Highlights Of A Great Ocean Road Trip

This Great Ocean Road Trip post was originally published on 1 June 2015 and last updated on 18 May 2021.

I’m usually skeptical about things that are uber-popular, but after a good long while of being stubborn I often come around and jump on that bandwagon. Like when I started watching Friends during the 10th and final season, and started reading the Harry Potter books right before Book 7 came out. How silly is it that I was needlessly hating on what are now two of my most loved creations in the entertainment world?!

I’m like that when I travel as well. I thought I’d hate the overpriced and overhyped Blue Lagoon when I traveled around Iceland last year, but I freaking LOVED it. 

It’s the same idea: sometimes things are popular because they actually are super awesome. I need to get better about subduing the hipster in me and just turn off my auto-hate mode!

Great Ocean Road trip

 

Somehow, though, my normal rules never applied to the Great Ocean Road. I knew it was a land fraught with tour buses that inevitably carried tourists sporting nametags and/or selfie sticks, but I didn’t care. I had to experience one of the world’s best road trips!

After doing it 3 times now, I can highly recommend taking on a Great Ocean Road trip. A few pro tips, if you do:

  • If you’re doing it as a weekend getaway from Melbourne, you’ll need a minimum of 2.5 days to make the return trip, but I’d recommend 4 days/3 nights so you can take your time and spend more than a hot minute at each stop-off point.
  • Aim to travel during the week when there are far fewer tourists than on weekends – trust me, the difference in crowds is MASSIVE.
  • Expect to be cold and bring your layers! A sunny day can quickly turn to rain, and wind is pretty much guaranteed no matter what, so you’ll be glad to have a hat and a warm jacket.
  • Rent a room in a house on Airbnb. I’m always an advocate for camping, but the nights down here are COLD year round and well suited for indoor accommodation. You can find a room with two double beds for AU$40-45/night – cheaper than staying in a hostel dorm! Try staying in Warrnambool, Peterborough, Port Campbell, Apollo Bay, or Lorne.
  • If you do decide to camp (ideally during summer), I can highly recommend the Great Ocean Road Tourist Park in Peterborough. Super clean and quiet and a bit off the beaten path (compared to nearby Port Campbell). 

Logistics aside, here’s what you should add to your Great Ocean Road trip itinerary (from east to west):

The Surf Coast

Torquay

Your Great Ocean Road trip kicks off at Torquay, a proper beach town. We stopped here to pick up wine and coffee and had a picnic lunch by the beach, but there are plenty of restaurants and boutiques to enjoy here if you’re so inclined.

Torquay is also home to the famous Bells Beach, which hosts the annual Rip Curl Pro surfing competition – maybe you’ve heard of it? There were bleachers assembled at the beach because, unbeknownst to us, the event had just wrapped about a week earlier.

Great Ocean Road trip

Here’s what to see and do in Torquay:

  • Bells Beach
  • Surf Coast Walk – a 44km coastal trail spanning from Torquay to Aireys Inlet (you can just do a portion of it if 44km is too much for you!)
  • Surf or sign up for a surf lesson
  • Horseback riding on the beach

You’ll enjoy the best coastal views along the segment of the Great Ocean Road from Torquay to Apollo Bay. Allow plenty of time to take it slow around those curves and enjoy the ridiculous scenery. There are also heaps of beaches to stop off at along the way.

 

Lorne

If your Great Ocean Road itinerary permits, you should definitely spend some time in Lorne, an adorable seaside town about halfway between Torquay and Apollo Bay. 

The best thing to do in Lorne is just hang out and enjoy the chilled out town. But while you’re there, you might as well check out:

  • Nearby Erskine Falls – which you can either drive to, or walk to via the 7.5km Erskine River Track.
  • The view from Teddy’s Lookout over the inlet.
  • Pizza Pizza, who apparently do the best gluten free pizza around!

