld’s Royal Mail Hotel. Hunter has revamped and smartened this pretty cottage and the $180 menu draws its inspiration from the 12ha property’s organic gardens. Brae promises to be a standout on the regional dining menu.
520 Great Ocean Road, Bellbrae.
(+61 3) 5264 8480. bellbraeestate.com.au
Held in high esteem by James Halliday, this 14-year-old cellar door, five minutes from Bells Beach, wears its aquatic love on its labels. Its circa-$30 premium chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz are named after local surf breaks, while its excellent easy-drinking $20 range is labelled Longboard. Open: Fri-Mon, February-March (Fri-Sun, winter and spring).
Red Rock Estate
1 Red Rock Reserve Road, Alvie.
(+61 3) 5234 8382. redrockwinery.com.au
When he’s not busy contract winemaking for others, Rohan Little produces excellent pinot noir, shiraz and cabernet under his own label. The cellar door is open weekends, with a cafe serving charcuterie and local cheese platters. The name comes from the volcanic cone looming above the vineyard. It’s worth the drive just to admire the spectacular landscape of crater lakes from Red Rock lookout.
Timboon Railway Shed Distillery
1 Bailey Street, Timboon.
(+61 3) 5598 3555. timboondistillery.com
Dairy farmers Tim Marwood and Caroline Simmons began making Timboon Fine Ice Cream in 1999, then established the 12 Apostles Food Artisans Trail. Then, entranced by escapades of local 19th-century moonshiners, they restored Timboon’s century-old rail goods shed (part of the disused line is now a 34km cycle and walking trail). The results of the distillery’s 600-litre copper scooped the cask-strength and overall titles at the 2013 Australasian Whisky Awards. They also distil vodka and schnapps. The distillery is a provedore as well, championing local foods, and the excellent cafe is run by Simon Yarham and Tim Mitchell, formerly of Geelong’s much-loved 2 Faces.
Newtons Ridge Estate
1170 Cooriemungle Road, Timboon.
(+61 3) 5598 7394. newtonsridgeestate.com.au
David Falk swapped his lifelong real estate career for winemaking when he bought this decade-old vineyard from its dairy-farmer founders in 2012. His fume-style sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio, sparkling, rose, shiraz and pinot noir are all worth trying, and taking home, and Falk gives a good cellar door chat. Open daily, October-April 21.
Forrest Brewing Company
Forrest-Apollo Bay Road, Forrest.
(+61 3) 5236 6170. forrestbrewing.com.au
This microbrewery opened three years ago in the village’s former general store. It is part pub, part cafe for serious weekend breakfasts: caramelised pineapple and praline crepes; glazed pork belly, poached egg and asparagus; lunch is smart pub grub. However, the star is the beer. There are four regulars, including red ale and stout, and floral seasonal beers such as the clove and orange zesty Pobblebonk.
Surf City Plaza, 101 Surf Coast Highway, Torquay.
One of the most famous names in surfwear began in Torquay. In 1970, locals Doug “Claw” Warbrick and Brian “Sing Ding” Singer, shifted from making surfboards to concentrate on wetsuits to keep out the chill at Bells Beach, revolutionising the design in the process. The nearby Surf World Museum (surfworld.com.au) celebrates life in the “green room”.
Allansford Cheese World
5330 Great Ocean Road, Allansford.
Opposite the 125-year-old Warrnambool Cheese and Butter factory, this mix of cafe, museum and cheese cellar is a good one-stop shop for a variety of local cheese, including Shaw River Buffalo, produce and wines.
Apostle Whey Cheese
9 Gallum Road, Cooriemungle.
(+61 3) 5598 7367.
Tight margins for milk led dairy farmers Dianne and Julian Benson to open this cheesery in 2005. They produce 11 cheeses: marinated feta, blue, white mould, washed rind and flavoured havarti styles. Sample them with a free tasting and choose three favourites to enjoy on a $15 cheese platter.
L’Artisan Cheese & Mouse Trap Café
23 Ford and Fells Road, Timboon.
(+61 3) 5598 3244. lartisancheese.com.au
The former Timboon Farmhouse Cheese site now makes six French-style cheeses, using organic milk, under Matthieu Megard. The cafe with its garden setting is a bucolic spot to enjoy cheese platters and scones.
1432 Princetown Road, Cooriemungle.
From among 40 handmade Belgian chocolate products, including frog- and marsupial-shaped treats, the most eye-catching are giant chocolate freckles. Have a coffee or perhaps minty hot chocolate while tasting the wares.
