There is something compelling about coastal roads. Cruising along the coast just stirs something inside—whether the sea is wild and unforgiving or tranquil and mystical, a long drive beside the ocean is an experience that restores the soul. It is this sense that has drawn us to one of the world’s great coastal touring routes, Australia’s aptly named Great Ocean Road, to traverse it in an IS 250 F Sport.
An hour southwest of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is a magnificent 151-mile stretch that winds through diverse terrain, although the fickleness of the elements is something that we are acutely aware of as we visit the area out of season. A haven in summer, winters can be wild along the south coast.
However, the athletic Lexus IS F Sport is an ideal vehicle to explore a region that has become a giant open-air stadium. As we wind our way along the first part of the route, we encounter athletes of all descriptions, at first mostly surfers, pitted against the elements. The hardiness of these adventurous souls is evident as postcard images of board shorts and sunshine are replaced with closed-in skies and thick, black wetsuits.
Today, however, my sport is driving, and I have a little more in common with another athlete I soon encounter on the road: Nick Squillari is a competitive cyclist from around here who rides the high-end bikes produced at nearby Baum Cycles. He describes the rides around this stretch of Great Ocean Road as some of the best in Australia, offering a mix of testing climbs and scenic sweeps.
Soon, this remarkable part of Australia brings us into contact with athletes of a different persuasion—hang gliding and paragliding enthusiasts—who take advantage of the region’s confluence of ocean winds and high cliffs. Like the surfers and the cyclists, they take great pride in the quality of their gear—and for good reason (falling out of the sky is not an objective).
One thing about this coast, though: like much of Australia, it bustles with colorful florae and wildlife, like this king parrot taking flight.
Another thing about this coast: The weather is as changeable as the scenery. Taking in the most dramatic stretch of the drive, the 28 miles of circuitous cliff road southwest from the town of Lorne to Apollo Bay, we are greeted with four seasons in an hour. Rain gives way to bright sunshine before scudding clouds close in again.
Liking what we saw back in Lorne, we turn around and soon find Moons Espresso on the main street—a great place to enjoy the warmth of the well-drawn espressos as we shelter from the wind. It’s too early for lunch but the menu is inviting.
In fact, between the coffee and the food, Moons becomes our haunt as we base ourselves in Lorne during our stay.
And this is one reason why: outside the town, the views are sweeping, especially as the misty, off-season weather produces a series of vibrant rainbows.
Although much of the Great Ocean Road carves its way around cliffs, there’s an intriguing stretch that heads inland to pass through the rain forests and eucalypts of the Great Otway National Park—and offers access to trails for a little exploration via mountain bike.
Yet another type of adventurer in the area: helicopter pilots. These skilled flyers are used to the challenging flying conditions around the Great Ocean Road coastline. Many also offer breathtaking scenic aerial tours of the area, like the team at 12 Apostles.
12 Apostles Helicopters takes its name from the eponymous limestone stacks that jut from the ocean—and that provide a major drawing card for the western stretch of the Great Ocean Road. Here the route runs along the top of a flat limestone plateau that abruptly drops to the sea, the plunging cliffs offering spectacular views from the road.
Of course, an even more spectacular way to see these views, and other aspects of the terrain—like this microscope-like view of nearby sheep farm—is from the air.
From this western end of the route, it’s time to turn back toward Melbourne—and reflect. Touring this part of Australia has brought us into contact with athletes of all persuasions. Despite their varied interests, they all shared two things in common: a love for what they do and a bond with the equipment that they use to do it. Driving along, I think on this—and realize that as a Lexus driver, it’s something I have in common with them, too.
Article written by Matt Kirkegaard, Photos by Mike Curtain