Great Ocean Road experience needs to be better

Aerial view of the Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road.
Aerial view of the Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road.

Great by name and nature but not in every sense. The Great Ocean Road and its spectacular scenery are the jewel in the state’s tourism industry but the experience for visitors is far from great.

Each year the Great Ocean Road attracts 5.2 million visitors and is worth about $780 million to the Victorian economy. Yet, tourists have every reason to feel short-changed, most travelling from Melbourne for a glimpse of the post card perfect coastline.

The Twelve Apostles was a perfect trip for tourists during last week’s Easter long weekend under bright blue skies. Sunrises and sun sets were stunning.

With thousands flocking down the Great Ocean Road, the area’s shortcomings were again horribly exposed.

Dash camera footage from one motorist uploaded to social media site Facebook made compelling viewing. It showed parked cars lining the Great Ocean Road with car parks unable to cater for the swarming tourists. It also showed pedestrians walking within centimetres of passing vehicles, albeit slowed considerably because of the bumper-to-bumper nature of the traffic. Authorities knew it was going to be busy, that’s why they had officers directing and parking traffic, but the scenes appeared chaotic, with a coach turning out in front of the vehicle with the camera forcing heavy braking.

The state government, Parks Victoria and Corangamite Shire know the issues. They are not new. A strategic plan was completed in 2015 aimed at increasing visitation and time spent in the region.

The plan has many commendable projects but things need to change faster than they are. Money and protecting the natural beauty are considerable issues facing decision makers. Charging a fee to enter the Port Campbell National Park has been raised several times in the past decade but it’s seen as unpopular and likely to deter tourists.

But unless purse strings are released by governments, it's hard to see where the money is going to come from fast enough to improve visitor experiences.

The Standard has consistently highlighted road safety issues and explored solutions for the Great Ocean Road. Progress is being made with signs reminding overseas drivers they need to stick to the left-hand side of the road but scenes like those from last weekend show the problem is far greater. The Great Ocean Road needs attention and innovative solutions fast before the reputation of our tourism industry’s centrepiece is tarnished.