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Drive southwest from Melbourne and you can combine lively urban vibes with the wild scenery of the Great Ocean Road.
The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s best road-touring routes, combining a spectacular coastline with the waterfall-splattered rainforests of the Otway Ranges. It also takes you to classic Aussie seaside towns but, to mix it up, you should enjoy urban pleasures in Geelong too over a three-day break to remember.
With so much to see and do, if you're flying into Melbourne, you'll want to be on your way as soon as you land. To help streamline things on arrival, Avis will soon be launching Express Exit at Melbourne Airport, giving you a dedicated Express Exit lane where you simply scan a QR exit code on your phone to automatically open the gate – getting you on the road faster than ever before.
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Geelong's Market Square at sunset.
Day 1: Urban Delights
For those who’ve been to Melbourne before, go alternative. A 30-minute drive from the airport brings you to Footscray, a vibrant inner suburb west of the city centre. Visit colourful Heavenly Queen Temple, Australia’s largest Taoist temple, and check out what’s going on at the lively Footscray Community Arts Centre.
When lunchtime calls you’re in a great multicultural spot best known for Vietnamese, Indian, North African and Ethiopian fare. If you can’t decide, then Footscray Markets isn’t just an eye-opening wander through unusual ingredients such as cassava root and lotus flowers, but also has a food court where you can enjoy a progressive meal of world snacks.
Wherever you eat, save room for T. Cavallaro & Sons, which opened in 1956 and is still dishing up delicious Sicilian cannoli, filled on the spot with vanilla or chocolate cream, and the perfect accompaniment to a post-prandial coffee.
The delectable flavours and inviting views of Wah Wah Gee on the Geelong waterfront.
A slice of delight at Footscray's legendary T. Cavallaro & Sons, in Melbourne's inner west.
Now head on 30 minutes to Werribee Open Range Zoo, as close as you’ll get to East Africa without leaving Australia. Admire roaming giraffes, zebras and lions and take in keeper talks at the gorilla and hippo enclosures. Not a zoo fan? Head to magnificent Werribbe Park Mansion instead; our answer to Downton Abbey was built on wool money. The adjacent Victoria State Rose Garden is wonderful in summer.
Overnight in Geelong, 45 minutes down the road, a deluxe self-contained apartment at R Hotel Geelong gets you right amid the downtown action. You first port of call might be Geelong Cellar Door, which blends sophistication with old-world charm and presents the cool-climate wines of Geelong wine region – accompanied, perhaps, by pork-andpistachio terrine or smoked-salmon pâté.
If it’s cocktails you’re after, head to The 18th Amendment Bar, modelled on a 1920s Chicago speakeasy, for inventive cocktails such as the gin-based Jitterbug or Silent Assassin, which blends whisky, caramel and ginger. Then dine at Wah Wah Gee, an Asian fusion restaurant at the end of Geelong Pier, where dishes such as Korean crispy-fried chicken and Thai green curry come with a side of mellow water views.
Watching the sets roll in at the iconic Bells Beach, Torquay.
Shaken, not stirred at Lorne's Mestizo.
Day 2: Surf's Up
Following a morning exploring Geelong, a former industrial city that's enjoyed a renaissance with its well-preserved heritage architecture and waterfront, head to the coast at Torquay, a 25-minute drive. An interesting place to stop along the way is Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre for its art gallery and insights into local Wathaurung culture.
Torquay, which marks the start of the Great Ocean Road, is a youthful town full of trendy surf shops; the Australian National Surfing Museum tells the story of Australia’s love affair with the waves. Ten kilometres down the road, Bells Beach is one of the world’s best surf spots – strictly for the experts, but amazing to watch.
Stopping by the Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre en route to Torquay.
Greek fare at Ipos, Lorne.
Further east, Anglesea has a beautiful setting between cliffs, river and bays and is brilliant for windsurfing and kayaking. Meanwhile at Lorne you could while away the rest of the afternoon by café hopping.
Stay the night in La Perouse Lorne, which has just four guestrooms in a cosy cottage setting with views of the ocean; the library is a lovely spot to curl up with a book. Start your evening off with cocktails and tapas at Mestizo; you might be tempted to stay for a main of pork belly or rib-eye cooked over charcoal. Otherwise, Ipsos restaurant offers up traditional Greek cuisine with Australian and Asian influences.
Soaking up the lush beauty of Melba Gully in the Otways.
Cape Otway Lightstation provides stunning vistas.
Day 3: Scenic Splendours
For a leg stretcher this morning, cross the Erskine River from Lorne Beach and walk to Teddy's Lookout for stunning views of the Great Ocean Road. The panoramic route’s most iconic section unfolds west of Lorne, so you’re in for a treat today.
The total drive time as far as the Twelve Apostles is just over two hours; add a half-hour to detour to Cape Otway Lightstation, mainland Australia’s oldest surviving lighthouse, which oversees the tempestuous Bass Strait. With so many viewpoints, walking tracks and splendid beaches on this route, however, you’ll want to take a day in the slow, stop-start lane.
Despite the Great Ocean Road’s name, the route turns inland after Apollo Bay, but the lush Otway Ranges are as splendid as the coastline. Take the rainforest boardwalk at Maits Rest and admire giant ferns and mossy trees at Melba Gully. Roost for lunch at The Perch at Lavers Hill, which showcases Otway regional ingredients and has an impressive wine list.
As the road loops back down to the coast, you’ll reach the breathtaking Twelve Apostles, a series of jagged rock outcrops standing in the ocean. While they look great from the viewing platforms, you should also walk down Gibson Steps to the beach to see two of them from ocean level.
Further down the road, stop at Loch Ard Gorge for its beautiful sands encased in yellow cliffs, fronting another rock stack. From here the return to Melbourne airport will take three hours, so you might want to have an early dinner first in Port Campbell, or even stay overnight.
With the Shipwreck Coast stretching ahead, however, you could spend several days more; luckily the Avis App allows you to easily extend your car rental. Golf on one of Victoria’s top links at Peterborough, or kayak or windsurf on protected Curdies River inlet. Further west, Warrnambool sits surrounded by beautiful scenery and fronted by fine beaches. Follow the heritage trail around town, then head to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, which recreates an early 1870s port that celebrates the history of this magnificent coastline.
There are few road trips quite like it in Australia – it really is a bucket-list-level travel experience, one sure to endure in the memory for its ready accessibility and scenic beauty.
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