How to visit the Great Ocean Road in Australia
The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most famous coastal drives in the world. It is also known as the 12 Apostles, and it stretches for close to 300 km from Torquay to Nelson on the South Australian border. There are so many beautiful places, scenic views, and highlights along this journey that your itinerary will be jam-packed. The best way to experience this spectacular drive is to go on a Great Ocean Road self-drive adventure starting from Melbourne. This way, you will get the most out of the diverse terrain and prominent landmarks peppered along the way.
A Great Ocean Road Itinerary
For your Great Ocean Road drive the best place to start your journey is at Melbourne city and continue to the other amazing destinations. Drive from Melbourne to Torquay, which is just an hour away. The Memorial Arch is where the Great Ocean Road starts. Stop there to read the boards with the challenging stories of the workers who constructed the 240 km road after World War II.
Best Places to stop on the Great Ocean Road
Torquay has some of Australia’s best surf beaches, including Bells Beach and the Bells Beach Recreation Reserve. You can make a stop at Anglesea to see kangaroos lounging under the trees at the golf course.
Lorne is the perfect place to stop for lunch, where you can have fish and chips on the beach. It also has lots of great cafes, restaurants, and interesting shops.
As you make your way from Melbourne to Apollo Bay via the Great Ocean Road, you’ll see cliff-tops offering incredible views and dazzling beaches that you can stop at for a stroll. From the coastal town of Apollo Bay, the drive leads into the lush Otway National Park where you can go zip lining, or take a treetop walk.
The Cape Otway light station is about a 50-minute drive away. It would be good to stay at Apollo Bay for the night or even in Otway National Park’s conservation centre.
Driving from Apollo Bay to Port Campbell is the highlight. There you will find the most prominent attraction that is the Twelve Apostles. One night in Port Campbell will give you plenty of time to explore the Apostles at sunset or sunrise.
Your Great Ocean Road self-drive can involve a short route with the best highlights or a longer route with more stops along your way. Depending upon the time you have, there is a lot to do on a 1-day self-driving route and many places to stay on a 3-4 day trip.
If you plan a Great Ocean Road Itinerary for seven days, you will also find some excellent camping options. If you do not fancy driving during your trip, you can check out some of the fantastic local tours available. There are short tours 1-day tours or longer ones ranging from 5-7 days that include walking trips or camping adventures. Check out some of the alternatives to self-driving below.
Alternatives To Self-guided Trips of the GOR
One day Tour
Some fantastic Great Ocean Road tours will allow you to experience the breathtaking coastline, pristine beaches, beautiful rainforests, and gorgeous towns within a short time. A one day tour will have stops at all the best highlights on the way. You can take a trip to a surf beach to bring a picnic at and enjoy a relaxing swim from Melbourne. Next, the Memorial Arch, which is a popular destination to stop at and take pictures.
There are also coastal walks which allow you to see some of the beautiful native wildlife of the Great Ocean Road. For lunch, you can head to the picturesque Apollo Bay with its lovely cafes. Then a guided walk through the Otway Rainforest to see the tallest eucalyptus trees in Australia. Finally, end your amazing Great Ocean Road day trip at the world-famous 12 Apostles where a scenic helicopter flight awaits you.
A Three Day Tour of the GOR
Another way to uncover some of the Great Ocean Road’s hidden secrets is to take a 2-3day backpacking tour. It is a great way to get back to nature and discover the beauty of these destinations.
- Day One
Start your trip from Melbourne and set off to Torquay, the home to the marvellous Bells Beach. Along the way, you can see the picturesque beach towns of Lorne and Apollo Bay. Don’t forget to go to the historic Split Point Lighthouse for an exciting and informative visit. You will also pass Shipwreck coast where you can see towering rocks of the 12 Apostles in the Southern Ocean. At night you can sleep in a superb rugged Australian landscape or have shared accommodation depending on the tour that you choose.
- Day Two
The best way to start your day is by seeing the gorgeous 12 Apostles and visiting the collapsed London Bridge. Only 8 of the original 12 natural sculptures are still standing with four having collapsed over the years. There is a lot to take in here, and you will surely have some beautiful pictures at the end of it. After that, visit the Grampians National Park, where you will learn about Aboriginal heritage at the Brambuk Cultural Centre. A stay at the foothills of the Grampians is just what you need along with a cosy roaring campfire.
- Day Three
Take in more of the Grampians during a scenic nature walk, and then cool off at the refreshing Mackenzie Falls along the way. This is a great time to keep watch for the beautiful native bird and wildlife. At the end of your Great Ocean Road tour, you will return to Melbourne.
10 Best things to do On the Great Ocean Road
Here are some of the Great Ocean Road’s recommended stops that will make your trip that much more delightful. You can read more about my Great Ocean Road Trip from Melbourne.
Great Otway Walks
The Otway National park is one of the most beautiful Great Ocean Road attractions. It is a place with pristine rainforest where there are also many beautiful walking trails. Some of the walking paths can take 20 minutes while adventurous travellers can go on 1-2 hour walks. By taking a walk along these paths, you will see the lovely fern gullies, waterfalls, and the natural beauty of the park.
Zip Lining in the Great Otway
The Great Otway National Park also boasts of a fantastic zip line tour. Visitors have the chance of zip-lining through the leafy treetops of the magnificent Otway Ranges. It is a unique eco-adventure where you will see the trees and forest ecology in a new light. It is excellent for individuals, families, and groups. For information, check out the Zipline Tour Website.
