Several friends, when they heard I was visiting Melbourne, urged me to check out the Great Ocean Road. My usual approach is to rent a car and go it alone. Then I noticed on Trip Advisor that there are a number of tour providers. It appealed to me because to really enjoy a coastal road it is helpful if you do not have to keep your eyes on the road.
The awesome part of being a tour group member in a country where they drive on the left: if you grab the shotgun seat you have a beautiful view of the coastline! This road was developed by boosters of tourism after the Great War and employed mainly returning soldiers, fondly called Diggers for their role in digging the trenches. Even today Australian soldiers are sometimes called diggers.
1. I chose Melbourne Coastal Tours. For a reasonable $130 AUS the company picks you up at your hotel and gives you a full day and then delivers you at a location you request in the central business district (most of our group wanted to be dropped at a restaurant not their hotel). Our tour guide Daryl was excellent and I learned a lot more about Australia’s history and geology than I would have on my own. It is also more fun to explore with other people.
2. We made frequent stops throughout the day. The first stop for bathrooms and morning tea at a small town on a protected ocean inlet was about 1.5 hours in. After that we stopped about every 30 minutes until we were on our way back to Melbourne. It allowed us to see wildlife, rainforest, and coastal beauty and enjoy shopping, a delicious lunch at La Bimba and hiking. It was a full day!
3. The breathtaking beauty is worth the investment of time. Although if you have difficulty climbing steps, your access to the beaches and some of the other stops will be limited.
Melbourne Coastal Tours also does penguin viewing tours of Phillip Island.
Today (and by this I mean the full 24 hour period known as January 20 in Australia and the United States) is Penguin Awareness Day. The timing of my trip was planned to coincide with the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. My stop in Melbourne was motivated in large part by the Penguin Parade experience on Phillip Island.
I was fortunate that my friend Sandy had some time off from work and enthusiastically purchased tickets ($24 AU for just penguins; $47.20 AU per adult for package that includes the Koala Experience and other activities on the island). Her sister Colleen and husband Pete own the San Remo Hotel and Bar, referred to as the pub. Her gracious sister provided us dinner at the pub and let us sleep over at her house. This was hugely helpful because the penguins do not waddle home until dusk and in summer (January) this is around 9:15 p.m. A delicious dinner in San Remo is also convenient if you are traveling on your own.
The Penguin Parade was very well organized and staffed. As a result, while we could not see the penguins up close when they landed on the beach, we could see them very up close as they waddled up the hill to their nests. We witnessed more than one penguin being mobbed by his/her young with them competing to receive regurgitated fish. Everything was designed to minimize disturbance to the Little Blue Penguins while still providing a terrific experience to about 500 people. They call them Fairy Penguins or Little Penguins in Australia, but they are the same delightful type of penguin I have observed in New Zealand.
If you are in Melbourne and you need someone to organize transportation and tickets, then I highly recommend Melbourne Coastal Tours. Especially if you cannot stay locally to Phillip Island–best to let someone else drive you back to the city at night.
There are no pictures allowed at the Penguin Parade because the flash would scare the penguins. So instead, check out this “burrow camera” from the Phillip Island Nature Parks. http://www.penguins.org.au/attractions/penguin-parade/penguin-burrow-camera/