Australia’s most famous road is officially B100 but is better known under the dreamy name of the Great Ocean Road. This phenomenal sea-sprayed winding coastal road is almost 250 km long, stretching between the cities of Torquay and Allansford in South Victoria. Already at the end of World War I, plans were forged to build a road that would attract tourists to the southern regions of the country. It was meant to be a memorial for all the soldiers killed in the war. And those who returned home were soon put to work. Over 3,000 men worked their way through thick rainforests, chopping logs and hacking rocks. It was heavy work. The rocky coastline offered hard resistance and the workers encountered great difficulties during the construction of the road. In November 1932, the final stage was completed between Lorne and Apollo Bay, and the entire Great Ocean Road was finally inaugurated. The road winds its way largely close to the coastline. Countless vantage points and photographic highlights are waiting around the next bend. This is no scenery one should rush through. And it is a case of driving sensibly. Various corniches will occasional take you breathtakingly close to the edge of the high cliffs. This is a particularly dramatic piece of surfaced road, where the surroundings showcase an immense beauty. Smell the salty sea water and feel the warmth of the sun as you drive with an open sunroof, navigating westward. The road is lined with peaceful surf towns where you can stop and rest for the night.
Farther west awaits the most scenic part of the road, called Shipwreck Coast. This part has rugged rock formations and natural monuments, such as the Loch Ard Gorge. And not least the iconic limestone rock formations the Twelve Apostles that rises from the sea as ghostly pillars. They are found within Port Campbell National Park. Expect epic sunsets and many opportunities to take a dip in the sea. If there is a place one should invest in a rental car while in Australia, it is along the Great Ocean Road. To see as much as possible along this windswept coastal road in the south, set aside a few days, preferably a week. There are many who want to challenge themselves and get around by their own machine. Cyclists are particularly fond of the Great Ocean Road and in recent years, marathon runners have found their way here. For a little over ten years now, it is possible to walk all or part of the Great Ocean Walk.
Sights and experiences
The Great Ocean Road starts in Torquay, which is an hour’s drive from Melbourne. Torquay is undeniably Victoria’s premier surfer town with its wide beaches and surging waves. Visit Bells Beach if you want to try surfing. If you need a lesson, you can book in with Go Ride a Wave (wotif.com/things-to-do/torquay-beach-surfing-lesson.a283689.activity-details). In addition to the sun and the beach, Torquay is a quiet and rather reclusive city. Would you rather experience Torquay from above, try skydiving for an unbeatable view of Bells Beach and the Great Ocean Road (wotif.com/things-to-do/tandem-skydive-over-bells-beach-torquay-up-to-15-000ft.a258592.activity-details). The next given stop along the way is Lorne, a seaside town located at the foot of the beautiful Otway Range Heights. Just two hours from Melbourne, Lorne is a peaceful little holiday destination. The town is surrounded by beautiful Otway National Park (parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/great-otway-national-park) that has nice hiking trails and high waterfalls. Lorne Beach is a must to visit, where the turquoise sea water washes in on a wide sandy beach.
Drive inland along Erskine Falls Road to get to Erskine Falls (parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/great-otway-national-park/things-to-do/erskine-falls). From the parking area you can walk the short distance to a vantage point over the high waterfalls. Or follow the steep steps all the way down. Further west along the Great Ocean Road is Apollo Bay, a quiet little town with an absolute proximity to the dramatic nature. Both Lorne and Apollo Bay are excellent bases for exploring more of Otway National Park and Otway Ranges. West of Apollo Bay is Maits Rest. A short walk of one kilometre will lead you through a dense ancient rainforest. If you come here during the evening, you can see the glow-worms glowing in the forest (parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/great-otway-national-park/things-to-do/maits-rest).
The 130 km distance between Moonlight Head and Port Fairy is called the Shipwreck Coast. In between here are some of the Great Ocean Roads’ most iconic sights, such as the limestone rock formations the Twelve Apostles and Port Campbell National Park. The name Shipwreck Coast comes from the nearly 700 vessels who has been wrecked in these hard-to-navigate waters. At Wreck Beach in Moonlight Head are two rusty anchors from the ships Marie Gabrielle (1870) and the Fiji (1890), buried in the sand as a remembrance of bygone times. Port Campbell National Park (parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/port-campbell-national-park) offers many high cliffs and stunning views. Port Campbell with its modest population it the main town in the area. There are a few cafés and an information centre here. The town is primarily visited because of its proximity to the above-mentioned natural phenomena.
The Twelve Apostles gigantic pillars dramatically rises out of the Pacific. Some pillars are as tall as 45 m. Today they are eight. Five of them have collapsed since they were discovered. The pillars are constantly eroded by wind and sea, every year they become slightly lower. To get closer to the Twelve Apostles, follow the Gibson’s Steps down to the beach. Eighty-six carved out coarse steps will take you from the parking lot down to the sandy beach. Don’t miss to admire the limestone pillars at sunset. A few kilometres northwest lies The Loch Ard Gorge (parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/port-campbell-national-park/things-to-do/loch-ard-gorge). There are several shorter hiking trails to explore here. You will find beautiful, towering bright rock formations and good vantage points in the area. The site is named after the sailing vessel Loch Ard which ran aground on the coast at the end of the 1800s.
The Great Ocean Walk (visitgreatoceanroad.org.au/greatoceanwalk) is around 100 km long and is estimated to take eight days to complete. But perhaps it is enough to walk parts of the trail for a few days. During the hike, walk at your own pace and stop whenever you feel like it. The trail begins in Apollo Bay and ends at the Twelve Apostles and it can only be walked in that direction. It is connected by car and parking spaces, which allows you to plan your hike smoothly. There are hotels but also campsites along the way, but be sure to book accommodation in advance (visitvictoria.com/Regions/Great-Ocean-Road).