Great Otway Treetop Walk
The Rainforest and Treetop Walk in Great Otway is the most fantastic way to see the region’s flora and fauna’s unique beauty. It is a long walk from a 25-30 metre-high elevated walkway and takes approximately 1 hour to complete. The treetop walk is open in most weather conditions unless there are storms or lighting. It also has a shuttle service to the Visitor Centre every hour to assist those who need it.
The world-famous Bells Beach of Great Ocean Road starts just south of Torquay. It is a great place to go surfing or stretching your legs and fill your lungs with the fresh ocean breeze.
Wye River Beach
The Wye River beach is one of the best beaches along Great Ocean Road. Its beautiful rock pools and dazzling white sands make it a perfect spot to spend your time. The local pub nearby is a lovely spot to cool down, and it has uninterrupted beach views.
One of the other beaches that you definitely should see is Gibsons Beach. Many people wonder how to get down to the 12 apostles. To get to it, you have to walk down 86 steps cut into a sheer cliff. The beach at the bottom of the Gibson Steps is top-rated for fishing so you can catch your lunch.
Visiting the local markets
The coastal villages like Lorne, Apollo Bay, and Port Fairy have various souvenir shops and boutiques. You can partake of their wares, artwork, and the fresh cuisine from the local shops. You will also find many weekend markets along the Great Ocean Road where you can fill your baskets with locally grown produce. My favourite is Torquay Sunday Market.
Cape Otway Lighthouse
The Cape Otway Lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia. It is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily. It is a thrilling experience to step out onto the Lighthouse Balcony and hear the incredible history of tragic shipwrecks. The light station is just a short drive off the Great Ocean Road. You will pass through many serene forests where you are guaranteed to see koalas.
The Thunder Cave in Port Campbell National Park is a natural phenomenon that you have to check out. It is a narrow gorge where water rushes deep into the end of the canyon. When the water flows back out, it makes a loud boom that sounds precisely like thunder.
Thus beautiful lookout at Apollo Bay is an excellent spot to get some peace. Although it is on private property, it is open to the public. It is a lovely location to click some pictures and watch the sunset.
Things to do at the 12 Apostles
The 12 apostles is an unusual attraction on the Great Ocean Road drive, a short distance from the Port Campbell National Park. Its collection of limestone stacks carved by the ocean is an unusual attraction of stunning beauty. Check out some of the things that you can do at the 12 Apostles on Great Ocean Road.
Take A Walk Along The Beach
Enjoy the rugged splendour of magnificent rock formations at sunrise or sunset. You will be able to see how beautiful they look framed against the changing colours of the sky. Take some time to immerse yourself in the breathtaking views of the Twelve Apostles, Victoria.
The Viewing Platform
Another way to see the 12 Apostles in full splendour is from the viewing platform. It is quite safe and has a sealed platform with grab railings as well. There is also wheelchair access here along with rest benches on the way. You will get to see some interpretative displays along the boardwalk. The best time to come here is from dawn or dusk when you might also get to see little penguins.
The Visitor Centre
If you are looking for more information on the 12 Apostles, the visitor centre has an orientation area, many displays. It’s best to stop here and check out the twelve apostles’ map before taking a walk along the coastline. The 12 Apostles Centre has a lot of insightful information to offer for tourists.
Take A Helicopter Flight
Get a bird’s eye view of the 12 Apostles from a helicopter. This will give you a unique opportunity to see the 12 Apostles, Shipwreck Coast, and Port Campbell National Park from the air. From this vantage point, you can see all of the major landmarks like Loch Ard Gorge and the Bay of Islands. You might also get a glimpse of the blue whales off the coast of Portland. Here is more information about scenic flights over the Great Ocean Road.
Don’t forget to make a pit stop at the London Arch, an offshore natural arch in Port Campbell National Park. It has an upper and lower viewing platform where you can observe the London Arch up close. It is the only place in the national park where you can see penguins returning to shore.
The Grotto in Victoria is a spectacular enchanting sight of rock formations. It is located 9km from the west of Port Campbell. It offers a peaceful place for travellers to enjoy the beauty of the sea and to soak up the wonders of nature. Inside, The Grotto has serene rock pools carved out of natural limestone. It is best to head here at sunset or sunrise to see the beautiful Australian sun reflect off the rock pools.
Places where to stay on the Great Ocean Road
You will find many beautiful places to stay along the Great Ocean Road drive. If you are taking a 2-day road trip, ideally you should stop halfway, and the towns of Torquay and Apollo Bay are the best places to stay on the Great Ocean Road.
These are my tips on where to stay. I loved staying at the Apollo Bay at the Eco YHA. This hostel-like place is an ECO-building, with a well-equipped kitchen and well spacious dorms and private rooms. Click on the link to see the rates.
For a more luxury stay with affordable prices, try the Apollo Bay Waterfront Motor Inn, right in the heart of the town.
Apollo Bay offers a wide range of homely accommodation options like holiday homes, apartments, villas, and you may want to browse through all options in Apollo Bay.
Closer to the 12 Apostles, Port Campbell is an excellent location to stay on the second night, which has cabins with great views, hotels, and budget accommodation. If you want to be closer to nature, you will also find some good campsites and caravan parks along the way too.
If you travel with friends or family, a good place to stay in the Southern Ocean Villas.
For all other options, check out the Port Campbell Accommodation page.
Or check this page for All Comparison Sites.
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First published in Oct 2019, last updated in Jan 2021
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