Spotted by Locals
Fashion designer, entrepreneur
Lisa Gorman's childhood was spent traversing the Great Ocean Road, so when this stylish Victorian recently went home for the weekend, her local knowledge came to the fore.
"We were four small girls, fishing for eels, of all things, in the Erskine River," recalls fashionista Lisa Gorman of family holidays spent on the coast. "Being from Warrnambool, we spent our holidays in Lorne, Port Campbell and Wye River," she says. "We'd do a little fishing before breakfast, then we'd swim. We were always in the water."
Lisa and her husband, Dean Angelucci, recently took their young family to her favourite local places, and discovered new experiences, on the way to seeing family in Warrnambool.
The chief drawcard along the Great Ocean Road is undoubtedly the Twelve Apostles near Port Campbell, while Cape Otway is the place to spot koalas. However, the addition of African-style safari tents set on wooden platforms at Cumberland River Holiday Park near Lorne also caught Lisa's attention. "It's a gorgeous caravan park," she says. "The safari tents are perfect for really bad campers like me. You just turn up and they're already set up for you. It was a great discovery. We're staying there next time."
This holiday, Lisa, Dean and their children spent a night at Azure, a beach house in Wye River. "For a sheer, slick, high-end holiday residence, Azure is amazing," she says. Ocean views unfold from the balcony, and the property is about a five-minute walk from the township, where the family dined at Wye Beach Hotel.
"It was packed, with a good, local feel, not that holiday-tourist feel, with interesting hearty pub food being served."
For breakfast the next morning, Lisa visited an old favourite, the Wye River General Store. Recently refreshed and given a touch of city aplomb by celebrity architects Six Degrees (think Newmarket Hotel in St Kilda or the Boatbuilders Yard at South Wharf), the store showcases local produce. The family stocked up on chocolates, Zeally Bay sourdough from Torquay and the famed Irrewarra muesli, produced near Colac, about an hour north of Wye River.
The store's great coffee helped fuel Lisa's drive from the sheltered bushlands of Lorne to Apollo Bay, where the family stopped for calamari at Bayleaf Cafe and took a walk on the pier. But there was no swimming in the chilly waters of Bass Strait. "Lorne and Wye River are quite protected where the bush meets the beach, but after Apollo Bay it gets really wild," Lisa says.
A night at the chic Great Ocean Ecolodge, built in a conservation park adjoining the Great Otway National Park, meant the family woke up with wildlife on their doorstep, before driving on to Cape Otway Lighthouse to take a tour of the building. "It's two-and-a-half hours from Cape Otway to Warrnambool, and the drive between the cape and the Twelve Apostles is gorgeous. It just continues to roll, with fruit trees mixed with gum trees," Lisa says. There were thousands of tourists at the Gibson Steps, she says, and at the Twelve Apostles the wind was howling. "There's a photo of me there, my hair at an 180-degree angle across my face. I look like Cousin It. But it was still a sky-blue day."
From Port Campbell, the family drove into the hills at Timboon, 16 kilometres from the coast. The towns along the Great Ocean Road really know how to feed their visitors, serving a mix of the ocean's bounty and western-district farmland produce. A hot tip for foodies, Lisa says, is to pack a portable cooler and make for Timboon Distillery, where the shelves are laden with local fare – from Arabian-style pomegranate dressing to pear chutney, goats cheese and freshly-baked loaves. Lisa stocked up on L'Artisan's Mountain Man organic washed-rind cheese and a bottle of Newtown's Ridge chardonnay. As she drove away, she realised she'd forgotten to stock up on Parratte smoked eel, but that's okay – she'll be back soon for another taste of her childhood region.
Where to stay
When Lisa Gorman and her husband, Dean Angelucci, took their children on a recent weekend break, a leisurely drive from Melbourne to Warrnambool, Lisa's home town, via the Great Ocean Road beckoned. The family spent two nights on the road: one night at a designer beach house at Wye, the other at a chic eco-lodge.
Azure is a contemporary four-bedroom beachhouse that sleeps eight people and has 180-degree views of the Great Ocean Road and the township of Wye River. "Azure is immaculate, with spectacular views of the coastline," Lisa says. "It's a really beautifully appointed house."
The Great Ocean Ecolodge, established and operated by the Conservation Ecology Centre, is adjacent to the Great Otway National Park and hosts a welcoming communal dining table.
Founded by Shayne Neal and Lizzie Corke, the solar-powered eco-lodge's ethos is impressive. "It's a private business and not-for-profit, taking care of wildlife and the bush: it's a very well-rounded concept, and they're a multitasking gang," Lisa says. "Shayne will take you out at dawn to look for koalas or at night to look at sugar gliders, then he's pouring you a local pinot or two, while chef Kylie is very conscientious and super-knowledgeable about local produce. And her apple pie! It's great for families, very educational, with beautiful food and in a really beautiful environment."
Food and wine
Summer or winter, holidays with children usually include requests for ice-cream and Dooley's Ice Cream, made in Apollo Bay, recently took home the gold at the 2013 Grand Dairy Awards for its liquorice variety. "We always ate ice-cream as children on holidays along the Great Ocean Road, but I think I'm eating more now," Lisa says. Dooley's liquorice is very, very good."
The tasting platter served at Timboon Distillery was another foodie highlight, she says. The region's artisan producers are well represented in Timboon's menus – think Old Lorne Road Olives, an Istra salami or ham, toasted sourdough, three cheeses including Meredith goat cheese and a soft cheese from Apostle Whey – with Timboon Fine Ice Cream to finish. In winter, soup shooters are added to the menu. Many travellers also take the local food trail, known under the umbrella of the 12 Apostles Food Artisans, to sample everything from malt whisky to chocolates to berries and highland beef pies.
Wye River General Store stocks a robust wine list that includes Bellarine Peninsula gems such as Provenance pinot gris from Bannockburn, Lethbridge riesling and Gosling Creek sauvignon blanc.
"The Great Ocean Road is not just about the views, it's also about the food, the walks. It's about nature, and it's about the ocean," says Lisa. Cape Otway Lighthouse, at the "junction" of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean, has self-guided and guided tours, including a ghost tour which takes you up the spiral staircase to the top of the light tower. "It was crazily windy when we were there. They tell you to take off your hat and sunglasses before you walk out onto the balcony," says Lisa.
A key calling card of the Great Ocean Road are the limestone stacks of the Twelve Apostles, an hour by car from Warrnambool. At nearby Port Campbell, visitors take the Gibson Steps up a 70-metre cliffside walk for the breathtaking views from the top. Another formation of stacks, the Bay of Islands, is 10-minutes west of Peterborough.
Treasures can also be found indoors on this coast, too. "Ten minutes past Warrnambool, Mailors Flat Demolition & Antiques is a big treasure hunt," Lisa says. "The owner, Bernie, has some great old stuff – whole staircases, knobs, parts of buildings."
This article first appeared in The Age and is reprinted courtesy of Fairfax Media.