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How to Travel the Great Ocean Road, the Ultimate Australian Road Trip!

 

One of the most iconic road trips in the entire world, Australia’s Great Ocean Road is up there with America’s Route 66, South Africa’s Garden Route and Scotland’s North Coast 500 as being an itinerary that’s on everyone’s bucket lists. Starting in Melbourne, Victoria and finishing in Adelaide, South Australia, the Great Ocean Road spans a distance of 243 kilometres, boasting fantastic coastal views and offering some epic scenery along the way. Listed as an Australian National Heritage Site, and the largest war memorial in the world, the Great Ocean Road is a sight not to be missed during your time Down Under. I kick-started my own Australian adventure there back in March with a three day Groovy Grape Great Ocean Road & Grampians tour booked through trendy travel company Ratpack Travel, so here’s my highlights from that tour, and my guide on how to plan the perfect Great Ocean Road itinerary…

 

Day One: Melbourne – Twelve Apostles

 

 

A 6am start is never fun, especially when you’re struggling with jet-lag, but after a couple of nights in MelbourneΒ travelling solo I was ready to embark on my first tour to kick-start my time in Australia, so I joined the rest of my new tour mates onboard the Groovy Grape mini van. After heading out of Melbourne, our first stop was the seaside resort of Torquay, the official starting point of the Great Ocean Road, and the home of global surfing brands Ripcurl and Quiksilver. Next up was Bells Beach, the setting for the final scene of hit 90s movie Point Break, and soon after we were on our way to the beach village of Apollo Bay and the pretty town of Lorne, which was our lunch stop. After lunch we headed back on the road and stopped off at the famous Great Ocean Road sign, where the iconic Memorial Arch is located. The road itself was painstakingly laid by hand and was worked on by 3000 soldiers who returned from the war and began the construction in 1919. Some soldiers even lost their lives building the road, which is now the largest war memorial in the world.

 

 

Our penultimate stop of the day was the Great Otway National Park, home to some of the oldest rainforests on the planet, where we roamed through trees and admired the sights. The Mait’s Rest Rainforest was a real treat and one of my favourite stop offs; it was pouring down with rain whilst we were there but I think that actually made it better! Our final stop of the day was the one I was most looking forward to: The Twelve Apostles, even though there are only 8 now due to erosion but supposedly there were never 12 in the first place! Anyway, we arrived just before sunset to catch a glimpse of the famous limestone stacks whilst it was still light and the views were amazing. The site itself was pretty crowded, but the boardwalk allows you to get around as slowly or as quickly as you like, and you can get some fantastic photos without feeling the need to rush. Our first night on tour was spent in shared accommodation (13 people in one room) at a local hostel, where we were treated to a delicious home cooked meal by our hosts.

 

Day Two: Twelve Apostles – Grampians

 

 

After a surprisingly good night’s sleep (I wasn’t expecting much after my first experience of sharing a room with 13 people!) we were soon back on the road ready for day 2 of our tour. Our first stop was sunrise at Loch Ard Gorge which was INCREDIBLE. I had a real ‘pinch me’ moment here, as I had zero expectations from this place, and watching the waves crash against the rocks whilst feeling the wind in my hair and the golden sun on my face as it rose above the sea was truly breath-taking. We then made our way along the Shipwreck Coast, stopping off at the Bay of Martyrs, The Grotto and London Bridge all in quick succession. Lunch was eaten at the spectacular Tower Hill Reserve, home to a dormant volcano which was active 30,000 years ago, and is now a nature park teeming with Aussie wildlife including emu’s, koalas, kangaroos and echidna’s.

 

 

After a long drive we reached our next stop, the magnificent Grampians National Park, where we paid a visit to the Brambuk Cultural Centre to gain a good understanding of the local Aboriginal history. We then trekked towards the Mackenzie Waterfalls, which were incredibly powerful and a real sight to behold; it was also here that I saw my first ever wild kangaroo, just bouncing around in front of me! We then headed to the Reeds Lookout Point for sunset in the heart of the Grampians, which offered panoramic views out to the surrounding mountains and dramatic landscapes below. Dinner and accommodation was in a shared wood cabin on night 2 and it was a really peaceful place to unwind after a busy day on the road.

