GREAT OCEAN ROAD ITINERARY – 20 MUST SEE STOPS
GREAT OCEAN ROAD ITINERARY – 20 MUST SEE STOPS
One of the most beautiful drives in the world, stretching 244km from Torquay to Warrnambool is The Great Ocean Road. We have been fortunate to complete this iconic drive twice, in opposite directions. Planning your Ocean Road itinerary can be overwhelming, so we have put together The Great Ocean Road stops you cannot miss and the best places to eat and sleep along the way.
BEFORE YOUR GREAT OCEAN ROAD TRIP BEGINS – Q & A
When Is The Best Time For A Great Ocean Road Trip?
The first time we did a Great Ocean Road trip was from Melbourne to Warrnambool in Winter and it was incredible – no tourists, stormy grey skies and empty towns. The second time we drove the opposite direction, Adelaide to Melbourne and in the height of Summer – glorious sunshine, crowds of people and the bluest sea we have ever seen.
Although we couldn’t choose a version we prefer, do keep in mind most tour busses start in Melbourne so it’s often a race against the crowds to each of these Great Ocean Road stops. The joy of a Great Ocean Road self-drive tour is you can leave as early as you like and spend as little or as much time as possible at each stop without waiting for the entire bus to take a photo. Also starting your Great Ocean Road itinerary from Melbourne means you are in the lane closest to the ocean so it’s easier to stop and take photos etc.
It’s also recommended to time your Great Ocean Road itinerary between May and October as you’ll see whales migrating along the way.
What Do You Need To Bring On A Great Ocean Road Trip?
Don’t be fooled by the stunning backdrop, the road at times involves dangerous corners, crazy heat in Summer and limited water & fuel stops. We recommend reading our road trip packing list for the essentials we take with us for every drive.
Where Is Best To Go Camping On Great Ocean Road?
Understandably it can be expensive to stay in one of the sea side towns along Great Ocean Road. The first time we drove it, we stayed in a motel in Apollo Bay, which despite being in the height of Winter and the town being completely dead still cost us A$100.00. If your Great Ocean Road trip is on a budget we recommend camping on Great Ocean Road at one (or more) of the following campgrounds.
Remember to book in advance as understandably camping on Great Ocean Road is incredibly popular and near impossible during school holidays – some campsites even introduce a ballot system a year in advance. We booked ours the day before but were not travelling in peak season.
Camping on Great Ocean Road is one of the best ways to get closer to the beautiful landscape and wildlife, but always remember to take only photos, leave only footsteps and only camp where permitted.
Looking For A One Day Great Ocean Road Itinerary?
It would be difficult but not impossible to see the Great Ocean Road highlights in one day. To do the full route, it would take a minimum of 9 hours (approx) of constant driving from Melbourne to Warrnambool, going via the Great Ocean Road one way and the main highway the opposite way.
Therefor, if you have just one day we would recommend only driving as far as Port Campbell which is a slightly shorter 7.5 hours round-trip. Only visit the main Great Ocean Road stops mentioned below – many of which are mere minutes apart anyway and you should make it home by bed time. We’d recommend leaving Melbourne as early as possible and be prepared for a long day to ensure you won’t be too rushed and to beat the tour busses.
- Great Ocean Road Sign
- Teddy’s Lookout
- Kennett River Koala Walk
- Gibson Steps
- Twelve Apostles
- Loch Ard Gorge
- Port Campbell
To return, take the inland route instead of the Great Ocean Road. Although this will still take around 3 hours, it is far quicker than being stuck behind motorhomes, tour busses or being distracted by the scenery and stopping some more. Also note, to always be careful when driving in the dark in Australia especially around dusk as this is prime kangaroo time, so although beautiful to witness they can cause devastating damage to your car.
THE ULTIMATE GREAT OCEAN ROAD ITINERARY
In an ideal world, we would recommend a Great Ocean Road self-drive tour over 2 days or even 3 – keeping in mind weekends are understandably the busiest. With over 2.5 million visitors a year, you can imagine the impact this many people have on The Great Ocean Road and surrounding scenery, so please stick to designated parking spaces, pay attention to all signage and do not leave the designated walking tracks. This is our tried & tested route including our Great Ocean Road highlights, favourite camping spots and foodie finds along the way.
From Melbourne it is around a 1.5 hour drive to the start of the Great Ocean Road. What better way to start your Great Ocean Road itinerary than in the surf capital of Australia – Torquay. It is the birthplace to Rip Curl and Quicksilver, so you can imagine some seriously good surf beaches perfect for beginners to book a first lesson or pros to tackle some insane waves.
2. Bells Beach
Bringing us to the second of your Great Ocean Road stops, Bells Beach. Famous for the Rip Curl Pro surf competition which has been hosted in Bells Beach since 1962. It is the world’s longest running surf competition, so if you want to witness this historic event, time your Great Ocean Road itinerary between April 17th -27th (2019 dates).
3. Great Ocean Road Sign Memorial Arch
Arguably one of the most photographed Great Ocean Road stops is the sign itself welcoming you to the start. It’s surprisingly 30 minutes from Torquay but it is in fact a memorial to the workers who constructed the road. There is a car park to pull up and snap the sign (you can view it from either direction) and the fascinating history of the Great Ocean Road can be read on the signs nearby.
