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Great Ocean Road Trip Guide

GyPSy Guide Narrated Driving Tour App for Great Ocean Road

Great Ocean Road Trip Guide

Always high on the list of the world’s most scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road is well-known for its towering limestone cliffs along the south western coast of Victoria.

However, the seaside area is also one of the most diverse places in the country, with world-class surf beaches, dense rainforests, flowing waterfalls and pretty coastal towns.

Whether you have one day or longer, the Great Ocean Road is the most sought-after road trip from Melbourne.

Contents

How to Get There

The Great Ocean Road is best explored on a self-drive tour, but there are a few ways of getting there.

By plane

The Great Ocean Road is accessible from Melbourne, the capital city of Victoria. You can fly into Melbourne International Airport at Tullamarine from any other city in Australia, as well as from overseas. From there, you’ll have to travel by road.

By car and self drive

From the city, the most convenient way of reaching the Great Ocean Road is by car. This gives you the most freedom to stop and explore along the way. You can hire a car at the airport or from a pickup point around the city.

By public transport

It’s also possible to get to the Great Ocean Road by public transport. The V Line bus service runs from Melbourne to Geelong and along the coast to Warrnambool, stopping in many of the towns along the way.

Getting Around

A road trip down the Great Ocean Road is one of the best experiences in Australia and is made even better when you have the freedom to stop anywhere and everywhere that you want. There are countless stops to see including waterfalls, hikes, viewpoints, coastal towns, surf beaches and much more. If you have your own car, you can tailor make your own itinerary according to what you want to see.

How long does it take to drive the Great Ocean Road?

Officially the Great Ocean Road runs from Torquay to Allansford. This distance is 240km and can take around five hours to drive one way, with a few brief stops. This means it’s possible to do the Great Ocean Road in one long day, but it’s certainly more enjoyable if you can spare two or more days.

There are some beautiful small towns on the way where you can stay the night. Lorne, Apollo Bay and Port Campbell are some of the most popular overnight stops, as they are close to some of the major attractions on the road.

While it can be traveled in either direction, the Great Ocean Road is most commonly driven from east to west from Melbourne. This means that you’re driving on the side of the road that is closest to the ocean, which offers incredible views along the way. You can either return to the city the same way or take a different route on the way back to Melbourne.

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When to visit the Great Ocean Road?

While you can certainly explore the Great Ocean Road at any time of year, there can be some dramatic changes in weather from season to season. Summer is definitely the most popular time to travel and is when the weather is at its warmest. This makes it perfect for the beach, but it is also the popular local holiday time over Christmas and New Year, so you should expect places to be a little crowded.

In comparison, winter features overcast skies, drizzle and downright chilly weather.  However, it’s much quieter at this time and you can still get lucky with some clear days, if you have the time and patience.  Live by the old adage – of there’s no such thing as as bad weather, just poor clothing choices.

Autumn/fall and spring are the two best seasons to explore the Great Ocean Road. These shoulder seasons means fewer crowds than summer but much warmer days than winter, which provide the perfect balance.

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Watch for these Annual Events and Festivals on the Great Ocean Road 

The Great Ocean Road is home to two iconic Australian events. The first one is the Rip Curl Pro Surf Contest at Bells Beach. This is the longest running event in competitive surfing in the world and is one of the most sought-after events on the World Surf League World Tour. It’s held at Bells Beach just outside of Torquay every year in April.

Another iconic festival is the Falls Music and Arts Festival held every year over New Year’s Eve across four locations around Australia. In Victoria, the town of Lorne on the Great Ocean Road is the home of Falls Festival, which runs for multiple days showcasing local and international music and art performances.

For foodies, you can also time your visit to the Great Ocean Road with the Apollo Bay Seafood Festival. It’s held every year in February on the foreshore in Apollo Bay town showcasing some of the best seafood and culinary delights from the region.

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Places to Stay along the Great Ocean Road

You’ll find a number of choices to base yourself for an overnight or longer stay along the Great Ocean Road, from large vibrant townships to quiet seaside getaways. Here are some of the major towns on the road.

Torquay

Torquay is the official start point of the Great Ocean Road and located just 104km or nearly 65 miles from Melbourne.

This small coastal community has grown into a major town, now almost merging with the outer parts of Greater Geelong. However, you’ll still find a great beachy vibe in the main street with some wonderful boutique shops and trendy cafes. There’s also a long stretch of beach right in front of town that is great for the whole family to enjoy.

