If you’re looking for a stunning scenic drive in Australia, look no further than the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. This road trip is absolutely stunning; sharp cliff side roads, beaches and forests that are so beautiful, you won’t believe it really exists. There are plenty of stops along the way for bush walks, rainforest, koala sightings (eeeiiipp!), waterfalls, beaches and the famous rock formations along the coastline called the Twelve Apostles. Here’s my guide to how The Great Ocean Road is best done.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
The Great Ocean Road is located just 2 hours from Melbourne, Australia and is rated one of the top coastal drives in the world as voted on CN traveller. The Great Ocean Road is a good day trip or epic weekend trip for friends and couples to do from Melbourne, giving enough wow moments to make everyone smile and be in awe of what they just saw.
WEATHER ON THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD
The weather in Victoria is always a funny one. Melbourne is known for experiencing 4 seasons in one day as it sits along the edge of the Antarctic circle. I’ve learnt that the weather is somewhat dictated by the wind. If there are northerly winds (winds coming from Antarctica), expect a cooler day. If there are easterly winds (winds coming from Perth), expect a warmer day.
When checking the weather forecast, check what the weather is in Port Campbell. If you check for Melbourne, you’ll find the weather forecast will be at least 5 degrees different to what it is on The Great Ocean Road. Usually the weather along the coast is cooler, however in summer months it’s possible for it to be as much as 10 degrees hotter than Melbourne. If you have the luxury of being able to book last minute, try and aim for a day in the low 30s or high 20s.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU GO FOR?
I’ve always been an advocate for seeing a place properly, and The Great Ocean Road is no exception. I recommend spending 3 days (2 nights) exploring the region from Melbourne. I have previously attempted to do it in just 2 days (1 night), and you just don’t get to see as much. For the distance driven, it’s much more worth allowing an extra night so you get the most out of it.
If time doesn’t allow an overnight trip, it is possible to do a day trip from Melbourne. However be prepared to accept that you’ll only see the very tip of the iceberg. You can either self drive which I highly recommend, or go with a tour group.
ITINERARY – DAY 1
Start your journey from Melbourne around 10am. Cross over the West Gate Fwy and keep going straight onto the Princes Fwy. Eventually, you’ll turn off onto Anglesea Rd. This will turn into the Great Ocean Road!
Torquay is world renowned as one of the best surfing beaches in the world, hosting international surfing competitions like the Rip Curl Pro annually. Sure the water mightn’t be always warm, but the Bells Beach is always the perfect spot for a great surf.
A visit to the Split Point Lighthouse is a must. The iconic 90’s Australian TV series Round the Twist was filmed at Split Point Lighthouse. To those who don’t know the TV show Round the Twist, it’s based upon the bizarre events that occur to a family living at this lighthouse. Think Harry Potter meets non magical wizardry in an odd way, and you’ve got the right idea.
The lighthouse is significant as it marks the start of what I say is the start of the Great Ocean Road (the bit before doesn’t really count as it’s not quite along the ocean yet). You’ll notice the colour of the water is a deeper turquoise, and the coastline changes from sandy beaches to rugged cliff lines. It’s all part of the beauty that is the Great Ocean Road. The lighthouse is simply that, a lighthouse. There is a nice viewing platform. If it’s windy, make sure you take a jacket!
The gate to the region, the Memorial Arch was built by returned soldiers from WW1, commemorating fallen Australian soldiers. Stop for a photo or two.
From here on out the road is right along the coast. It’s simply stunning. The road does get very windey entering into Lorne. Drive at a speed you are comfortable. If you need to take it slow, take it slow. Just be mindful of cars behind you that aren’t driving slow. I strongly suggest pulling over into a marked rest spot / turn out spot when safe and let them the cars pass. If not, you’ll find they may get frustrated and tailgate you, which is even more dangerous. Here are a few snaps from along the road.
Lorne is arguably the biggest beachside town along the Great Ocean Road. FIlled with lots of great cafes, beautiful beaches and equally lovely homes, it’s the perfect stop for lunch. My highest recommendation goes to The Bottle of Milk for a bite to eat. They have a great selection of burgers, including a great range of vegetarian and gluten free buns.
