The Great Ocean Road Self Drive: The Best Places to Stop
The Great Ocean Road is Australia’s most iconic stretch of road, and together with the Twelve Apostles, it’s one of the most photographed natural attractions in the country. It’s the pride of the state of Victoria and it’s one of the best road trips that you can do in Australia. It’s a bit of an adventure but it’s a lot of fun and incredibly beautiful.
The Great Ocean Road twists and turns its way along the Victorian coastline, hugging rugged cliffs on one side, with sheer drops into the ocean on the other. The views into the distance of the upcoming coastline surrounded by the shimmering blue sea are simply breathtaking.
The Great Ocean Road is also home to quaint little coastal towns, wonderful national parks, fantastic hiking trails, stunning viewpoints, waterfalls, and incredible rock formations. We’ve done the drive three times already and we haven’t tired of it yet. It’s a must do for anyone living in Melbourne or visiting the city.
Where is the Great Ocean Road?
The Great Ocean Road starts in Torquay (the surfing capital of Australia), which is ninety minutes drive from Melbourne. It stretches over two hundred and fifty kilometres to the coastal town of Warrnambool.
Where to stop on the Great Ocean Road (driving from East to West):
Bells Beach is one of Australia’s best surfing beaches and one of its most famous. Every year around Easter, the Rip Curl Pro contest is held there. If you happen to be nearby around that time, be sure to check it out. The best surfers in the world will be trying their luck. At other times of the year, you’ll always find lots of experienced surfers tackling the waves at Bells Beach, no matter how cold it is!
Anglesea Golf Club
No, you don’t have to be a golfer to stop there! The best reason to visit is not for the golfing but to check out the large colony of kangaroos that live on the course! If you have some spare time you can even sign up for the golf cart tours that they run, which let tourists safely view the roos.
Aireys Inlet Split Point Lighthouse
The lighthouse was built in 1891 and is still in operation today. You can pay for a guided tour or simply take a walk down the path to the two platforms below the lighthouse. From there, you’ll get a lovely preview of the Great Ocean Road’s magical cliffs and rock formations.
The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch, Easter View
The Memorial Arch was built as a tribute to the World War One returned servicemen who constructed the Great Ocean Road. It acknowledges the day to day challenges that the workers faced and it’s a great stop to learn more about them. Of course, it’s also a great chance to get your obligatory photo!
Lorne is a stylish little town full of cafes, shops and galleries. For some lovely views, grab lunch at the Lorne Beach Pavillion or on the deck of the Lorne Hotel. Lorne is also a great spot to stay at on the first night of your trip if you are looking for a hotel, motel or comfortable accommodation.
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It’s a short detour from Lorne to reach Erkskine Falls, but it is one of the most popular waterfalls on the drive. This 30-metre high waterfall is located in a lush forested area and there are two lookout points, one at the top and one at the base. The first lookout is an easy five-minute walk from the car park. The second is a bit more of a struggle (at least on way back) because you’ll be climbing up two hundred and forty steps! It’s well worth it though.
Teddy’s lookout is my favourite lookout on the Great Ocean Road. Sitting up on a hill and at the end of a residential road, it’s not super easy to find. But once you’re there you’ll be treated to magnificent views of the winding Great Ocean Road, and of the Saint George River below where it drains into the Bass Strait.
Wye River is a peaceful beachfront settlement and if you are into camping, it’s a great place to stop for the first night. The Wye River Foreshore Camping Ground is an ideal spot to break up your trip. The beach is small and quiet and the wildlife is abundant. Expect to see a few koalas up in the trees and plenty of birds.
The Wye River Cafe serves the best breakfasts and coffee on the Great Ocean Road and its adjoining Provedore is a great place to stock up on local produce. Are you looking for a few drinks and a meal after a long day of driving? Then head to the Wye River Hotel for a wine, parma and awesome views from their deck. You may also see pods of dolphins swimming past close to shore!
Kenneth River is an even smaller beachfront settlement that is only a few minutes past Wye River. It’s a popular stop if you want to spot koalas in the wild. Many of them live in the blue gums that line its main road (Grey River Road). So keep your eyes peeled and please remember that they are wild animals. Don’t try and touch them or poke your selfie stick at them; they really don’t appreciate it and may use their sharp claws to let you know!
Apollo Bay is another decent sized town on the Great Ocean Road and it’s also a popular place to stop for a night. It has many restaurants, places to stay and shops to browse. Its four-kilometre long main beach is great for a relaxing walk.
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For panoramic views of Apollo Bay’s town centre, harbour and beaches, head to the Mariners Lookout. It is located at the northern end of the town, off Mariners Lookout Road.
Maits Rest Rainforest Trail
The Maits Rest rainforest trail is a short thirty-minute walk along a boardwalk. As you walk along the valley floor and through the ancient rainforest, you’ll see beautiful fern gardens and giant trees, some up to three hundred years old. You can even go inside some of the old tree trunks! Look out for the abundant birdlife as well.
Cape Otway and its Lighthouse
Not only is the road to the Cape Otway Lighthouse another popular spot to see koalas, but Cape Otway is the southernmost point of the Great Ocean Road region. Cape Otway Light-station was built in 1846 after eight ships were wrecked along this part of the coast, with hundreds of lives lost. Perched on top of towering sea cliffs, ninety metres above the ocean, it is mainland Australia’s oldest lighthouse. During your visit, you can climb to the top of the lighthouse for stunning views of Bass Strait. There is an entry fee ($19.50 per adult).
