‘For exercise, you can’t beat building a Great Ocean Road by hand‘, exclaimed workers, as they built a stretch of the long road from Barwon Heads to Warrnambool. But, these were no ordinary workers, they were soldiers who had returned from the First World War, and the road they were building was not an easy one either; perhaps rightly so, it has been named the Great Ocean Road. Today’s Great Ocean Road extends from Torquay to Allansford and is a good 240 kilometres long and is filled with self-drive tourists and buses as well. Featuring cliff-hugging roads set on rocky beaches to limestone structures eroded by waves set amid sandy coastal villages and resorts, the Great Ocean Road portrays the ruggedness of the Australian terrain in a great tourist setting. Around almost every other turn, there are sights to behold and we have covered here the important sights for a two-day trip from Melbourne, a two-day itinerary you could say. This trip is best enjoyed by self-drive. This was not our first destination in Australia as after our long layover at Singapore (opens in new tab), we explored Melbourne for a day before we set off on our road trip from Melbourne.
A self-drive two-day itinerary is the best way to explore the Great Ocean Road.
Though there are two ways to do this trip, starting from Melbourne or starting from Warrnambool, we chose the regular way, starting from Melbourne and proceeding via Torquay and touching on the major attractions in this order. This way is better if you are starting from Melbourne because you get a good view of the coastline and also get to stop along the major points which are on the same side of the road.
As the official travel website suggests, Torquay is the quintessential home of Australian surfing, dubbed the Capital Of Surfing. Surfer or not, just head over to the Bells Beach and catch the world-famous waves at the home of Rip Curl Pro, one of the most prestigious trophies of Surfing and the world’s longest running Surfing Contest. The beach is famed for its consistent waves that are usually 4 meters high and sometimes 5, making it a great surfing location. We are not exaggerating, but at one particular moment, there were more surfers than tourists.
It is no wonder that the Capital Of Surfing is also home to the Australian National Surfing Museum. Hordes of locals throng this museum going gaga over surfing memorabilia such as surfboards preserved through generations. If you are a surfing fan, there should be no stopping you from visiting this place. We did, with our limited knowledge of surfing, choose to watch some history in the making instead and headed over to Bells Beach and also the cliffs surrounding it. Locals here proudly told us that their beach was the setting for the movie ‘Point-Break’ before rushing off to catch a wave on an actual point-break. You could climb the cliffs nearby to explore for yourself.
Point Addis is another place to visit when here, it is on the cliffs bordering Bells Beach and can be accessed via a boardwalk across a pond. The views of the Bells Beach from here are simply stunning and make for good photos.
A picturesque town, originally known as ‘Swampy Creek’, Anglesea, is the first spot where the Great Ocean Road actually touches the coast signifying the spot where the Great Ocean Road actually starts. The wooden boardwalk along the creek is a famous romantic destination among travellers and you could spot couples walking along the boardwalk till they reach the beach. Another popular activity is canoeing (or boating). But despite its beautiful boardwalk, Anglesea appears on the radar of most tourists for an entirely different reason, and that is wild kangaroos, on the town’s golf course. Time your visit suitably and you could catch sight of a couple of hundred kangaroos hopping merrily on the golf course. We were here sometime around noon and could see a few ‘roos’ resting in the shade.
Tip: Travel sometime around early morning or late evening to catch the kangaroos in action. They are most active during these times.
For those travelling with kids, there is the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie and Ice Cream Factory. From Torquay, this factory falls just a few kilometres before Anglesea. With its opening in 2016, this is a relatively new attraction. With free entry and hosted sampling sessions, children are sure to enjoy a brief chocolatey visit to this place where they can see and even participate in making Chocolate.
