The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most iconic scenic drives, but it’s more than just a road. It’s the experience of a lifetime!
Driving the Great Ocean Road is a fantastic way to experience Australia’s most beautiful coastline, whether you rent a car or for the more adventurous; a campervan rental. Travelers and locals alike enjoy the flexibility of driving at their own leisure; there is ample opportunity for stopping off at stunning beaches along the way, enjoying fish & chips by the sea, walking amongst towering sandstone bluffs, and hiking through eucalypt forests to find koalas in their natural environment. Though while this drive is a famous road trip on the bucket list of many travelers, how long exactly should you spend here? Which towns along the way are the best for an overnight base? Should you worry about gas, or are there opportunities along the road? Where can you discover iconic Australian wildlife along the way?
To help guide you on your way, the following highlights are stops which you absolutely must not miss while driving Australia’s most stunning coastal road.
Most visitors driving the Great Ocean Road start from Melbourne, which is 95 kilometers away from Torquay, the first coastal town, and your access point to the start of the Great Ocean Road. This is the official start of the Great Ocean Road, and also the gateway to Victoria’s surf coast.
The surfing capitol of Australia, be sure to hit up Bells Beach while here – an iconic beach which is said to be the birthplace of Australian surf. Board shorts aren’t just the dress code here, this is where they were invented!
For your road trip on The Great Ocean Road you can find the best deals on luggage at Spotlight Stores. They have a truly incredible selection of cheap bags.
If you get here early in the morning there are generally kangaroos in nearby grasslands to be spotted. It’s easy to pick up a rental car from Melbourne’s main airport, however you can also fly into Avalon Airport near Geelong which is much closer to the start of the road.
Located at the end of Bells Beach, this is a fantastic park which features spectacular scenery with sandy beaches, crumbling limestone cliffs, and rocky platforms with a plethora of small rocky reefs.
Rock pools are filled with an abundance of marine life, and if you’re lucky, it’s possible to spot seals, dolphins, and brilliantly coloured sponge gardens from the beach.
There is also a fantastic indigenous walk through the bushland to a lookout over the beach with signs along the way which provide insights into how the local aboriginals used the land. The walk back is approximately thirty minutes.
Lorne is a resort style town combining a great range of restaurants and shops with natural attractions such as the Angahook-Lorne State Park.
This is a fantastic spot to stop and stretch your legs if driving on to spend the evening in Apollo Bay, or, if nearing the end of your day, Lorne could be the perfect overnight stop for your first night on the Great Ocean Road. The town has a great range of options for accommodation.
There is much to discover in Lorne including more than 10 waterfalls within 10 kilometres of the town.
I can’t rave enough about Kennett River – between Lorne and Apollo Bay, at the beginning of Grey River Road, only 20m or so from the Caravan park entrance, several koalas often hang out in the low branches of the gum trees (only a metre or so above your head!)
Park at the caravan park and walk the road up and over the hill. Start bush bashing and keep your eye on the branches of the gum trees ahead. Dozens of koalas will be sleeping and eating amongst the Eucalypts.
This will be the highlight of your Great Ocean Road experience.
Driving towards Apollo Bay means you’ll follow cliff-tops offering incredible views and alongside wild beaches – make sure you leave time to stop at the lookouts for photos, or for a beachside stroll.
Most travelers make Apollo Bay their overnight stop on day 1 of the road; a quiet fishing village which is your gateway to Otway National Park.
One of the best places to stay is Apollo Bay Eco YHA. This is a purpose-built hostel that shows just awesome sustainable accommodation can be. Their green initiatives focus on energy reduction, waste minimization and water saving measures. The Apollo Bay YHA has a warm and cosy atmosphere, with clean and comfortable rooms. Prices start from AUD$36.50 per person per night.
Otway National Park
Head to Mait’s Rest where there is a 30 minute loop walk through lovely rainforest.
Glow worms can be found in gullies here during night walks. This National Park also includes a number of beautiful waterfalls including Hopetoun Falls, Triplet Falls and Beauchamp Falls.
Cape Otway LightHouse
The oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia, take a tour and climb to the top, 90 metres above sea level, where you see where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean.
If you’re lucky you may also be able to see whales and passing ships from the view at the top.
Other historic lighthouses line the Great Ocean Road and can be seen from the highway such as Griffiths Island Lighthouse pictured below.
The 12 Apostles
Those driving the Great Ocean Road are likely to have come for the 12 Apostles. These are world famous craggy limestone towers that thrust up out of the Southern ocean.
Make a stop to descend all 86 of the Gibson Steps which lead down to the wild beach for a ground-level view of the 12 Apostles, and leave plenty of time to stop at lookouts over the cliffs to take in views of the Loch Ard Gorge and the Bay of Islands.
For the best views of the Apostles, consider an unforgettable helicopter tour.
Port Campbell National Park
Port Campbell National Park is the location of the 12 Apostles, however it also houses many other natural attractions such as Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge.
Leave time to stop at viewpoints along the road – viewpoints are signposted with information boards, boardwalks and parking for easy access.
Warrnambool is a maritime capital which now attracts visitors from all over the world looking to catch a glimpse of whales.
Southern Right and Blue Whales appear each year between May and September, and can be viewed from platforms and lookouts at Logans Beach.
Steeped in history and surrounded by Victoria’s famed Shipwreck Coast, Port Fairy is the perfect end to your Great Ocean Road adventure. Relax in the charming historic village, enjoy fresh seafood, check out the nineteenth century architecture and stroll to the Griffiths Island lighthouse. Port Fairy has a range of popular festivals throughout the year, showing it’s not just Australia’s big cities that attract international entertainment.
If you are looking for accommodation, Port Fairy YHA hostel is your home away from home with shared and private rooms, an open fire place, outdoor BBQ, pool table and free fishing gear. Catch your own dinner, or buy some fresh fish and chips to eat on the beach!
About the Author Megan Claire:
Megan is an Australian Journalist, and the founder and Senior Editor of Mapping Megan – an award-winning adventure travel blog bringing you the latest in adventure travel from all over the globe.
With the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure, Megan and husband Mike believe travel has the potential to inspire change in people, and in turn inspire change in the world. They embraced travel as a lifestyle in 2007, and are dedicated to documenting their journey and observations through entertaining, candid articles and brilliant photography.
Adrenalin junkies and incredibly active travellers, from mountain biking the most dangerous road in the world (Bolivia), to skydiving over the Swiss Alps and summiting Mt Kilimanjaro, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.
You can follow their journey on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram also.
Disclaimer: This post was made in partnership with YHA Australia, as always all opinions are my own.