Torquay is also considered to be the home of Australian surfing. With the world-famous Bells Beach just a few kilometres down the road and iconic surf brands having been founded in the small community, it’s a must-see destination for surfers.

Aireys Inlet

Aireys Inlet is a popular seaside holiday town between Anglesea and Lorne on the Great Ocean Road. It’s a quieter alternative to Torquay but still close to some great surfing at Fairhaven Beach. The town’s icon is the Split Point Lighthouse which stands on the edge of town overlooking the coast. It’s open for tours which take you up to the top for 360-degree views over the coast.

Lorne

Lorne is certainly the coolest spot on the Great Ocean Road. This trendy town’s main street is packed full of great cafes and boutique shops. It’s located right on the coast, on a long stretch of beach, which is crowded on warm summer days. It makes for an ideal stop for lunch or as an overnight stay with plenty of accommodation to choose from.

Lorne is also close to some great waterfalls and short hikes, including Erskine Falls and Teddy’s Lookout.

Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay

The town of Apollo Bay stretches right along one of the most picturesque bays on the Great Ocean Road. The long stretch of sand in front of town is perfect for long walks, picnic dinners and early morning swims. It’s much more laidback than Torquay and Lorne, but you’ll still find some great cafes and restaurants to enjoy.

Apollo Bay is a very convenient overnight stop, almost halfway along the Great Ocean Road. There’s plenty of essential services in town including a supermarket, fuel stations and accommodation.

Port Campbell

The small coastal town of Port Campbell is a pretty little spot on a secluded bay at the heart of the Port Campbell National Park. This is arguably the most beautiful stretch of coastline, with many of the most famous spots such as the 12 Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge just a short drive away.

Great Ocean Road Trip Map

What not to miss on the Great Ocean Road

Starting east and heading west along the Great Ocean Road, these are the best attractions and things you can’t miss on your road trip.

Bells Beach

The home of Australian surfing, Bells Beach is one of the most well-known surf beaches in the world. It’s located just over 4 miles outside of Torquay town and is a must for anyone who appreciates this iconic sport. You’ll find surfers heading to Bells at any time of the day and all year-round. There’s actually a number of breaks here, with names like Winki Pop, Southside and Steps.

From the car park, you can either head down to the beach itself or enjoy the views from the lookout platforms designed for spectators.

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Split Point Lighthouse

Located in Aireys Inlet, Split Point Lighthouse helps to guide ships along the Surf Coast. The 111-ft high lighthouse stands on the edge of the coast and offers incredible views over the ocean either from the lookout platforms at the base or by climbing to the top of the tower on a tour.

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Memorial Arch

Just over 5km or 3 miles down the road from Aireys Inlet you’ll pass under the Memorial Arch. The arch is dedicated to the soldiers who built the road after WWI and has now become one of the most popular photo stops on the Great Ocean Road. There’s a dedicated car park to the left of the arch if you’re coming from Aireys Inlet, so make sure that you pull over safely if you want to take a photo.

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Erskine Falls

Considered one of the prettiest waterfalls in the Otway National Park, Erskine Falls is a nearly 100-ft cascade outside of Lorne town. There are two lookout platforms, the first one being just a short walk from the car park and the other requiring a walk down steep steps to the base of the falls. While you’ll find water here all year round, it’s incredibly impressive after heavy rain.

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Maits Rest

If you’re short on time and have only one stop in the Otway National Park, Maits Rest provides the best snapshot of this incredible coastal rainforest. There is an easy half a mile boardwalk here that takes you through one of the most beautiful parts of the national park, with lush ferns and giant trees that are hundreds of years old. You’ll find Maits Rest just 15-minutes west of Apollo Bay.

Cape Otway

Cape Otway is the southernmost point of this stretch of coastline and protrudes out into the Southern Ocean. There is an historic light station at the edge of the cape, which is considered the oldest working lighthouse in Victoria. The station is open to visitors for tours and accommodation at limited times during the week. It’s located half an hour’s drive from Apollo Bay, down a short detour off the Great Ocean Road.

The Redwoods Otways

A hidden gem of the Great Ocean Road is this towering forest of Californian Redwoods in the heart of the Otways. Just south of Beech Forest, the 85-year-old plantation is open for a picnic and stroll through the incredible tall, straight trees. It’s a decent detour off the Great Ocean Road up to Beech Forest, so it’s best explored if you have some extra time up your sleeve.

