Victoria's Great Ocean Road travel guide and things to do: Why now is the time to visit

 Last time I visited the 12 Apostles, pre-pandemic, the viewing platform was absolutely mobbed with tourists and I couldn't wait to leave. However, last week was a very different story. Despite borders reopening to visitors, Victoria's Great Ocean Road remains very quiet and, if you time it right, you could have one of our most well-known attractions all to yourself. There was no-one there at sunrise and in the evening one enviable family of four had settled in on the same platform to watch the sunset on fold-out chairs with pizza.

Have the 12 Apostles all to yourself.

Have the 12 Apostles all to yourself. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

With no buses and very few cars, you won't have any trouble finding a park at Loch Ard Gorge, Gibson Steps or London Bridge either. So for those of you planning a coastal escape before summer's sun completely fades, here are 10 things you can see, do and experience while you're visiting the Great Ocean Road.

Eat your way along the 12 Apostles food trail

Credit: Lady Musgrave Experience
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Timboon Railway Shed Distillery Photo: Supplied

Who knew you could eat well when visiting the 12 Apostles? Twenty minutes from Port Campbell, the regional town of Timboon has become a foodie hub. At Timboon's Fine Ice Cream you can treat yourself to out-of-the-box flavours such as orange and cardamom, maple and cinnamon or liquorice. Located directly opposite, the Timboon Railway Shed Distillery distill their own whisky in the restored rail shed they've converted into a dining and tasting room. Berry World combines a pick-your-own berry farm with a Thai restaurant (you can order takeaway for dinner later, if you get back late from visiting 12 Apostles). Schultz Organic Creamery and Cafe (of the famous milk and yoghurt) has its own cafe in a pleasant garden setting five minutes out of town.

Stay at Timboon Tiny Homes

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Photo: Timboon Tony Homes

Size was never an issue in these immaculate cabins that pack in modern amenities across three separate rooms. There's a large bathroom, bedroom, and a combined kitchen, lounge and dining room next to a verandah that overlooks Power Creek Reserve. I stayed in Raspberry, which has themed red cushions and wall art, but you can choose Mint or Caramel - and if you don't receive the flavour you desire, treat yourself to some free ice cream available to guests from Timboon's creamery next door. timboontinyhomes.com.au

Dine with a view in Port Campbell

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Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

Underrated in terms of its proximity to 12 Apostles, picturesque Port Campbell overlooks a natural gorge and is filled with interesting accommodation options - including a hostel with a brewery (sowandpiglet.com). Now they also have Forage on the Foreshore, a restaurant that focuses on local produce and great coffee, with the best views in town. The small wine list includes names such as Bests, Blue Pyrenees and Heroes, and beer and cider is all local. I'm lucky to eat the day wild-caught rock lobster is on the brunch menu, served as an omelette with a decadent lobster reduction sauce and Warnambool's Jane Dough sourdough. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Spend the night in a Sky Ship

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Photo: Sky Pods

Ever wanted to holiday as far away from people as possible? At Sky Pods, you can. Five years ago, an enterprising former nightclub owner secured a large piece of land in the heart of Cape Otway, which has views to the sea and the surrounding rainforest. It's also one of the few places in the area with mobile phone reception. The three Sky Pods and two Sky Ships are designed for adults only, made from shipping containers with floor-to-ceiling glass frontage for 180-degree, neighbour-free views. They include kitchen facilities and a projector screen for casting Netflix, as once the sun goes down there is only the stars to watch (or the drama of inclement weather, which happens frequently in the Otways).

Hike to the elusive Rainbow Falls

The elusive Rainbow Falls are difficult to reach, and only accessible during low tide. With the exception of hikers doing the Great Ocean Walk, Sky Pods have exclusive access to this trail, which escorts you through pretty Otways scrub (watch out for echidnas, koalas, wallabies and kangaroos), to a boardwalk over sand dunes before you hit Station Beach. A further kilometre will take you to the falls, where water from Rainbow Spring cascades over a huge rockface.

Learn something new at Wildlife Wonders

Wildlife Wonders Conservation Ecology Centre Cape Otway Victorias Great Ocean Road sunfeb9wildlife ; text by Julietta Jameson ; SUPPLIED via journalist <lizzie@ conservationecologycentre.org> ; Koala
Credit Mark LePla

Photo: Mark LePla

This is no ordinary wildlife park - this is an informative trail on carefully planned land where plants and animals have a symbiotic relationship to the other. Led by a passionate team, Wildlife Wonders conduct dusk tours to illustrate how their animals - potaroos, koalas, kangaroos, emus, bandicoots and turtles - interact with their environment while the creatures are at their most active. The tours include an impressive mezze platter with a glass of wine at its conclusion. Wildlife Wonders is a not-for-profit so all funds are fed back into wildlife conservation and research. wildlifewonders.org.au

Play Squid Game at Lorne's Live Wire Park

Live Wire Park, Lorne
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Photo: Belinda VanZanen/Visit Victoria

A series of rope ladders, bridges, climbs and zip lines suspended high between the Otway's tall trees. It looks simple enough, but attempting to balance on boards suspended by ropes several hundred metres above ground is more challenging than it looks. Remember Squid Game's glass stepping stones? Like a treetop version of that. The Shockwave Zip Coaster is a thrilling, sit-down zip line/roller coaster hybrid between trees which is over in a matter of seconds. Come with an abundance of energy, you'll need it. livewirepark.com.au

Fall for the Otway's prettiest waterfalls

The Otways are dotted with pretty waterfalls hidden in rainforest along the Great Otway National Park's northern ridge. While they may not have the size of some of our neighbouring state's waterfalls, they make up for it in charm. It's hard to pick a favourite. Near the town of Beech Forrest, Beauchamp Falls is perhaps the most difficult to reach, an hour's minimum return walk, while Hopetoun Falls is the easiest, involving a structured pathway descending into the forest. Don't miss the California Redwoods, planted in 1939 - a visit feels like transcending into another universe as the silence and darkness the majestic sequoias create envelopes you.

High-end cuisine in casual Surf Coast atmosphere

Samesyn @ 3/24 Bell St, Torquay. 18th June 2021 The Age News Picture by JOE ARMAO

Photo: Joe Armao

Torquay was fortunate to welcome back former Surf Coast resident, chef Graham Jefferies, when he opened his diner on Torquay's Bell Street prior to COVID's ravaging of hospitality, so the welcome was probably not as warm as Jeffries had hoped. Pivoting to takeaway, he found fans in families with young children, who were unable to eat out regardless of the pandemic. And now that restaurant service is back in full swing, it's time to shine the spotlight on this smart, casual eatery that focuses on local produce. The wine list exposes some hidden gems of the local wine scene too - try a grassy, herbaceous Semillon from Jan Juc-based Reed to accompany pan-fried Murray cod with green pickled tomato, grilled cukes and salt-bomb samphire. The sweet corn mousse with fermented capsicum and brioche croutons was also a standout on the $84 per head set menu. samesyn.com.au

A little luxury at Sands Torquay

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Photo: Sands Torquay

You don't have to be a golfer to appreciate the old-school luxury of this newly refurbished hotel, which overlooks the Torquay golf course and sea. The one or two bedroom suites offer plenty of space to relax after a trip down the coast with separate bedrooms, large bathroom with bath and separate toilet, a loungeroom and spacious verandah to relax and enjoy the views. There's a large heated swimming pool, a new gym in production, and plans for yoga and pilates classes for guests as well as locals. thesandstorquay.com

The writer was a guest of Visit Victoria