Breathtaking views of rugged cliffs, massive limestone structures, sandy beaches, wine tasting, a chocolaterie and ice creamery, juicy mussels, swimming with dolphins and seals, koalas in the wild, beautiful and friendly birds, a train restaurant, a picnic in the forest…

These are among the attractions and activities you can do on a holiday in the Great Ocean Road region – Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula – in Victoria, Australia. We got to check out all these during a seven-day trip organised by AirAsia X and VisitVictoria.

Nature lovers will love Great Ocean Road with its trails, lookout points and beaches that are good for walking, hiking or just ambling, or if you are into it, surfing. You can join group tours or go on a self-drive journey along the coast, stopping at many interesting places.

If you’re like me, then all you need are comfy walking shoes, a windbreaker, a camera and good weather. You do need to be fit to check out some places, though.

One of the highlights for me was the 15-minute helicopter ride to check out the limestone structures, the majestic cliffs and the mighty ocean. Thanks to good weather, the views were simply breathtaking as the pilot flew us over the famous Twelve Apostles and other sites with cute names like Bakers Oven, Mutton Bird Island, London Bridge and the Salt and Pepper Shakers rock stacks!

We also went to Gibson Steps to take a closer look at the massive Razorback rock stack. We walked down some steps to the beach to marvel at the Gog and McGog limestone structures. I was looking for surfers and found some riding the waves. We also saw the beautiful Loch Ard Gorge, where only two survivors made it after a shipwreck a long time ago. The name of the ship was Loch Ard.

Meanwhile, the Redwoods Picnic Area at the Great Otway National Park is a good place to check out. It is surrounded by California Redwood trees that were planted in 1939. I have never seen such tall trees in my life and they almost blocked out most of the sunlight, leaving the area quiet and serene.

The Loch Ard Gorge, named after a ship which sunk in the place, seen at Gibson Steps.

And then there are cute koala bears. My fellow journalists and I found several of them sleeping on tall trees in the small hamlet, Kenneth River. We were told they can spend up to 18 hours sleeping! I caught sight of some beautiful and friendly birds, too – the Australian king parrots and sulphur-crested cockatoos – along Grey River Road. If you raise an arm, chances are the birds will land on your arm, said VisitVictoria media & trade relations coordinator Anthony Poletto, who took us on the tour.

Poletto also took us to Teddy’s Lookout, located at the end of George Street in Lorne, where we enjoyed more splendid views of the Great Ocean Road.

Memories are made of these

The 243km-long Great Ocean Road, connecting Torquay to Allansford, was built by more than 3,000 World War I soldiers who returned to the country from the year 1919; the road was completed in 1932.

There is a memorial arch at Eastern View to honour the feat of these soldiers. On the side of the arch, there is a sculpture of two soldiers hard at work. The road itself was built as a memorial for those who lost their lives in the war.

We also went to view the Split Point Lighthouse in Aireys Inlet. It is quite a tough walk on a rather steep slope but I made it, thanks to my walking shoes and maybe my stamina. It was worth the effort as I got to know the history of the lighthouse and enjoyed the beautiful views from the lookout.

The lighthouse was built in 1891 and has been open to tours since 2013. She still shines her guiding light every evening for passing boats on their way to and from Port Philip Bay.

A sweet surprise awaited us at the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery. Located over an hour from Melbourne and just 20 minutes from Geelong, visitors can watch the art of chocolate making at this place.

We explored the display of thousands of handcrafted chocolates; we were told there were 250 different types.

There is a collection of 7,000 truffles as well as lots of ice cream and a cafe.

Executive director Ian Neeland says about 2,000 people visit the place on weekends with 1,000 visitors checking in on weekdays.

Seal of approval

In the Geelong and Bellerine Peninsula, we went on a four-hour adventure, first boarding a boat to Chinaman’s Hat in Port Philip Bay, where 30 to 40 young Australian fur seals were taking a rest or nap.

You could actually swim to enjoy the company of seals, who were flapping their fins as if inviting us to join them. I also saw a big stringray swimming in the water.

The crew then set off in search of dolphins but could not find any. We were told there was an 80% chance of seeing them but I guess we were a little unlucky that day.

Journalists join locals to say hello to the Australian Fur Seals resting at Chinamans Hat, a local haul-out site in the Port Philip Bay, off Queenscliff in the Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria, Australia

After that we went on a taste trail. At Jack Rabbit Vineyard, we tasted several types of wines – I lost count after the fifth round! The restaurant offers contemporary cuisine with lots of healthy choices.