 

Day Three: Grampians – Adelaide

 

 

Our third and final day saw us get up at the crack of dawn, ready for a two hour sunrise hike right in the middle of The Grampians.Β  We hiked a mountain called The Pinnacle, which was pretty tough going as some of the rocks/boulders on the main path were quite big, and the altitude was high so I struggled a little with my breathing. Any worries I’d had soon vanished though as I made it all the way to the top of The Pinnacle where my group and I were rewarded with the most spectacular views over the Grampians below. This was my first hike of many during my time in Australia and it was a really special time for me. I really enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone and reaping the rewards at the end.

 

 

We didn’t do much else on our last day, other than having lunch and spending lots more time on the road driving before we reached our final destination and cruised into the vibrant city of Adelaide. Groovy Grape offer a very ‘hands on’ kind of tour experience, so breakfast, lunch and dinner was always made and served by all of us in the group, taking turns to do different jobs each day. We were also responsible for washing up and tidying away after meal times, and for sorting out all our linen etc too at our accommodation stops. This style of trip is pretty basic and doesn’t offer any luxuries so it may not suit every style of traveller, but your food is included, your accommodation is clean and tidy and your tour guides are excellent. I’d really recommend Groovy Grape for those travelling Australia on a budget, and don’t forget to contact Sammy at Ratpack Travel for all your Aussie needs!

Just FYI, here are the inclusions that were covered in this trip:

  • 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 2 dinners
  • 2 nights dorm accommodation (shared with the entire group)
  • All national park entry fees
  • All transport from Melbourne – Adelaide, or in reverse from Adelaide – Melbourne

NB. I received a small discount off this tour from Ratpack Travel in exchange for social media content and this blog post but, as always, all words are of course my own.

 

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Last night my Great Ocean Road tour came to the end 😭 I've had an amazing three days travelling from Melbourne – Adelaide with some lovely people from my tour and have seen some INCREDIBLE sights 😍 On day 1 we ticked off Bells Beach, Lorne and Apollo Bay, wandered through the Maits Rainforest & watched the sun set over the 12 Apostles. On day 2 we saw sunrise at Loch Ard Gorge, made our way to London Bridge & The Grotto, had lunch inside a dormant volcano (whilst emus strolled by!), marvelled at Mackenzie Falls and I saw my first ever wild kangaroo! On day 3 we took a difficult 2 hour hike up to the top of the Pinnacle, in the heart of the Grampian Mountains, and were rewarded with the most incredible views from the top before crossing the Victoria/South Australia border and cruising into Adelaide. What an adventure it has been! 🌎 I booked my trip @groovygrapetours through the fantastic team @ratpack_travel – go check them out for all your Aussie tours and itineraries! #JessDoesAustralia #Days2-5

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6 Weeks Down Under: How I Went Travelling Around Australia

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Swapping Scotland for Sydney 😎 Some of you may have noticed on my Insta feed that I've been reading a fair few travel guides lately, and that I've been on an awful lot of trips too, but there's one travel company who have really helped me whilst I've been away, and that company is @marcopologuides πŸ“š I absolutely love their travel guides, so it gives me great pleasure to finally let you know that I am one of their Brand Ambassadors for 2019! ❀️ I'll be putting some of their brilliant guide books to the test on my upcoming travels and telling you all about them in my blog posts tooπŸ’» First up is a round up of my epic 6 week Australian adventure which is now LIVE on the blog – go check it out for all your Aussie travel tips and to relive my wonderful experiences! (Link in bio)πŸ‡¦πŸ‡Ί Stay tuned for more epic travel guides coming soon to Journeys with Jessica – i can't wait to share more of my adventures with you! 🌎 #ad #brandambassador #gifted

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If you’ve been following me on social media over the past few months you’ll know that I’ve recently returned from the trip of a lifetime travelling around Australia, where I spent 40 wonderful days exploring this beautiful country, taking in 10 cities, 5 states and covering thousands of miles of land. I planned my trip totally on my own, but had the help of my trusty Marco Polo Australia Guidebook with me all the way. Here’s my full itinerary in detail, and a breakdown of all six weeks so you can see how I planned my trip, and just how much I fitted in during my time travelling around Australia!