Lorne is a stop that cannot be missed from your Great Ocean Road itinerary for numerous reasons, but most importantly coffee & cake. We recommend stopping at the funky Bottle of Milk coffee for a take away coffee (don’t forget your Stojo cup) and then head around the corner to the Bakery Café for a tasty caramel slice or lemon tart. The views in Lorne are just as amazing as the café culture and if time is on your hands it’s a fabulous spot to stay in before continuing your Great Ocean Road trip.
5. Erskine Falls
Although there are 10 waterfalls in this area, we recommend Erskine Falls as it was one of our Great Ocean Road highlights. At over 30 metres high there are two viewing platforms to witness it flow into a luscious fern gully. The walk is steep in parts but not particularly challenging and a fun way to stretch your legs during your road trip. As a little tip, it was on the road to Erskine Falls where we saw our first ever koala in the wild, simply drinking from a puddle on the road. If you want a guaranteed koala sighting head to stop 7.
6. Teddy’s Lookout
Another advantage of a Great Ocean Road self-drive tour is that you can stop at places such as Teddy’s Lookout which both times we’ve been (in Winter & Summer) have been surprisingly quiet. Yet, it offers some of the best views of the Great Ocean Road, so it is worth the (very steep) detour. During our Summer visit, it was such a clear day we spotted dolphins and rays in the sea from here. If you have time, there is also a walking track here which takes around 45 minutes to complete.
7. Kennett River Koala Walk & Campground
It might be surprising but one of the most common things to see on the Great Ocean Road is koalas. The small seaside town of Kennett River is often referred to as the Koala capital of Australia and we can confirm that this was one not just one of our Great Ocean Road highlights but a highlight from our entire Australia trip.
If you head off Grey River Road you will find the Kennett River Koala walk. It’s not an official walkway, simply a road lined with many eucalyptus trees and LOTS of koalas. We witnessed around 5 including one crossing the road and one which climbed above our campervan. It’s also a great spot to see colourful native birds such as King Parrots and Crimson Rosellas. Please do not feed the wildlife, no matter how cute they look!
If you are looking to go camping on Great Ocean Road, we cannot recommend Kennett River Holiday Park enough – there were SO many koalas in the actual camping ground as well as the koala walk mere minutes away. The beach out front is also spectacular and surprisingly quiet. A night here was under $35 too which was surprisingly affordable for camping on Great Ocean Road!
8. Apollo Bay
When we first visited Apollo Bay in Winter, we struggled to even find a fish & chip shop that was open, when we did our second Great Ocean Road trip in Summer it was so busy that we couldn’t park never mind find a café without a queue. It is a popular spot to fill up fuel, pack supplies and wander along yet another incredible beach front before continuing your Great Ocean Road itinerary. It also happens to be the home to the BEST pie we have ever eaten so if you fancy a delicious snack the lamb, honey & mustard pie from the bakery will blow you away.
9. Cape Otway
It’s not just the beaches that will blow you away during your Great Ocean Road trip but the trees. From Apollo Bay, Otway National Park is a worthwhile detour to not only explore the fascinating rainforest (which even has a tree tops walk way, 25 metres above ground) but to also see some of the coolest trees we’ve ever seen.
You will also come to Cape Otway lighthouse – the oldest light house in Australia which is one of the most popular things to do on Great Ocean Road because at 90metres high it offers incredible views. However, it does come with a A$20.00 entrance fee and being backpackers short of cash and time we skipped this and continued our drive.
10. Wreck Beach
This stretch of your Great Ocean Road itinerary is arguably one of the most beautiful and is referred to as the Shipwreck Coast. It is estimated that over 700 ships have been lost along this stretch of coast and at low tide you can even witness one of the shipwrecks yourself at Wreck Beach.
Princetown Recreation Reserve – For Camping
This is where you have a choice in your Great Ocean Road itinerary. You could either visit the famous Twelve Apostles for sunset or we have a sneaky tip on a fabulously affordable camping ground on Great Ocean Road that is a mere 10 minutes away. This means you can have a well deserved rest and have a short drive to witness sunrise at the 12 Apostles the next morning.
Affordable camping on Great Ocean Road is hard to find but this was a hidden gem at only $25 for a powered site with hot showers. As we were staying on a Saturday there was a cricket match on at the oval which we watched from the back of our van and was a fun wee bonus. The site is also frequented by many kangaroos at dusk, so another excellent Great Ocean Road stop for wildlife.
11. Gibson Steps
We got up around 6am from nearby Princetown Recreation Reserve, another advantage of doing a Great Ocean Road self-drive tour is that you can beat the crowds (or so we thought). You can view the Twelve Apostles from ground level by climbing down the 86 Gibson Steps to the shore. A stunning spot regardless of the time of day and surprisingly quiet – both times we have been we’ve been we were the only ones there. Perhaps over shadowed by the 12 Apostles next door, or perhaps very few can be bothered with the steep climb back up the steps. The photo of Loz was taken in Winter and the photo of Daz was from our Summer visit.