3. Airey’s Inlet:
Named after a settler, John Eyrie, this small town in itself is not a major tourist attraction and is overlooked by most tourists partly because of the tips given by most bloggers about the parking ticket scam at its famous attraction, the Split Point Lighthouse and also by the presence of Cape Otway lighthouse, which is a travellers’ favourite. The famous Australian series ‘Round The Twist’ was based on this lighthouse and its fans frequent this place in addition to bird-watchers. There are tours available here that take visitors through the stories about and history of the lighthouse whilst offering panoramic views of the surroundings. Many people come here for cheaper accommodation and a quieter holiday rather than the touristy Lorne or Apollo Bay. If you are on a two-day trip, we would not recommend this place, but if you are on a slightly longer trip, this should definitely be on the list. As our photo suggests, our visit here was for a short ten minutes, just to the lighthouse and back.
A fancy town is how we would describe Lorne, with its cafes and hangouts along the long, sandy beach with expensive pieces of real estate in between. The beach seemed like a perfect place to stop and build a sand castle or two, no wonder the beach hosts the Lorne Sculpture Biennale, a sculpting festival with unique themes every time. Remember those viral photos of a giant bench, well, those are from this festival. Lorne being shielded from the howling ocean winds enjoys a calmer sea and the Lorne beach which ends in a pier is a great place for walking. Lorne is also the place to stop if you want to visit the beautiful Erskine falls, we had to be content with our view of the beach here and not the falls which would have led us off course, which was something we could not afford with our precious two days. Do stop at the Lorne Visitor Centre that also houses the Great Ocean Road Heritage Centre.
5. Teddy’s Lookout:
One of the best secrets of the GOR, Teddy’s Lookout is at the top of a hill and is often overlooked by most travellers, but trust us when we say that the views from here are unmatched and are worth the time that you would take in trying to find this place. This is one of the places that Google Maps gets wrong and you would be wise in following the boards that lead to this place. It is at the end of George Street. From your vantage point here, you could watch other vehicles wind down the curvy paths, that is considering you can take your eyes off the George River draining into the Bass Strait.
6. St. George River:
St. George River is the secret place that we are giving away to you, yes, most blogs do not even mention this place, but this place was teeming with kangaroos and wallabies. It is one of the unrated, underrated and under-explored destinations along the Great Ocean Road that so deserve a mention. It was by pure luck that we discovered a ranch, or a station, as an Australian would put it, that had many kangaroos, wallabies and horses hopping and running about. And as we walked along the Tramway track, we came across a kookaburra chirping wildly.
Tip: Designate one person to be on the lookout for animals along the way, it is easier to spot marsupials on the fields.
7. Wye River and Kennett River:
Up until now, the trip had been all about beautiful beaches, lookouts and cliffs with the sighting of Kangaroos on a golf course. The birds at Wye River and koalas at Kennett River suddenly change the genre of the trip, giving one the chance to spot them in the wild. The birds of Wye River are supposedly mischievous and given the chance, will eat the food from your hand. The koalas, on the other hand, simply do not care; they are more content if you do not disturb them with your food. There are camping grounds at both places and make for excellent night-halts along the way.
We skipped Wye River completely and visited Kennett River in the morning on the second day even though we had crossed it on the first day. We were delighted to see two koalas in the wild, which we found after roaming around quite some time in the camping grounds. Unless you want to camp out here, you could totally skip these two places and see wild koalas and parrots near the Cape Otway lighthouse. As per the locals, there used to be many koalas out here until very recently till the construction of the camping grounds and intrusion of tourists, after which the koalas moved into the surrounding forests and can be viewed if travelled along the Grey River Road.
Tip: Notice the type of leaves on an Eucalyptus tree and try to spot them along the sides of the road. Koalas are more likely to be found near groups of Eucalyptus trees.
8. Apollo Bay:
Named after the Greek sun god, Apollo, this bay is one of the best places to catch the god rise up from the sea. We had chosen this as our halting place for the night, as most travellers do. There are a wide range of accommodation options as well as a range of shops and convenience stores, but do note that they close down by 9 PM. Also, Apollo Bay would be a good place to refuel before you head out further. The Marengo beach here is just a regular beach, but views of the bay from the points nearby are spectacular. For a panoramic view of the bay and the town, visit Mariners’ Lookout, located on a hill just outside Apollo Bay. You could choose to catch the sunrise from here or from the Cape Otway Lighthouse, which is quite nearby. It is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Australian mainland and The Cape Otway Lighthouse is a great place to spot koalas in the wild, if you decide to brush aside the content in blogs which tell you that Kennett River is the place to spot koalas.