After lunch, take a stroll along the Lorne’s main street shops and walk along the beach. When you’re ready to get back behind the wheel, prepare yourself for the most beautiful part of the drive. The next 45 minutes is purely along the cliffs, so it’s quite windey, but oh so stunning!
Soon enough, you’ll see the turn off for a small town called Kennett River. Turn into the main road (Hawdon Avenue), and then turn left before the tennis courts into the gravel road called Grey River Road.
Almost immediately, you should be able to see very colourful guests – Rosella’s and a furry tree friends – Koala’s! Park your car and hop out! Here you can enjoy feeding the birds directly from the palm of your hand. The rosella’s aren’t afraid and will most definitely say hello if you present them with some food. Make sure you take sunflower seeds with you (can buy 1kg pack in Coles for $5 before you leave Melbourne). The rosella’s don’t like bird seed so much, and will only eat the black sunflower seeds.
When you’ve fed the Rosella’s take a walk around, specifically looking up at the tops of the trees to spot some koala’s. You may need to go a little up the hill, but you’ll definitely find them hidden in the eucalyptus trees! Koala’s aren’t very active, so they will usually just be sitting there, enjoying the sunshine and eating some eucalyptus leaves.
From Kennett River, it’s 20 minutes drive to Apollo Bay. This is where I finished for the day, staying in a house overnight. When looking for accommodation, I suggest looking at stayz.com.au. Apollo Bay is a great spot as there are restaurants in town and a small supermarket. I also wanted to have a beachfront view, and I most definitely got it!
For dinner, I can recommend the fish and chip shop, which had a good selection of fresh fish. Don’t leave dinner too late, as there is a sunset view worth seeing. Drive up to Marriners Point for sunset. Allow 15 minutes to walk to the top from the carpark. I got there just a tad too late, however can imagine on a less cloudy day that the sunset would have been spectacular. To make up for it, we got up for sunrise instead.
An important thing to keep an eye on is your cars petrol levels. There are only a few petrol stations in the area, most at least 50km apart. You don’t want to get stuck out here with no petrol. I recommend filling up in Apollo Bay. The next petrol station is in Lavers Hill. The next one after that is in Port Campbell.
Hidden away in the Otway Rainforest, the area is filled with stunning hikes and waterfalls. I choose to visit a waterfall called Triplet Falls, located at the top of the national park. Triplet Falls is a three in one waterfall. From Apollo Bay, it took 50 minutes to drive to Triplet Falls.
When driving down Phillips Track , there will eventually be a turn off. Make sure you continue straight, the carpark for Triplet Falls is just infront of you.
To reach the waterfall, it’s a 30 minute walk. Along the way, you’ll see plenty of ferns, soaring trees and lush greenery. The path down is a combination of stairs and elevated metal paths, so make sure you have some decent shoes on as it can get slippery. When you reach the waterfall, there are set viewpoints to admire it from.
To see the best view, you need to head down to the actual waterfall and go off track! To the right of the deck you’ll see a small dirt path. With a good sense of adventure and some runners that you don’t mind getting muddy, prepare for the climb down. You’ll end up climbing down tree roots, rocks and small dirt steps. It’s a truly unique experience and one you’ll surely only get in Australia! I will warn, going down it is more challenging than going back up, so just keep going. It’s worth it!
When you get down to the bottom, head to the left first. Climb over the rocks and tree trunks and you’ll come to the calm section of the waterfall. Eventually, let your sense of adventure take over and start climbing around the ferns and up towards the waterfall.
Once you’ve chilled out enough, head back to the car. I recommend taking a picnic lunch with you. There are picnic tables and toilets (drop toilets) at the carpark. Make sure you follow national park guidelines and take out what you brought in. Don’t leave any rubbish lying around.
OTWAY RAINFOREST (OTWAY FLY)
If climbing amidst waterfalls isn’t your thing, the Otway Fly treetop walk might just be for you. This man made suspended bridge walk takes you amongst the tops of ferns and trees, seeing the Otways from above. Cost $25pp.
About 1hr from the Otways is my favourite stop of the whole Great Ocean Road. The cliffs, beach, water, apostles combination just make the Gibson Steps absolutely stunning. Keep an eye on the time here, as the beach is affected by the tide. If it’s low tide, you’ll be able to walk out quite far to the right and get quite close to some of the apostles. Just make sure to not stay out too long or you could have a very wet journey back if the tide has come in!
