12 Apostles Great Ocean Road Cover Image

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.

Read our Melbourne Travel Guide and Itinerary here.

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.

1. Torquay:

Bells Beach Torquay Great Ocean Road Trip Self Drive Itinerary
The first beach of the Great Ocean Road: Bells Beach

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.

Point Addis Torquay Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
Surf breaks of Bells Beach viewed from Point Addis

 

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.

Viewing platform Point Addis Torquay Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
Grey Kangaroos roam Point Addis in the evenings

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.

2. Anglesea:

Anglesea River Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
Boardwalk along the Anglesea River

 

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.

Chocolaterie Chocolate Factory Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
We couldn’t help ourselves from picking all of these colourful lip balms as souvenirs !

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:

Split Point Lighthouse Aireys Inlet Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
Split Point Lighthouse and the Bark Hut

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.

4. Lorne:

Lorne Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
The beach just outside Lorne

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:

Teddy's Lookout Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
View of the multi-coloured ocean from 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.

Teddy's Lookout Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
View of the winding Great Ocean Road

6. St. George River:

St George River Kangaroos Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
The slightest of noises set these animals in motion

 

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.

Kangaroos St George River Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
Grazing marsupials at the St George River

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.

Koala Kennett River Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
Sunrise is just another time to sleep, for the koala bear

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.

Parrot Kennett River Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
The Kennett River campsite had a few surprises too, such as this parrot

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:

Sunset Apollo Bay Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
When the sun finally decides to set at 9 PM, at 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:

12 Apostles Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
The 12 Apostles in all their glory

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.

12 Apostles Great Ocean Road Gibson Steps Self Drive Itinerary
Gog and Magog viewed from 12 Apostles

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.

12 Apostles Gibson steps Great Ocean Road Side Self Drive Itinerary
A view of the Gibson steps viewed from the 12 Apostles

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:

Loch Ard Gorge Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
One of the caves at the 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.

Razorback Loch Ard Gorge Great Ocean Road
Notice the pattern of erosion on the sides of The Razorback

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:

Port Campbell Calm Beach Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
Get tanned at the calm Port Campbell Beach

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 Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
The rocky cliffs appear so tame against the might of the ocean

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:

London Bridge Great Ocean Road Kelli Harrison and David Darrington Self Drive Itinerary
Imagine the similarity with the original 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.

Kelli Harrison and David Darrington London Bridge Island Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
The most desolate of islands along the GOR

14. The Grotto:

Grotto Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
Just let the feeling sink in at the Grotto 😉

 

Grotto Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
The archway above the Grotto and its reflection make an interesting pattern

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.

16. Warrnambool:

Warrnambool Dock Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
The calmer side of the Warrnambool breakwater

 

 Warrnambool Pier Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
Boats patrol the swim-friendly sites

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.

Warrnambool Whale Watching Great Ocean Road
The sea does a wonderful job of scaring the visitors 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 (check out our post on Phillip Island Wildlife Park) 

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’.

References:

All the helpful signboards at each place and the official website. Info about the 12 Apostles here.

The Australian Great Ocean Road self-drive trip: Must-stops on a 2-day itinerary

29 thoughts on “The Australian Great Ocean Road self-drive trip: Must-stops on a 2-day itinerary

  • April 21, 2018 at 07:13
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    Really helpful itinerary. It’s nice to see that you can fit so many great views into only a couple of days. #WeekendWanderlust

    Reply
  • April 21, 2018 at 11:08
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    Wow, look at all those amazing beaches. We drove along the East Coast when husband and I were in Australia. Hopefully we’ll make it down the Great Ocean Road one day, great guide!
    #WeekendWanderlust

    Reply
  • April 22, 2018 at 12:06
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    I have travelled on Great Ocean Road and have been to the twelve apostles. It was all so magical! I’d say it was one of my most mesmeric travel experiences. But, I wouldn’t do a bus tour again, because you barely get any time at your favorite spots. Thanks for your itinerary! I think it will helpful for a self-drive.