Gibson Steps and Gibson Beach

The first sightseeing point of the Port Campbell National Park coming from the east is Gibson Steps and Gibson Beach. The beach is an incredibly beautiful stretch of golden sand at the base of towering sea cliffs. You can either park your car at the parking area and enjoy the view from the top or head down the steps to the beach itself for a different view. It’s just a two-minute drive from the 12 Apostles but is worth a stop in its own right.

12 Apostles

The most famous attraction on the Great Ocean Road and the poster child of Victoria’s tourism industry, the 12 Apostles is a magnificent collection of limestone rock stacks that rise up from the Southern Ocean. There’s not actually 12 of them, but the stacks are still an incredibly beautiful sight to see. In fact, it draws more visitors than almost anywhere else in Australia.

There is a huge car park and visitor centre, with boardwalks taking you along the coast for various views. It’s a busy spot throughout the year but is best visited at sunrise or sunset for the incredible golden lighting.

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Loch Ard Gorge

Fast becoming one of the most popular stops on the Great Ocean Road, Loch Ard Gorge is a unique gorge wedged into the coastline with crumbling limestone cliffs and a hidden beach. There are various points and boardwalks to explore at the gorge, but most people tend to head straight down the steps to the beach at the bottom for the most famous photo op. It’s the next stop after the 12 Apostles before Port Campbell town.

The Arch

The first stop after Port Campbell, this natural arch has slowly formed from erosion and the crashing waves off the coast of the Great Ocean Road. It’s a quick photo stop with an accessible viewing platform.

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London Bridge

Just minutes down the road, you’ll find the next stop: the London Bridge. This natural arch is seemingly stranded out to sea but was once attached to the mainland by another arch which collapsed some years ago. There is a boarded lookout area which has incredible views of the bridge as well as further along the steep sea cliffs.

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The Grotto

One of the lesser-known stops, the Grotto is a unique sinkhole and hollow cave in the side of the coast. It’s just a short walk down from the car park from where the cave appears almost like a picture frame looking out to sea.

Bay of Martyrs

If you have time to continue down the Great Ocean Road to Peterborough and beyond, you can visit the Bay of Martyrs. This less visited spot provides an incredible view across the picturesque bay, with coastal walks and swimming opportunities on a warm day.

Bay of Islands

Even further along, you’ll come across the Bay of Islands. This beautiful bay is littered with tall limestone stacks similar, but less famous, than the 12 Apostles. The long beach around the bay is the perfect place for a sunset stroll, which is much quieter than other attractions back down the coast. It’s one of the last stops before Allansford and the official end of the Great Ocean Road.

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Best spots to take in the sunset on the Great Ocean Road

If you’re a keen photographer or just enjoy watching the sun melt beyond the horizon, then the Great Ocean Road offers some pretty amazing scenic viewpoints.

Point Addis Boardwalk

A short detour off the Great Ocean Road to the Point Addis Marine National Park is worthwhile. Arguably one of the best places to watch the sun set in the region, there is a boardwalk and viewpoint platforms at the edge of Point Addis overlooking Point Addis Beach and the entire coastline back towards Bells Beach. You might even be able to catch a glimpse of some surfers still trying to catch some waves.

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Teddy’s Lookout

Just on the edge of Lorne town, you can drive up to this lookout above the Great Ocean Road. The view overlooks the beautiful road snaking around the coastline below and is the best vantage point to get a bird’s eye view of the Great Ocean Road.

Marriners Lookout

A lesser-known spot above Apollo Bay, Marriners Lookout is located on a hilltop above the coastal town and offers wide-reaching views over the entire bay area. It’s a great place for a sunset picnic but requires a short walk from the car park.

Port Campbell Scenic Lookout

Just as you leave Port Campbell town heading west, you’ll find this scenic lookout on the side of the road. It’s actually part of the Port Campbell Discovery Walk but is also a nice spot for a quick sunset or sunrise photo.

12 Apostles Lookout

Perhaps the most famous spot but still worth every bit of effort, the 12 Apostles is arguably at its most beautiful at sunrise and sunset. You can easily take the short boardwalk to the lookout area to enjoy the golden glow against the limestone stacks.

Best hikes

If you want to hit the trails and explore the area on foot, there are plenty of walks along the Great Ocean Road. Here are some of the best short hikes.

Port Campbell Discovery Walk 4km return

If you find yourself in Port Campbell, there is a nice 4km or 2.5-mile return hike along the edge of the coast above town. There is parking just off the Great Ocean Road or you can also start form the town itself and cross the bridge at the edge of the beach. It provides beautiful views over the town and out to the ocean.