SEE & DO
Great Ocean Road Surf Tours
106 Surfcoast Highway, Torquay.
(+61 3) 5261 3730. gorsurftours.com.au
An Englishman teaching Australians to surf? Alistair Lawson does it enthusiastically and patiently, from the national SurfGroms program for children aged five to 12, to two-hour introductory classes for adults. There is also a range of surf and sightseeing tours of up to 10 days.
Tiger Moth World
Torquay Airport, 325 Blackgate Road, Torquay.
(+61 3) 5261 5100. tigermothworld.com
Experience the thrills of loop-the-loops and barrel rolls in a 1930s, open-cockpit biplane (from $200). For a more sedate flight, view the entire Great Ocean Road along to the 12 Apostles with a 75-minute return trip in a more modern five-seater aircraft (from $340).
Apollo Bay Surf & Kayak
157-159 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay.
+61 405 495 909. apollobaysurfkayak.com.au
Mark Kininmonth is an action man, offering lessons, tours and hire gear for surfing, paddle-boarding, kayaking and biking, as well as camping treks via Walk 91 (walk91.com.au). Kids in particular will enjoy the guided kayak trip to the fur seal colony on Marengo Marine Sanctuary.
Cape Otway Lightstation
Via Great Ocean Road, Cape Otway.
(+61 3) 5237 9240. lightstation.com
Australia’s oldest surviving mainland lighthouse was built in 1848. Explore Indigenous culture, a WWII radar bunker and old cottages, now converted into self-contained accommodation. There’s a cafe and regular tours of the lighthouse and region.
360 Phillips Track, Weeaproinah.
(+61 3) 5235 9200. otwayfly.com.au
Adrenaline-filled fun for the fleet of foot, young at heart and stout of stomach, featuring the Zip Line, a flying fox racing between treetop nests up to 30m above the ground, and a 2km rainforest walk that includes a 600m tree-canopy walkway. Among the walks is a “prehistoric path” strewn with replica dinosaurs.
As the Southern Ocean pounds the limestone sentinels known as the 12 Apostles, you’re reminded of nature’s slow, inevitable march – emphasised by the 1990 fall of London Arch, and the collapse of stacks in 2005 and 2009, leaving just seven remaining. The graveyard above Loch Ard Gorge, hidden in low, windblown scrub, where some of the 52 crew and passengers who lost their lives in the 1878 Loch Ard sinking are buried, is haunting. The walk to the beach via the Gibson Steps reveals just how imposing the coastline is. For a slower view, the Great Ocean Walk, a week-long, 104km coastal trail from Apollo Bay to the 12 Apostles, is one of Australia’s great treks. Guided tours are available, plus more spartan independent adventures and day hikes.
Logans Beach Whale Viewing Platform
Logans Beach Road, Warrnambool.
You’ll spot whales all along the coast between late May and early October. Lady Bay is a nursery for southern right whales and the viewing platform has info on whale behaviour and lifecycles. The website is regularly updated with sightings.
Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village
Merri Street, Warrnambool.
An historic village, complete with 1880s cannon battery, built in fear of Russian invasion, the 1850s lighthouse and a museum displaying artefacts from more than 180 wrecks along the stretch known as the Shipwreck Coast. The most surprising is a Minton porcelain peacock, valued at more than $4m, which survived the Loch Ard sinking.
Princes Highway, Tower Hill.
This 600ha wildlife haven sits in a 30,000-year-old volcanic crater. Victoria’s first national park, designated in 1892, was denuded by logging and farming in the early 20th century. Replanting began in the 1950s, based on a 1855 painting by Eugene von Guerard, a copy of which hangs in the Robin Boyd-designed visitor centre. The local Indigenous cooperative runs the centre and offers a guided tour detailing an Aboriginal presence predating the volcano.
RACV Torquay Resort
1 Great Ocean Road, Torquay.
(+61 3) 5261 1600.
A 92-room resort with ocean views across an 18-hole golf course, day spa, indoor pool, gym, restaurant, bars and a pillow menu. It is family friendly, with a playground and well-equipped games room. From $280.
Great Ocean Ecolodge
635 Lighthouse Road, Cape Otway.
(+61 3) 5237 9297. greatoceanecolodge.com
While the rooms have a rustic charm and the food delights, the real joys of staying here are the guided dusk walks to see koalas, kangaroos, tiger quolls and sugar gliders (one activity offered each day). From $370.
Rotten Point House
Evans Track, Johanna Beach.
(+61 3) 5237 1098. rottenpointhouse.com
This secluded, minimalist, four-bedroom house of rammed earth, polished concrete and glass has panoramic ocean views. Set in 40ha of bushland, 40 minutes from Apollo Bay, it is a sleek hideaway with the modern comforts of underfloor heating, wi-fi, satellite TV and generous breakfast supplies. From $670.
Source Qantas The Australian Way February 2014