 

Great Ocean Road Trip
Great Ocean Road itinerary
Great Ocean Road road trip

Kennett River

Four words: KOALAS IN THE WILD. If this isn’t on your Aussie bucket list, then what are you even doing here? ;)

Look for the sign for Kennett River and turn off into the caravan park lot (thank you, Lonely Planet tip). These cutie pies sleep 22 hours a day, but we saw one wide awake chomping away on some leaves (sadly it was too dark to get a decent photo of her).

Great Ocean Road trip

 

The Otways

Great Otway National Park expands inland from the coast and covers the bulk of the eastern half of the Great Ocean Road. In other words: if you turn off the Great Ocean Road at any point east of Cape Otway, you’re basically in the forest. The roads are windy and hilly – great fun to drive after dark with a clutch, let me tell you. During the day you’ll see nothing but insanely tall trees framing your path.

If you have limited time to do your Great Ocean Road trip, I wouldn’t prioritize the Otways as a must-do – just focus on the coast.

However, you should definitely budget some extra time for the Otways if you’re into rainforests and waterfalls!

 

Great Ocean Road day trip
Beauchamp Falls.

Waterfalls

The Otways are famed for their gorgeous waterfalls, a few of which are clustered within a short drive of each other. On my last visit in March 2021, two of them were inaccessible due to road construction, so I’d recommend checking ahead of time before you make the drive.

  • Triplet Falls and Little Aire Falls are very closeby each other and can easily be combined in one trip.
  • Hopetoun Falls is nearby the Redwood forest.
  • Beauchamp Falls and Stevensons Falls have campgrounds within walking distance.
  • Erskine Falls is a bit further east, and best done as a trip from Lorne (as mentioned earlier).

great ocean road itinerary

Hopetown Falls.

Rainforest

The Otway rainforest is particularly awesome because you can spot glow worms in certain areas at night. Melba Gully and Maits Rest Rainforest Walk are two such locations. Daytime visits are also very worthwhile because, y’know, you can actually see all the trees and greenery around you as you do the walks.

If you have the luxury of both time and money, you can book some rainforest activities with Otway Fly Tree Top Adventures. Their famous Treetop Walk and Zip Line Tour are meant to be pretty epic!

 

great ocean road trip

The Redwoods

Who knew there were California Redwood trees tucked away in a small pocket of Australia? If you haven’t seen the Redwoods in Northern California, this is the next best thing and well worth stopping to see. 

otway redwood forest

CLICK TO BOOK A RENTAL CAR FOR THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD

Don’t want to drive yourself on a Great Ocean Road trip? Book a tour instead!

 

Port Campbell National Park

This is why you do a Great Ocean Road trip – to see all of the good stuff inside this national park. All those photos you’ve seen of arches, bridges, and various other rock structures in the water along a stunning coastline? Yep, they were taken here!

A word of warning: most of the stops on this Great Ocean Road itinerary are VERY touristy. If you’re introverted and/or anti-crowds, aim to visit on weekdays, and preferably earlier in the morning to avoid the hoards of people.

In order from east to west, here are the stops worth making:

great ocean road itinerary

Gibson Steps

I’m not entirely sure why this is a thing, but it’s the first major stop in this region so everyone makes a point to stop off here. Yes, there are indeed steps leading down to a beach (86, in fact) – but the views don’t hold a candle to what lays ahead down the road.

IMO you’d be perfectly fine skipping it if you’re just in it for the views… but if you’re a beach bum who just can’t keep her toes out of the sand (like ME), go on down and have yourself a little frolic.

Great Ocean Road trip

The 12 Apostles

Just a minute up the road from the Gibson Steps are the 12 Apostles, which need no introduction unless you’ve been living under a rock the size of one of them.

(FYI there are actually only 7 Apostles now, but they are all so majestic and spellbinding that you hardly even notice that half of ’em are missing).

Great Ocean Road itinerary 2 days

Sadly there is no access to the beach where most of the 12 Apostles are standing, only Gibson Beach next door. I was actually really looking forward to sunbathing next to them on my last visit, a rare 30 degree day – but it was a no-go. At least there are multiple viewpoints above from which you can admire the rock formations.

