The first stretch out of Melbourne is inland down the motorway, and though it goes via Geelong which (along with Melbourne itself) is on the coast, the ocean part doesn't really come into view until you hit the south coast near Torquay.
From there it tracks the coast well through Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay, after which it cuts inland. We stopped for an iceblock and map check at Lavers Hill (S38°40.792' E143°23.471') – the iceblock options there being the Golden Gaytime block or the Rainbow Swirl, which either of the two coincidentally both gentleman proprietors will be happy to sell you :).
Luther reports that the Rainbow Swirl, which claimed to be the best in the Streets flavour range, was disappointing.
We had planned to go to the Otway treetop walk – but said proprietors informed us it was closed due to bushfire, and that we should go to the ‘Triple Falls’ instead as it was better (but not commercial).
Frankly, it was a bit of a disappointment. Partly because it wasn't in the trees – I can't think of many walks I've taken that wouldn't be better if they were not on the ground – but more because the bush was surprisingly similar to New Zealand bush. Same ferns etc. So, bit of an unevent. Still, recommended for non-NZers, because it's some of the last remaining temperate forest in Australia.
That done, it was back on the road, and after stopping for a very recommendably high-quality date scone (and map double-check) at Princetown (S38°41.622' E143°9.348', place on the right, with butter warm kthx), we snapped back to the coast and very soon reached the first of the coastal formations we'd come to see.
The limestone Twelve Apostles are a set of coastal formations along the Victorian coast formed by erosion of the soft limestone making up the cliff faces, as an indirect result of the gradual change of sea levels over the millenia.
They're part of the (free) Port Campbell national park, and are just off the coastal highway.
P.S. there's only 8 (the 9th having fallen in 2005). (Demand 1/3rd of your money back.) They used to be called the Sow and Piglets but apparently that didn't pull in the tourists so much.
Incidentally, how often do you hear of a guy, waking half-dead himself after being washed ashore during the night from a shipwreck, seeing a woman clinging to flotsam out in the sea, struggling for an hour to reach her and bring her back to shore, then reviving her with a dash of brandy, these days?
Not very often, I think.
(/guilty of repeating tourist sign information without checking for validated sources)
The formations around Loch Ard Gorge aren't really separate from the Twelve Apostles area (they are just a few mins up the road), and are certainly just as spectacular. The ‘Lace Curtains’ in this last photo show the effects of sea water dissolving the limestone and dripping down off the cliff – forming open-air stalactites.
The final of this triplet of coastal cliff formations is the London Bridge, or as it is now known, the London Arch – after the middle section collapsed in 1990. Two visitors were on the seaboard section when it collapsed (rescued by helicopter hours later), and it is simply luck that no-one was on the bridge span when it collapsed!
The sea by it turned a particularly fetching gender-role-confident shade of pink in the sunset.
After a dinner expertly crafted for us by a chef-come-songwriterwriter, we headed back home.
Take the inland route going back – it's about 3h vs. 6 the coastal route (on account of the long windy sections around the coast).
In fact, if time is a factor, I would consider doing it the other way around (anti-clockwise – inland first, Great Ocean Road second), since the best scenery is near the end of our route (which is not actually the end of the Great Ocean Road, but is the end of the most popular part), and the bit closest to Melbourne has nothing to miss in the dark anyway.
All in all, a good trip – great to get out of the cities and see something of Australia au naturale, and the vistas around the end of our coastal trip are very good (and even better if you are blessed to avoid the haze we had).
We hired our car from Avis Australia – a Holden sedan that was an enjoyable and performant drive (though had somewhat-shitty built-in mapless satnav with a crappy UI, so don't feel the need to pop the $11 to get that), cost approx AU$90.
The Great Ocean Road is a recommendable day trip.