Australia’s Great Ocean Road is hailed as one of the world’s most epic road trips, and for good reason. Stretching along Victoria’s south coast, the 240 kilometre journey traverses through seaside towns, hugs dramatic cliffsides overlooking roaring oceans, passes golden beaches, ducks through forested canopies of eucalyptus trees hiding koalas and culminates with an arrival at the famous Twelve Apostles.
A trip along the Great Ocean Road (or GOR as those Aussies who are fond of abbreviations call it) can take anywhere from a day to two weeks depending on how it’s experienced. Options include an organized day trip from Melbourne, tackling the three-day jaunt between Adelaide and Melbourne in a rental car, booking a guided tour, or even setting off on the the one-way Great Ocean Walk that can take up to eight days to conquer. Regardless of which route you choose, here are some of the best stops along Australia’s Great Ocean Road.
Great Ocean Road itinerary: Lorne
Assuming you’re heading out from Melbourne, one of the first stops on your Great Ocean Road itinerary will likely be the Great Ocean Road Memorial Archway, which is just outside of Lorne.
Built as a tribute to the soldiers who built the roadway, it’s actually one of three that were originally constructed, but one was replaced during road widening while the other burned down. There’s also a sculpture depicting men slinging their tools as they built the road, which was commissioned for 75th anniversary celebrations. There is a spot to pull off the road right beside the Memorial Archway, making it a great spot to grab a photo to commemorate the trip.
Fun fact: Construction on the Great Ocean Road began back in 1919, and was created as a project for returning World War I servicemen. It was originally called a Tourist Road, but was renamed in 1972.
Just a bit farther along the road is Lorne, a buzzing beach town full of holiday homes. A great spot to enjoy a picnic or even stay the night, Lorne is simply buzzing with activity thanks to its many green spaces, playgrounds, beaches and the boutiques that line the main strip. It’s also close to natural wonders such as Erskine Falls which are great for exploring, and the Lorne Foreshore Caravan Park is a popular spot to spend the night and even has glamping.
Great Ocean Road lookouts: Cape Patton
After getting back onto the main highway (with helpful reminders to drive on the left side of the road) the next stretch towards Apollo Bay is absolutely glorious. Considered to be the most picturesque section along the Great Ocean Road, vehicles hug the pavement as they navigate twisting roadways, where in some places only thin barriers separate the asphalt from the thundering ocean below. While there aren’t a lot of places to pull over, drivers can do so at Cape Patton which was once the site of a shipwreck—not surprising, given the force of the water.
One of the highest lookout points along the Great Ocean Road, Cape Patton grants the kind of gorgeous view one pictures when they think about the GOR. Lush, steep cliffs drop off into the turquoise water swirling below, and sparkling sand beckons. While there isn’t enough space at the Cape Patton viewpoint to have a proper rest, it’s well worth taking the time to stop and enjoy the epic view.
Great Ocean Road camping: Kennett River
Those exploring the GOR in a camper van like these ones here will enjoy the next stop: Kennett River. Home to a sprawling campground with bathroom facilities and a general store, it’s a handy place to park for the night and one of the most popular Great Ocean Road caravan parks. But the real draw is the animals that call it home—because really, who doesn’t want to see koalas, parrots and cockatoos up close?
Just off the dusty trail leading into the campground, there is a grove of trees where the animals like to gather. It’s easy to find, as there are usually loads of excited visitors craning their necks and pointing at the koalas clinging to the thin, swaying branches, doing Cirque de Soleil-like moves to reach the eucalyptus leaves. Sadly a common cause of death among the marsupials is due to falling out of trees, and it’s easy to see why.
The King Parrots are another highlight, who are a vibrant bunch due to their crimson and purple feathers. They’ve become rather domesticated due to the number of people who come armed with bird seed, knowing the parrots will eat right out of their hand. There’s no doubt it makes for great photos for those who can convince the birds to hop up on their shoulders, and it’s quite comical to watch the parrots strut around soaking up the attention.
Great Ocean Road recommended stops: Great Otway National Park
Next up on the Great Ocean Road trip is Great Otway National Park, where the vast ocean views give way to a rainforest landscape. Flourishing foliage creates a curtain along the roadway, concealing the koalas clinging to the tall trees. Being more inland it’s the one spot along the GOR where you can’t actually see the water, and instead will have to be content with catching a glimpse of the farms that dot the landscape. However, Otway is home to one major landmark: the Cape Otway Lightstation.
Hailed as “Australia’s most significant lighthouse,” its bright-white façade is a stunning contrast to the bright-blue sky above and perfectly manicured green grass below. Visitors are welcome to climb up the narrow, winding staircase to get up to the top, where they’re rewarded with fantastic views of huge waves crashing against the coastline. But beware, it can be quite windy!
There’s a restaurant, souvenir shop and bathroom facilities on site, making this a popular pit stop before the final leg of the Great Ocean Road.