 

Week 1: Melbourne – Adelaide

 

 

I kick started my tour of Australia with a couple of nights in Melbourne on my own, staying in a private room at the Melbourne Metro YHA, which was brilliant FYI. After a 24hr flight and HORRENDOUS jet lag, it was sooo nice to have my own room and just take things at my own pace for a few days whilst I started to adjust to life in Australia. You can read all about my time in Melbourne here. On my last day in the city I had an early 6am start as I embarked on my tour of the Great Ocean Road down to Adelaide. I booked this 2night/3day Groovy Grape tour through Ratpack Travel, a trendy travel company based in Byron Bay.

 

 

As I’ve mentioned, this tour was operated by Groovy Grape and there were 15 of us in total. Most of the group were solo travellers like me, but there were a few couples as well. There’s a fair amount of walking to do on this tour, including hiking the Grampians and trekking down to Mackenzie Falls, so you need a moderate level of fitness but it wasn’t too taxing. You can read my full review of this Great Ocean Road tour in more detail here, but my highlights included watching the sunrise over Loch Ard Gorge, visiting the Twelve Apostles and having lunch in the Tower Hill wildlife reserve, which is an active volcano!

 

Week 2: Adelaide – Alice Springs

 

 

Upon reaching Adelaide I spent 4 nights here with my lovely friend Jess, who I’d met in America three whole years ago! It was the first time we had been reunited since our US trip back in 2016 so I was so excited to get to Adelaide. Jess showed me allll the sights and we spent time wandering around the city itself (I was lucky enough to be there when the world famous Fringe Festival was on!) and we also headed to the German town of Hahndorf where I felt like I was actually in Germany and not in Australia at all. Other highlights included visiting the brilliant Cleland Wildlife Park, where I got the CUTEST kanga selfies, and we also drove to the seaside resort of Glenelg which boasted a gorgeous beach, promenade and plenty of shops, bars and restaurants. I was super sad to be leaving Jess behind in Adelaide but knew we’d be reunited once more in Sydney at the end of my trip.

 

 

In Adelaide I got picked up ready for my new tour, the Adelaide – Alice Springs Overland Adventure which was operated by Intrepid Travel. I’d heard great things about Intrepid but was super nervous about my outback tour as I had never been camping IN MY LIFE and I was about to spend an entire week sleeping on the floor with bugs and spiders ahhhh! I needn’t have worried though, from the minute I walked on board the tour bus to the minute I left all my new friends behind a week later I can honestly say I had the best experience of my entire life on that outback trip! Again, I’ll be blogging about the tour in much more detail separately, but my main highlights (god there were so many) included sleeping in an underground bunkhouse at Coober Pedy, skydiving over Uluru(!!), hiking Kata Tjuta and watching the sunset over the mountains in Alice Springs.

 

Week 3: Alice Springs – Cairns

 

 

After my outback tour ended I spent an additional 3 nights in Alice Springs just chilling out, walking around the town and spending time with some of my tour friends who were staying on in Alice too. I really wanted to spend a day hiking in the Western Macdonnells National Park, but unfortunately I didn’t have quite enough time to do a full day trip and I was exhausted from my tour so I just focused on recuperating in Alice instead.

 

 

My short flight to Cairns went smoothly and I spent 2 nights in the city ahead of my next tour starting. One of my outback friends, Rick, just happened to be in Cairns too, so I explored the area with him and we had a great couple of days wandering around the lagoon and esplanade, hitting up the nightlife and checking out the famous Rusty’s food market (which was recommended in my Marco Polo Guidebook). We also took a day trip to the Kuranda Rainforest after my Cape Tribulation tour was cancelled due to flooding. We got the cable car up to Kuranda village, stopping off at different parts of the rainforest and the spectacular Barron Falls along the way, and then hopped on the express train back to Cairns along the old fashioned railway.

 

Week 4: Cairns – Brisbane

 

 

My 10 day Cairns – Brisbane tour was operated by Topdeck Travel and I was so looking forward to joining another tour, especially as I’ve always fancied doing an 18-35 Topdeck one! The first half of the trip took us from Cairns – Airlie Beach, where we went snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef (BUCKETLIST RIGHT THERE), went hiking and koala spotting up to WW2 forts on Magnetic Island, and we stopped off at the stunning Whitehaven beach after our epic overnight sailing on the Whitsundays.

