Probably the second most well-known geological feature in Australia after Ayers Rock is the 12 Apostles, and any visitor to the state of Victoria is missing out on something extremely special if they neglect to add this to their plans.
Many people rent a car and drive the full length of the scenic Great Ocean Road, but if you’re short on time or don’t have a license, a day trip to the 12 Apostles from Melbourne will take in all of the highlights and bring you back into the city in time for dinner (roughly 7 or 8 pm) – a round trip of 560 km.
DAY TOUR TO THE 12 APOSTLES
Setting off just before 8 am and lasting a full 12 hours, the 12 Apostles day tour with Melbourne’s Best Tours is pretty intense. It also gets off to a bit of a slow start, so you’d be forgiven for wondering if it was really worth it. But stick with it, because the moment your eyes rest on the beaches and cliff formations around the 12 Apostles, you’ll realise exactly what all of the fuss is about. And, what’s more, you can take as many naps as you like on the bus in between points of interest.
SEE MELBOURNE WITH CONTIKI
Another option is to join the 4-day Melbourne Discovery tour. There are loads of cool things to do in Melbourne, and this tour is the perfect choice for people who are travelling alone or in small groups and would like to meet other travellers to share the experience with. Other city tours are more likely to attract families and couples, which isn’t ideal when you have such a long drive there and back!
BOOK THE MELBOURNE DISCOVERY TOUR
AND HAVE NO REGRETS!
WHERE DOES THE 12 APOSTLES TOUR GO?
There are regular stops along the way – often at points of natural beauty, but sometimes simply to allow you to visit the bathroom or stock up on snacks. After passing through Melbourne’s Southbank and crossing Westgate bridge, from which you can admire views of the city and Appleton Dock, you’ll make your way towards the coast.
The first stop is in a small town called Torquay. There’s nothing of interest to see there, but the local bakeries have some fantastic breakfast options.
About 10 km from Torquay, you’ll come to the start of the Great Ocean Road. Built between 1920 and 1932, this 243 km stretch of road was inspired by California’s Pacific Coast Highway and constructed manually by return servicemen from World War I who dedicated it to those who had been killed. This makes it the world’s largest war memorial.
Having passed Bells Beach, where national and international surf competitions are frequently held, the next stop is Lorne. This beachside town is very popular with tourists, especially in the summer months, attracting surfers, scuba divers and whale watchers.
One of the more lively breaks in the journey is Kennett River. Here, you’ll take a short walk along a tree-lined road to a popular spot for wild lorikeets and, if you’re lucky, one might land on your outstretched arm or head. It’s also fairly common for wild koalas to be sighted here.
There’s not that much to see at Apollo Bay, although it does apparently host an annual music festival. Southern right whales and, less frequently, humpback whales, can be seen off the coast in winter to spring. There’s also a short street with a few stores here.
This 800 m self-guided walk through cool, temperate rainforest is a welcome opportunity to stretch your legs. The tour doesn’t do the full circuit, but your guide will take you along the footpath and give you information on the plant life, including some giant eucalyptus trees that can grow up to 30 feet in just 20 years.
At around 1:30, you’ll arrive at the lunch spot. At your first stop in Torquay, your guide will have already asked you to order from a menu. The options include fish and chips, schnitzel sandwiches, quiche, a variety of pies, salad and soup. Taking in views of the coast as you eat, you can also purchase beer and soft drinks here, as well as cakes and cookies for dessert.
Arriving at the 12 Apostles to the sound of helicopters overhead, you’ll follow a swarm of tourists down a path to the lookout point. There’s a reason this place is so crowded. As soon as you catch sight of the huge limestone formation, it takes your breath away. Despite being named the 12 Apostles, there were only ever nine stacks and one of those collapsed in 2005. However, it is thought that erosion of the headland will create new arches and stacks over time.
LOCH ARD GORGE
The beauty doesn’t end there. Just a few minutes’ drive away, Loch Ard Gorge almost rivals the 12 Apostles. Here, you can walk down some steps to a beach backed by caves laden with stalactites. Although the water looks inviting, you’re advised not to swim here because of strong coastal currents.
After one last stop a little further along the coast, where you can see the 12 Apostles from a different perspective and clamber down to the sandy beach, your bus will head back to the city. After so much excitement and ocean air, not one of us – except the driver, thankfully – could keep our eyes open.
WHY GO WITH MELBOURNE’S BEST TOURS?
♥ Melbourne’s Best Tours pride themselves on having small group sizes to create a relaxed atmosphere and to encourage interaction between everyone on board the tour bus.
♥ At the time of writing, their price for the day, with lunch and park entrance included, was a reasonable $120.
♥ Melbourne’s Best Tours was the only company I could find that also offers a ‘direct’ tour to the 12 Apostles, returning earlier in the day to allow you to make evening plans or to catch flights. Subject to minimum numbers, this really helps you to be flexible with your itinerary, although it would be a shame not to experience the full day tour.
♥ Kathryn and Jun in the reservations department were incredibly helpful when I had to change my booking on multiple occasions to work around other activities. I’ve rarely experienced such fantastic customer service.
• As the coast will be to your left on your way to the 12 Apostles (ie, when it’s still daylight), when you get on the minibus at the start of your tour, take a seat on that side of the van. The minibus is designed with single seats on the left and doubles on the right, and most people’s natural instinct is to take a double, but you’ll regret it!
• Take something for carsickness if you suffer from this. The road has a lot of bends and is also quite bumpy.
• Take warm clothing, especially in winter. The temperatures along the coast are often lower than in the city, and the sea breeze can add to this. You might want to tie your hair up too!
• Tell your driver in good time where you would like to be dropped off when you get back to the city. My only criticism of this tour was that there seemed to be no logic to the order in which we were dropped back at our accommodation, with the bus actually passing some of our chosen drop off locations almost an hour before it eventually returned to drop us off.
WHERE TO STAY IN MELBOURNE
For my three-night stay in Melbourne, I was a guest at the Exford Hotel. Located at the crossroads of Little Bourke Street and Russel Street in the heart of the CBD, the location couldn’t be handier.
The Exford Hotel was built in 1854 and has its own historic pub as well as a lounge bar, providing plenty of entertainment, from indie nights to comedy. They serve a free breakfast of toast and cereal and there’s a large kitchen, computer area and lounge with a wide selection of DVDs as well as Foxtel. All of this combines to create a cosy English bed and breakfast feel. Dorms start at $27 per night, but there are also twins and doubles available. The beds are very comfortable, and there are lockers in the rooms to keep your valuables safe. Staff were on hand 24/7 to answer my questions and were very knowledgeable.
I’ve recently started using HotelsCombined to search for accommodation as I travel. It’s become one of my favourite tools because it aggregates the results of online searches from over 40 travel sites to bring you the best deals much faster than if you had to look them up to compare them separately.
I was a guest of Melbourne’s Best Tours. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own. For further information on the company’s other tour options, including Phillip Island, Puffing Billy, Ballarat and Sovereign Hill, and Melbourne city tours, check out their Facebook page here.