The Great Ocean Road epitomizes the phrase ‘taking the scenic route’. Located just a short distance from Australia’s coolest city, Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road drive is hugged by some of Australia’s most grandiose landscapes. You’ll weave along mountainsides, revel in striking seaside vistas and delve into Australia’s verdant green rainforest. The towns that dot the drive are laid back, surfy and sophisticated, offering everything that travelers would expect from this part of Australia
But don’t even think about doing the Great Ocean Road drive in one day. It may technically be about 5 hours from Torquay to Warrnambool. But you’ll be crawling along at a snail’s pace. There is just so much to see and do along the Great Ocean Road drive!
That’s the way it has made its way to our list of the top 5 road trips to do in Australia.
Torquay is the starting point of the Great Ocean Road and is simply oozing with surf culture. Thanks in part to Bells Beach (home of the annual Rip Curl surf comp), and other great surf breaks in the area, Torquay has been dubbed the surf capital of Australia. It’s not out of ordinary to run into big name surfers grabbing a coffee at one of the towns trendy cafes.
Start your Great Ocean Road drive by visiting Main Beach in Torquay. Stroll the Surf Coast Walk, watch surfers at Point Danger and follow the path onwards to Juan Jac beach. You’ll start to notice the monolith yellow sand cliffs that the Great Ocean beaches are known for. Head back into town and explore the maze of restaurants and cafes that line the Esplanade and innards of Torquay before jumping in the car to visit Bells Beach on the outskirts of town.
Once at Bells, watch experienced surfers navigate the treacherous waters at Winki Pop surf break from the viewing platform. Then descend the staircase and take in all the glory of Bells Beach from the sand. But beware swimming here as there are strong currents and a big undertow.
Up next on the Great Ocean Road drive is to stop near Anglesea and marvel at the towns expansive sandy beach. If the mood strikes, take a dip! This is one of the ‘lesser touristy’ spots along the Great Ocean Road.
The darling little town of Aireys Inlet is not far from Anglesea and is the next stop on your Great Ocean Road drive. Once in Aireys Inlet follow the signs for Split Point Lighthouse. You’ll have to climb a steep trail to the base of the lighthouse, from the parking lot, but the views are definitely worthwhile. Weather permitting, daily guided tours of the Split Point Lighthouse are available.
Pitstop: Drive through the Great Ocean Road Sign
Picture time! Get your iconic Great Ocean Road photo here. The hordes of tourists and parked cars will alert you, that you are nearby.
The small town of Lorne has long been a Great Ocean Road favourite. Lorne is best known for its picturesque sandy beach and relaxing but the social atmosphere.
Any day of the week you’ll find families picnicking on the foreshore, beach bums catching waves or sunbathing at Lorne beach, and fisherman testing their luck at Lorne Pier. It is also home to Falls Festivals, one of Australia’s biggest music festivals.
That being said, definitely check out Lorne Pier, sometimes migrating whales can be spotted from its vantage point, swim or surf the waters of Lorne beach and check out the areas incredible shops.
For dining, the Bottle of Milk is famous- and for good reason. They have an awesome selection of burgers and brunch items (veggie options available too!). If you get a chance, try to take in the views from the Lorne Hotel rooftop patio. If you are staying the night in Lorne than this is the spot to watch the sunset dip below the horizon.
Pitstop: Teddy’s Lookout
If views are what your in for then look no further than Teddy’s Lookout. Located just minutes from Lorne, you’ll find sweeping vistas of the Saint George River draining into the Pacific Ocean.
Sheok Falls and Swallow Cave Trail
This 2.8 km walk is a great way to get amongst nature at Otway National Park. The trail culminates at Sheok Falls and Swallow Cave where birds can be seen nesting from spring to fall. It is a fairly easy walk that should take no more than 1 hour.
Blink and you might miss the quaint town of Kennet River. It’s made up of a small collection of sea facing holiday homes, a holiday park, and a cafe that services the area. However, what really makes this section of the Great Ocean Road special is the Kennett River koalas.
Leave your car at the Kafe Koala parking lot and follow Grey River Road upwards. In our experience, it won’t take you long to spot a koala or two in the heights of the eucalyptus trees. However, it will likely be encircled by a crowd of gawking, ground-dwelling tourists. For a more personal encounter continue further up Grey River Road. Once we were away from the crowds we were lucky enough to spot a koala, up close, on the ground running from tree to tree.
Koalas aside, Grey River Road affords a great opportunity to stretch your legs and take in some amazing hilltop views. You’ll notice tourists feeding and posing with swathes of wild birds at the entrance to Grey River Road.
While we wholeheartedly agree that it is great to see these incredible King Parrots, Cockatoos, and Rainbow Lorikeets up close, we wouldn’t recommend feeding them out of hand. These are wild animals, so it’s simply not great for their welfare to be touching them.
Apollo Bay is next up on your Great Ocean Road drive. This lovely seaside town is all yellow sand and laid back vibes. Check out Mariners Lookout, go to Apollo Bay beach, have a surf and then wine and dine.
Chris’ at Beacon Point is Apollo Bay’s go-to for high-quality food with an even higher quality view! For a more casual experience hit the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse– they have the largest selection of craft beer along the Great Ocean Road.
Cape Otway Lightstation
Cape Otway Lighthouse is located about 14 km off of the Great Ocean Road. It is Australia’s oldest mainland lighthouse and recently celebrated its 170th birthday.
When you arrive at Cape Otway Lighthouse explore the grounds that are open from 9am-5pm ($20), learn about the lighthouses’ history, its keepers, shipwrecks, and the history of the aboriginals that originally occupied this land.
There are a number of great trails that spring from the light station grounds. If you have the time we recommend that you do the 8-hour loop to Blanket Bay. Not only is Blanket Bay both beautiful and secluded, but the trail towards Blanket Bay is a great way to catch whales just off-shore.
Port Campbell National Park
The 12 Apostles are what really put the Great Ocean Road on the map. These massive wind-sculpted formations are truly impressive. Spend some time getting to know Port Campbell National Park by traversing the parks countless cliff-top boardwalks to take in the views of the 8 apostles still standing.
The 12 Apostles are often considered the Port Campbell National Park’s main event but they have some close runner-ups.
To feel really tiny, visit Gibson Steps and stand at the foot of Port Campbell National Park’s mammoth cliffs. Then take in the sunrise at Loch and Gorge. Most visitors opt to see the sunrise at the 12 Apostles but we reckon it’s more rewarding to have Loch and Gorge all to yourself at first light.
Port Campbell itself is a tiny gem of a town. Visit the Grassroots Cafe for tasty loose leaf tea or Sow and Piglets micro-brewery for a craft beer. While you’re there ask for the story behind the Sow and Piglets name (hint: it was the original name of the 12 Apostles). There is a small beach at Port Campbell but it gets very busy during the summer months.
Continue past the town of Port Campbell towards the Arch, London Arch, and the Grotto. Most tours buses bypass these great stops so you can expect a little more seclusion when compared to the Apostles.
Your final stop on the Great Ocean Road drive is the town of Warrnambool. En route you’ll pass the gorgeous (highly underrated) Bay of Islands. But don’t worry there are plenty of clifftop viewing platforms to pull off on along the way.
Once in Warrnambool visit the Logan Whale Watching Platform, then head to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village. Here you’ll learn all about the coastlines dramatic history of shipwrecks, sailors and folklore.
If you’re in Melbourne (or Australia as a whole) than the Great Ocean Road drive should definitely be added to your Australian itinerary. From Warrnambool, most people continue onwards to Adelaide, or up towards the incredible Grampians National Park. Enjoy the ride!
Great Ocean Road Drive Time & Distance:
Total Distance: 281 kms.
Total Drive Time: 5 hours
Great Ocean Road Drive Itinerary
You could really spend days getting to know each of these towns but if you really want to just see the main sights and attractions without rushing too much we suggest you spend 5 nights, 5 days on the road.
That means spending one night in Torquay in order to start your Great Ocean Road Drive early in the morning. Then spend your next night in Lorne, Apollo Bay, and Port Campbell before finishing in Warrnambool.
Short on time?
Don’t fret, you can still experience the Great Ocean Road drive even if you don’t have the luxury of 5 days or more. Here is our advice:
- Pick and choose the stops that interest you the most. Don’t try to squeeze in everything. It’s not an episode of the Amazing Race.
- Consider waking up early to get the most out of your day
- End your Great Ocean Road drive in Port Campbell rather than Warrnambool
The Great Ocean Road drive can be done in 3 days, 2 nights and some companies even offer the itinerary as a 1-day tour out of Melbourne.
Have you ever done the Great Ocean Road drive? What was your favourite stop along the way?
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