Good to know
There are Visitor Information Centres in most towns along the way. They are found in Geelong, Apollo Bay, Lorne, Queenscliff, Port Campbell and Torquay. If you are in Melbourne, there is one at the Federation Square. For activities, tickets and accommodations along the Great Ocean Road you can also take a look at Wotif’s website (wotif.com/discover/australia/victoria/great-ocean-road.d6135588).
It is most common to start your trip in Melbourne and then drive west towards Torquay, where the Great Ocean Road begins. The easiest way to explore the area is by having a car. That way you do not have to adapt to other people’s schedules and requests. There are several car rentals in Melbourne (wotif.com/Car-Hire). There are also various companies that run bus tours or arrange activities along the way, such as Gray Line (wotif.com/things-to-do/full-day-great-ocean-road-tour-from-melbourne.a190684.activity-details), Wildlife Tours Australia (wotif.com/things-to-do/great-ocean-road-12-apostles-small-group-day-tour.a190819.activity-details) or Bunyip Tours (wotif.com/things-to-do/great-ocean-road-and-12-apostles-sunset-small-group-tour.a190561.activity-details).
It is quite possible to take the bicycle along the Great Ocean Road. The entire route is just over 270 km, but it is divided into stages. To avoid congestion, it is smart to get here during off-season and try to ride mainly during weekdays. Bicycle rental is available in most cities.
Despite being far from well-populated areas, there are several different accommodation options to choose from along the Great Ocean Road. But no matter how you plan to stay during the trip, it is imperative to book in advance. During spring, summer, autumn and school leave, there is a great risk that you are not alone in wanting to come here. Peak season is equal to high prices and crowding. When it comes to camping (visitvictoria.com/Regions/Great-Ocean-Road/Things-to-do/Outdoor-activities/Camping), it is not allowed to set up a tent anywhere, you must stick to the marked campsites.
There is a nice hostel to stay at in Torquay. Bells Beach Backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Bells_Beach_Backpackers.htm) is located at 51 Surfcoast Highway. It is small but cosy and tidy. They have BBQ, Wi-Fi, a good kitchen and a nice patio. Torquay Tropicana Motel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Torquay_Tropicana_Motel.htm) is located a bit outside the town, but is affordable if you do not want to stay in a hostel but at the same time not spend too much money on accommodation. Cumberland Lorne Resort (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Cumberland_Lorne_Resort.htm) is one of the better hotels in Lorne, at 150 Mountjoy Parade. The hotel is ideally located opposite the beach. Make sure you get a room high up if possible, so you can get good use of the balcony. There are also campsites westwards at Cumberland River Holiday Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Cumberland_River_Holiday_Park.htm). The campsites are located by the beach and there are several hiking trails to test out nearby.
The freshest hostel along the Great Ocean Road is in Apollo Bay. Apollo Bay Eco YHA (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Apollo_Bay_Eco_YHA.htm) is modern, bright and as the name implies also eco-certificated. It is clean and tidy, and a big plus is that the nearest grocery store is only 100 m away. The kitchen is large and has everything you could possibly need. And best of all, they have a large patio on the roof with panoramic views. In Port Campbell, you can stop by at Loch Ard Motor Inn (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Loch_Ard_Motor_Inn.htm), which is conveniently placed at 24 Great Ocean Road.
A Saturday along the Great Ocean Road
07:00 – Surfing start
Your journey along the Great Ocean Road begins in Melbourne. Wake up in time, pack your car and top-fill the fuel tank. Then head to the surfer town of Torquay. Stop at The Pond Café at 39 Esplanade to enjoy breakfast. Try any of their hot dishes if you are hungry. Or buy a take-away coffee and sandwich for bringing when you check out the early risers surfing at Bells Beach.
11:00 – Natural waterfalls
Continue south along Road B100. At Lorne, turn west along Erskine Falls Road. Drive to the parking area where the hiking trail begins. Choose between going to the vantage point to gaze out at the waterfalls of Erskine Falls, or challenge yourself and walk down the steep steps to get close.
13:00 – Teddy’s Lookout
Time to get back on the road, keep an eye out for next upcoming stop, Teddy’s Lookout, just south of Lorne (greatoceanroad.info/information/teddys-lookout). Drive to the picnic spot at the end of George Street and walk the last bit to the vantage point. From here you get a beautiful view of the wild sea, and don’t forget to bring the camera.
16:00 – Rainforest and cliffs
Make a stop at Sandy Feet Café (sandyfeetcafe.com.au) in Apollo Bay to buy some light lunch to bring. Continue driving westward into the Great Otway National Park and visit Maits Rest, which is an excellent presentation of the rainforest. Follow the short hiking trail where information signs describe the area and its flora and fauna. The next stop is made at the Loch Ard Gorge. Go down to the beach and take a closer look at the colourful cliffs that rise around the incoming sea.
18:00 – The Twelve Apostles
Continue the last bit to get to the climax of the journey, the majestic limestone rock formations called the Twelve Apostles. Don’t forget to follow Gibson’s Steps down to the beach. It is steep and energy intensive, but you are rewarded with experiencing the pillars from a different perspective. Remain here until the sun starts to set to see the colourful light being mirrored on the ancient rock formations.
20:00 – Last stop
The long and fast-paced day ends with a lovely dinner in Port Campbell. The restaurant is called 12 Rocks Beach Bar. There are few really good restaurants in Port Campbell, but this is one of them. They specialize in seafood dishes, so tuck into any of them (12rocksbeachbar.com.au).