Great Ocean Road, Australia


My great Thanksgiving adventure this year was a jaunt around Australia. We started in Melbourne, and from there rented a car to take a road trip along the Great Ocean Road, Australia’s analog to our Pacific Coast Highway in California, although perhaps a more concentrated version with epic landscapes along this 150-mile stretch. Our overall itinerary had us leaving from Melbourne on day one, staying overnight on the western side in Port Campbell, and heading back to eventually be back in Melbourne at the end of day two.

I illustrated this little map of our road trip highlights along the way. Thanks to Alex for being my travel partner, doing 100% of the left-side-of-the-road driving, and gifting me the iPad Pro that has led me to start drawing all these cute illustrations on Procreate.

illustrated map of the great ocean road itinerary

The eastern end of the Great Ocean Road starts in Torquay.

We walked around town, and I found a perfect little calendar in this boutique to take home with me.

We had lunch at Fisho’s.

I had never heard of gummy shark, but it’s apparently very popular in Australia, and it was delicious.

Lots of surfers out.

And plenty of ocean viewpoints all along the way.

Split Point Lighthouse.

The entire road was built by returning soldiers from WWI as a memorial to all of the solders of WWI. It’s the longest war memorial in the world, and there’s a memorial archway about 30 km in from the eastern end of the road.

Teddy’s Lookout in Lorne.

The star attraction of the Great Ocean Road is the Twelve Apostles. At some point there were twelve big rocks jutting out from the ocean, but with erosion there are only eight still standing.

Still beautiful, and worth seeing at sunset despite the cold winds and the hoards of tourists.

We ended our first day with a stay in Port Campbell. We had breakfast at the Grassroots Deli Cafe and then saw at the town from an overlook point.

We then continued westward on the Great Ocean Road to the next attraction, the London Bridge.

The left side of the rock used to be connected to the right side, but then the London Bridge fell down, and as the middle part collapsed it left two tourists stranded on the right span. They were fine and had to be rescued by police helicopter.

This was one of my favorite spots on the whole road trip, the Grotto. Even though the ocean is roaring with its waves just beyond the arch, the little lagoon shelters you from everything and dampens the sound, making it feel quite special and protected.

I love spotting little shop stands along my travels, especially the ones that are honor system shops. This one is just a swap shed with all sorts of random stuff.

Loch Ard Gorge.

This was another highlight of the Great Ocean Road: wild koalas! A span of the road runs through the eucalyptus forests of the Great Otway National Park, and if you keep your eyes peeled for koala-shaped lumps in the trees (or other tourists pulled over on the side of the road), you might just be treated to a wild koala sighting. We saw four koalas on our way in on day one, and we saw EIGHT on the second day! Including a couple that we could actually pull over and take a photo of. This was certainly heartening given the wildfires in Australia this year. It was already wildfire season during our trip, but conditions certainly worsened towards the end and after we had left.

We stopped in Apollo Bay to try their scallop pie: chicken pot pie meets clam chowder. Tasty!

And more wild animals, sort of. Kangaroos on a golf course! It’s apparently a great protected source of lots of grass. The Anglesea Golf Club offers kangaroo tours, but you can also just park right outside their gates and look in on the mobs (that’s the term for a bunch of roos).

Having completed our out-and-back trip on the Great Ocean Road, we continued to the city of Geelong on the way back to Melbourne. There we visited Little Creatures, an Australian brewery with only three locations, one of which happens to be in San Francisco, in Alex’s building.

Their Geelong location is so cute, nestled in with other breweries in converted textile mills.

The space is enormous! And so colorful! And so detailed! Nothing like the more clean-corporate feel of their San Francisco outpost. We had no idea what we were missing out on this whole time.

Then we also had dinner in Geelong, and it was a special one, because it happened to be Thanksgiving! We chose Igni, a relatively new restaurant that centers on its wood-fire grill. When we heard ‘wood-fire grill’ though, we didn’t imagine anything close to the fine dining magic that we were about to experience.

A lovely, clean-looking space. Not too big.

We sat right at the chef’s counter so we could see them doing all of their work around the wood-powered grill in the middle. They started us off with some ‘snacks.’

It’s all prix fixe, but every table actually gets a different menu. So it was fun to be at the front where we could see what everyone else was getting too.

Our main protein dish happened to be quail, which was just perfect, like a tiny tiny turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Plenty of desserts ensued too, including a mulberry, which looks like a funny caterpillar.

The perfect dining experience to cap off a wonderful road trip on the Great Ocean Road!

menu at Igni restaurant

Stay tuned for parts two and three of my Australia adventures of 2019!

Anna Wu is a wedding and portrait photographer based in San Francisco but often traveling the world. She compulsively documents all of her adventures. Follow her on instagram and view more of her professional work at