The Labour Day* long weekend would have to be one of the most difficult times to land a campsite along the 240-km Great Ocean Road. Victoria’s equivalent to Queensland’s Gold Coast tourist region, the Great Ocean Road is the go-to place for intrastate holidaymakers. Given that this three-day public holiday weekend is the last chance for Victorians to grab a summery break before autumn kicks in for good, it’s down right busy. After calling a few holidays parks in and around Geelong and being told there were no rooms at the inn, we gave in to the highly likely possibility of skipping most of the Great Ocean Road, just so we could secure a site on an overflow field in a coastal bush camp. Two hours shy of dusk however, fate had another plan. At one of the many sweeping bends along the highway, we veered into Cumberland River Holiday Park. Nestled in what felt like a chasm, along the pebble-strewn Cumberland River, we’d discovered our kind of campground (ignoring the hefty price tag). With four sites left (reserved for last-minute bookings), we swallowed the inflated 70 bucks-a-night fee and minimum three-night-stay rule, and pulled into site 78. This is what we thought:
Location: Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. Cumberland River Holiday Park is 150km (approx. 2.5 hours) south-west of Melbourne, and about 10 minutes from the upmarket seaside town of Lorne.
Sites: The majority of the park is made up of unpowered grass and dirt sites (there are more than 80 in total), with a mix of sizes. There are also new and old cabins, and, during our visit, glamping tents were set up around the property. The riverside sites, where we were, are small and only just large enough for a 12-foot caravan and 4WD. Each site appeared to have a portable wood barbecue.
Facilities: There are two blocks of showers and toilets. The one near our site had en suites, which is a rare find. The showers are hot and timed, but free of charge and you only have to wait a minute or so if you want to have a second (read: longer) shower. The showers in the original block require 20c for five minutes. There is also an old camp kitchen, a laundry and a very tired playground. Teenagers and adults love rock-hopping and dragging their camp chairs into the shallow creek that runs along one boundary of the park.
Costs: We paid $70 per night for an unpowered site, with a minimum three-night stay, over a public holiday weekend. Outside of peak tourist times, sites cost about $40.
Activities: Surfing, swimming, beach and rock fishing, and hiking.
The selling points: This place is big with families, so much so that you have to give in to the squeals of excitement and the endless gaggle of kids running around your campsite. The location is tops: straight off the Great Ocean Road, across the bitumen from one of the many beaches here, and the great little town of Lorne is only 10 minutes’ drive away.
The downside: We wanted to extend our stay, but the high weekend rates continued to Monday night and beyond, which is unusual. Also, there are ducks everywhere, which in itself is lovely, but the park is covered in faeces and you’ll want to keep your shoes on.
When to visit: You’ll want to be there in summer (Dec-Feb). It’s the busiest time of year, but the warm weather is worth the crowds. Otherwise you run the risk of the entire coastline being hammered by wild winds and the ocean being unquestionably icy. Even in March, surfers were wearing steamers (full wetsuits).
The nitty gritty: The only access is off Great Ocean Road, which is sealed and suitable for caravans, camper trailers and motorhomes. The Great Ocean Road is undergoing a $103–million upgrade by the Victorian and Australian governments. The money will go towards maintenance of the road itself, the extension of concrete retaining walls, and the stabilisation of landslide zones and erosion.
*Labour Day marks when the eight-hour work day came into effect in Australia.