BAY OF ISLANDS
From the Gibson Steps, I then drove 1hr to Bay of Islands. A thing to note is that the major stops (Gibson steps, Twelve apostles, London arch) all get very crowded between 12-5pm as most people do the same route and continue in the direction of Adelaide. To avoid the crowds, switch up the order and work backwards towards Melbourne.
The Bay of Islands is home to many beautiful beaches and sculptural outcrops and cliffs. As it was a 30 degree day, my mission was to find my own private beach! I parked my car in a small carpark, and walked about 400m down a gravel path.
Eventually, a small unmarked path in the shrubs to the left appeared.
Again, with a sense of adventure, I headed down the path towards the beach. I then climbed down the small cliff which had totally manageable natural steps. And just like that, I had my own private beach for the afternoon!
About an hour or two later, I then drove back to Port Campbell, about 30 minutes drive. The sleepy centre to the Great Ocean Road, Port Campbell has a decent beach and small town vibe. You’ll find a small IGA supermarket here, a couple restaurants and a petrol station.
I had an early dinner at Nico’s Pizza and Pasta and then drove to the 12 Apostles for sunset, about 15 minutes drive.
Stopping here for sunset was a beautiful idea. You can bring a small picnic with you if you like and enjoy the peaceful sunset. The Twelve Apostles are a major tourist magnet, so it will still be somewhat busy for sunset, but nothing in comparison to the massive crowds during the day.
Park your car in the designated Twelve Apostles carpark, cross under the overpass, and walk all the way down. When you get to the first boardwalk to the right, keep walking straight. There is a boardwalk even further down with an even better view. Sit back and relax. The view is really something special.
After the sun has set, it’s time to head back to your accommodation. In my case, this was a 1hr drive back to Apollo Bay. I didn’t hang around too long after the sun had set, as the road back to Apollo Bay is via a forest. During the day, driving through the forest is fun, however during the night presents new risks. Most Australian animals are more active at night. It is an absolute must to drive with high beam lights on here if you’re the leading car. The forest is very dense so it’s really dark. I had the scary scenario of a koala walking out onto the road just after I turned a corner. Luckily, this happened just as the speed limit increased from 80km to 100km and after a turn. Thankfully, I wasn’t going 80km and managed to stop just in time.
I did venture here again in the morning to take some daytime photos. It’s worth seeing it in both daylight and sunset light.
LOCH ARD GORGE
This was my favourite part of the whole trip to the Great Ocean Road. This is a stunning cliff face with a swimmable beach at its doorstep. Take the stairs down to the beach, and enjoy a nice swim.
The water here is calm at the shore, but I would strongly advise against swimming out too far, as the waves are big and there are lots of rocks and cliff faces nearby.
Take some snacks, and enjoy a beautiful beach day.
Located on the other side of the Loch Ard Gorge is Razorback. It’s a cool rock formation. Worth the quick walk there before jetting off to the next spot.
LONDON ARCH (LONDON BRIDGE)
From Loch Ard Gorge, I drove about 15 minutes to London Bridge. Known as a once joined rock formation that looked like London Bridge (the bridge actually in London). In the 90s, part of the rock formation eroded away and left two tourists stuck out on the remaining rock with no way to return to land. They had to be rescued by helicopter.
GETTING BACK TO MELBOURNE
From London Bridge, I started the journey home back to Melbourne. You have two choices, either take the route inland via Colac, or take the Great Ocean Road back. Whilst I’m not a huge fan of driving up against the rockside part of the road, driving back on the GOR means you can stop at Johanna Beach and see the Koalas again in Kennett River. Taking the inland route is faster, so if you just want to get home, take the route via Colac. If you’re still not over seeing the coastline, go back via the GOR. As my friends wanted to see the koala’s again, I headed back along the GOR.
No trip to the Great Ocean Road is complete without a dirt road, and I think I’ve found the best one ever. Head down Blue Johanna Road for a gravel road experience, or Red Johanna Road for a smooth journey to a very intense beach. We set up a small picnic on the beach and watched the intense waves thrashing down. This is not a swim safe beach.
The Great Ocean Road is one of those places you just have to see once in a lifetime. Comment below what other incredible spots along the Great Ocean Road you’ve visited!