Tip: Start your second day with a trip to the Cape Otway Lighthouse, try to catch the sunrise here, there is more probability of seeing a panda at this time.
9. Gibson Steps and 12 Apostles:
Set in the lush Port Campbell National Park, the Prima Ballerina of the Great Ocean Road, The 12 Apostles, is definitely the most picturesque of locations here. These huge stacks of rock jutting out of the ocean are the result of a formation that started occurring millions of years ago, the gradual, but steady eroding of the limestone cliffs. It started with the formation of caves that hollowed out to become arches, which collapsed and gave way to the present-day stacks. And the site continues to be in a state of slow erosion, with nearly 2 cm being eroded away each year, which is just another reason to visit this place before its topography gets altered forever. We tried counting all the 12 Apostles, but there were only 8 of them; the ninth one collapsed in 2005. Interestingly, there were only 9 of them in the year 1922 when the name 12 Apostles was given to the place, earlier known as Sow and Piglets, for tourism purposes. A good way to explore these beautiful features is by opting for a Helicopter Ride, which cost upwards of 135 AUD, the helipad is near the Parking Area.
Gibson Steps is a series of 86 rock-cut steps that lead down to the beach near the 12 Apostles. Originally carved by the aboriginal Kirrae Whurrong tribe, they were developed and put to regular use by the settler, Hugh Gibson, as a way to access the beach. The steps allow for a wonderful view of two stacks Gog and Magog, separate from the 12 Apostles. These steps were actually our first stop when we started from Apollo Bay, but since the parking was full, we had to head over to 12 Apostles where there was sufficient parking. There is a walkway from the parking area to Gibson Steps, but is 2.2 kilometres long.
Tip: Both these places are out in the open with absolutely no shade or roof above, so if you are visiting in the summers, it would be best to travel in the morning which gives you the added advantage of avoiding the tour buses and the associated crowds.
10. Loch Ard Gorge:
On a foggy June morning in 1878, a shipping vessel, Loch Ard, crashed into a reef near Mutton Bird island. Only two members of the crew, Tom and Eva, survived, by hanging on to parts of the broken ship. They both were washed ashore and managed to keep warm by finding shelter inside a cave near the beach. It was hours before Tom could climb out of the gorge and find help from the local farmers nearby. The nearby gorge where the ship crashed was named the Loch Ard Gorge in memory of the crew and the horrific incident.
Finding this place was quite easy; it is less than 5 kilometres from 12 Apostles. As we exit the road towards the gorge, we encountered a fork in the road, one that led towards a Blowhole and the other towards the lookout points and the beach. Take the road that leads towards the Blowhole and visit Blowhole and Thunder Cave first. Next, come back to the lookout points: Mutton Bird Lookout, Tom and Eva lookout among others.
The view of the magnificent Razorback rock stack is one to behold. Notice the bumps and cracks on the top of the Razorback, these have been caused by wind erosion; the salt-laden winds from the ocean which probably blow unrestricted from Antarctica do a good job of eroding the soft limestone rocks and leaving behind the harder ones. Standing here and watching the waves and wind crash against the rocks, we could almost feel that we were watching history being created.
The beach here involves an arduous trek down, but as they say, harder the trek, more the privacy and that is exactly what you get here, sort of a private beach. We were not here, but we can still assure you of the views that you get from here.
Tip: The Blowhole nearby is to be reached from the inner road and not directly from Great Ocean Road.
11. Port Campbell:
The tame little town of Port Campbell is unlike any of the other towns along the Great Ocean Road; while other towns are known for the beaches and their high waves, this natural harbour-town, with its narrow mouth, stands shielded from the ferocious waves and winds of the Southern Ocean. This explains the rather docile beach which makes for an excellent swimming spot.