 

 

After Airlie Beach (and it’s crazy nightlife) we headed onto Myella Farm for a traditional Australian farm stay. We got to see how everything works and how well the animals are looked after and we even hung out with the resident baby joeys! Next stop was the beautiful Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, which fast became one of the highlights of my entire trip. We went 4 wheel driving on the sand and river tubing down Eli Creek before stopping off at the Maheno Shipwreck then catching a scenic airplane flight over the island below. Our last stop was Brisbane and I was super sad to say goodbye to my new friends but also excited for the next part of my adventure.

 

Week 5: Brisbane/Gold Coast – Sydney

 

 

I spent the next 3 nights with my lovely friend Amy, another of my Contiki pals who I’d met in America 3 years ago. She showed me everything there was to see in beautiful Brisbane, including the vibrant Southbank and lagoon, the botanical gardens and the magnificent Story Bridge. Brisbane turned out to be one of my fave Aussie cities, and we then went on a road trip of the Gold Coast which I absolutely loved!

 

 

We spent a night at Byron Bay, hiking up to the lighthouse to watch the sunset and enjoying the nightlife on the main strip. We also stopped off at Surfers Paradise, Coolangatta, Tweed Heads, Rainbow Bay and Snapper Rocks so I saw a fair bit of the Gold Coast and really adored my time there with Amy! I then hopped on my last domestic flight of my trip and headed to Sydney for my final week of travelling around Australia.

 

Week 6: Sydney/Umina Beach – Bondi

 

 

I reunited with my friend Jess and more of my Contiki pals Tamara and James in Sydney which was amazing and we spent 3 nights exploring a city I have wanted to visit for sooo long. We did all the typical touristy stuff like the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Darling Harbour as well as the quirky Paddys Markets and we even hopped on a ferry over to Manly Beach for an afternoon. I really loved my time in Sydney and feel like I saw such a lot there during my visit. After leaving Sydney, Jess and I headed to nearby Umina Beach to stay with Tamara for a few nights. We really enjoyed the laid back vibe in this pretty area and took a day trip to Palm Beach, where the long running TV soap Home and Away is filmed. We enjoyed seeing different parts of the set and hiked up to the lighthouse for spectacular views over the bay below.

 

 

After Umina we headed to Bondi Beach for 2 nights and I was pleasantly surprised by this place; it wasn’t what I expected at all! It wasn’t particularly touristy (probably because we were there before the weekend rush) and I really liked the beaches of Clovelly and Tamarama as well as Bondi. Jess and I met up with another of our Contiki pals, Matt, and the three of us spent an afternoon hiking the epic Bondi to Coogee coastal path (recommended in my Marco Polo Guidebook) which was amazing and boasted some incredible views along the way. Bondi was the perfect place to spend my last few days in Australia and it was so beautiful I just didn’t want to leave!

 

Ahh writing up this post has brought back sooo many wonderful memories from my Aussie adventure. What an absolutely AMAZING time I had on the other side of the world; I would go as far to say that this trip was totally life changing for me and I had the most incredible experience travelling around Australia! I hope this posts helps you if you’re thinking about planning your very own trip Down Under. Let me know if you need any tips as I’d be more than happy to help and share more knowledge from my own experience, but the Marco Polo Australia Guidebook will work an absolute TREAT as well!

NB. This post was sponsored by Marco Polo Guides as I am one of their brand ambassadors for 2019, but all words and photos are of course my own.

