twelve apostles great ocean road surf coast susan skelly

Great Ocean Road | Bush meets beach | off-season getaway

Cool, understated elegance that belies inner sparkle and sizzle.

In search of glorious bush and seascapes when the hordes have returned to work after the holiday crush, Excess All Areas heads to Fairhaven, and that portfolio of retreats on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road that also includes Bells Beach, Aireys Inlet, Lorne, Anglesea and Apollo Bay.

Home to the famous sea-locked rock stacks The Twelve Apostles (although several have fallen in a heap over the years), this southern coast is holiday heaven: the archetypal Australian bush and beach combo. And it’s only an hour or so’s drive from Avalon Airport for the fly-in, fly-out escapees.

Here’s why you’d go….

The beaches

They’re long, golden, clean and off-season you have them pretty much to yourself. Many, like Sunnymead, are off the beaten track and the return journey is your daily step class. Lots of rock pools to paddle in. Or rejuvenate on the pristine Fairhaven Beach till the milky rays of late afternoon sun remind you it’s cocktail hour. Be seduced by the beer garden with the best view going, at the Fairhaven Surf Lifesaving Club (370 Great Ocean Road).

The walks

They are everywhere, well mapped and considerate. Nice and easy is the 2.1 kilometre Moggs Creek Circuit Walk (located between Aireys Inlet and Lorne), a magic forest of iron bark gums and deceptive stillness. Expect sightings of purple hyacinth orchids, the superb fairy-wren (the “superb” part refers to its electric blue colourings) and sugar gliders. A koala would have been nice, but no luck on the day. Cross pretty wooden bridges and feel at one with the universe.

moggs creek circuit walk great ocean road iron bark gum forest

Amongst the iron bark gums and the forest’s chirpy inhabitants

Visit the Allen Noble Sanctuary (Inlet Crescent, Airway’s Inlet), marshlands that are home to the purple swamphen, pacific black duck and the snowy white great egret. Keep an eye out for the blue flax lily, electrifying against all that lush green.

Climb to the Split Point Lighthouse (Federal Street, Aireys Inlet) to soak up the views and marvel at the manpower that it must have taken to build it. Consider a walk along the limestone clifftops.

Check out the residential architecture, some of it bush friendly, others more like houses that have got lost on their way to suburbia.

It’s hard to miss The Pole House (60 Banool Road, Fairhaven), perched on a 15m tall concrete pole, recently rebuilt and renovated to factor in retractable floor-to-ceiling windows, a walkway with glass balustrade, water that changes colour according to its temperature, and a floating fireplace. The much photographed local landmark, with 360-degree views, suspended 40 metres above Fairhaven Beach, was built in the 1970s by architect Frank Dixon. Mark 2 comes courtesy of Franco Fiorentini from F2 Architecture. The Pole House is for rent, from $1166 for two nights.

The food

Dining in is likely to owe its success to the Aireys Inlet General Store (40 Great Ocean Road), stocked with local cheeses, street-fighting salami, beetroot relish, craft brews, boutique gins (Four Pillars makes a fine gin and tonic) and tempting wines (like the Good Catholic Girl ‘Teresa’ Clare Riesling).

Local foodies like the elegant gourmet Greek of the one-hat A La Grecque in Aireys Inlet (17 Beach Road) – thanks Kosta and Pam Talimanidis; and its taverna-style offspring, Ipsos, in Lorne (48 Mountjoy Parade), newly run by their sons Alex and Dominic.

The Bay Leaf Cafe (131 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay) does a memorable lamb burger with shredded carrot and grilled haloumi. And of course, there’s the blow-out treat that is chef Dan Hunter’s award-winning Brae in Birregurra (4285 Cape Otway Road), where, says Australian Gourmet Traveller’s Michael Harden, “You can’t see the ocean but you can certainly taste it.”

Look for the market at Aireys Inlet at the Community Hall (on the second Sunday of each month, plus a few random Sundays and not the winter months), which offers produce including fresh seafood, lemon tarts, and regal raspberries, along with neatly woven baskets, hand made paper, and clever ways to wear felting.

Nothing, however, beats our hosts’ brandy glass of vanilla ice-cream with Pedro Ximenez-soaked currants and chopped almonds.

Needing brain food? Stock up on holiday reading from Great Escape Books (75 Great Ocean Road) in Airey’s Inlet: The Dry was the perfect beach read – a riveting crime debut from Australian journalist Jane Harper.

The birds

This is a birdlover’s paradise. You can guarantee that baby magpies and sulphur-crested cockatoos will be waiting on your deck whenever you venture out to smell the eucalypts. Hand-feed king parrots: the males accessorise with orange.

The art

When shopping in Lorne, follow the signs to Graeme Wilkie’s Qdos Arts Treehouse (35 Allenvale Street), a sculpture park and art gallery which exhibits an everchanging parade of jewellery, watercolours and oils, and also offers a cafe and smart bush accommodation. The welcoming committee includes, by the lily pond, Jo Todd’s powder-coated mild steel scenario called Little Soul, Little Wanderer: Ode to Hadrian.

All photos Susan Skelly



Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.