    Reply
    • April 22, 2018 at 22:08
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      Yes, you are right about the bus-trips, but as a foreigner, unless you can muster up enough confidence to drive here, they are the only option to visit.

      Reply
  • April 22, 2018 at 13:39
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    Those pictures!!! So so so pretty! I might go to Australia in January so your post just made me suuuper excited! #WeekendWanderlust

    Reply
    • April 22, 2018 at 22:05
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      No Australian trip including Melbourne is complete without a road trip down the Great Ocean Road, head over there and you will understand what we are talking about. The pictures do little justice to the actual place.
      BTW January might be a bit too hot, are you sure about your trip there at this time?

      Reply
  • April 22, 2018 at 18:33
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    We recently did this trip in a day! We loved it and it’s a very beautiful trip! The koala at Kennett River are a delight!

    Reply
    • April 22, 2018 at 22:02
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      Indeed, it is a beautiful trip. The koalas there were great. Did you folks head down at Cape Otway as well?

      Reply
  • April 26, 2018 at 10:39
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    Magnificent post.Love reading your post.Pictures are stunning.Thanks for the post.Keep sharing.

    Reply
  • May 16, 2018 at 17:21
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    That’s a great mix between history, geography and personal experience. For all of us whose fancies are tickled by travel and lifestyle – you took us on a virtual tour, written in a great language. For which I thank you!

    Reply
  • May 16, 2018 at 20:00
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    wow I wish I was going here one day! it looks amazing at Gibons post. its funny how some of the places are the same as English beach towns too!

    Reply
    • May 16, 2018 at 21:55
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      Yes, though it is no surprise considering that English folk settled there and used the names of places that they were from or reminded them of places back home.

      Reply
  • May 17, 2018 at 00:23
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    What a perfect post. You have detailed all the places to see along with the pics beautifully. The Great Ocean Road does qualify for my family to plan a holiday.

    Reply
    • May 17, 2018 at 13:15
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      Thank you, glad you found our guide helpful.

      Reply
  • May 17, 2018 at 18:05
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    Those pictures are just simply breathtaking. The beaches and ocean are amazing. The kangaroos just blew my mind. I seen some at my recent zoo trip and can’t imagine them just hanging out so close like these pictures.

    Reply
    • May 18, 2018 at 07:26
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      The roos were absolutely stunning, we were stunned as well, seeing them hopping away from us. Add ponies to the picture and you would have to pinch yourself to check if you are not dreaming.

      Reply
  • June 10, 2018 at 13:57
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    We did this similar trip 2 months ago. From 12 apostles up to Sydney by coast road! Which place is your favorite? Our Gibon Steps 🙂

    Reply
  • June 10, 2018 at 15:05
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    I would love to take a drive on the spectacular Great Ocean Road 🙂 I’m a truly nature lover and your photos of landscapes are stunning ! As there are hundreds of potential spots you may visit during this trip, it’s good to see also less common locations to your pit-stop list.

    Reply
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  • June 10, 2018 at 17:48
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    Looks like the ultimate road trip! Unfortunately, I didn’t do this during my time on the east coast. I guess I’ll just have to go back :p

    Reply
    • June 10, 2018 at 21:22
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      Well, this one is worth going back for.

      Reply
  • June 10, 2018 at 21:02
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    I’d love to do a self-drive when exploring the Great Ocean Road too.. Love that you have mentioned all the great stops one can make while driving. Interesting facts about the 12 apostles too. I didn’t know that only 8 of the rock formations remain. Makes me realise how important to travel now and explore as one day, some beautiful natural wonders will surely be gone.

    Reply
    • June 10, 2018 at 21:20
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      Absolutely, go there while they still exist.

      Reply
    • June 10, 2018 at 21:21
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      Absolutely, must go there while they still exist. 🙂

      Reply
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