 

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Travel Guide to Melbourne, Australia: Top Things to See and Do in Melbourne

 

With its impressive skyscrapers, quirky street markets and pretty waterfront setting, Melbourne is one of the trendiest cities in Australia, and it’s not hard to see why. I spent two nights solo in Melbourne right at the start of my 6 week Australian adventure and it was the perfect city from which to begin my time Down Under. With plenty of cheap flightsΒ from numerous worldwide cities, flying into Melbourne is hassle free and makes getting to Australia super straight forward. Once you’ve touched down at Tullamarine Airport you could easily spend a week wandering around the city or heading a little further afield. However, if, like me, you only have a couple of days to explore, here’s my recommendations of what to see and do and how to maximise your time in Victoria’s biggest city…

 

Check out the Queen Victoria Markets

 

 

Located in North Melbourne, these markets are one of the biggest in Victoria and attract thousands of people each week. With hundreds of stalls and market traders set up, you’ll find everything from souvenirs and ornaments to clothes, shoes and jewellery. Established in the 1860s, they are the largest surviving 19th century markets which continue to trade five days a week and are popular with both locals and tourists alike. I loved wandering around the markets on my first day in Melbourne; they were located just a 5 minute walk from my hostel (YHA Melbourne Metro) and were the perfect place to pick up a bargain before venturing into the city… don’t forget to pop into the meat and fish food courts for delicious snacks, meals and fresh local delicacies.

 

Wander down by the Southbank

 

 

I wasn’t intending on seeing a huge amount on my first day in Melbourne as my jet lag was HORRENDOUS, but somehow I just kept walking and walking until I eventually came to this pretty part of the city which I had no idea even existed! After ending up at Federation Square, the focal point of Melbourne, I crossed underneath one of the cities many bridges and found myself walking alongside the River Yarra. A short stroll took me past all the impressive skyscrapers and right into the heart of the Southbank. This area is very much for the commuters and city workers and the vibe was much less touristy and much more local which I absolutely loved. Understated bars and restaurants were dotted between office buildings and apartment blocks, giving the area a real buzz and an insight into Melbourne life away from the tourist traps.

 

Have lunch at Federation Square

 

 

After hours of walking I found myself desperately hungry and in need of some fast food, so I headed to one of the stalls on the main shopping street in the CBD and grabbed myself a bit of lunch which I devoured whilst doing some serious people watching. Located right at the heart of the city, and exactly opposite the landmark Flinders Street Station, Fed Square is brimming with people at any time of day, but particularly with commuters in the CBD taking breaks or heading to and from work. Home to a couple of convenience stores, museums, bus stops, tourist info stands, public toilets and even free wifi, the Square is the perfect place from which to recharge your batteries for an hour and watch the world go by.

 

Climb the Eureka Skydeck for panoramic city views

 

 

Located in the Southbank, just across from the River Yarra, the Eureka Skydeck is one of Melbourne’s most visited attractions. Standing 297m tall, and officially listed as the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere, this gold plated skyscraper is also home to the world’s first and only ‘Edge Experience’ – a glass cube projecting out from the 88th floor that suspends visitors high above the city for incredible panoramic views over Melbourne’s lively neighbourhoods below.
There aren’t many places you can get a birds eye view, so this place is an absolute must see during your time here. I’d recommend going at dusk so you can see everything in the daytime and then watch the city come alive at night as it starts to light up after the sun sets.

 

Go penguin spotting at St Kilda

 

 

Sadly I didn’t get chance to do this during my time in Melbs, but I’ve heard that the beautiful St Kilda beach is one of the best things to see in the city. Located just a short tram stop (6km) from the CBD, St Kilda is a quirky area brimming with bars, cafes, shops and restaurants as well as plenty of hotels and hostels. The Esplanade hosts Australia’s biggest music festival every February, attracting crowds of 40,000+ to the huge event, which is completely free to enter. In addition, the iconic pier attracts beach lovers whilst the retro Luna Park is great for thrill seekers. The famous penguins (pic above was kindly sent to me by one of my friends!) can be spotted every night of the year on St Kilda beach at the breakwater and the best time to see them is just after sunset. I drove past St Kilda when I left Melbourne to head on my tour of the Great Ocean Road, but I know I’ll be back one day to explore this fantastic part of the city.

 

As you can see, Melbourne is a really diverse city with attractions appealing to everyone. If you’re a foodie and a shopper, the Queen Victoria Markets will be right up your street. Or if you’re more of a sightseer, head to the River Yarra to hit up the Eureka Skydeck for awesome city views. I really loved my time in Melbourne and would definitely go back for a few days if I were to return to Australia in the future. Have you been to Melbourne before? I’d love to know what you thought of it!

 

NB. This post was sponsored by flight company JustFly but, as always, all words, thoughts and opinions are of course my own!