Earlier this week, my partner and I took an impromptu road trip from Melbourne up the Great Ocean Road to do some good old-fashioned sight-seeing. Ideally, this is something we should have done earlier in the year, while Australian summer was still in full swing, perhaps during one of those wild 37 degree heatwaves. We kept putting it off because the weather was so lovely for so long that we felt as though summer would last forever in this magical paradise. In April, the 15 degree weather is nice enough, but too chilly for ocean swimming. Nevertheless, if you’re staying in Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is a must-see, even if only for a day or two, and it’s only a few hours drive out of the city.

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Apollo Bay along the Great Ocean Road

Our first stop was in the peaceful beach town of Lorne. We had a quick bite to eat at Bottle Of Milk for dinner. I especially liked the fact that they had four different veggie burgers on the menu and wild cockatoos swarming their picnic tables out-front. I had the marinated tofu burger with fries, which was pretty decent, especially considering good vegan food can be hard to find on the fly. We walked along the beach just in time for sunset before heading to our next destination.

After dark, we clumsily made our way through winding country roads, me trying to book a last minute holiday rental with shoddy cell reception, and Wes trying to navigate his way to Apollo Bay with the GPS cutting in and out. Three pieces of advice here: first, book your rental in advance before leaving the house (revolutionary idea, I know). Many hotels were already full or hard to contact with limited cell reception on the road. Second, don’t even rely on GPS when you’re traveling the Great Ocean Road, just follow the signs. GPS will send you inland, which may be quicker, but defeats the purpose of a leisurely drive along the scenic coast. Last but not least, avoid driving at night if you can, there are kangaroos and other creatures that sometimes jump out into the road.

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Otway National Park, Victoria

We stopped over in Apollo Bay to spend the night in a (overpriced) homestay which shall remain nameless because it’s my own fault for waiting til the last minute to book. The next morning, we grabbed a map, hit up Apollo Bay beach, and did a little hiking along the Great Ocean Walk in the Otway National Park as flocks of parrots flew above our heads. On the drive there, we experienced the ultimate dream of seeing a  koala on the side of the road. A real live koala!! As avid animal lovers, this was the definitely the highlight of the trip.

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A tourist dream come true! Encountering a koala in the wild.

We then headed up to the 12 Apostles, an iconic seascape view along the Great Ocean Road in Port Campbell. Located a four hour drive from Melbourne, people travel far and wide to view this particular scene of massive rock formations along the rugged Southern Ocean coastline. If you don’t mind muscling your way through a crowd of very enthusiastic tourists armed with iPads and selfie sticks, the view is well worth the stop. There are also helicopter rides available from this point.

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The 12 Apostles, Port Campbell

In general, we had a great time exploring the Great Ocean Road over two days. I would even add on an extra day or two for this trip, especially in swimming season. The national parks and beaches are free, there are rain forest walks and waterfalls to experience, and the picturesque views are certainly worth the drive. After becoming acclimatized to the Melbourne standard of dining, I would have to say that the food, coffee, and service in rest stops along the coast is pretty disappointing on account of high prices and low quality. For example, for breakfast in Apollo Bay, I paid $20 for a “tofu scramble” which wasn’t a tofu scramble at all, but actually some large triangles of hard tofu with spinach in soy sauce that I could barely stomach. I would suggest skipping the restaurants wherever possible, and packing a cooler full of homemade meals and snacks and stopping to eat at picnic spots along the way, many of which include barbecues. For those on a backpacker budget, camping in one of the National Parks might be the best way to go, and there are also many hostels to choose from if you are adventurous enough to endure sleeping in a shared room and have the foresight to book in advance. For our next road trippin’ adventure up the coast, we’re definitely renting a camper van, so stay tuned!

Have you tried a really great vegan or vegetarian restaurant along the Great Ocean Road? Leave it in the comments below for future travelers!