When the after dinner conversation turns to great road trips of the world, Australia’s Great Ocean Road almost always gets a mention. And so it should. It’s not just another road trip, but a full-on sensory experience that embraces stunning ocean scenery, beautiful little towns that have a charm all their own and the friendly people who call this part of the world their home.
What Is The Great Ocean Road?
The Great Ocean Road is a 243 kilometre stretch of road that starts in Torquay and runs westwards around the rugged coastline of Victoria to Allansford near Warrnambool. Along the way, the visitor passes through beautiful towns such as Torquay, Lorne, Apollo Bay and Port Campbell.
It’s a great addition to a Victoria road trip and a perfect side trip from the city of Melbourne (check out a full 7-day itinerary here)
Here’s our pick of what to experience along The Great Ocean Road.
This is the official start of The Great Ocean Road. Arriving in Torquay from Melbourne, the first thing the visitor feels is a change to a more relaxed, casual pace. There’s no real hustle and bustle here!
What to See and Do in Torquay
A visit to Bells Beach is a must. This iconic beach near Torquay is steeped in surfing history, and boasts some of the best surfing breaks in the world. Bells Beach is home to the Rip Curl Pro Surfing Classic, which attracts surfers from all over the world. The view from the headland carpark down onto the beach is well worth the visit alone!
Let’s go surfing
Given its long history and direct association with the development of the surfing culture in Australia, there are a number of surf schools around Torquay. If you’re keen to go one step further and experience firsthand what it’s like to surf the famous breaks around here, then take a lesson. Go Ride A Wave, Torquay Surfing Academy and Westcoast Surfing School are a few that we came across.
If this doesn’t tick your boxes, then swing by the Surf World Museum in Surf City Plaza. It’s packed with surf boards ridden by famous surfers through to videos and displays covering the past 50 years.
Where to stay and eat in Torquay
Accommodation is plentiful. We stayed at Jarrod’s Place, which was fantastic. Quiet, secluded and walking distance from the waterfront. There are plenty of great places available like this on AirBnB; to suit all tastes and budgets.
For a relaxed brunch, Café Moby on The Esplanade is a must visit. It’s good a great menu menu in a décor that harks back to the 1960’s. There are lots of bold colours and rustic furniture; with a magnificent view out across the ocean.
This popular beach side town is the next stop along from Torquay. There are numerous cafés and boutiques along the foreshore road of Mountjoy Parade, which makes it a great stopover for a lunch break on the way west.
The great thing about Lorne is the views while driving along The Great Ocean Road Westwards from here; wild rugged coastline as far as the eye can see!
Don’t be tempted to rush this part of the trip! There is a speed limit of 80km/hr along most of this section of the road, with plenty of speed cameras to encourage drivers not to rush it. And the views are so great you’ll want to get out of the car and take in some of them en route!
What to see and do in Lorne
Bellarine taste trail
If you’re a bit of a foodie, then this is the tour for you. The whole of the Bellarine Peninsula has been quietly building a reputation for itself in the wine space. Prominent wine varieties cover both Shiraz and Chardonnay. Coupled with second to none gourmet cafés and eateries, this is a great way to spend a day.
There are a number of turnoffs on the road before arriving in Lorne. They offer quaint, quiet areas with stunning beaches and coastal formations. Our favourite is Point Roadknight, where the kids will have a ball climbing around the lava rock formations on the beach. It’s a nice spot for a swim as well, with gentle waves most of the time.
Where to stay and eat in Lorne
Lorne offers a range of accommodation, from a backpackers hostel to Qdos. Qdos is a forest retreat, where there’s the opportunity to Zen-out in luxury treehouse style accommodation. No kids are allowed and there is no TV! Click here to see more details about Qdos and to book.
Cuda Bar and Restaurant has a good menu, friendly service and a great location. If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, then stop by Bottle of Milk for a great gourmet burger and a relaxed feel; with lots of veggie and vegan options.
Apollo Bay has something for everyone. From long stretches of pristine beaches to a choice of delightful eateries, I have no doubt that you’ll love it here. It’s also the perfect base to explore the natural beauty of the Great Otway National Park.
What To See and Do in Apollo Bay
Kayak paddle to Marengo Reefs
A kayak tour out to the nearby Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary is well worth considering. Apollo Bay Surf and Kayak run guided kayak tours out to the off shore reef. It’s a short paddle (about 150 metres from the beach), and home to a colony of seals. The seals that live here are primarily juveniles, moved on from main colonies by breeding adults to make room for the next generation of new borns. They are playful, curious and will swim around the kayaks.
