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  1. Two people walk through a grassy gully in the bush.
    Photograph: Belinda Van ZanenBudj Bim Cultural Landscape
  2. A blonde woman in a red coat stands next to a large sperm whale skeleton in a museum.
    Photograph: Supplied/Great Ocean Road TourismPortland Maritime Discovery Centre
  3. A white lighthouse at the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.
    Photograph: Supplied/Great Ocean Road TourismCape Otway Lightstation
  4. A blonde woman in overalls and a hat walks past the Australian Kelpie Centre.
    Photograph: Supplied/Great Ocean Road TourismAustralian Kelpie Centre

Eight attractions that have helped shape the history of the Great Ocean Road

From a World Heritage-listed Indigenous site to a museum dedicated to surfing, these must-visit spots will help you uncover the rich history of this famous touring route

By Time Out in association with Great Ocean Road Tourism

There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the Great Ocean Road. Sure, it’s widely regarded as one of the world’s most spectacular coastal roads, and it also happens to boast a couple of pretty special natural wonders (hello, 12 Apostles and Cape Otway National Park!), but it’s also a region of great cultural diversity. There are places of deep Indigenous significance, quirky museums and heritage sites devoted to preserving the region’s maritime history. So if you’re keen to unlock the many secrets of the Great Ocean Road, here are the eight unmissable attractions that will help you do so.

Australian Kelpie Centre

Fun fact: Casterton is nationally recognised as the birthplace of the kelpie. So it makes total sense for this regional township to also lay claim to the Australian Kelpie Centre – a state-of-the-art facility entirely dedicated to showcasing the history of this true-blue working dog. The centre boasts an interactive display that tells you fun facts about the kelpie, while also doubling as a Visitor Information Centre with meeting spaces and amenities to cater for those passing through. And it’s a great starting point for the Kelpie Walking Trail, which weaves through the town and links five sculptures depicting the life of a kelpie.

Portland Maritime Discovery Centre

Immerse yourself in the maritime history of Victoria’s far south-west at the Portland Maritime Discovery Centre. Built in 1998, it houses a treasure trove of seafaring material, including technical instruments, diving equipment, tools and photographs. There’s also a bounty of information on everything from whaling and shipwrecks, to legendary rescues, navigation and the local fishing industry. The centrepiece of the museum is a lifeboat from 1859 – it was used to rescue survivors from the SS Admella wreck and is believed to be one of the ​​oldest remaining unrestored intact vessels in Australia. Another highlight is a 14-metre sperm whale skeleton, which you can actually step inside. 

Budj Bim Cultural Landscape

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, located on the traditional lands of the Gunditjmara people in southeast Victoria, is the only Australian World Heritage site listed exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural values. It’s home to one of the world’s most extensive and oldest aquaculture systems – a complex network of channels, dams and weirs formed by the Budj Bim lava flows that were used to contain floodwaters and also create basins to trap kooyong eels. The existence of these eel traps were seen as proof that the Gunditjmara people worked with these natural resources to establish a permanent society for more than at least 30,000 years, and were not, in fact, primarily nomadic. Join a First Nations-run tour for a deeper insight into the landscape’s fascinating history.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village

By day, Flagstaff Maritime Museum and Village in Warrnambool is a real-life replica of a 19th century port town. There are cobblestone streets, historic buildings and an 80-pound cannon. It’s also the site of Australia’s largest maritime shipwreck collection – the jewel in that bounty being the Loch Ard Peacock, a priceless relic that was washed ashore two days after the Loch Ard sunk in 1878. Come nightfall, the village transforms as part of the brand new, multimillion-dollar Sound and Light Show. This incredible production uses strobe lighting, fog effects and giant projections to tell legendary tales of the Shipwreck Coast, including maritime tragedies, local Aboriginal stories and whaling expeditions.

Cape Otway Lightstation

No trip to the Great Ocean Road is complete without a visit to the historic Cape Otway Lightstation. Not only is it the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia, it is also widely considered the most significant. It was constructed 90 metres above the Bass Strait in 1848, and earned the nickname ‘Beacon of Hope’ as it was the first landmark spotted by migrants travelling from Europe, Asia and North America in the 19th century. Access to the lighthouse is via pre-booked tour only, and it’s also worth exploring the telegraph station (which was revolutionary for communication back in 1854) and the World War II radar station.

Worn Gundidj at Tower Hill

Explore Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve through an Indigenous lens when you go on a 90-minute interactive nature walk with one of the local guides. This ancient site (just 18 kilometres from Warrnambool) provides an exclusive opportunity to gain a better understanding of the traditional lands of the Dhauwurd Wurrung people, and their sacred culture which goes back 65,000 years. You’ll learn about the unique revegetation program at the park, how to throw a boomerang, and how to identify native plants for either food or medicinal purposes. Plus, you’ll also get to explore one of Victoria’s oldest dormant volcanoes, and even see native wildlife like kangaroos, emus, koalas and echidnas up close. 

Great Ocean Road Heritage Centre

Did you know the Great Ocean Road is actually a memorial to the Australian diggers who lost their lives in World War I? And that more than 3,000 returned soldiers worked on the road (conquering steep cliffs, rugged terrain and unpredictable weather along the way) before it was finally opened to the public in 1932? You’ll learn all this and much more at the Great Ocean Road Heritage Centre, a newly opened, purpose-built and permanent exhibition located within the Lorne Visitor Information Centre. Featuring photos, artefacts and real-life stories, it will provide you with a rich and vivid account of just how this engineering marvel came to be.

Australian National Surfing Museum

There’s no denying that surf culture is inextricably linked with the Great Ocean Road and its storied history, so you’d be remiss to skip the Australian National Surfing Museum on your visit to the region. Located – where else?! – in Torquay (the undisputed surfing capital of the country and home to the world-famous Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach), the museum explores Australia’s significant contribution to the development of surfing around the world via both permanent and temporary exhibitions. There are more than 150 surfboards on display, plus important artefacts, trophies, photos and memorabilia. It’s also where you’ll find the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame, which recognises local surfers and the contributions they have made to the industry, sport and culture.

Competition – win a dream getaway to the Great Ocean Road or Geelong and The Bellarine

How would you like to win a fantastic road trip and experience some of this history for yourself? Great Ocean Road Tourism is giving away two unforgettable Victorian escapes. Simply head to the Great Ocean Road/Geelong and The Bellarine Facebook or Instagram account, answer a few simple questions, and you’ll be entered into the draw. Good luck!

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