The Great Ocean Road has a magic all its own. Just a few hours from Melbourne it’s an area of great diversity, from stunning seascapes to brilliant forests of ferns and ancient trees. It’s a fabulous and dramatic drive along the coast line, with a myriad of hidden treasures for the landscape photographer.
Where is it?
The Great Ocean Road is on the South West coast of Victoria. It starts at Torquay and runs along the coast as far as Allansford, just short of Warrnambool, a drive of approximately 245 kilometers. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne to Torquay, or roughly 3.5 hours to drive to Port Campbell inland via the Princess Hwy.
It’s basically broken into two regions: The Surf Coast which is from Torquay West to Cape Otway; and The Shipwreck Coast which continues West of Cape Otway.
The Great Ocean Road was built by about 3000 returned servicemen commencing in 1919 and completed around 1932. Originally, it was mostly a one lane road.
Getting there, getting around
There’s much to explore in the area, so independent transport is essential to have the flexibility you’ll need to get to the best places in the best light. There’s abundant accommodation along the way.
When to go
Whenever you go, you’ll always find something of interest.
Off peak times in spring/early summer or late summer are often ideal, whereas the peak summer and school holidays periods can be very busy.
Weekend accommodation can be booked out some time in advance, so planning ahead is worthwhile.
The weather is always changeable; I waited for ten days in a hotel in the rain in the middle of summer to get the right conditions to shoot the key 12 Apostles beach shot (below). Unpredictability is the name of the game.
What gear to take
I try to travel light with one main DSLR camera body and three lenses: an f/2.8 21mm, an f/2 35mm, a 70-200mm f/4 zoom, and a 1.4x Extender to give extra length on the zoom if needed. A back up camera body is worthwhile insurance.
If you want to shoot wildlife you’ll need a longer lens, say 300-400mm+. There are also plenty of opportunities to shoot macro.
Other worthwhile inclusions are a tripod, extra cards, card reader, laptop and backup storage.
For this region you’ll probably need wet weather clothing and a small umbrella to cover the camera should you wish to shoot in stormy weather. A small torch can be of value, and good walking shoes or boots are recommended.
Specific places to visit
12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, Gibson’s Steps, Fiji Wreck, Cape Otway Lighthouse, Hopetoun Falls, Point Addis Beach, and along the way there are plenty of opportunities for exploration.
It’s worth noting as a general rule of thumb, locations East of Cape Otway are generally best to shoot in early morning light, and locations on the Shipwreck coast, West of Cape Otway are best in late afternoon light. I’ve bounced from one side of the coast to the other on a daily basis for months to get optimal light.
Allow time, and be prepared to return to the same spot a number of times to get the best shot; persistence nearly always pays dividends. I recommend undertaking an initial reconnaissance if time permits, noting position of the sun and the best time to shoot, as this will allow you to work out a productive shoot list and zero in on the best opportunities.
Article by Peter Dunphy
Peter Dunphy is an AIPP accredited commercial landscape photographer with more than 30 years’ experience.
He has been shooting this area for many years professionally, with experiences such as hanging out a helicopter door to shoot aerials, and gaining rare access to the Twelve Apostles beach, an “otherworldly vista of breathtaking beauty”. He spent nearly four months shooting the Great Ocean Road for Tourism Victoria, and firmly believes that the more time you spend there, the greater the visual rewards.
Peter owns and operates Great Photography Adventures which runs photography expeditions to the Great Ocean Road and the South Island of New Zealand. There are new workshops being planned throughout Australia. Find out more at: