The Great Ocean Road was voted the second best thing to do in Australia and is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Australia. Starting at Torquay, this iconic coastal road will take you through 243km of stunning beaches, dramatic cliffs, historic landmarks and cute seaside towns.
This iconic road trip had been high on my list and I was one of the first things I did when I moved to Melbourne. Here are my recommendations for a day trip down the Great Ocean Road. These tips are from my experience starting from Melbourne’s CBD and being apart of a tour group. However, I’d highly recommend an extended trip over 3 days if you have the time and can rent your own car!
Leave Melbourne Early!
I highly recommend leaving Melbourne (or wherever you’re starting from) as early as possible to avoid crowds. The Great Ocean Road is one of the most popular things to do in Victoria, so it gets very congested with crowds and tour groups. I joined a tour group that had multiple different pick up points within the CBD. I purposely chose the first pick-up point to allow a good seat on the bus.
Tip: If you decide to join a tour, sitting alongside the window on the lefthand side, will give you the best views during the drive!
The first pick up was scheduled for 7:05am…we didn’t end up completing the last pick up until around 8:10am! If you have the option – leave earlier!
Torquay is a seaside town, known for its surf beaches, seafood, Surf Coast Walk trail and for being the starting point of the Great Ocean Road. This surfers paradise is definitely worth checking out if you have time. Visit Bells Beach, walk along Torquay’s coastal path, or explore the Australian National Surfing Museum. Unfortunately, our tour didn’t stop here due to time constraints, but I have had the pleasure of enjoying this cute coastal town since. If you are able to do a longer trip down the Great Ocean Road, I’d recommend stopping here.
This was our first scheduled stop on the tour. We arrived at around 9:40 – so roughly a 90 minute drive from Melbourne’s CBD. The organisation I went with provided a morning tea for us to enjoy with stunning views of the waters. The hot drinks, biscuits and traditional Lemmingtons were very much appreciated! Tip: I would recommend bringing layers as it was quite chilly with the wind, and felt much colder than Melbourne.
If you have time, stop here for longer to enjoy everything the town has to offer. Like Torquay, Anglesea is a popular seaside resort town, known for its stunning cliffs and surf. Food options will be more limited than Torquay, but check out the Anglesea Golf Club bistro for coffee, snacks, lunch and dinner. Not only is the food good, but you’ll be treated to the 300 plus kangaroo population that lives within the grounds.
The Great Ocean Road Sign
Memorial Arch, commonly known as the Great Ocean Road sign, can be found a short drive from Aireys Inlet. The memorial arch was built to honour the 3000 servicemen who built the Great Ocean Road between 1919 – 1932. Alongside the sign, there are information boards, 50th & 75th anniversary plaques and a sculpture of two men, representing the work behind the road. Definitely worth parking here to read more about the development of the road.
From Anglesea, it took around 15 minutes to reach the Memorial Arch. We spent some time here taking photos with the sign, reading the informational plaques and popping down to the beach. You don’t need very long here.
Note: This is one of the most photographed spots along the entire Great Ocean Road, so it gets congested with people and cars. We were warned that tourists often stand in the middle of the road to take photos. The road here bends round and is fast, so do not copy the other tourists who are risking their lives for selfies.
A 20 minute drive from the Memorial Arch is the bustling seaside town of Lorne. Known for its lively art community, popular surfing beach and viewpoints, Lorne is worth staying in time-permitted. Some things to do in Lorne include Teddy’s Lookout, the Great Ocean Road Heritage Centre, QDOs art gallery, the Phantom waterfalls and Mountjoy Parade.
We drove through Lorne but this is a place I will be coming back to in the future! If you’ve time, consider staying over here. There are plenty of places to stay in Lorne and it’s a great base to start an early morning journey to the Twelve Apostles. Accommodation ranges from backpacker hostels, BnBs, cottages, resorts, retreats, hotels and camping, to name a few!
Wild Koalas at Kennett River
Our tour guide made a pit stop at Kafe Koala, found just between Kennett River Nature Walk and Point Hawdon. There are a family of koalas that are regularly sighted in the gum trees just by this cafe. We were incredibly fortunate to get a glimpse of them in their natural habitat as they sat in various trees. If you’re looking for a quick coffee stop along the road, consider this area and look out for the koalas.
After grabbing some coffees and using the restrooms, we headed back on the bus and continued on to Apollo Bay for some lunch.
Apollo Bay is a traditional fishing village that’s a must-do when driving the Great Ocean Road. If you’re doing this road trip in a day, Apollo Bay is a great place to stop for lunch. Famous for its seafood, there are a number of great restaurants to choose from. We had incredible fish and chips from the Apollo Bay Seafood Cafe. As you’d imagine from a seaside town, the fish was fresh and there was a wide range of options to choose from. If you’re looking for something other than fish, our guide recommended the many pie shops and an Indian restaurant too.
If you have time here, check out the views from Marriners Lookout! It’s a few minutes drive North East, and it’ll give you insane views 218 metres above sea level of the town, ocean and harbour. We had about 45 minutes here to enjoy the beach and explore the quaint village town shops. As with Lorne, Apollo Bay has a range of accommodation, from hotels to guest houses, to choose from if you plan on doing this drive over several days.
From here, we continued on for 90 minutes to the 12 Apostles via the Great Otway National Park.
Great Otway National Park
The Otway Ranges are a cool temperature rainforest found along the Great Ocean Road, spanning between Torquay up near the Twelve Apostles. Included here, is the Great Otway National Park. The 103,185 hectare national park encompasses forest, waterfalls, 110km of hiking trails, beaches and a large koala population.
This is where the famous Great Ocean Walk is found and it’s near the picturesque Cape Otway Lightstation. The park has a number of campsites to choose from too. If camping isn’t your thing, the nearest town is Apollo Bay, where you’ll find a range of accommodation. We just drove through parts of the Great Otway National Park, so it’s on my list to enjoy in the future.
The Twelve Apostles
We arrived at the iconic Twelve Apostles just after 3pm. As you would expect, it was packed with tourists and tour groups. However, everyone took it in turns to stand on the viewpoint to see the 12 Apostles. It was a dream come true to see these incredible limestone formations rising out of the sea. Due to the continuing erosion from the harsh weather conditions, there are only 8 left! With 6 visible from the classic viewpoint. You can walk along the coast and take in the stunning views of the ocean and impressive cliff face.
There is no admission fee for the Twelve Apostles and it’s open from 10am to 5pm every day. The downside of doing a tour meant we were limited to one hour at the Twelve Apostles, so it felt very rushed to see everything. If I were to do this trip again, I’d stay somewhere nearby and enjoy the 12 Apostles in the morning, before the crowds come.
Another thing worth checking out whilst visiting the 12 Apostles, is the Gibson Steps! Walk down the 86 steps carved into the cliff face by Hugh Gibson and enjoy the 70-metre high vertical cliffs and limestone stocks in the sea. You can enjoy a walk along the beach and see the apostles from a different perspective. Be sure to check the weather before you plan a trip, as you can only go down the Gibson Steps when the weather allows it.
Loch Ard Gorge
The Loch Ard Gorge was undoubtably my favourite part of the Great Ocean Road. Situated in the Port Campbell National Park, it’s a 5 minute drive from the Twelve Apostles.
This area has been aptly named the Shipwreck Coast, as the treacherous waters of the Southern Ocean have claimed over 700 vessels. Of all these shipwrecks, one of the most famous in Australia is Loch Ard in 1878 – where the Gorge got its name from! The ship carrying a range of luxury and household goods left the UK with 54 passengers and crew on March 1st. On June 1st, days from its destination, poor weather conditions caused the Loch Ard to hit Mutton Bird Island. It sank shortly after. There were only two survivors from the ship – Tom and Eva. Various places in this area have been named after them, including the Tom and Eva Lookout.
There is plenty to see and do at the Loch Ard Gorge, so give yourself enough time to fully enjoy the area.
Explore Loch Ard Gorge Beach
This has been my favourite beach in Australia so far. Its turquoise waters encased by dramatic cliffs and golden sand make for some pretty spectacular views! The water was the perfect temperature for a quick swim. But be warned that the tide and waves can be strong at times! You’ll also find caves here with beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations. We spent some time here enjoy the beach before exploring more of the area.
To reach the beach, you’ll need to walk a short way from the main car park and head down 100 steps. There’s a fantastic viewpoint just before you reach the stairs, so be sure to get some photos here. The main downfall of the beach though, is it’s not too accessible for those who might struggle with stairs. The other parts of Loch Ard Gorge are more accessible.
Walk along the Razorback
Walk left from the main car park and you see signs pointing towards the Razorback walk. As you go down the path, you’ll come across the Tom and Eva lookout point. The lookout, named after the shipwreck survivors, gives you incredible views over the Loch Ard Gorge and its surrounding areas. As it’s slightly hidden, it’s a great place to enjoy the nature in peace.
From here, join the main path and continue on until you reach the lookout for the Razorback rock formation. The harsh winds and ocean have shaped the limestone rocks here into an incredibly thin, half-crescent formation. The walk back from here gave incredible views over the Gorge and its surrounding plant life.
Other things to see at Loch Ard Gorge
Our tour guide recommended visiting the Sherbrook River and the Thunder Cave if we were to come back. The Sherbrook River is home to 12-foot waves that crash against the landscape and cause huge sprays. It’s apparently a pretty incredible sight, but a dangerous area where swimming is strongly discouraged. The Loch Ard Cemetery is located a few minutes away from the main carpet and is a resting place for some of those who passed in the Loch Ard shipwreck. Those on our trip that visited said it was a tranquil area with some beautiful memorial plaques for those resting there. Again, the time constraint here put a pressure on the whole trip, meaning I wasn’t able to visit these places.
Note: there are no toilet facilities or places to buy food/water here, so be sure to take advantage of the facilities at the 12 Apostles.
Head Back to Melbourne
As this was a one-day tour, we had to head back to Melbourne after visiting the Loch Ard Gorge. We drove inland rather than back along the Great Ocean Road, to save time. It took roughly 3.5 hours to drive back, which included a toilet/snack break and the mild traffic entering Melbourne city. An amazing trip, but tiring trying to fit it all in one day.
This was just my experience travelling down the Great Ocean Road. As someone who was fairly new to the city, and without a license, the tour group was a great option for me. However, if you have access to a car, I’d highly recommend driving this iconic coastal road yourself. Especially if you can spread it out over a couple of days, to really enjoy each area. The Great Ocean Road’s official site has a plethora of information to check out ahead of your trip.
Great Ocean Road Day Trip Timeline
Given I went with a tour, that was required to take regularly breaks, this timeline will be a bit skewed compared to a normal day trip. But here is the rough timeline of our day:
- 7:15 – Left first pick up point (Melbourne’s Immigration Museum)
- 8:10 – Left Melbourne CBD after all pickups
- 9:38 – Arrived at Anglesea for morning tea
- 10:20 – Great Ocean Road Sign / Memorial Arch
- 11:10 – Devil’s Elbow Viewpoint
- 11:37 – Wild koala sighting by Kafe Koala
- 12:11 – Cape Patton Lookout
- 12:45 – Apollo Bay lunch
- 15:00 – Twelve Apostles
- 16:00 – Loch Ard Gorge
- 16:50 – Start journey back to Melbourne
- 18:22 – Winchelsea toilet break and cockatoo sightings
- 20:10 – Arrive at first drop off in Melbourne CBD
Tips for the Great Ocean Road
- Bring layers! Temperatures were much cooler than Melbourne and some spots are very windy.
- Take advantage of toilet facilities in large visitor centres like the 12 Apostles or in Apollo Bay. Many places we stopped at (e.g. Memorial Arch and Loch Ard Gorge) didn’t have bathrooms or food/drink facilities.
- Stop off at the many lookout points along the way for incredible views and photo opportunities.
- Tour groups operate along this road nearly everyday of the year! If you’re driving, head out as early as possible to be in front of these groups. We had the same 6 tour buses with us the entire day, so areas got congested at times.
- Do the journey in several days to make the most of each stop.
- Take travel sickness pills if you’re prone to car sickness as the road has many bends.
- If you’re going in a tour group, sit on the left hand side at the front for the best views. Tour buses go back to Melbourne inland, so you won’t get the same views if you’re sitting on the right.
Other Places to Visit on the Great Ocean Road
There are many other places worth checking out along this infamous road. Unfortunately, I have yet to visit them, so i’m going off recommendations. These include Aireys Inlet, Port Campbell, London Bridge and the Bay of Islands. I will provide information on these places when I get the chance to go back. The Great Ocean Road ends in Allansford. I’ve also had recommendations to go just beyond the end point, and visit Killarney Beach and Port Fairy! Hopefully I can visit those soon.
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