Published on February 9th, 2012 | by Ann Rickard


Big Sur in California

Big Sur in California is one of the world’s most breathtaking drives. But then so is the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.

I’m lucky. I’ve done them both.

“There should not be comparison between Big Sur and The Great Ocean Road, both are spectacular and create once-in-a-lifetime memories. One is just closer for us.”

Big Sur is a 140 kilometre stretch of rugged, natural coastline between Carmel and San Simeon. It’s an exhilarating, cliff-hugging ride of dramatic dips, exciting twists and scary bends.

With the mighty Pacific Ocean in all its raw beauty on one side and the Santa Lucia Range on the other, it’s a drive to bring out the superlatives in all those who experience it.

Bigsur 2

Perhaps what strikes you most is the power of the ocean beating against ragged, rocky outcrops. It makes you feel insignificant and caused one writer to describe it as ‘paralysingly beautiful.’

Big Sur’s wild ocean backdrop, immense sky, merciless surf and thrilling bird and sea life have been the backdrop for many classic movies.

If you’re old enough to have seen Play Misty for Me with Clint Eastwood (made in 1971) you will remember the windswept scenes of him walking Big Sur’s untamed beaches with his girlfriend. The movie, a grim psychological thriller, was all the more exciting by the contrast of the alarming subject (stalking) against the stunning scenery.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filmed The Sandpiper is this area and that unforgettable kiss on the beach in Hawaii between Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster was actually shot at Big Sur.

But if windswept walks and passionate kisses on wild beaches are not your thing, just keep driving and looking out the window. It’s breathtaking.

Big Sur 1

The curving, winding, dipping, road takes you over the Bixby Creek Bridge through Andrew Molera State Park, past Jade Cove and through Lucia Plaskett, Mt. Manuel, Pfeiffer Ridge, Post Summit and Cooper Point – all picturesque locations, many with camping grounds and small accommodation options.

Do stop at San Simeon, a sweeping vista point, and home to big elephant seals. It’s best if you sit in your car and watch the fat seals slip off the rocks with surprising elegance to bob up and down between the streams of kelp.

The car park is not only pitilessly unsheltered, it is swarming with ground squirrels who love to congregate around your legs and tend to make you emit girly squeals.

ground squirrel

Closer to home the Great Ocean Road is equal in thrills and beauty to Big Sur (in my opinion). It stretches for 243 sinuous kilometres between the Victorian towns of Torquay and Warrnambool. Most of it hugs the coast and provides far-reaching panoramas of ocean and white sandy beaches.

Barwon Heads, Ocean Grove, Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Fairhaven, Apollo Bay, are family-friendly towns with good camping grounds, budget accommodation and picturesque spots for picnics. But I love Lorne with its boutique shops, glam cafes and the sprawling pub that sits so grandly on the hill lording it over the town and ocean.

For me, the Lorne Pub is a mandatory lunch stop before driving on the marvellous road to the magnificent 12 Apostles.

These regal limestone and sandstone formations rising so majestically from the water, render you inconsequential. They are the world’s tallest limestone stacks. Their beauty for me lies in their allusion of power. Nature made these stupendous art works by her battering seas over thousands of years, separating the once-cliffs from the mainland. Now they attract visitors from all over the world who stand and photograph them and stare in wonder.

There should not be comparison between Big Sur and The Great Ocean Road, both are spectacular and create once-in-a-lifetime memories. One is just closer for us.

If you go:

Big Sur

Camping, maps, beaches and accommodation options at visit


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About the Author

is a Noosa (Australia) local and author of six successful books, all humorous travel narratives. In 2005 Ann won the prestigious ASTW’s Australian Travel Writer of the Year and in 2007 she won the ASTW Travel Book of the Year. Ann takes a culinary tour to the South of France in June every year . Ann writes travel, dining and columns for the Sunshine Coast Daily and is the Life editor of the Noosa News. Ann also maintains a well read and popular blog site. Ann’s travels have seen her explore cuisines all over the world.

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