The Advance Mussel Supply is a family-owned and operated business that has been farming mussels in Port Phillip Bay for over 30 years. We tried some fresh and juicy oysters and mussels there. Prawns, scallops, abalone and seaweed are also sold at the premises.

At the Werribee Open Range Zoo located near the Avalon Airport, there are a range of incredible wildlife from the African continent including rhinos, giraffes, zebras and antelopes.

I have never been so close to wild animals until I was at an off-road safari at the zoo. We were in an open-sided vehicle that provided unrestricted views of all the animals.

I particularly liked the six giraffes there. Their ears and eyes were peeled on us as we stood and admired them from the vehicle. One ostrich came very close to our vehicle as if to say hello.

The giraffes at the the Werribee Open Range Zoo curiously looking at visitors.

Riding high

A new attraction in Victoria is the Q Train, a unique culinary experience.

The Q Train is a restaurant that travels along the historic Bellarine Railway between Drysdale and Queenscliff. It usually departs from, and returns to, Drysdale Station, just an easy 15-minute drive from Geelong.

We got to eat delicious food and drank fine wine on the rail journey while enjoying the views of Swan Bay and the Bellarine.

Geelong, with its beautiful coastline, is well-known for its Baywalk Bollards. There are 104 painted wooden sculptures and they represent a fascinating and fun chronicle of the city’s past.

Among the sculptures in front of our hotel at Eastern Beach were the partially dressed lifeguards and bathing beauties from the 1930s.

We were lucky to catch the first-ever White Night festival in Geelong, which saw more than 70,000 people flocking to the city centre for a coming together of art, creativity and community.

We joined the locals walking along the streets to check out the event that featured light projections, installations, performances, exhibitions and live music acts. The sights and sounds on that night were simply amazing.

Bathing beauties of the 1930s on the Eastern Beach in Geelong. — Photos: J. SEBASTIAN/The Star

Exporing Melbourne

For those who like the big city life, there is Melbourne, the world’s second most liveable city.

There is street art almost everywhere in Melbourne. We went on a “hidden secrets tour” where our guide Rachael told us there were seven laneways dedicated to street art.

At Hosier Lane, the walls were covered in colourful murals, posters and stickers.

The arcades in the city are also interesting. The Royal Arcade, which opened in 1862, is the oldest one in Australia and it connects Little Collins, Elizabeth Street, and the Bourke Street mall.

Watch the mythical statues of Gog and Magog strike the bells every hour at the arcade. Then, treat yourself to a Belgian hot chocolate at one of Melbourne’s best chocolate cafes, Koko Black.

You can also go on a “coffee lovers walk” to check out some of the 2,000 plus cafes in the city. We only visited four cafes. I am more of a tea lover but learnt so much about coffee on this tour.

I have always liked art galleries so I was happy that we got to visit The Ian Potter Centre at the National Gallery of Victoria. We met soft-spoken senior curator David Hurlston who gave us detailed explanations of the various sculptures and art pieces. The centre is dedicated exclusively to Australian art.

Among the art pieces I liked was John Brack’s oil on canvas effort, Collin Street, 5pm, which depicted Melbourne’s financial centre hub at the end of the working day, uniformly dressed office-workers streaming homeward.

Next was a visit to the 151-year-old South Melbourne Market which houses stalls run by small business owners. The market along Coventry Road is perhaps the best place to get some souvenirs.

For a 360˚ view of the Melbourne skyline, head to the Melbourne Star at the Docklands waterfront. The giant observation wheel is 120m high and has 21 cabins.

New airport

AirAsia will transition its twice daily Melbourne (Australia) services from Tullamarine Airport to Avalon Airport from Dec 5 this year.

Operated by AirAsia’s long-haul affiliate, AirAsia X, the double daily return services departing Kuala Lumpur’s KLIA2 will deliver guests from Malaysia and Asean closer to the Great Ocean Road and the surrounding areas of Geelong and the Bellerine Peninsula while continuing to provide convenient and affordable access to Melbourne.

According to VisitVictoria, 138,500 Malaysian visitors spent 3.2 million nights and A$424mil (RM1.3bil) on trips to Victoria in 2017, a year-on-year increase of 11.1%.

Malaysia is ranked Victoria’s third largest international market in terms of expenditure, behind China and New Zealand.

An AirAsia spokesperson said both AirAsia X and VisitVictoria as well as airport authorities and key tourism players are working to educate visitors that there is more to Victoria than just the city of Melbourne.

For more information on flights, visit airasia.com.

NEXT PAGE: Tales a Malaysian jouralist encounters along the road in Victoria