12. The Arch:
The Arch is one of the hidden structures along the GOR that depicts one of the steps of formation of rock stacks, the ones seen at the 12 Apostles. Eventually, the 2 legs forming the arch will get eroded by the ferocious waves and form 2 separate rock stacks, and if Australian tabloids are to be believed, this is not very far off. To view this structure clearly, however, you need to walk down to a small viewing platform at the bottom of a ramp. Not many tourists visit this because the parking area is small and cannot accommodate bigger vehicles such as camper vans.
13. London Bridge:
Before 1990, tourists could walk over an arched structure called the London Bridge onto what is now an island. One fine day in 1990, the bridge collapsed forming an island with two campers stranded on it; rescue helicopters had to be called in to rescue the duo. Today’s structure stands devoid of a bridge, but not of beauty and spectacle, making it one of the most popular spots on the road, after the 12 Apostles. There are multiple viewing platforms here from where one can take in the beauty of the bridge and the ocean. There seems to be no regular path made to access the serene beach below.
14. The Grotto:
The biblical names of the sites along the GOR are not restricted to the 12 Apostles and the Crown of Thorns. A sink hole along the road has been lovingly named the Grotto. If you have missed The Arch, The Thunder Cave and the Blow Hole, fret not, for we present to you, The Grotto, a combination of the three. Viewing this site involves a tough climb down a decked staircase with viewpoints along the way. At the bottom, the Grotto has been cordoned off, it can only be viewed from a distance.
15. Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs:
These 2 spots are very similar to the 12 Apostles, some may even say more beautiful, but, severely underrated as they are often overlooked by most tourists. But more beautiful or not, they are certainly less touristy and make for great photo sessions.
The Bay Of Islands has many small rock stacks, more than ten of them decorate the bay and are in varying stages of degradation. This is probably how the 12 Apostles would look like, with time. The Bay Of Martyrs is believed to be the site of a horrific massacre of local Keerray Woorroong aboriginals by the European settlers. Its inconvenient history is probably why this area does not receive as many visitors as the other spots.
The last stop on the Great Ocean Road is Warrnambool, a small town overlooking the Lady Bay and a great place to sight whales when it is season. The whale-watching season is between June and September and you could keep yourself abreast of info from this helpful website. Logan’s Beach near Warrnambool has a viewing platform and visitors can see the endangered Southern Right Whales that turn up here year after year to nurse their young in the warmer waters teeming with food over here.
Braving the wind and walking along the breakwater here is interesting, on one side you can observe the might of the ocean and on the other side, you can see a calm beach with families enjoying themselves. Anglers tend to flock the breakwater as the area offers good catch. Near the breakwater, you can also take part in one of the many walks that walk you through the shipwreck sites here. Seeing the sea and the limestone cliffs here, it is not hard to understand how these ships would have sunk. Alternately, you could walk on the breakwater itself; sport a pullover if you are walking on the top and a partner if you are walking on the bottom. And since this is the last spot, remember to leave before it gets dark as it is a long way back to Melbourne.
After Warrnambool, as we headed back to Melbourne through roads that led us through the Otway National Park, we realised the beauty of the Great Ocean Road when compared to the rather monotonous forest roads. The drive back was filled with discussion on which was the best spot and unexpectedly, our favourite turned out to be St. George River, where we had our first encounter with the marsupials of Australia. Little did we know what lay in store for us when we would visit Phillip Island.
We hope our trip itinerary would have helped you plan your own trip here. Make sure you adequately experience all the three sections of the road: the first section from Torquay to Apollo Bay containing beaches and towns along the coast, the second from Apollo Bay to Princetown containing national parks and the hinterland, and the third from Princetown to Peterborough containing limestone cliffs and rock stacks. Just remember to follow our precious tips gained through our experiences during our road trip here.
As you wrap up your tour of the Great Ocean Road, you would have experienced the official tagline ‘Untamed Spirits Create Inspirational Wonder’.