Loch Ard Gorge
Loch Ard Gorge is without a doubt one of the most stunning spots along the Great Ocean Road, rivaling the famous Twelve Apostles which are just a few minutes down the road. Another shipwreck site, Loch Ard Gorge was named after the ship Loch Ard, which crashed into a nearby island back in 1878, killing everyone aboard save for two teens. Standing on top of the cliffs looking down at the swirling white-capped water rushing into the inlet, the danger is apparent.
Still, the gorge is safe enough to walk into as long as one stays on the soft sandy beach, which is accessed by a staircase set into the craggy cliffside. The surrounding formations shelter visitors from the ferocious wind, but watch where you stand or you could get doused by a large rogue wave!
Back up top, there are a few scenic trails such as Shipwreck Walk, which include plaques detailing information about the area’s history and boast spectacular views of the bright turquoise water churning between the sandy-yellow rock formations below.
Best Great Ocean Road stops: Twelve Apostles National Park
So despite the Twelve Apostles’ name, there are actually only seven or eight massive limestone formations (depending on who you ask), not a dozen. One fell down in 2007, and it may only be a matter of time before the Southern Ocean’s crashing waves force another one over.
Being the most famous spot along the entire Great Ocean Road, it goes without saying that the Twelve Apostles are teeming with tourists. A large parking lot leads to the park entrance which houses facilities such as a café and washrooms, and there are two separate timber pathways heading towards viewing platforms with unobstructed views of the awe-inspiring rocks. Well, they would be unobstructed were it not for the hundreds of other tourists clamouring for the best selfie angle, but that’s another story.
The Twelve Apostles do not disappoint, even in less-than-ideal weather. Those with the luxury of their own vehicle should coordinate their visit around sunset, which is one of the most spectacular times of day for viewing and much less crowded. Or for a completely uninterrupted view of the Apostles, book a helicopter tour. It’s only about $95 per person, and is without question the best way to grasp the magnitude of the rocks which rise about 10 storeys high in some places.
Be sure to take in the ocean view from both sides of the platform, as the Apostles are spread across both. And of course, it’s important to pay attention to the very-clear warning signs:
Top tip: There’s another bonus to watching the sunset at the Twelve Apostles—it’s prime time to see little penguins. Most nights at dusk, hundreds of the tiny birds waddle out from the ocean across the beach to their homes in the sand dunes, and visitors can take it all in from the viewing platforms.
While people aren’t allowed on the beach directly adjacent to the Twelve Apostles, there is another way to see them from below: by heading down Gibsons Steps. A steep set of 86 stairs deposits visitors straight onto the golden beach, where the squishy sand creates perfect conditions to leave a trail of footprints behind.
Enormous waves wash over the sand, roaring so loudly it’s hard to hear anything else over them. The expansive beach is absolutely stunning, and an easy way to escape the crowds while enjoying a different view of the Twelve Apostles.
While the Great Ocean Road technically continues on toward the town of Warrnambool, most call it a day at the Twelve Apostles and do the three-hour drive back to Melbourne via the Prince’s Highway shortcut. But if time permits take the GOR all the way back—and enjoy more stops along Australia’s Great Ocean Road.
Best places to stay along the Great Ocean Road
There are plenty of accommodations along the Great Ocean Road to suit various budgets, including these campsites and caravan parks. Here are some of the most highly rated hotels:
- RACV Torquay Resort: This sleek spot dazzles guests with its incredible ocean views and fabulous amenities. Click here to book
- Best Western Olde Maritime Motor Inn: A great location and friendly staff make this a crowd favourite. Click here to book
- Quest Warrnambool: Guests love the size and location of these modern apartments. Click here to book
Costs: Visitors won’t really incur any expenses travelling the Great Ocean Road, save for transportation costs which can vary greatly depending on if you’re renting your own vehicle or taking a tour. Numerous companies operate day trips from Melbourne, including Bunyip Tours which leaves at 7 a.m. and returns around 8 p.m., allowing time to stop at many of the best sights. The cost is $125 per person, and includes lunch and a cheerful, knowledgable guide.
Safety first: While there’s no question there is a lot to see along the Great Ocean Road, those behind the wheel are advised to keep their eyes on the highway in front of them. Not only does the road itself require attention due to the twists and turns, but there can also be wildlife who waddle into the middle of it. Driving after dark is also not recommended.
Get the 411: There are numerous information booths set up in towns along the Great Ocean Road, which can provide maps and assist with hotel booking.
Fun add-ons: If time permits, a stop at Bells Beach near Torquay is well-worth it—especially if you happen to be there over the Easter long weekend. Each year, the world’s best surfers gather to hit the waves at the Rip Curl Pro Surfing Competition, which is the longest-running surfing contest ever. Tickets are about $10 per person, or free for area residents.
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Globe Guide travelled along the Great Ocean Road as a guest of Visit Victoria and Bunyip Tours. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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