Otway shipwreck tours
If multi-day walks are your thing, then check out Mark Brack’s Shipwreck Tours. These are a full natural history and cultural experience delivered by Mark and indigenous guide Richard Collopy in an entertaining and informative way. His walks are guaranteed to take visitors to places the ordinary tourist will never, ever see.
Where to stay and eat
We stayed at a motel with the descriptive name of A Great Ocean View Motel. It’s an older motel, but offers spacious rooms and an uninterrupted view over Marengo Beach. Click here for more information about the motel and to book.
Our pick of places to dine is Café 153, for breakfast and a great coffee. Located along the main road, it has a casual, friendly atmosphere to it. The Great Ocean Road Brewhouse is the place to go for a meal and to try some of the local craft beers.
Leaving Apollo Bay, the road heads inland through the Great Otway National Park. Somewhat of a contrast to the coastal scenery, the park features large tracts of eucalypt forest, ferns and waterfalls.
What to See and Do Around Cape Otway
Cape Otway Lighthouse
Turn off the main road to visit the Cape Otway Lighthouse. Local guides open the lighthouse to give visitors the chance to climb the internal stairs up to the deck. This gives unsurpassed views along the rugged coastline.
Alongside the lighthouse is the old telegraph station. It was the main point for exchange of early telegraphic messages between the UK and Australia. At its peak, it handled over 30 million telegrams per year.
See Local Wildlife
Be sure to take a close look up into the trees on the road to the lighthouse. It’s home to a large colony of koalas. Not sure what to look for? Pull over near cars parked on the sides of the road. You can bet that’s what they’re looking at.
Otways e-bike guided tour
Fancy a bicycle ride through the Otways without the huff and puff? Then take the Otways E-Bike Guided Tour. They travel along the Old Beechy Rail Trail, providing an up close encounter with the beautiful rainforest.
Where to stay and eat
There’ s camping available at Bimbi Park, with options ranging from unpowered/powered sites to cabins. The Great Ocean Ecolodge is worth considering as well. It is totally self-sufficient energy-wise with solar power.
The town of Port Campbell is adjacent to one of the most beautiful parts of The Great Ocean Road. Here you’re just a short distance from Loch Ard Gorge, The Twelve Apostles, Gibson Steps and London Bridge.
What to See and Do in Port Campbell
This is what everybody comes here for. And for good reason! This wild, beautiful, rugged stretch of coastline is breathtaking. There are well-defined walking paths, and small info boards describing the history of the area.
Expect to be joined by hundreds of bus travelling tourists at Loch Ard Gorge. If crowds of people aren’t your thing, then head over to the adjacent car park and walk to Sherbrook Estuary. It’s about 2.5 kms return. The views along the coastline are equally spectacular, and you don’t have to compete for standing room.
12 Apostles Helicopter Tours
To truly experience the sheer beauty of the coastline, take one of the helicopter tours operated by 12 Apostles Helicopters. They offer a number of tours of differing durations; from 15 minute flights across the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge to 1 hour flights which take in the whole coast from the 12 Apostles to Cape Otway Lighthouse. To do this part of the trip justice, a minimum of two days is recommended.
Where to stay and eat in Port Campbell
Port Campbell is typical of the towns along The Great Ocean Road. It has main street cafés and restaurants, and accommodation to suit all tastes.
Our pick is Waves Café and Bar, which has accommodation attached to it; spacious, comfortable rooms. The top floor rooms have spas, which is a nice way to unwind after a day walking around the gorges. Click here for more information and to book.
For great pizza, nothing goes past Nico’s on Lord Street.
Where to Next?
Arriving at Warrnambool, it’s the official end of The Great Ocean Road. But you don’t have to stop there. Keep on going towards the Coonawarra Wine Region to visit one of the premium wine growing regions in Australia.
Or perhaps onto Adelaide and the Barossa and if you’re feeling adventurous, the Nullarbor to Perth – you could even turn it into a full Australia road trip around the whole country!
Driving The Great Ocean Road should be on everybody’s Bucket List. Is it on yours?
About the Author
Keith and his partner, Marise, are travelling around Australia in stages. Their rig of choice is a 2 door Jeep Wrangler towing a camper trailer, which offers minimalist, flexible, low impact travel without sacrificing too much in basic human comforts. Their Travellin’ Lite blog can be found here, and you can also check them out on Instagram.