Highlights of Victoria, Australia – Autistic Travel Coach
If you have been reading the blog, you know that I spent a month based in Geelong. One of Geelong’s greatest perks is its proximity to so many great sights in the region. If you have a car, you can easily drive this 450 kilometer loop starting and ending in Geelong, and stopping along some of the best sights victoria has to offer, including Werribee Open Range Zoo, Sovereign Hill, and the Great Ocean Road. You can do this drive in about 5-7 days, depending on how long you decide to stay at each of the sites.
Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre
What a fantastic place to learn about aboriginal culture! According to the website, Narana means a deep listening and learning in which you take in and live out, a kind of listening and learning for life.
I was lucky enough to arrive at Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre ahead of a tour group of 35 people so I had the place to myself for a bit. Well, it was me and several emu, wallabies, and the friendliest kangaroo I ever met in my life. You can buy feed from the gift shop for just a few dollars and feed the animals. The kangaroo will follow you around and eat right out of your hand.
In the quiet, it was easy to appreciate the aboriginal idea that we are here to serve the earth and, in exchange, the earth allows us to stay here.
The Cultural Education building is where you will learn about indigenous culture, traditions, spirituality, laws, and connection to the land. Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have inhabited Australia for between 40,000 and 60,000 years. Originally a hunter-gatherer people, they have a deep and spiritual connection with the earth. If you are part of a booked group tour, you may be treated to stories and performances, but it is definitely worth a walk through even if you are on your own. Self-guided tours are free.
Don’t miss the art gallery. It includes some awesome and beautiful pieces for show and for sale. There is quite a variety of work from well known and emerging artists alike.
If you are hungry, the café is popular with locals and a great place to stop for lunch!
Lara is only a few train stops from Geelong. It’s the starting point if you want to see the You Yangs up close and is also home to Serendip Sanctuary, the 250 hectare home to a diverse variety of wildlife.
The sanctuary is free to visit and is a popular spot for birders, with 150 bird species that can be viewed from several bird hides. There are four interconnecting walks you can do and you can do them all in a few hours. All trails are no more than two kilometers from the entrance.
I did the wildlife walk and the wetland walk, which included kangaroos, emu, wallaby, brolga, and birds. Although I’m an animal lover in general, I don’t have a particular love of birds. I thought since I already saw kangaroos and emu at Narana that it might not be all that exciting.
I was wrong!
I loved seeing the kangaroos. There were a lot more of them at Serendip than Narana, and while they don’t eat from your hand, you are still up close and personal with no gate or fence between you. I really enjoyed the birds, too. Especially the brolga, an Australian crane, who are known for their dance moves.
Werribee Open Range Zoo
I didn’t make it to Werribee, but everyone I spoke with who went there really enjoyed it. I think I would have loved it, even after living in East Africa for two years. If you haven’t been on a safari, this is the closest you will get to the real thing outside of Africa.
Werribee has giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos, lions, gorillas, monkeys, hippos, and more. You can interact with them through a variety of experiences that range in cost from $37 to $335. General admission is $37 and includes a 40 minute safari that runs throughout the day. You can learn more about the animals by attending keeper talks. If you need more African animal love, additional paid options include an off road safari, overnight stay in a luxury safari tent, and up close encounters with gorillas, giraffes, lions, and other African cats.
Another place I wish I made time for is Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. This is an outside museum that is basically like being part of a historical reenactment of the goldrush years. It’s designed to feel as if you stepped back into the 1850s, with historical buildings and people in costumes. You can pan for real gold, take a horse drawn carriage around town, and go underground for a tour of the gold mine.
Next time I’m in the region I’m going to check this out. I think you could easily spend a whole day here.
Great Ocean Road
There is so much to see and do along the Great Ocean Road. You can do it in a day trip to see the highlights, over a few weeks on a walking tour, or anywhere in between. Stretching 255 kilometers from Warrnambool in the west to Torquay in the east, the Great Ocean Road has beautiful scenery, beaches, historical sites, fun towns, and wildlife, and is a must if you are in the region.
