As good as it gets. Our Great Ocean Road Adventure

20 April 2019 / Report by Julie Austin and Rhonda Evans, photos by Rod Nicholas

As good as it gets - the Great Ocean Road and Murray River run

It couldn’t get any better – perfect weather, waves crashing on the beaches and tops down for the 47 kilometre leg between Lorne and Apollo Bay. This is one of the best drives along a coastline in the world and we were enjoying every minute. It was Day 4 of our two-week run along the Great Ocean Road (GOR).

From Bendigo, where our run commenced, to the coast most of the country was bare brown paddocks with dry dams. It hadn’t rained in a long time. As our convoy of 11 MX-5s and one ring-in Renault zoom zoomed through the Otway National Park, the scenery changed dramatically to dense forest and then the beautiful GOR coastline.

Bob and Bricet had planned a leisurely trip with plenty of time to enjoy the sights, the coffee stops, and the company. Two nights in Ballarat was an opportunity to appreciate the history of the 1850s goldrush, the Eureka Stockade and the colourful flowering begonias at the Botanic Gardens. After coffee at Lorne we went off track through thick rainforest to Erskine Falls - it was worth the steep climb down and the 240 steps back just to see the Falls from the bottom.

Apollo Bay was our next two-night stop. Bob and Bricet led the convoy to the Cape Otway Lighthouse for stunning coastline views from the top of the lighthouse and morning tea with the best scones in Victoria. Here we lined up for the official run photo. Those that were keen did the Otway Fly Treetop Walk and then followed the slow, windy 12 kilometre Turton’s Track back to Apollo Bay. The reward was The Brewhouse Pub, where the brew and hospitality was so good most of us dined there on both nights of our stay. The scallop pies at the bakery were also enjoyed by some.

Day 6 was fine as we headed to Port Fairy via the Twelve Apostles. This stretch of rugged coast line is amongst the best scenic sites in the world, testified by the number of tourists and road warning signs written in Chinese. It was tops down all the way until lunch at Port Campbell when the weather turned nasty with heavy rain. A stop at the Warrnambool cheese factory for afternoon tea was very welcome.

At Port Fairy we stayed next to the oldest licensed pub in Victoria. How many pubs have you seen making this claim? Perhaps someone should do an audit. Port Fairy is a very pretty town with lots of heritage buildings and the best fish ‘n chips at the harbour front. Unfortunately, it was cold, so we layered up to spend the day doing our own thing.

Day 8 and we headed north to Horsham through the beautiful Grampians, where the tips of the rocky volcanic ridges were covered in mist and cloud. This road is made for MXs with lots of curves, dips and dramatic scenery. At Halls Gap we came across a convention of Vesper riders from Queensland also enjoying the roads and scenery. Most of us had not been to the Grampians before and we made a note to revisit the area, particularly the Old Bakery at Dunkeld which provided a superb morning tea.

Our overnight stop at Horsham fell on a Sunday so the town was very quiet. Our dining options were limited to the Thai restaurant and local RSL Club. At the Club we came across a Victorian MX5 group on their way to Kangaroo Island.

It was now April Fools Day and another 310 kilometres to Mildura. The Stick Shed at Murtoa, the "Cathedral of the Wimmera" was not an April Fools joke. This heritage listed shed was built in 1941 to store surplus wheat until it could be exported. The enormous construction with 560 wood poles, hence the name, held an unbelievable 3 million bushels of wheat.

From there we followed the Silo Trail along the railway track through miles of wheat cropping country, stopping to see the murals painted on the silos. Driving though this country we could appreciate the importance of the grain industry in Victoria.

After Ouyen the landscape changed to undulating scrub until we reached the green manicured lawns in the metropolis oasis of Mildura. Bob and Bricet had picked excellent accommodation for two nights across the road from the famous Mildura Grand Hotel, with the brewery and surrounding restaurants. It was a short stroll in the other direction to the Murray River.

After a good sleep everyone was ready for a non-driving day and a river cruise upstream to the Gol Gol Hotel for lunch. That evening 13 group members had a date with at Stefano’s eponymous restaurant to indulge in the fixed menu, which lived up to its high reputation.

Day 11 - we left Mildura early following the Murray Valley Highway east to Echuca. To Swan Hill it was one long vineyard, interspersed with olive, almond, citrus orchards. Although it was a good straight road, our driving skills and nerves were tested by mad drivers and dozens of trucks in a hurry. After lunch at Lake Bogo Flying Boat Museum at Swan Hill the landscape was again one big bare brown paddock which hadn’t seen rain in a very long time.

We then spent two nights in lovely Echuca, discovering more nearby art silos, enjoying another river cruise and devonshire tea on The Pride of the Murray paddlesteamer. The ladies spent up big at the boutique shops, while the men visited the Holden Museum.

Our last stop was Rutherglen, detouring via Rochester to see the silo with a delightful image of a cute possum and a colourful kingfisher. The scenery slowly changed from dry and dusty to a hint of green, which was a relief after many kilometres of serious drought. Naturally, some of the group took the opportunity to sample the wineries on the way.

On our last evening we shared a farewell dinner at Tuileries Restaurant. James thanked Bob and Bricet for their effort in organising this hugely successful trip. Obvious by the atmosphere and conversation, everyone still enjoyed each other’s company. The driving, the cars, the company, the weather and the scenery all contributed to enjoying life to the fullest for two weeks in this amazing country of ours.

On Saturday we headed home, arriving safely, with plenty of washing to be done and cars to be cleaned before the next MX5 run.