Having recently joined the Your Exclusive Tours team in an office-admin role, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my early work days would involve springing me from the office to do a ride-along on a tour down the Great Ocean Road with owner Rob. Having lived in Victoria for most of my life, and having ‘done’ the Great Ocean Road a few times myself, I was looking forward to a nice day out of the office, but didn’t expect to learn much about the road, or experience much beyond a nice drive through the Victorian countryside. Boy, was I ever wrong!
I experienced the legendary Your Exclusive Tours service the moment I was picked up from my home. Rob opened the door, welcomed me on board, gave me a COVID safety kit (wipes, hand sanitizer etc), ensured that I had easy access to a bottle of water and that the seat was comfortably adjusted for me.
Then we were off to pickup the guests – a group visiting from Singapore who wanted to see the Victoria’s famous 12 Apostles. They’d opted to add in a visit to the Great Ocean Road Chocolate Factory, lunch in Apollo Bay, the Loch Ard Gorge, and Gibon’s Steps.
Rob was thoroughly entertaining throughout the ride out to our first stop, the chocolate factory. Far from waiting until we got to the Great Ocean Road itself to start sharing with his guests, he was off and running with tidbits and trivia about Melbourne’s city and Western suburbs as we sped out of the city to kick off our journey. He also warned us that some of the ‘facts’ he shared with us would be accurate and some may not – it was up to us to sniff out the inaccurate ones. (Challenge accepted!)
Our visit to the chocolate factory allowed me to witness Rob striking his customary balance between making sure our guests were happy and satisfied and yet not crowded by him. He took their orders for morning tea, ensured they were comfortable inside the shop, pointed out a few features that they might want to look at and then kept a discrete distance, while still being clearly visible should they require help.
Morning tea and some chocolate shopping now over (author’s note: I highly recommend the hot chocolate at the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery), it was now time to tackle the Great Ocean Road in earnest.
Our next stop was the legendary gateway to the road, where I witnessed Rob’s photography skills come to the fore. He regularly co-opted the mobile phones of our guests and took both still shots and video, ensuring that not only were they getting some of the best shots that spot had to offer, but that they were also in their own tour photos (and we all know that memories are better when it’s ‘that’s us at the Gateway to the Great Ocean Road’, not just ‘that’s Gateway to the Great Ocean Road’). While our guests were then otherwise occupied, he also randomly assisted other tourists, helping them get some great shots as well.
We made numerous other little stops here and there, in spots that, despite my having travelled the Great Ocean Road myself, I had NO idea about. That was one of the things that really struck me about the difference a professional tour guide brings. Rob knew this road like the back of his hand. We’d be cruising along a stretch that seemingly had little to offer, and then all of a sudden he’d make a turn off and boom – up popped a stunning lookout point or beach entry. Each time we got out and soaked in the beauty, and each time, Rob ensured that our guests got the beautiful photos and video that they’ll treasure. For me, it was astounding to find out how truly incomplete my own trips have been over the years.
While we were in the bus, Rob kept up the stories and entertainment, coming back to some of those tall tales that he warned us would be there at the start of the trip. He had a few ‘multiple choice’ questions for us, most of which I got completely wrong, with the most startling one for me being this:
The Great Ocean Road was built with funding from which source?
A. The Federal Government
B. The Victorian Government
C. Both Governments
D. Private funding
I guessed C and I was wrong. It was built with 100% private funding, and even more astoundingly, to this day we still have no idea which family it was.
The first inaccuracy I caught him out on was his oh-so-earnest insistence that if we looked to the left and really focused on the horizon that we’d be able to see Tasmania. (Nice try Rob!) However, he got me when he launched into a story about the origin of the term “You’ve got buckley’s chance mate!”, focused around a bloke called William Buckley. I thought for sure this was another yarn, but as we stopped at a lookout that was a tribute to the famous William, I was forced to concede that I had been gotten.
As we continued along the road, presented with vista after vista of stunning beach and ocean to our left and equally stunning coastline scrub or to our right, the phenomenon that I’ve heard referred to as ‘the magic of the road’ started to take effect on me. Freed from the need to watch the road, control a vehicle and concentrate on my driving, I started to feel a whole new level of relaxed. This was the way to enjoy a day out on one of Victoria’s finest roads! And that was truly an epiphany for me, because I’ve never done a tour with anyone, anywhere. I’ve always preferred to take the ‘DIY’ route to exploring wherever I find myself when on holidays, usually with a rental car or maybe the odd group booking day trip, but this was so different. This wasn’t, of course, my trip – I was merely along as an observer. And yet, as the kilometres wound on and the ocean air continued to fill my lungs with every breath, I truly relaxed for the first time in what felt like months.
We left the ocean behind for a little while as the road wound through the beautiful Otway rainforest. Again, Rob found us a stunning spot to stop, again ensuring that our guests learnt a few gems about the area and added to their list of photo memories.
Lunch was at the beautiful Apollo Bay, where I again saw Rob strike that balance between being available for our guests without crowding them. He pointed out a few cafes and restaurants that he was happy to recommend personally, then, ensuring that our guests were comfortable, left them to enjoy lunch and a stroll through the town. He then introduced me to the Apollo Bay Bakery (author’s note #2 – I also highly recommend the Thai Chicken pie at the Apollo Bay Bakery!)
After lunch we hit the first of our major landmarks – the 12 Apostles themselves. our guests chose to do a helicopter flight over the Apostles. Again, Rob’s photography skills came to the fore as he ensured that our guests received great footage of both their takeoff and landing, beautiful shots of themselves at key points on the boardwalk and again, he provided assistance to other tourists to ensure they got the best of their experience too.
Our next step was Loch Ard Gorge, where the more senior members of our party didn’t feel overly confident about the steps down to the beach level view of the gorge. Rob took this in stride, ensuring that they got the best views from the position they were most comfortable at and then led the rest of us down to the beach. Loch Ard Gorge is stunning in every sense of the word.
Our final stop for the day were the simple yet beautiful Gibson steps. Again, this was something I had previously overlooked on prior trips and something I will never forget to visit again.
After that, it was back to the bus for a trip home, which was done via the ‘inland’ route, providing us with some alternative scenery of some of the best of Victoria’s dairy country, with a stop to stretch our legs and grab a snack in Colac.
I returned home tired, relaxed, and having had a much, much more interesting, enlightening, and relaxing day than I’d ever expected, as well as with a new understanding of the value of the tour guide even in areas I “know”. I’ve had numerous occasions in previous roles to organise social events, end of year Christmas outings or on a personal level, hens do’s or birthday events for close friends or family. I’d have considered a ‘tour’ only to be advantageous if we didn’t want a designated driver, or if we wanted to be together in the one vehicle, or something I’d do if I were overseas and unfamiliar with vehicles, roads and rules. It turns out that I’d been overlooking a large advantage – that the right guide can make any journey an extraordinary one and that the difference between ‘what’s on the signposts’ and ‘what Rob knows’ changes a journey immeasurably.
You too can have a Great Ocean Road adventure with the Your Exclusive Tours team, and remember, it’s Your Tour, Your Experience. To start planning your adventure, see our Great Ocean Road page here.