Victoria's secrets: Driving the Great Southern Touring Route

I love to drive and one of the great drives on my list to do was the Great Ocean Rd from Torquay along Australia's southern coast to Port Fairy.

This year I did it, with my daughter Arabella along for the ride and the ride being a 1968 Mustang GT California Special. 

I thought the car would be the star of the show but Victoria was the true star.  Like a lot of Kiwis, Australia seemed too close.  We tended to travel to more far flung destinations in the belief we could always do OZ at some stage, failing to realise what was on our doorstep, well a few hours flight away in any case. 

The jewels in this coastal odyssey are the Twelve Apostles rock formations carved out by the elements and the best way to see them as we did, was by chopper.   And of course, the pilot who flew us out was a Kiwi.

The Twelve Apostles rock formations are a sight to behold.
The Twelve Apostles rock formations are a sight to behold. Photo credit: Supplied

There's something relaxing about cruising the coast and the advantage of driving yourself is that you determine where and when you stop and for how long.

Before even hitting the Great Ocean Rd we had a chance to explore the Bellarine Peninsula. If you like food, it is littered with superb spots like the Jack Rabbit Winery. When we visited the place it was waiting to hear how it had fared in the finals of the local food awards.

This is all part of The Great Southern Touring Route, a 900 kilometre tour of all that the State has to offer from the Great Ocean Rd to the imposing Grampians and historic Ballarat.

Dad and daughter really enjoyed their trip but wished they'd gone in an air conditioned rental instead!
Dad and daughter really enjoyed their trip but wished they'd gone in an air conditioned rental instead! Photo credit: Newshub

You can mix and match to get out of it what you want and Visit Victoria offers handy guides to create your own itinerary.

Travelling with my daughter was an insight, given she is so much smarter, funnier and of course younger than me. It's always a test as to how long you keep it together couped up in a car all day long.

I loved the classic drive but would recommend to anyone contemplating it: go modern, get an air conditioned rental and make life easy on yourself. The great thing about this trip, and what kept the father daughter relationship in tact, is that there is just so much to see and do.

Cape Otway Lighthouse in southern Victoria, Australia the region's oldest working lighthouse.
Cape Otway Lighthouse in southern Victoria, Australia the region's oldest working lighthouse. Photo credit: Newshub

Cape Otway with its light house was usually the first sight anyone sailing to Australia had of the new country. Ironically, we were revealed the secrets of life at the lighthouse station by a Welshman named Alec.

However, it was an aboriginal guide named Paul who gave us an insight into the culture of Australia’s first people. The Worn Gundidj Natural History Centre is located in a volcanic crater near Tower Hill and we learnt firsthand about bush tucker, the edible leaves and tubers that meant you could survive in the bush. Paul even managed to teach us how to throw a boomerang, this is one stop everyone should include.

It would also be hard to pass by the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld. This is an epicurean delight centred in a tiny town on the edge of the Grampians. A tiny town that boasts one of the best restaurants in Victoria. Wickens is named after its English chef Robin Wickens. It's fine dining so it's a special occasion restaurant although just eating there is an occasion, so budget it in.

Mark marvelling over his chocolate creation at the Great Ocean Road Chocolatarie and Ice Creamery in Victoria.
Mark marvelling over his chocolate creation at the Great Ocean Road Chocolatarie and Ice Creamery in Victoria. Photo credit: Newshub

On our way back towards Melbourne we stayed in the historic Craigs Royal Hotel, which has been sympathetically restored after a '60s makeover, and hit the beautiful town of Daylesford. 

Again just cruising around we came upon a huge indoor market, my kind of place, chokka with collectables and memorabilia that would satisfy father and daughter's interests.

I was so surprised by Victoria, and while we got to see a lot of her secrets in a five day four night tour there’s so much more. Definitely get on the road and drive the itinerary yourself.

Apollo Bay is a seafood village embraced by tranquil beaches, rolling green hills and the Great Otway National Park.
Apollo Bay is a seafood village embraced by tranquil beaches, rolling green hills and the Great Otway National Park. Photo credit: Newshub

The roads are very similar to ours, mainly one lane each way little room for run off but they are clearly marked and driving never seemed a chore. The only chore is going on the diet when you get home.

Mark Sainsbury explored the Great Southern Touring Route at the invitation of Visit Victoria.

It's a diverse and beautiful region with world class wineries, natural springs, coastal villages, peninsulas and historic towns.

There are also two other routes to explore. The Sydney Melbourne Heritage DriveGo Beyond Melbourne.