This long coastal highway, often compared to California’s Pacific Coast Highway, ranks among the world’s top scenic drives, cliff-hugging its way west of Melbourne along the rugged southern coast of the Australian continent. Every bend of the 180-mile journey reveals another awesome scene of jagged bluffs, windswept beaches, old whaling and fishing towns, inventive restaurants, sweet B&Bs, and protected rain forest and national parkland populated by koalas and kangaroos. The timeless battle between the relentless waves of the Southern Ocean and the shoreline has resulted in prime surf beaches such as world-famous Bell’s and such extraordinary rock formations as Loch Ard Gorge, the Bay of Islands, and, most famous of all, the Twelve Aposdes. In the 19th century, these limestone pillars were known as the Sow and Piglets. The ocean has claimed four of the brood in the intervening years; of the remaining eight, some reach as high as 180 feet.
It’s not hard to see why the Twelve Apostles stretch is also known as the Shipwreck Coast, since the waters claimed hundreds of ships during colonization in the 1800s, when the journey from England took three to four months. This is the most spectacular segment of the Great Ocean Road, often broody and romantic during windy and stormy weather. It’s best to drive the road round-trip, since the ragged sea views are different depending on your direction. If you’re up to it, biking with a small organized group is the best way of seeing it all. Be sure to take advantage of the lookout points along the way at sunset, and don’t forget to visit nearby Coonawarra’s best winemakers while you’re in the area.