My day started off pretty early, being picked up at 0740 from a nearby hotel by the tour bus. I joined the tour at the last pickup so we were quickly heading out of the city across the West Gate Bridge (Australia’s longest bridge) out past Geelong and on our way towards the Great Ocean Road.
Throughout our journey our guide (Bex) kept us amused with her lively – extremely happy – commentary and stories, not to mention her DJ skills.
Our first stop was around an hour from Melbourne at Bells Beach where we stopped for tea and coffee, toilets and an opportunity to take some photos. Afterwards we continued on our way making several stops along the Surf Coast for photos, including at the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch.
We made a stop at Kennett River where we saw Koala’s up in the trees and lots of wild birds, obviously used to the tourists as they happily flew down and landed on some of us!
We stopped at the town of Apollo Bay for around an hour for lunch at a place called Thaihouse and so we could buy some souvenirs before continuing away from the coast into the Otway Mountain Ranges to take a 40 minute stroll through the rainforest at Maits Rest.
From here it was just over an hours drive through the mountains before we rejoined the coast road and arrived at Port Campbell National Park and the Twelve Apostles (there’s not actually 12 anymore), we made a few other stops before starting the long drive back to Melbourne. On the way back you go a more direct route and we stopped off in the town of Colac to give our guide a rest and let us grab something to eat for dinner. From Colac it was around another hour and half until we started heading back across the Westgate Bridge into Melbourne.
I booked the tour through an Internet agency after doing some trip adviser research, but you can book directly with Go West a few days in advance – there are many other operators who run mini busses and large coaches all doing similar tours. Go West use small busses carrying a maximum of 20 people and there was a few solo travellers on the bus as well as me. As a bonus all the Go West busses have wifi. Go West will pick you up / drop you off at your hotel if it’s in the CBD area (or a nearby hotel if there’s a number of people at different hotels in the same area).
A lot of the reviews of tours on the Great Ocean Road complain that they spend most of the time on the bus, while this is obviously true (the Twelve Apostles which is the reason everyone goes on the tour are 280 km from Melbourne) there’s no other way of doing it in a day! The stops we made gave us more than enough time to see around the places and take photos, the time spent sitting on the bus is taken up by the guide telling you interesting things about the area your passing through or sleeping if it’s towards the end of the day. I guess in summer the stops are probably a bit more crowded so perhaps that explains some people’s dissatisfaction at the length of time spent in the places.
In summary, I would highly recommend doing the tour to the Twelve Apostles if your staying in Melbourne – even if it is a very long day although perhaps don’t do what I did and do it a few hours after arriving in Melbourne.
Still suffering from jet lag I was awake ridiculously early at 5am, so I got up and went for breakfast in the hotel before heading out to explore.
I had pre-booked tickets online for the Citysightseeing Hop-on, hop-off bus tour which runs throughout the day around the city, my hotel was near Federation Square which was the starting doing of the tour so I jumped on and completed the full loop. Unfortunately it was raining sporadically throughout the tour and sitting on the open top deck was a bit chilly. After completing the loop, I decided I was going to go up Eureka tower, the tallest structure in southern Australia standing 297 metres tall and has an observation deck at the top. Entry costs around $20, but when I jumped off the bus the driver gave me a discount voucher for admission to the tower and also for Melbourne sea life centre. It takes 38 seconds to ascend the tower in one of the express elevators and from the top the views are amazing. Sitting watching the clouds and the rain fly past beneath you inter spaced with the clear skies was strange. There’s also a cafe on top of the tower where you can grab coffee and some snacks.
After Eureka Tower I headed back down and decided to walk to the Aquarium as I figured it was better to do something inside with the weather being so changeable. On my walk to the aquarium I got distracted and ended up heading along the river to the DPO outlet stores on West shore, grabbing lunch in one of the many cafes before heading back across the river to the aquarium.
Again the aquarium isn’t overly expensive and if you were on the city sightseeing bus they give you a voucher for 10% off admission. I spent around 2 hours in the aquarium which is on multiple levels and really interesting before walking back along flinders street to take some photos of the station, square and surrounding streets. I then headed back to my hotel as the sun was setting and fell asleep.
Since it was Saturday I stayed in bed a bit longer before heading for breakfast and back to Federation Square to do the tour to St Kilda (I didn’t do it the previous day due to the rain), this tour takes around an hour and half to complete the loop, with some of the stops being the same as the city centre tour I completed the previous day, so I hopped off when we got to the Crown Casino and then hopped onto the City Centre tour to head to the Harbour Town stop. Harbour Town is an outdoor shopping centre with the Melbourne Star (like the London Eye – or whatever it’s called these days) located at the centre of it. Being winter despite being mid day on a Saturday it wasn’t busy and I had my own capsule, it takes 30 minutes to complete the rotation and offers some great views of the city. There’s an audio commentary as the capsule rotates round the wheel talking you what you can see and about the construction of the wheel.
After this I had lunch at Gloria Jeans (Starbucks while they do exist don’t seem to be that popular – although there are Nandos on pretty much every street!) and wondered around the shops, before hopping back on the bus and heading to the Melbourne museum. This is a really modern building and entry is only a few dollars. It has various exhibits surrounding Australia and general exhibits about the creation of the earth, evolution and the human body. It killed a few hours, before I walked down to China Town which covers a few blocks. As it was getting dark and more importantly very cold I made my way back to the hotel for dinner.