12. Twelve Apostles
Unquestionably the most famous of all Great Ocean Road stops is the Twelve Apostles. When we visited in Winter we were blessed with an empty carpark and only around a dozen other visitors. In February however we arrived at 6:30am to quite a crowd and were lucky to secure one of the last few sunrise spots. Despite only 7 of the Twelve Apostles still standing it is incredible to witness these giant (45 metre high) limestone formations in real life.
13. Loch Ard Gorge
A mere 5 minute drive later, you will come to another of the many Great Ocean Road Highlights – Loch Ard Gorge. Although the Twelve Apostles are arguably the most famous stop, Loch Ard Gorge is our favourite and one not to be missed from your Great Ocean Road itinerary. It is named after one of the most famous ships from the Shipwreck Coast (Loch Ard) which was travelling from England to Melbourne in 1878. There is a fascinating story about the 2 survivors of the shipwreck which you can read on a board at the gorge.
We were shocked along this drive at the addition of crowd control style barriers which had been put up in the Summer months to prevent people parking illegally. These not only spoiled the natural landscape and tarnished photos but it angered us that money and time needs to be spent on fencing because tourists on self-drive Great Ocean Road tours won’t obey the signage and instead, stop for photo opportunities where they fancy. Please do not be this person, stick to the road and designated stops to avoid further erosion and potential accidents.
14. Port Campbell
Port Campbell is a sleepy seaside village home to beautiful boutique accommodation and some fabulous foodie spots. We recommend Forage on the Foreshore not only because our lunch was delicious (we also had coffee & cake to take away for the drive) but because of the restaurant’s ethos. They pride themselves on sustainability and their menu focuses on produce that is foraged and produced along The Great Ocean Road – including herbs and vegetables from their own garden. Enjoy the incredible view as you relax to the tunes from their 1960s radiogram before hopping back in the car to continue your Great Ocean Road itinerary.
15. The Arch
You won’t be back in the car for long as it’s only 10 minutes (ish) until your next Great Ocean Road stop – The Arch. As the name describes it is an arch naturally sculpted by the stunning swell that has worn away the rock. It is particularly beautiful in the afternoon as the rocks turn a warm golden colour. There is a walkway leading to a viewpoint which also offers a unique perspective looking back on to the Twelve Apostles.
16. London Bridge
You will barely have time to switch songs on your road trip play list before it’s time for the next stop in your Great Ocean Road itinerary. At just a 3 minute drive away is London Bridge. Originally named after the British equivalent because it was an actual natural bridge, until 1990 when the arch connecting it to the mainland fell away leaving two tourists stranded on the remaining sea stack (later rescued by helicopter). Although no longer a bridge as such, it is sometimes referred to as London Arch and is a worthy Great Ocean Road highlight nonetheless, with two viewing platforms offering spectacular views.
17. The Grotto
Can you believe we nearly missed out The Grotto from our Great Ocean Road itinerary but we are so glad we didn’t. Do not be fooled into thinking it is just yet another rock formation, this unique natural phenomenon is actually part blowhole, archway and cave all in one stop. You can view the fascinating reflections below or from above at the look out. Just don’t climb over the wall and aid the erosion further for an insta-snap, which we witnessed tourists do during our Great Ocean Road trip.
18. Bay Of Martyrs
Despite the breath taking views and beautiful beach at The Bay of Martyrs, there is a horrific history that surrounds this area of Victoria. Although deemed folklore as there is no written evidence, it is believed the name and surrounding look outs such as Massacre Bay and Massacre Point are titled after the devastating events that occurred here. Local stories spanning generations claim that Europeans killed a large group of Karrae-Wurrong Aboriginal men here, proving a thought provoking stop on the Great Ocean Road.
19. Bay Of Islands
Approximately 30 minutes from Loch Ard Gorge is The Bay Of Islands. You will be forgiven for mixing images of The Bay of Islands with the Twelve Apostles – to us, they are remarkably similar. The Bay of Islands also boasts striking limestone sea stacks and is a stunning spot for sunset. The main difference being however, that it is considerably less crowded here than Twelve Apostles so is one of the most peaceful stops on this Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Panmure Camp Ground – For Camping
The finishing line is mere minutes away but if you have time to spare and are looking for camping on the Great Ocean Road, we have a fabulous FREE campsite that we cannot recommend enough. Free camping on Great Ocean Road is incredibly difficult however this is one of the few designated sites which was peaceful, clean and surprisingly quiet. We recommend arriving early (Around 4/5pm) to secure a good spot. Best of all, there are FLUSH TOILETS which was a welcome change to the drop toilets we encountered in most free campsites in Australia.
It is officially the final stretch of your Great Ocean Road self-drive tour and just 20 minutes from the Panmure camping ground is Warrnambool. If you have enjoyed the fascinating stories of shipwrecks so far, you can learn much more at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village. If your Great Ocean Road itinerary permits and you are visiting from May – October, Logan Beach is the perfect whale watching spot and a memorable way to end your Great Ocean Road trip.
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