Surveying and construction on the Great Ocean Road began in 1918 and provided jobs for servicemen who recently returned from WWI. About 3,000 workers progressed by approximately three kilometers per month, clearing the wilderness and digging the road out by hand with the aid of explosives. It’s crazy to think about how hard that work must have been, that it took 3,000 men to complete less than a kilometer per week, or approximately 135 meters per day. It took 13 years of construction to complete the road. What an awe-inspiring project!
Here are my Great Ocean Road highlights.
Loch Ard Gorge
The Historic Shipwreck Trail begins at Port Fairy and commemorates more than 50 wrecks along the Shipwreck coast. The two most interesting are the Casino and the Loch Ard. The Casino hit an iceberg in 1932 and caused a two week break in construction of the Great Ocean Road when they were forced to leave behind 500 barrels of beer and 120 cases of liquor to the construction workers. A well deserved break!
Loch Ard Gorge is the site where the only two survivors of the Loch Ard wreck were stranded. The ship’s apprentice, Tom Pearce, and an Irish immigrant, Eva Carmichael, both survived the wreck that killed 52 other passengers. The gorge now includes walking paths with scenic lookouts over the beach. Looking out from the top, I couldn’t help but think about how difficult a task it must have been to climb out of the gorge in the absence of stairs and ramps. Tom would have had to scale a high wall of rock with no equipment after narrowly escaping a shipwreck. Somehow he did it, and he and Eva both recovered. After losing her family in the wreck and spending a few months recovering, Eva returned by ship to Ireland.
The Twelve Apostles
The most famous stop along the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles are a series of limestone pillars up to 50 meters high that were formed by erosion from the Southern Ocean. There were originally nine pillars, but one collapsed in 2005. More will collapse as they erode further, and more pillars will be formed in the current cliff face.
The waves erode the limestone by approximately 2 cm. per year. It’s interesting to think about how long ago it was that the cliffs reached out into the ocean to where the apostles now sit, and how long it will take before the current cliff face will be the pillars that future generations come to see. I found the Twelve Apostles a beautiful and humbling reflection of the aboriginal ideas about earth as our mother and provider.
Home to the oldest working lighthouse in Australia, Cape Otway is the southern most tip of Victoria. The entrance fee for Cape Otway Lightstation is $19.50. You can tour the lighthouse, learn about Aboriginal culture, and climb to the top of the 90 meter tall lighstation for seasonal whale watching. After that, you can head inland and try to spot koalas high up in the trees and find remnants of the Gadubanud campsites, the original inhabitants of this region.
Mait’s Rest Rainforest Trail
An 800-meter wooden boardwalk leads you through a beautiful rainforest canopy. This was by far the most quiet and peaceful stop along the road. You can do this walk in about 30 minutes, but I recommend taking your time. Bring a jacket, because the forest cover will block out the warmth from the sun.
if you take your time and observe, you will spot all of the flora and much of the fauna of this rainforest ecosystem. Myrtle beeches, tree ferns, and mosses abound. The ecosystem is home to 43 bird species not found anywhere else on earth. You may here the sounds of the yellow bellied glider, but you will need some luck to spot this rarely seen nocturnal marsupial.
Apollo Bay is a great town with a great beach. I’m not a big beach person and I could still see myself spending a week here without getting bored. Dooley’s Ice Cream is a must! They have won multiple awards for their unique flavors. Come in and sample their best flavors and buy your favorites.
With a wide variety of restaurants, coffee shops, and lodging for every budget, you really can’t go wrong with Apollo Bay if you want to stop and hang out for a few days. It has shopping, hiking, nature reserves, water sports, and my personal favorite, lots of great restaurants and coffee shops for reading and people watching.
If you don’t stay in Apollo Bay, Lorne is another great option. It is about an hour drive east of Apollo Bay. For both of these towns, be sure to book your lodging in advance, especially at peak tourist season.