Otway Fly Treetop walk
For breathtaking aerial views of the Otway rainforest, detour north to the Otway Fly Treetop walk. This one-hour rainforest experience takes you along a six hundred meter long and thirty meters high, treetop walkway. This gives you a birds-eye view of the forest from up in the rainforest canopy. It is the longest and tallest walkway of its type in the world. If you have a spare three hours, you can even sign up for a zip line adventure!
Cost: $25 per adult for the treetop walk, zip line extra.
At Gibson Steps, eighty-six steps lead you down the side of the cliff to the beach for a close-up view of the gigantic apostles. From there you can see up close just how powerful the ocean really is. You’ll also appreciate just how high those cliffs really are. The steps are named after Hugh Gibson, a local settler who carved them into the face of the cliff.
This is the stop that nobody wants to miss! So make sure that you arrive super early, or you will have to fight your way along the boardwalk through hundreds of people. We recommend visiting at sunrise or at least early morning. Alternatively, go at sunset once the big tour buses have left.
The Twelve Apostles are nothing short of spectacular. These massive limestone stacks tower forty-five metres above the ocean and were formed by millions of years of erosion. There are only seven of the original twelve apostles remaining; the rest have collapsed into the ocean. With time the rest will follow, so it’s no wonder that everyone wants to take a peek at them now while they still can!
The seventy meter high cliffs behind the apostles are yet another feature that makes the whole area awe-inspiring!
Loch Ard Gorge
Three minutes drive from the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge is another fascinating stop in the Port Campbell National Park. It is named after the clipper ship Loch Ard, which ran aground on nearby Muttonbird island in 1878, after a three month long journey from England. Only two of the fifty-four passengers survived. There are a few short walking trails you can take there. Be sure to walk down to the Razorback and the Thunder Cave, and of course head down to the Loch Ard Gorge beach, to admire the sheer cliffs on both sides and to check out the caves.
The small seaside town of Port Campbell is a great place to spend a night. It is the closest town to the apostles and this is the best place to stop for the day, if you are planning to hang around for sunset or to watch the sun rise over the apostles. It has a few restaurants and many places to stay. Check out the scenic lookout just outside of town for a nice view over the township, its natural harbour, and beach area.
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It’s worth a quick stop to see this archway, naturally sculptured from the rocks and surrounded by crashing waves. To see it, you’ll need to walk down to the bottom to the small viewing platform. It is a quiet stop with very little tourists taking time to visit.
The London Bridge is the second most popular destination on the Great Ocean Road after the Apostles. Although no longer a bridge since its partial collapse in 1990, it is still a spectacular sight. Now it looks like another arch but a much larger one. You can check out the London Bridge from a few designated viewing platforms.
The Grotto is another natural phenomenon worth visiting. It’s part blowhole, part archway and part cave. The Grotto is accessible via a staircase that leads down from the viewing platform at the top. You can admire it from above, or go down the stairs to see it at eye level.
Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs
While on the Great Ocean Road, everyone makes the trip to the Twelve Apostles. But few seem to bother with the Bay of Islands or the Bay of Martyrs. A few kilometres south of the little town of Peterborough, you’ll find the Bay of Islands Coastal Park (of which the Bay of Martyrs is part). This area is equally as stunning as the Twelve Apostles, but it’s a lot quieter. You’ll find more incredible rock formations, deserted beaches, stunning scenery and a fascinating history.
Warrnambool is the end of the Great Ocean Road. You’ve made it! Every year between June and September, female Southern Right whales return to the waters of Warrnambool’s Logan’s Beach to calve. This makes Warrnambool one of the best places in Victoria to see whales. If you head there in the summer months, Warrnambool is still a nice town to visit with more breathtaking ocean views and some fantastic beaches. Just don’t expect to see any whales.
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Tips for driving the Great Ocean Road
- If you are only driving the road in one direction, as most people do, it is best to drive from East to West (from Torquay to Warrnambool). You will be driving on the ocean side of the road and it will be a lot easier to stop at the many viewpoints along the way.
- Fill your car up with petrol in Torquay and always make sure that you have enough in your tank when you reach the major towns (such as Lorne and Apollo Bay). It can sometimes be a while before you see the next petrol station.
- In Australia we drive on the left side of the road. In the recent years there have sadly been a few fatal accidents, caused by tourists driving on the wrong side of the road.
- Stop as often as possible to admire the scenery. It is the best part of the drive and it gives the driver a chance to rest.
- In busy periods such as school holidays, Easter or Christmas, make sure you book your accommodation in advance, because finding a place to stay on the day might be difficult.
- Don’t attempt to drive the entire Great Ocean Road all in one day. That’s dangerous and it’s not worth doing the drive unless you actually get a chance to enjoy it.
- Try to respect the speed limit. I know the curves can be a bit scary, but the locals are used to it and can get a bit fed up with tourists slowing them down. If you want to drive a bit slower, pull over and let them pass when it’s safe to do so.
- Bring warm clothes, even in summer. The weather down the coast is extremely changeable and you never know what it’s going to do next. It can be extremely cold and windy at the Twelve Apostles and many people aren’t adequately prepared for it.
What if I can’t self-drive the Great Ocean Road?
The best possible way to enjoy this spectacular coastal drive is to rent a car and drive it yourself, but I can understand that not everyone will feel up to it. It can certainly be a little scary at times and if you’re not a great driver, taking a bus tour is probably your best option.
There are many companies that run tours to the Great Ocean Road. These leave on a daily basis from the centre of Melbourne. If you are short on time, you can take a one day tour. However, they are expensive, and you will spend large parts of the day on the bus and will miss most of the sights. At a minimum, we strongly recommend choosing a two or three day tour, to really make the most of your visit and to not feel rushed.