Triplet Falls 2km loop

If you have time to explore more of the Otways, there is a nice 2km loop trail that takes you past the impressive Triplet Falls. It’s one of the largest waterfalls in the region, with three cascades of water falling through the forest.

Wreck Beach Walk 2km return

For something unique and off the beaten path, you can head to Moonlight Head off the Great Ocean Road. From there, you can descend 350 steps to Wreck Beach, known for its remnants of shipwrecks along this treacherous part of the coast. You can find anchors and other remains from Marie Gabrielle and Fiji at low tide along the beach.

Blanket Bay to Parker Inlet 4.5km one way

A nice walk between two seaside campgrounds, this 4.5km or 2.8-mile one way hike takes you from Blanket Bay to Parker Inlet or vice versa. It’s technically a section of the multi day Great Ocean Walk but is also a popular day hike for those camping or wanting to explore the coast on foot.

Best family activities on a Great Ocean Road Trip

If you’ve got the whole family in tow, you might want to head to some of these attractions on the Great Ocean Road.

Australian National Surfing Museum

As one of the world’s largest surfing and beach culture museums, a visit to the National Surfing Museum in Torquay is a must. It charts Australia’s contribution to the world of surfing as well as holding plenty of displays on the world surfing heritage. It includes biographies of world champions and spectacular footage of some of the best surf action, every member of the family will learn to love surfing through the museum.

Otway Fly Treetop Adventures

Fast becoming one of the top activities on the Great Ocean Road, the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures in Beech Forest includes a 600-metre walk above the tree canopy. The treetop walk is one of the best ways to truly appreciate the unique flora and fauna of the Otways.

Or, for a bit more adrenaline, you can opt for their zipline tours through the rainforest. If you’ve got little kids along with you, they will love the Enchanted Forest at the property, home to fairy villages and a dragon’s nest.

Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery

Just before Anglesea, this is one of the most family friendly attractions on the Great Ocean Road.  The Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery has a range of activities for the whole family to enjoy. From the all-day cafe to the chocolate tasting sessions and chocolatier classes, you can indulge in all the sweet offerings and then let the kids run it off outside in the garden.

Cape Otway Lightstation

Allow a couple of hours to fully explore the entire Cape Otway Lightstation site.  You must climb to the top of the lightstation at 90 metres above sea level.  From there you’ll see the vast empty ocean and be buffeted by the strong winds.  The Aboriginal Talking Hut guides provide a deeper understanding of this rich, ancient and continuing culture. Explore the radar bunkers and learn about their role in WWII and don’t miss the ginormous and tasty scones in the cafe.  

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Awesome experiences

The Great Ocean Road is home to some of the most awesome experiences in Australia. From spotting native wildlife to splurging on a helicopter flight, here are some of the best experiences to have.

Chase waterfalls in the Otway National Park

While many people know about the beautiful coast along the Great Ocean Road, the dense rainforest just inland makes up the Great Otway National Park. This area sees one of the highest rainfalls in the state, meaning that you’ll find waterfalls flowing all year round. The popular waterfalls to check out include Triplet Falls, Beauchamp Falls and Hopetoun Falls. You could easily spend an awesome day exploring the hidden spots in the Otways, if you have the time.

Helicopter ride over 12 Apostles

One of the most bucket list-worthy experiences on the Great Ocean Road is to see the 12 Apostles from above. Helicopter rides take you over one of the most famous stretches of Australia’s coast, with views over the limestone stacks, towering cliffs and golden beaches below. It’s a bit of a splurge but for a once in a lifetime experience, it’s worth the money.

Complete a section of the Great Ocean Walk or Surf Coast Walk

If you’re a keen hiker, there are two long distance walks along the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Walk is considered one of the most beautiful trails in Australia, with the 104km walk taking in many of the incredible sights along the coast. It begins in Apollo Bay and concludes at the stunning 12 Apostles and is usually completed over 6-8 days.

On the other hand, you can try the Surf Coast Walk, which is a 44km trail from Torquay to Aireys Inlet. Whether you have time to complete the full walk or just opt to complete one section, these two trails offer an awesome experience.

Go surfing at one of the beaches

It’s no secret that the Great Ocean Road is the home of Australian surfing. With Bells Beach at the start of the scenic drive and other good surfing spots scattered along the road, including Fairhaven Beach and local favourite, Johanna Beach. Heading out for a surf is definitely one of the best experiences to have during a trip to the Surf Coast, or if you’re a newbie, there’s also plenty of chances to get surf lessons too.

