At 243 kilometers (151 miles), the Great Ocean Road is the longest war memorial in the world. Prior to the building of the Great Ocean Road, there was no road to connect the Western coastal towns with Melbourne. As the troops returned from World War I, Geelong mayor, Howard Hitchcock championed the idea originally proposed by William Calder—that the road be built to help ease the transport of people and goods. The returning servicemen, who had spent time digging the trenches in Europe and were commonly known as “diggers“, provided a ready source of labor.
Initially, the idea of using the diggers was met with dismay. People said that the work was more appropriate to prisoners than to men who had returned from service and wanted to see their families again. The project was branded as a memorial to the men who died in World War I to attract the diggers. With a boost from the Great Depression the Great Ocean Road was well underway with only picks, shovels and horse-drawn carts.
Work was completed in 1932 and today the Great Ocean Road is one of the best scenic coastal drives in the world. Although it is possible to do the trip in one day (particularly if you are part of a tour), it is preferable to rent a car in Melbourne and spend a few days exploring coastal towns, learning to surf and hiking.
Pictured above is the iconic view from the Great Ocean Road—the Twelve Apostles. The Twelve Apostles are a collection of stacks formed by erosion of the limestone coast off the shore of Port Campbell National Park. Originally named the Sow and Piglets, the stacks were renamed the Twelve Apostles for tourism purposes. The stacks are dynamic, constantly being built and subsequently destroyed. The surf creates caves in the limestone that become arches and eventually stacks after the arches collapse.
For a different view of the Twelve Apostles than the coastal lookout point, stop at Gibson’s Steps, a staircase that leads down to the beach that is located on the road just before reaching the Twelve Apostles. The steps are thought to have been built by the original Kirrae Whurrong inhabitants of the region and later repaired and maintained by the pioneer Hugh Gibson. One story that was told to me Hugh Gibson repaired the steps so that his wife could visit the beach. Gibson established the Glenample Homestead, where Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael, the only 2 survivors of the Loch Ard shipwreck, recuperated. Please note that swimming can be dangerous here.
Aside from simply enjoying the rugged scenery and the coastal villages, the Great Ocean Walk, an eight-day hike that hugs the Great Ocean Road, and the Otways, a region known for its forests, food and wine, provide activities off the beaten path.
- If you are seeing the Great Ocean Road by tour bus from Melbourne, try to get a seat on the left. This will afford the best views,