Perhaps it’s on your list of ‘things to do before you die’, or maybe you’re just wondering how to travel between Melbourne and Adelaide – all we know is, the Great Ocean Road really is great.
Its dramatic limestone cliffs take a beating from huge crashing waves – putty in the hands of world-class surfers – and this stretch of coastline is home to the towering 12 Apostles rock formations. We piece together the route below, all you have to do is hire the car…
Your journey begins at Victoria’s surfing capital where the towns of Jan Juc and Bells Beach epitomize Australian surf culture. The towns are busiest over the Easter period when the Rip Curl Pro surf event draws contestants from all over the world. You can get all your kit, lessons and history from this surfing Mecca but there’s not much else to keep you here. If you want to stay with the surfers, or just fancy some good home-cooking, stay at Bells Beach Backpackers for $24 a night.
Learn to surf / $50 for 2 hours
Drive beyond Bells Beach to Point Addis on your way to Anglesea. The road runs down to a car park and offers the best vantage point for watching the waves pummelling the cliffs.
This is the point at which the Anglesea river runs into the sea, making the town a scenic holiday destination. The area has a large population of kangaroos and there is gentle surf and safe swimming.
Play golf at the Anglesea Golf Club but you’ll need to navigate your way round 50 bunkers and 300 kangaroos.
On the road out of town you will pass the quaint white lighthouse complete with red hat, which overlooks the Aireys Inlet and serves Devonshire tea.
Guaranteed a good coffee 2 hours outside of the city, Melbournian weekenders flock to this pretty seaside resort that sits on the banks of the Erskine river.
Explore the lush blue-gum forest, tall ferns and waterfalls at the Lorne State Park.
Take a short detour as you leave, up George Street to Teddy’s Lookout (plenty of signposts) for views of the curving Great Ocean Road as it winds round the cliffs and the St George River.
The town serves as both a recreational and commercial fishing hub but a number of artists and musicians relocating to the area have created a small but buzzing craft and live music scene. You can stay at the Apollo Bay Backpackers Lodge for as little as €16 a night.
The weekly Foreshore Market (Sat, 8:30am-4:30pm) promotes art, craft as well as fresh produce.
Drive 17km west of Apollo Bay for the Maits Rest car park.
For easy walks through the fern gullies, it’s best to approach the dense forest from Maits Rest car park. Next, continue driving for about 3km and, if cute cuddly koalas are your thing, take the turn-off for Blanket-Bay, where you are likely to spot plenty clinging to Eucalyptus trees.
Once back on the Ocean Road, head towards Lavers Hill then turn east and follow the road for about 15 minutes, following the signs for the Otway Fly Treetop Walk; a 45m high, 600m long walkway with views over the national park.
Back at Lavers Hill, continue south west along the Ocean Road for 3 miles and take the turn off towards the Melba Gully State Park. Here you’ll find one of the last remaining giant gum trees. Estimated to be around 300 years old, this tree boasts a circumference measuring an impressive 27m. Visit at night and you’ll be treated to a strangely hypnotic show from the glow-worms.
Return to the Great Ocean Road which follows an inland route for a few miles.
So called because some 200 ships are known to have perished in the surrounding treacherous waters. Information about the Historic Shipwreck Trail is available at most visitor centers between Moonlight Head and Port Fairy. The area is home to a number of interesting coastal formations, including those at Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge, but the most famous are the Twelve Apostles, although 4 have collapsed and only 8 remain. These 65m high limestone columns rise up out of the ocean and are a startling reminder of the coastal erosion which, in this area, recedes at about 2cm a year. If you want to spend a few days walking around this part of the coastline, the 13th Apostle Hostel has great views and beds from €17 a night.
As the sun goes down on the Twelve Apostles, watch the fairy penguins waddle down to the shore.
An arch once connected the London Bridge rock formation to the mainland but in 1990 it collapsed, just minutes after a couple walked across it. After the helicopter rescue, the couple fled the awaiting media in case their extramarital affair was uncovered. This is a good base from which to explore the national parks and rock formations and the beach is patrolled and safe for swimming. You can stay at the Port Campbell Hostel for €20 a night.
Rent diving equipment or snorkels to explore the shipwreck area.
On the drive to Warrnambool you will notice the vast pasture fields – you are entering wonderful dairy country.
Aside from local cheese-tastings, female southern right whales have started to return to the area and you can watch them off the viewing platforms at Logan’s Beach between June and September. The rest of the town has a number of galleries, some quaint churches and there are also the Botanic Gardens to explore. The Warrnambool Beach Backpackers has beds from €18 a night.
At Flagstaff Hill you can learn about the dangers surrounding Shipwreck Coast but the big pull is the multi-million dollar sound and laser show, which recounts the story of the Lock Ard disaster. Book a day in advance.
The Great Ocean Road ends here but we suggest you carry on a little further. Port Fairy is a good place to round off your trip.
This pretty, historic town has over fifty listed National Trust buildings, while its busy harbor is full of yachts and fishing boats catching the local specialty – crayfish. If you have time your trip, try to catch one of the town’s music festivals, which seem to cater for all tastes.
Take a boat from the wharf to Australia’s only submarine volcano. Lady Julia Percy Island is home to one of the largest colonies of fur seals but you might also spot dolphins, whales and great white sharks.
How to do it…
Hire a one-way car rental in Melbourne (don’t forget to check out relocation vehicles available – you can pick up a car and drive it from Melbourne to Adelaide for as little as $1 if you are flexible with your dates)
Can’t drive? Won’t drive?
The Great Ocean Walk stretches 56 miles from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles. It is ideal for those wanting to hop on and off a bus and pick up the trail at certain points for short 2-hour, day or overnight hikes.
By bus: Take the train from Melbourne’s Southern Cross station to Geelong then connect with V/Line buses:
Apollo Bay $34
Buses operate 4 times a day Mon-Fri and twice on Sat-Sun. On Fridays a V/Line bus continues from Apollo Bay to Port Campbell and Warrnambool
March – The Port Fairy Folk Festival
April – Apollo Bay Music Festival
December (New Year’s Eve) – The Falls Music & Arts Festival in Lorne
Have you driven the Great Ocean Road? Tell us your tips in the comments…