The Great Ocean Road…famous in Australia and around the world as one of the best road trips on the planet.
We’ve seen so many photos of the Great Ocean Road trip over the years it almost feels like we’ve done it. But we found out nothing prepares you for the real thing.
Beginning one hour outside of Melbourne in Torquay, The Great Ocean Road stretches over 250 kilometres to Warrnambool, and attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.
The Great Ocean Road Drive was high on our list of things to do on our one-year road trip around Australia. We were prepared to take hundreds of photos and expectations were HIGH.
Whilst the tour buses routinely drive this in one day, crazily, we had time on our side and took two weeks to appreciate the region for what it’s worth.
It really is a stunning coastal drive and we highly recommend you place it on your Australian travel bucket list.
1. The Twelve Apostles
Just a couple of rocks jutting out of the ocean. Really, what’s all the fuss? These were our initial thoughts when planning to visit the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road.
But the 12 Apostles are the star of the show. We got lucky with the weather the morning we arrived and after all the hype and expectations I’m happy to say we were left awe-struck!
These massive limestone structures tower 45 metres above the ocean and were formed some 20 million years ago as the sea gradually eroded the soft craggy limestone cliffs.
There are only eight of the twelve apostles remaining (the rest have fallen) and forming the backdrop are these magnificent cliffs up to 70 metres high.
Our Tips for the 12 Apostles
- Arrive at the 12 apostles for sunrise – you’ll beat the tour buses and have the place almost to yourself.
- Enjoy a sunset with a picnic or we grabbed a takeaway pizza from Port Campbell.
- Walk the boardwalks around the cliff tops which provide various viewing platforms.
- Don’t rush. You may only witness this once in your life.
- Bring a tripod, use your camera’s self-timer and snap a family selfie.
2. Gibson Steps
Just down the road from the Twelve Apostles Visitors Centre are the Gibson Steps. Walk down these steps to the beach for a close-up view.
Here you can experience a new perspective on the power of the waves and the height of the rocks. You can even touch the rocks and feel how easy they crumble away.
Take time to watch the water crashing around the base of the limestone stacks to understand the true power of the ocean and how it’s constantly shaping our earth.
Tip for the Gibson Steps: Keep the tide in mind. It was coming in quite fast on us, so don’t walk too far around the corner as you may have a wet walk back.
3. Loch Ard Gorge
Loch Ard Gorge is amazing and only a few minutes drive west of The Twelve Apostles. It was one of the most stunning beaches on the Great Ocean Road
Loch Ard Gorge is named after the ship Loch Ard, which ran aground on nearby Muttonbird Island at the end of a three-month journey from England to Melbourne.
Take the stairs down to the beach and sit in wonder. And there are three easy walks you can take to discover the area and getting viewpoints.
4. London Arch (London Bridge)
London Arch was formed by a gradual process of erosion, and originally was a complete double-span and was attached to the mainland.
The arch closer to the shoreline collapsed unexpectedly in 1990 leaving two tourists stranded on the outer part until they were rescued by a helicopter. Ha. What a story to tell. We don’t recommend putting that in your Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Prior to the collapse, the arch was known as London Bridge because of its similarity to its namesake.
There are three separate viewing areas and the main path branches off to these at different intervals.
5. The Grotto
The Grotto is basically a sinkhole. Take the steps down the cliff face to the bottom and look through and you’ll get visibility of the ocean beyond a pool at low tide. It’s a pretty cool stop on your Great Ocean Road drive.
6. The Arch
This naturally sculptured arch stands 8 metres high and is located 6km west of Port Campbell. You’ll appreciate the swells and power of the ocean crashing in against the arch, it makes the drama of the place even better.
7. Walks in Port Campbell National Park
Port Campbell National Park is not just about standing at the 12 Apostles and taking your “I was here pic“. We arrived thinking we’d spend a couple of hours looking at the rocks, we ended up staying all day.
The park has so much to offer with cliff top tracks, gorges, beach walks and stories of shipwrecks to discover. It’s truly a fascinating and beautiful park.
Don’t be like the Great Ocean Road tour bus masses. Take your time and appreciate all the sites within the Port Campbell National Park: 12 Apostles, Gibson Steps, Loch Ard Gorge, London Arch, The Grotto, The Arch.
8. Bay of Islands
The 12 Apostles are not the only magical rocks rising out from the ocean. Head a little further south to Peterborough and you’ll discover the mystical Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs. Almost as beautiful, yet rarely talked about in a Great Ocean Road itinerary.
We didn’t get the nice weather we had at the 12 Apostles, but it adds to the drama.
9. Triplet Falls – Otways National Park
Head into the Otways National Park to immerse yourself in an ancient land. Walk among tall trees and giant tree ferns, and discover beautiful waterfalls. This is the spot on the Great Ocean Road tour to move away from the gorgeous coastline and into a forest perspective.