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Spot koalas in the wild

This is definitely a highlight for wildlife lovers. Spotting a koala in the wild along the Great Ocean Road is one of the most incredible experiences. The area along the coast and in the Otways is home to one of the largest populations of these furry animals in Victoria. Kennett River is the most well-known spot to find them, and you can easily take a stroll amongst the gum trees just off the scenic drive there. Otherwise, you can also spot them often around Cape Otway, Lorne and Wye River.

Watch fairy penguins as they waddle ashore at night

Another incredible experience for wildlife lovers, is to watch the fairy penguins waddle their way ashore at night. You can find these cute little animals around sunset time at the 12 Apostles or the London Bridge. It’s the perfect opportunity to watch both the sunset and the nearly 800 penguins begin their nightly journey ashore at the 12 Apostles.

Head to weekend local markets

The Great Ocean Road is home to some of the best growers and makers in Victoria. If you’re spending a leisurely weekend along the scenic drive, you might have time to stop at one of the local markets. Try the Torquay Farmers Market, Apollo Bay Farmers Market and Anglesea Farmers Market.

GyPSy Guide Narrated Driving Tour App for Great Ocean Road

Best campsites along the Great Ocean Road

If you’re going to be spending more than a day down the coast, camping is one of the best ways to enjoy the natural environment of the area. There’s plenty of campgrounds around, but here are some of the best:

Johanna Beach

One of the best locations for a campground is the public paid camping area on the edge of Johanna Beach. The popular surf beach is just a minute’s walk from the campsites, with a range of grassy spots and basic toilets available.

Aire River East and West

Aire River is a unique spot on the coast, with the large camping area located just inland from where the river meets the ocean. It’s a public paid campground with lots of picnic areas and soft grass to pitch a tent. There’s a few toilets and water tanks supplied and is particularly popular for fishing and kayaking as well.

Blanket Bay

A popular family campground right on the ocean, this public paid campground is on a sheltered bay with some sites even having views of the sea. It’s a great spot for swimming and the Great Ocean Walk passes right through, offering plenty of walks in the area. You’ll also find basic toilets there as well.

Stevensons Falls Campground

One of the few free camping areas left on the Great Ocean Road, Stevensons Falls is located up in the Otway forest just a short walk from the beautiful waterfall. There’s a huge flat area with plenty of large trees to provide shelter and a toilet. You can easily walk to the waterfall and along the river and enjoy being amongst the green forest for a night.

Big Hill Campground

Located just 15-minutes away from the Great Ocean Road near Lorne, Big Hill is a public paid campground with a limited number of spots amongst the beautiful forest. It’s an incredibly peaceful spot and a great place to escape the bustle of the coast for the night.

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Packing list for the Great Ocean Road

The weather down the Great Ocean Road can be wildly unpredictable, plus you also need to be prepared for long days spent in the car. Some road trip essentials include:

A jacket or warm clothing: You need to ensure you’ll be warm when the coastal winds pick up across the Southern Ocean.

Snacks and water: For those long drives, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of snacks to keep you going between towns and stops.

Phone charger: So, you can make sure you have your phone and guide available at all times, make sure you keep your phone charged.

Binoculars: These are a great thing to bring for wildlife spotting, especially when searching for koalas and watching the fairy penguins coming in of an evening.

Sunglasses and sunscreen: No matter the time of year, the sun can be strong in Australia. Make sure you’ve got all your sun smart essentials to keep you safe from getting burnt.

Plastic bag: We always like to take along a plastic bag to pick up any rubbish we find on the beaches or hikes. #leaveitbetterthanyoufoundit

Top Travel Tips for the Great Ocean Road

  • Be conscious of the tide times at different points on the coast as this can impact some sightseeing spots, especially at Gibson Steps and Wreck Beach.
  • Don’t speed on the Great Ocean Road, the sometimes-windy road can be dangerous with plenty of blind corners that you need to be careful of.
  • Avoid driving at night as well. Wildlife crossing the road is a particular danger for both you and the native animals, especially at dark.
  • Driving east to west is definitely recommended but not essential. However, it makes it more convenient for sightseeing as many of the beautiful views are on the left side of the road.
  • The fastest route to return to Melbourne is along C164 and A1 Highway, which can be done in under three hours from Allansford.
  • Some of the small towns on the Great Ocean Road, don’t have fuel stations so make sure that you fill up when you can in places like Lorne and Apollo Bay.
  • Sunrise and sunset are the best times to head out to viewpoints, especially the 12 Apostles. Make sure you plan your timing accordingly and be careful driving in the dark.

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