Kennett River Koala Walk
If you are afraid of birds or crowds, don’t stop at the entrance, but don’t let it scare you off, either. When a tour group comes through, they swarm at the entrance, where King Parrots will land all over you. It’s a pretty awesome sight, but the koalas are beyond this crowd, in the gum trees lining the Grey River Road.
It can be unbelievably difficult to spot koalas. They sleep high, high up in the trees, in part because they have eaten so much of the vegetation from the lower branches that they are forced to move higher and higher up over time. This is the best place in Australia for spotting koalas, although there is no guarantee you will see one. When I was there I saw a few, including a mama and baby sleeping up in a tree. I took pictures, but it just looks like a picture of tree branches.
If you come to Grey River Reserve at night, you will see the glow worms and maybe even a yellow bellied glider.
Just a few kilometers from Aireys Inlet is the Memorial Arch commemorating the construction of the Great Ocean Road. It’s a good stop if you want to have a photo with the arch to show you were there.
Don’t skip Anglesea, especially if you haven’t seen a kangaroo in the wild yet! The best place to spot a kangaroo, believe it or not, is at Anglesea Golf Club. There were only a few hopping around out there when I got there, but I have seen photos of the golf course covered in kangaroos. I wonder how many games have been disrupted by kangaroo interference?
This is the place to go for surfing. It has many famous beaches, including Jan Juc and Bells Beach and is home to several surf companies. Rip Curl and Quicksilver are both based in Torquay and can be found in Surf Coast Plaza, along with the Surf World Museum.
From Torquay you can take the Surf Coast Highway straight to Geelong in about half an hour.
If you have a car, you can drive this loop from Geelong through all these sites in the order I discussed them in this article, and back to Geelong, in 5-7 days. It is approximately a 550 kilometer loop with a drive time of about eight hours, so the time you take depends on how long you want to spend at each stop.
Geelong Adventure Specialists
The Great Ocean Road can be a challenging drive. If you want to hire a tour guide and driver, use Geelong Adventure Specialists. Jeremy will give you a fantastic tour and can help you book more adventurous activities if you choose. His company specializes in providing tours for autistic people, those with ADHD, and others with sensory sensitivity and/or severe anxiety.
You can learn more about Geelong Adventure Specialists and their disability support services their website or you can contact me and I will get you in contact with Jeremy. I highly recommend Geelong Adventure Specialists and will book through them again next time I’m in the region.
Since I didn’t have a car, I did these as several different trips, so it’s difficult to say how I would do this exactly. If I had a car, I think my itinerary would have looked something like this.
Day 1: Serendip and You Yangs
Day 2: Werribee and drive to Ballarat
Day 3: Sovereign Hill
Day 4: Drive to Port Campbell
Day 5: Great Ocean Road
Day 6: Great Ocean Road
Day 7: Great Ocean Road, Narana, back to Geelong
It’s easy to get to Serendip, Narana, and Torquay by public transportation from Geelong, but you will want to book a tour for the Great Ocean Road if you don’t plan on driving, walking, or biking it. Werribee is slightly more challenging by public transport, but still doable. Ballarat, on the other hand, is not a trip you will make in one day by train. If you don’t have your own vehicle, plan for this to be an overnight or weekend trip.
This is my last post on Geelong. Before I end, I want to leave you with a few more options if you want to wander outside the downtown area. If you are in Geelong long enough to get bored with all the great restaurants along Pakington and Little Malop, take the bus south down Pakington past the stadium to Fyans Street. You will find more good restaurants in this neighborhood. If you come this far, definitely check out Boom Gallery and the surrounding neighborhood. The whole block has a fun coworking and tech startup vibe. The gallery itself is in an old wool factory and just across the street is a co-working makerspace where you can go inside and talk with the makers.
For more on Geelong, check out my article on the best museums and this one about their beautiful waterfront and botanic gardens.
If you have any comments or questions about traveling in Geelong and Victoria, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you!
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