Feasibly the most famous of all the Australian road trips, the Great Ocean Road spans the 244-kilometre stretch from Torquay west to Warrnambool. Rugged and dramatic, exploring here offers up a heady mix of craggy coastline, lush rainforest, charming seaside towns and cuddly koalas.
You can do the trip in a mere 12 hours, but you might prefer to adopt a more leisurely pace. Try splitting up the journey and spending a couple of nights at various towns along the way. Or, if you’re an avid walker, it’s possible to stroll the 100-kilometre section from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles. But, be warned this is no easy feat and can take up to eight days to complete!
However you choose to tackle it, there are several spots on the Great Ocean Road you have to see. Here are ten to get you started…
1. Bells Beach
Located an hour and a half away from Melbourne is Torquay, one of the world’s hottest surf hubs, and on its fringes is Bells Beach. Home to the annual Rip Curl Easter Pro, the longest running surf competition on the planet. Spectators flock here around Easter weekend to watch the top surfing talent take to the soaring waves. Serious surfer? You can try to tackle the swells yourself, although be advised that they’re really reserved for the very experienced.
2. Aireys Inlet
Remember ‘Round the Twist’, that 90s TV show with the catchy theme tune? Well, a lot of it was actually filmed around Aireys Inlet. This sweet coastal hamlet is probably best known for its red-crested Split Point Lighthouse, offering lovely views out over the Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary, Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island. There’s not a huge amount to see on the main drag, but it’s here that you’ll find the gateway to Great Otway National Park.
Laidback and artsy, it’s easy to understand why Lorne is sometimes described as Melbourne’s equivalent to Byron Bay. Stop here and stretch your legs with a wander on its wide, sandy beach. Before settling down to a well-deserved flat white and a spot of brunch at one of the waterfront cafes – The Bottle of Milk is a great option if you’re struggling to decide. Plus, Erskine Falls, a 30-metre high cascade, is also only a 15-minute drive inland.
4. Kennett River
Australia is famed for its native furry inhabitants and none more so than the irresistibly cute koala. The aptly named Kennett River Koala Walk is the perfect place to witness these marsupials in the wild. Koalas are fairly lazy creatures and not unlike sloths spend most of their time asleep, luckily for us that makes them a hell of a lot easier to see. Look up into the gum trees and you’re bound to find one or more of these fuzzy teddies gazing back at you.
5. Apollo Bay
Day-trippers don’t always manage to get this far down the Great Ocean Road, making Apollo Bay a good place to escape the crowds. Sloping green meadows and quiet sandy beaches help to give the place a more relaxed feel. Celebrating something special or just fancy treating yourself? Book a table at Chris’s Restaurant up on Beacon Point. You’ll find it tucked away in the trees, providing staggering vistas out across the bay.
6. Great Otway National Park
Made up of 103,000 hectares of rainforests, beaches, waterfalls and heathlands, you’d be hard-pressed to skip over Great Otway National Park on your Great Ocean Road adventure. Park up and take to one of the many walking trails through the forest, admiring the sights and sounds as you go. Cape Otway is a real highlight and its lighthouse in particular, which is the oldest surviving building of its kind on mainland Australia.
7. The Twelve Apostles
You’re not going to travel the length of the Great Ocean Road and not see its greatest iconic site, are you? Welcome to the most picturesque section of the whole journey, the Twelve Apostles. These towering limestone stacks are truly breath-taking and visiting at sunrise or sunset adds a totally different dimension to the viewing experience. Only eight of the twelve are still left standing, so see them whilst you still can.
8. Loch Ard Gorge
Scenic spots keep coming thick and fast on this stretch, with Loch Ard Gorge being the next pretty pitstop. Named after the Loch Ard sailing ship that ran aground close by in June 1878. The ship was coming to the end of a three-month voyage from England to Melbourne and of the all those onboard only two survived, Tom and Eva. Since then the two unconnected rock pillars here have been officially named after them.
9. Port Campbell
Admittedly Port Campbell is miniature, but the bay here is calm and safe for swimming in. There’s a handful of shorefront eateries too, where you can sit down to a bite whilst soaking up the surrounding scenery. It’s also the closest town to the most popular coastal attractions on the Great Ocean Road. So, if you’re looking for a place to stay either side of visiting the Twelve Apostles, this is a wonderfully quaint spot to choose.
10. London Arch and the Grotto
Loving the limestone? Well, there’s more where that came from. London Arch, previously known as London Bridge, is an impressive stone archway that sits just off the coast. It was once a double arch but after one was claimed by the rough seas the name had to change. Next up, the Grotto! This hollowed out cave gives you a round window into the waves and allows you to fully immerse yourself in the surging sounds of the sea.
Now, this was just your starter for 10, there are plenty more amazing stops worth a visit along this winding coastal way. Head to the finish line at Warrnambool for top-notch whale watching or the Bay of Islands for yet more stunning panoramas.