Hewn by 3000 returned World War I servicemen, sleeves rolled up wielding pick and shovel, work on the Great Ocean Road (GOR) began in 1919 as a tribute to their fallen mates.
Tracing the Victorian coastline from Torquay to Allansford near Warrnambool, the GOR opened in 1932.
Like most people, I’d imagine, my first drive (in 1983) was to marvel at the stunning and dramatic scenery rather than engage with the road.
Driving a base-model Holden Commodore VB (October 78-build) sedan with a three-year-old in the rear car seat and a wife telling me to take it easy, has that affect.
Thirty years later, I gained a short but graphic insight to the soul of the GOR – at the wheel of the production passenger car with the world’s highest specific output (140kW) per litre for a four-cylinder engine, Mercedes-AMG’s mighty A 45 hot hatch.
It was October, late in the day, with scuds of rain and pallid sunshine playing cat and mouse.
Time was of the essence and Big Hill the go-to. Big Hill is an apt name.
From the direction of Torquay, the road curves and contorts as it hugs the coastline before taking a deep dive. Of course, turn around and it climbs sharply.
The A 45 amazed and delighted in equal measure in the way its AWD system apportioned some 265kW and 450Nm to the streaming road surface; all the while shouting about it; under full power emitting an emphatic ‘bang’ from its sports exhaust with each tap of the 7-speed, dual-clutch auto’s paddle shifter.
‘Prodigious grip and traction’ is the succinct comment noted down in my road test log book at the time.
With what sun there was sinking fast, we had to reluctantly call it quits. But, one thing was for sure – I’d be back and, this time, drive a lot more of the Great Ocean Road.
Fast forward three years. Renault’s hot Megane of the moment, the RS 265, is at my disposal and an overnight stay at my pleasure.
The ‘265’ numerals denote, of course, the amount of horsepower put out by the 2.0-litre turbocharged four.
Converted to metric, that makes 195kW @ 5500 rpm and 360Nm between 3000-4500 rpm, 11kW and 20Nm more than its short-lived RS 250 predecessor.
We start at the very start – 1 Great Ocean Road, once the Torquay Golf Club, now the RACV Torquay Resort – and follow the B100 (GOR’s official name) south-west to Anglesea.
From here, the road develops into a sequence of sweeping bends interspersed with short straights.
Past Aireys Inlet it tightens in places with a touch of well-proportioned hairpins to spice the run to Lorne.
If you’ve driven down from Melbourne, Lorne is a timely stop with a smorgasbord of eateries and accommodation options for an overnight or longer stay.
A must-do for stoppers is the Great Ocean Road Heritage Centre which tells the road’s story in evocative imagery
Lorne to Apollo Bay is classic GOR, a time to apply the trusty Go Pro to record the Megane’s progress following the serpentine blacktop as it embraces the rocky coastal cliffs on the way past the Wye and Kennett rivers, then soaring to meet the heights of Cape Patton. On it flows . . .
Wongarra and Skene’s Creek flash past and Apollo Bay appears through the RS’s windscreen.
For many day trippers, this is the turnaround point; for others, it makes yet another smart choice as an overnighter, having all the amenities you need.
Push on further, though, as we do and the road heads inland through to the Great Otway National Park to Lavers Hill.
Melba’s Gully is well worth the time to pull to over, stretch your legs and take in the natural beauty and tranquillity of Anne’s Cascade.
Either side of Moonlight Head, the GOR has another attack of the bends.
Sport mode engaged, and with the road surprisingly clear of campervans and other mobile chicanes, the 265 goes to work.
Flowing from smooth, hot mix curve to curve, it struts agility and adjustability, steering oozing feedback, balance of grip between front and rear 225/40 R18 rubber as good as you’d want.
When really pushed, the limited slip differential helps pull the front end in just as it feels like it might drift away.
Then, when firm braking seems prudent, the 340mm ventilated front and 290mm solid rear stoppers are up for it.
Returning to the coast past Princetown we’re now at another wow point of the drive – the fabled 12 Apostles. Correction, make that seven at last count.
Jutting out of the Southern Ocean, this natural collection of rugged pinnacles has stood the test of time against relentless winds and seas until the first of several succumbed to the forces of nature. Regardless, this is an Instagram moment to savour.
Back on the drive the road passes through moorland reminiscent of Yorkshire as we approach our overnight stay at Port Campbell.
With the tang of salt air in our nostrils, fish and chips is a no-brainer for dinner so on our stroll around the town we suss out options for later on.
The largest takeaway shop in town seems the place but when we drop back in around 7pm, it’s closed. Early on a Friday evening! We can’t believe it.
There’s not much in the way of a Plan B until we find two enterprising young girls with deep fryers cranked up in what was once a main street servo lube bay.
Our expectations were somewhat tempered but the golden, crumbed cod and thick-cut chips surprised as tasty and filling.
The next morning, we could go on and complete the GOR in its entirety – but that’s for another time.
Today, we need to return to Melbourne to meet a family commitment.
And while it’s appealing to go back the way we came we elect to head through the Otway Ranges before switching back on the C155 out of Lavers Hill.