 

great ocean road

Loch Ard Gorge

I can’t say enough good things about Loch Ard Gorge – in fact, I’m calling it as the best stop to make on a Great Ocean Road trip.

There are a few walking paths you can take from the car park, which lead to multiple different lookouts. My advice: DO THEM ALL. They’re all so varied and gorgeous that you won’t want to miss a thing.

To the east, the walking path leads to lookouts facing The Razorback and Island Arch:

Great Ocean Road itinerary 2 days

Great Ocean Road itinerary 2 days
View from the Tom and Eva Lookout near Loch Ard Gorge.

 

Closer to the car park, the path leads to the gorge as well as a little side trail to the Island Arch Lookout:

great ocean road trip

Great Ocean Road day trip

At Loch Ard Gorge you CAN actually walk down to the beach, and I highly recommend doing so. It’s freakin’ stunning down there. Top spot for sunbathing, too, if you happen to visit on a rare hot summer day. Plus, it’s a bit sheltered from the wind down there, unlike the other more exposed beaches along the Great Ocean Road.

great ocean road itinerary

loch ard gorge

 

The Arch

No caption needed for this one, either. An arch is an arch (is an arch…).

Great Ocean Road itinerary 2 days

London Bridge

Well it used to be a bridge, until part of it collapsed and left a couple people marooned on the arch. I guess now it should now called London Arch?

Either way, the bridge/arch and surrounding beach are very picturesque, so don’t miss this stop on your Great Ocean Road trip!

great ocean road trip

great ocean road itinerary

 

The Grotto

I’d recommend hitting this spot earlier in the day, otherwise it’ll be covered in shadows. Still, it’s pretty cool walking down to watch the water in this little nook.

Great Ocean Road Trip

CLICK TO BOOK A RENTAL CAR FOR THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD

Don’t want to drive yourself on a Great Ocean Road trip? Book a tour instead!

 

Bay of Islands Coastal Park

The sights and stop-offs after Port Campbell taper off abruptly, but there’s still plenty more coastline to see along the Bay of Islands if you’re not too jaded.

Starting at Peterborough and heading west:

great ocean road

Peterborough Cliff Top Walk

If you want to escape the Great Ocean Road tourists, get yourself off that tourist trail and go for a walk from Peterborough to the Bay of Martyrs. There is a cliff top trail that heads west along the coast and offers up some spectacular coastal inlets and rock formations. DON’T MISS IT!

I was getting some serious Greek island vibes on this walk, it really is a stunner. Shame that it’s so overshadowed by the other Great Ocean Road stops (though lucky for you, you’ll likely only have to share it with the locals!).

great ocean road trip

great ocean road

Bay of Islands

From the Bay of Islands lookout, you can gaze out at numerous rock formations scattered in the bay. It’s a top sunset spot.

great ocean road itinerary

Great Ocean Road itinerary

 

Warrnambool

Warrnambool marks the official end of the Great Ocean Road. This is a proper city with large supermarkets, chain stores, golf clubs, and botanic gardens, which… isn’t quite the same vibe you get on the rest of the drive.

Unless you need some creature comforts or urban stimulation, or are heading further west, you’re not missing much if you opt not to stop here. On one of my Great Ocean Road trips, I stayed here one night before driving back to Melbourne the next day, using it mostly just as a place to crash rather than tour. There’s a great, affordable selection of Airbnbs in Warrnambool, so it does work well as a place to stay. 

However, if you do have some time to spend here, there are plenty of things to do in Warrnambool:

  • Deep Blue Hot Springs, the Great Ocean Road’s answer to the Mornington Peninsula Hot Springs
  • Whale watching at Logans Beach, which has a whale watching platform from which to spot the whales (during winter) or the sunset
  • Thunder Point, a coastal reserve with numerous hiking trails and coastal views

 

CLICK TO BOOK A RENTAL CAR FOR THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD

Don’t want to drive yourself on a Great Ocean Road trip? Book a tour instead!

 
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Great Ocean Road Trip Highlights
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