If you’re going to explore The Great Ocean Road Drive let me make a suggestion.
Don’t rush it. Don’t do it in one day. And don’t just visit the Twelve Apostles for your “I was here pic”.
The Great Ocean Road deserves more. You deserve more. It’s one of Australia’s best road trips for a reason.
Everyone has different time constraints, but if you have the time give yourself at least three days. We took two weeks for our GOR trip.
The tour buses that routinely drive the Great Ocean Road in one day and get to the 12 Apostles at lunchtime (the best time is sunrise or sunset) will bypass many of the highlights.
Hire a car if you don’t have your own. This 243km road needs to be experienced from behind the wheel and having your own vehicle allows you the flexibility to stop when and where you like.
Besides the stunning beaches, waterfalls, walks, and forests there are some great towns dotted along the Great Ocean Road worthy of your time.
Here are five towns we recommend you not only visit, but stay at and enjoy what they have to offer.
The Great Ocean Road officially starts in the town of Torquay. We recommend starting the Great Ocean Road drive from this direction so you’ll be on the lane closest to the ocean which makes for easier stops at the view points.
The township of Torquay is famous for its surfing culture, which you can learn more about at the surfing museum Surf World. Even surf brands Rip Curl and Quicksilver were founded in Torquay.
Nearby is one of Australia’s best surfing beaches, Bells Beach, home to the annual Rip Curl Pro Surfing Competition (made infamous by the movie Point Break).
Bells has an impressive cliff-face and the views are spectacular.
Torquay also offers popular activities such as nature walks, fishing, sailboarding, surfing and mountain bike riding.
Just down the road is Jan Juc a neighboring suburb known for its hills and native tea tree. There’s a trail running along the coast between Torquay and Jan Juc for walkers and bike riders that offer excellent views.
Leaving Torquay and continuing west, check out the townships of Anglesea and Aireys Inlet which are beautiful. You’ll definitely notice the change in the scenery.
Lorne was our favorite town along the Great Ocean Road drive and we spent three relaxing days here. It’s picturesque and situated right on the ocean with a charm that’s hard to resist.
Lorne has some great cafes to keep your coffee and cake addiction well satisfied. There are several unique shops, boutiques, and galleries to keep the shoppers happy.
The beach is lovely for a walk either early morning or late afternoon and stop at the Lorne Beach Pavilion for a coffee, or beer, with uninterrupted views of the water.
For lunch, eat at The Bottle of Milk, famous for their burgers, or grab some takeaway and sit on the grass at the excellent playground by the beach and let the kids run around.
Just behind Lorne, take a short drive to Teddy’s Lookout for spectacular views of the Great Ocean Road. There’s also a 45-minute walk you can do here.
Lorne also plays host to The Falls Music & Arts Festival at the end of December which is very popular.
For a comfortable place to stay, we stayed at the Mantra Apartments right on the beach and an easy walk into town.
3. Kennett River
With a population of only 50, Kennett River is a quiet and laid-back town between Lorne and Apollo Bay.
Flanked by Otway National Park this town is probably best known for the place to see koalas in the wild along the Grey River Road in the middle of town, just look for the crowds of people and follow their gazes up for quick koala spotting.
There’s also the glowworms at night (which aren’t that great) and you can buy bird feed from the store here and feed wild king parrots and Rosellas.
It can be very popular here with many tourist buses lined up. But it’s a lot safer, and easier, to view the koalas here compared to driving Otway Lighthouse Road.
If seeing koalas and glow worms isn’t enough, there are excellent fishing and surfing beaches for beginners. There’s a caravan park at Kennet River should you wish to stay longer with Australia’s favourite furry friends.
4. Apollo Bay
Half-way along the Great Ocean Road is our second favourite town, Apollo Bay, often described as the place where the hill meets the sea.
Panoramic views over the harbour and the coastline from the Mariners Lookout will give you the best perspective of this. The lookout is located at the northern end of town off Mariners Lookout Road.
Apollo Bay was once a sleepy fishing village but is now a modest seaside town of 2,000 people with plenty of cafes, restaurants and a community market each Saturday. In April it hosts one of the best three-day music festivals in Victoria, the Apollo Bay Music Festival.
Just down the road at Cape Otway are some of the best walks in the country and the town makes for a great base to explore the Otway region of lighthouses, rainforests, waterfalls, and farmland.
Maits Rest is an easy 800m self-guided circuit walk through ancient, cool temperate rainforest and the walk to Triplet Falls, a one-hour return loop, is a highlight.
Just up the road from Apollo Bay is one of those “best-kept secrets” of the Great Ocean Road, the Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary, a rocky beach with a seal colony. Apollo Bay Surf & Kayak run 2-hour tours to view the seals.
For an affordable and homely place to stay, we recommend the Apollo Bay Eco YHA Hostel.
5. Port Campbell
Our least favourite town out of the five mentioned, but what makes it appealing for travellers is its close proximity to Port Campbell National Park, home to the Twelve Apostles and many other famous Great Ocean Road landmarks.
It’s still a nice enough town with a few cafes, shops and a bay area in a natural setting, but we mainly used it as a base to explore the surrounding area.
We spent the whole day in the National Park, starting with sunrise over the 12 Apostles and finishing with a sunset picnic.
During the day we walked down Gibson’s Steps and then visited Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge, The Grotto, The Arch, and the Bay of Islands with a handy lunch break back in Port Campbell.
We stayed in a cabin in the Port Campbell Holiday Park which was a one minute walk into town.
The Great Ocean Road continues on and finishes at Port Fairy. We didn’t really explore the last section too much but did stop at Port Fairy for lunch. It was pouring with rain so could not explore more. Through the drizzle, it looked like a lovely historical fishing village.
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What are some of your favourite towns along the Great Ocean Road?