Lee Atkinson samples the charms of a popular getaway on the Great Ocean Road.
A charming seaside town towards the eastern end of the Great Ocean Road, Lorne is a great base from which to explore one of Australia's most scenic coastal touring routes.
What it's known for
Beyond the obvious attractions of the beach and surrounding coastline, the main street is lined with boutiques and galleries, cafes and restaurants, and there's a wide range of accommodation to suit most budgets, all of which make it one of Victoria's most popular weekend getaway spots. It can be crowded in summer, but in winter, Lorne dances to a much less frenetic beat. All the shops, restaurants and cafes are still open, many with great specials to entice winter bargain hunters, the beach is perfect for rugged-up romantic walks and you can often see whales and their calves in the bay.
What you didn't know ...
Lorne might be famous for its beaches and surf, but it's also flanked by gorgeous rainforest. Erskine Falls is just a few minutes' drive from the village centre and there are walking tracks though the rainforest past huge tree ferns to the 30-metre-high falls. Lorne is also a bit of an arts hub and the annual Festival of Performing Arts has an eclectic mix of street performers, circus, dance, music and burlesque. This year it's on over the weekend of September 7-9. Weekend passes cost $60 for adults and $35 for kids. For tickets see moshtix.com.au. Every second October the town is transformed into a pop-up sculpture park as part of the biennial Lorne Sculpture Festival (the next one is next year), when almost 100 sculpture artists exhibit their work along the foreshore.
Lorne's unique charms were recognised early, when tourists first began flocking to the area in the 1880s to marvel at the superb local scenery, pitching their tents on the flats around the Erskine River. These days the camping options are a little more luxurious since Lorne Bush Cottages Eco Lodges opened elevated glamping eco-retreats with an en suite, a bathroom, kitchenette, barbecue and balcony with bush views, five minutes' drive from town. Great for families, each "tent" sleeps four and winter rates start at about $150 for two adults and two children.
While there's plenty to do in Lorne, the real reason most people come here is to drive the Great Ocean Road and Lorne is smack-bang in the middle of some of the most scenic stretches. Getting there is half the fun, as you hit the coast near Torquay and follow it for 50 kilometres to Lorne. Must-see spots along the way include Torquay's Surfworld, an interactive museum dedicated to the art and culture of wave riding; Bells Beach, one of the most famous surf beaches in Australia and home of the world's longest-running professional surfing event, the Rip Curl Pro; and the views from beneath the lighthouse at Aireys Inlet. Heading west from Lorne, Apollo Bay is an hour's drive, hugging the coast. If you want to see the Twelve Apostles, or at least the eight still standing, the lookout at Port Campbell National Park is about a two-hour drive from Lorne and makes for a great day trip.
Where to eat
For seafood with a view, head to the Lorne Pier Restaurant ((03) 5289 1119). Also good is the Ovenhouse Restaurant, which does Mediterranean-style food and gourmet pizza (46a Mountjoy Parade, (03) 5289 2544). Best pizza in town, though, is at Pizza Pizza (2 Mountjoy Parade, (03) 5289 1007), but it's tiny so takeaway could be your best option if there are no tables available in the compact courtyard.
Where to stay
Built in 1875, the three-storey Grand Pacific Hotel was one of the first hotels on the Great Ocean Road. It's been restored and offers great views along the coast as well as Lorne Pier. Doubles cost from $80 a night. The beachfront Mantra Lorne has a range of hotel rooms and one- and two-bedroom apartments and the added attraction of the Endota day spa. Doubles start at about $150.
How to get there
Lorne is 140 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, via Geelong and the Great Ocean Road. Allow about two hours to get there.