Sure enough, I’d got the weather right. It was early January, and the sun-dappled sky helped keep things cool for a mid summers day. It was mid morning and temperatures were only just about high enough to bare short legs, and by the raising of the mid-afternoon, the wind was breezy enough to keep things regulated and calm, which was spot on.
However, I had got things wrong on the traffic side. Peak holiday season was in full cry, which meant that there was somewhere around three times the regular amount of traffic on the roads, which is not ideal as there is not much in the way of shoulder along the way.
Heading in from Warrnambool and I was beginning to wonder where the ocean actually was, but not for long. A few kilometres after turning on to the B100 at Allansford and the Great Ocean Road officially opens for business.
The flat and desert-like scenery faded away and so the road turned into a long winding garden like path, which came lashed by a crosswind. The surrounding vegetation burst out with fresh and vibrant colour and enthusiasm and the sky seemed to become an even deeper blue. Suddenly I rounded a corner, and there it was; the ocean that helped put the great in The Great Ocean Road.
The changing of colours, and then the sudden appearance of the ocean, plus the dramatic sight of the Bay of Islands, was so striking. Orange and gold multi-layered cliffs and pillars jump out from the crashing and crisp ocean waves in an elegant yet threatening way, while the road itself weaved out like a dream in front of me.
For months I’d been looking forward to this ride; it’s about as legendary in cycling terms as a ride gets. I’d heard so much about the beauty of this road, and within seconds of hitting the Victoria coastline I was grinning from ear to ear, and quietly whispering “wow” to myself.
The road was built just after the First World War by returning soldiers, and spans a 276-kilometre section of coastline between Warrnambool and Geelong, although the official starting point of the road is actually where you turn on to the B100 at Allansford, and the official ending is at Torquay. By bike, it makes sense to use the train between Geelong and Warrnambool to make this a one-way ride (unless you have time to double up that is).
Hugging the coastline and riding high above the cliffs along the Shipwreck Coast the road heads east is how the ride proper starts. It dips and dives in and out of small bays and then climbs the long and tough drag to a high rolling plateau to reach the most famous point of the journey - The Twelve Apostles. From the road these mighty stranded ocean towers are not visible, which means a short walk to the viewpoint.
They say that nothing prepares you for your first sighting of the Apostles, and I can’t argue with that. As you approach the high cliff top platform so you get your first full-on gaze over one of Australia's most iconic features and the identifying landmark of this route.
These great and natural giants of old are totally captivating and carve out the basis of a fragmented shoreline of high cliffs and jagged inlets, all festooned with deserted sandy coves and guarded by the line of a dirty dozen huge and decaying pillars.
For me, this was what I’d come to see. This ride is as much about the scenery as the cycling. Happy with my lot I pedalled on towards Apollo Bay, assuming that I’d seen the best of this amazing highway. But how wrong could I be! The jagged cliffs and towers soon disappear as the road heads inland to Lavers Hill and Cape Otway.
This was something I really hadn’t expected. The desert like orange turned to a lush mountain green. A long and twisty road climbs for what seems like an eternity, rising high through the beech tree forests as it carves its way through an Alpine-like landscape.
Huge and great meadows all peppered with cattle and bounded by narrow tree lined side roads took over. It was real mountain country, and I decided to take a turn right towards Cape Otway Lighthouse. The road thinned right down and became densely tree shrouded, and it was probably one of the best ride points of the entire journey. This was enough to lead me to take an extra day out in Apollo Bay to see what lay off the beaten track.
From Cape Otway, a long descent drops down to Apollo Bay. A huge bay, all filled with deep blue water nestles beneath a mass of rolling green hills. The early ride cliffs have long since gone by the way, and from here on in it’s deserted beaches and rocky coves.
This was also where I came across my first cyclists of the ride, and seemingly everyone riding the road had the same idea of taking time out to check the interior road. Here is also where Phil Anderson lives, and there are some great side-rides inland from Apollo Bay. One that stands out is the route up Sunnyside, which is long and steep climb through Alpine meadows that turns to dirt and is all traffic free. Riding inland made for a refreshing change of scenery, and is definitely recommended!
Another day down and it was back to the main plan. The early morning sun was ultra crisp and golden, lighting the early waves and rock-strewn coves perfectly. Heading out towards Cape Patton I glanced back over my shoulder as I climbed towards the summit viewpoint to see the mist from the crashing waves almost mask the shoreline; what a superb and classic vista that was.
This long and flowing stretch that winds from Apollo Bay to Lorne is probably the best and most imposing sector by bike. The section is just over 40-kilometres in length, and the road is carved right into the rocky hillside, something which you appreciate even more when you see the aerial picture postcard shots of the road.
Sandy coves, pristine beaches and lush green vegetation mark this section out in total contrast to the earlier desert and cliff scenery. In retrospect, I’m not completely sure which was the most impressive part of the ride, as they are all so very different, and stunning in their own ways.
The ride was nearing the end, and as soon as I passed through Lorne so the traffic heated up. It was time to put my head down and slog for home, with a fantastic ride bagged, and a huge great and satisfied tick on the wish list!
From Warrnambool to Geelong is 276-kilometres in total, although if you have the luxury of vehicle support then I would suggest cutting out the section to Allansford, and also consider finishing in Lorne, making it an easy two-day route with a stopover near Apollo Bay.
The official cycling guide to the route is available free from tourist offices along the way, and is great for general information etc. It also has profile maps and details of other rides along the route.
The suggested itinerary they list takes four days for the journey in total. Which direction you ride in is down to personal choice, although many suggested itineraries run from Geelong westwards, I would recommend starting from Warrnambool to make the most of the prevailing winds.
For details check out www.visitgreatoceanroad.org