Triplet Falls is one of the highlights on the Great Ocean Road. Platforms provide you with spectacular views of falls. The walk is about a 1 hour return loop, which we did it easily with our kids.
10. Kennett River – Wild Koalas
Want to see koalas in the wild? The best koala-viewing spot is Kennet River, along the Grey River Road, just in the middle of town. Otway Lighthouse Road is another popular spot.
I never knew the Great Ocean Road was a place to spot wild koalas. Yet another great reason to visit the GOR.
It’s not that common to find koalas in the wild, let alone sleeping in trees by the side of the road or in the middle of town. But this is the Great Ocean Road. Just look for the crowds of people and follow their gazes up for quick koala spotting.
Lorne is a picturesque town situated Great Ocean Road coast and was our favourite town to stay in along the journey.
It has a certain charm with great cafes, unique shops boutiques, galleries and Otway National Park is on your doorstep. Lorne is only 140 kilometres south of Melbourne and this place swells with people over the Christmas holidays.
Enjoy a walk on the beach, a bike ride along the foreshore out to the pier, have a coffee at Lorne Beach Pavilion and try a burger from The Bottle of Milk – delicious!
We stayed at the Mantra Apartments which were awesome and right on the beach.
12. Teddys Lookout
A short drive up the hill behind Lorne is Teddys Lookout. Drive up to the picnic area at the end of George Street and walk a short distance to enjoy the spectacular views of the Great Ocean Road from the lookout.
There’s also a 45-minute walk you can do here.
13. The Lorne –> Apollo Bay Drive
Our favourite stretch of road on our Great Ocean Road tour was from Lorne to Apollo Bay. Be prepared to stop for photos a lot.
This stretch of road has some of the most picturesque scenery in the region. The Great Ocean Road hugs the cliff-face as it winds through the Great Otway National Park and rolling farmland.
14. Apollo Bay Eco Hostel
Apollo Bay is perfectly positioned about halfway along the Great Ocean Road and surrounded by Otway National Park State Forest and rolling acres of green farmland.
Looking for an affordable and family friendly place to stay? The Apollo Bay YHA Eco Hostel was a lovely place to base ourselves for a few days.
The hostel has a very homely vibe with great kitchen facilities, lounge rooms and a rooftop deck to enjoy a sunrise. This is not a party hostel, no YHA properties are, and we met a lot of nice families and solo travelers here. It’s a wonderful option for your Great Ocean Road accommodation.
Our family room consisted of a queen bed and bunk beds.
15. Mariners Lookout – Apollo Bay
Panoramic views of Apollo Bay’s town centre, the harbour and beaches up and down the coast can be enjoyed from the Mariners Lookout, located at the northern end of town off Mariners Lookout Road.
16. Bells Beach
Bells Beach is one of Australia’s most famous and best surfing beaches. Bells Beach holds the annual Rip Curl Pro Surfing Competition and is the powerful point break of folklore. Heard of the movie Point Break? That’s our Bells!
There’s an impressive cliff-face and views from the cliff-top car park are spectacular and great spot to watch any local surfers.
All dedicated surfers want to get down to the Great Ocean Road to ride the same waves that the pros do at Bells.
Tips for the Great Ocean Road Drive
- DON’T do the Great Ocean Road drive in one day – Don’t just rush to the 12 Apostles for your tourist snap. Slow down and appreciate all it has to offer. Visit all the rock formations and towns, walk on a beach and in the rainforest, see a waterfall and wildlife, sit at a lookout and be present. I would suggest 3 days minimum – we took 2 weeks!
- If you only have time to visit one section on the GOR, spend the most amount of your time in Port Campbell National Park.
- If you only drive in one direction, drive from Torquay to Warrnambool (East to West). That way you’ll be on the left side of the road closest to the ocean and you’ll be able to pull over easier to all the viewpoints.
- If you can drive, drive your own car or rent a car from Melbourne instead of taking a Great Ocean Road tour. This road needs to be experienced from behind the wheel, and you need flexibility in where you stop and for how long. At each , turn you’ll discover something amazing.
- You may want to rent a unique caravan, motorhome or camper to drive the Great Ocean Road. Outdoorsy is like the Airbnb of camper rentals, and they include insurance! Click to find deals from Melbourne.
- Fuel up your car – there can be large distances between petrol stations, so make sure you fill up.
- If you do have to take an organized Great Ocean Road tour, we recommend these ones through Get your Guide.
More useful tips for the Great Ocean Road Drive
- 5 Towns to Visit Along the Great Ocean Road in Australia
- Mantra Lorne – A Place to Stay on the Great Ocean Road
- Where to stay on the Great Ocean Road: Apollo Bay YHA
Plan Your Great Ocean Road Drive
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Have You Visited the Great Ocean Road? Tell us in the comments any tips you have, or what you most want to see?