Famous as one of the world’s most scenic coastal routes, Australia’s Great Ocean Road is one of the country’s greatest gems. Set along the south east coast of Australia, this iconic region spans 243 kilometers (151 miles) of coastline. With beautiful national parks, iconic surf breaks and stunning coastline, Great Ocean Road is a place like no other. It is one of the most popular tours in Melbourne, so I highly recommend checking it out!
The Great Ocean Road is located on the south east coast of Australia. It’s just a two hour and half drive south of Melbourne Airport. While I’d definitely recommend renting a car for exploring this dramatic region, it’s easy to get from the Melbourne airport to the Great Ocean Road.
Alternatively, if you are in Melbourne and want to visit Great Ocean Road but don’t know where to begin, I’d suggest taking a day trip tour from Melbourne! Tours typically happen daily at 8:00 am and depart from Melbourne CBD.
Great Ocean Road Driving Route
When I was planning my road trip to Great Ocean Road, I knew that I wanted to self-drive throughout the two routes. There’s the coastal route (highly recommended) and there’s the inland route. For the coastal route, you will be able to see pristine coastline and impressive rock formations by the coast. The coastal route also can be highly unnerving with hairpin turns down steep hills, so mind your speed.
For the inland route, you will be able to see endless farm animals and picturesque country towns throughout the journey. The inland route can be a carefree road trip with less traffic and it is quicker than the coastal route in case you want to drive back to Melbourne on the same day.
To make your itinerary planning a little easier, here are the best Great Ocean Road places you can’t miss!
#1 Catch Sunrise and Sunset at the Twelve Apostles
Get your camera ready as you approach the Twelve Apostles, the star of the show! These majestic limestone pillars rising out 45 meters above the Southern Ocean and were formed some 20 million years ago. You might be able to see eight instead of twelve of the Apostles because the rest have fallen and forming the backdrop of these magnificent cliffs up to 70 meters high.
Any time of day is good to visit the Twelve Apostles, but particularly sunrise and sunset are stunning from up here. I would recommend starting your day early and catch the sunrise in Twelve Apostles. It is a popular spot so you will want to beat the crowd. Get scenic sunset views of Twelve Apostles for another best time. Watch the sun fall below the sea and you might see little penguins too!
Tip: You can upgrade your experience to include helicopter tour. Get at least 15 minutes ride and get a stunning aerial view of the 12 Apostles from high above the sky (Based on the different package offered).
#2 Go Low at Gibson Steps
Just two minutes down the road from the Twelve Apostles are the Gibson Steps, a shoreline named after a local settler in 1869. I’ve made my way down the 86 steps to the beach to experience the spectacular crashing waves and appreciate the rock stacks view ‘Gog and Magog’ up close. Take your time to watch how powerful Great Southern Ocean crash into Australia at this point.
Tip: Park your car at Gibson Steps designated parking space instead of walking from Twelve Apostles car park. You can walk a way shorter distance from Gibson Steps car park.
#3 Hit the Beach at Loch Ard Gorge
Just 5 minutes away from the Twelve Apostles is Loch Ard Gorge, named after Victoria’s most famous shipwreck in 1878 and killing 52 passengers aboard. Two young survivors, Tom and Eva, were very fortunate to be washed into the only safe gorge on the coast. Going down to the beach, you will find the unusual section of this coast. It has a low energy beach and relatively calm interior. Take the 3 easy walks for sightings of shipwreck history, geology and coastal ecology.
Tip: You can download your Free Map of 3 easy walks at Loch Ard Gorge here.
#4 London Bridge Scene at London Arch
Welcome to London Arch where you can see the most sweeping views of the great Southern Ocean. London Arch as it is affectionately known, looks a lot like London Bridge. The stacks were created over hundreds of years, the base being eroded away by wind and water to form the two bridges. Unfortunately the bridge part collapsed into the ocean in 1990, anyhow the arches on both sides remain. You just have to sit in awe to see the scenic view and experience the relentless waves.
Tip: End the day to see the small population of little penguins returning home. London Bridge is one of 2 points in the National Park where visitors can observe little penguins returning to shore.
#5 See through Sinkhole at The Grotto
Just a short drive away from London Bridge, the Grotto is famous for its steep staircase that leads down to an amazing hollowed out cave. You can watch the wave crashes up close through this sinkhole. Looking at the Grotto from land, it creates a perfect natural frame for the ocean behind it.
Tip: You can download your Free Map of Port Campbell National Park walking tracks here.
#6 See Natural Sculpture at The Arch
Visit the Arch, located 6km west of Port Campbell. This natural sculptured arch stands at 8 meters high is made truly incredible by the surrounding rough seas as the waves crash around and continue to erode the rock. Take your time to feel the perfect moment when the waves crashed into the Arch.
#7 Go Koala Spotting at Kennett River
You can’t leave the Great Ocean Road without seeing a wild koala bear at Kennett River Koala Walk! Thanks to the significant population of wild koalas that make their home here, Kennett River Koala Walk is known as one of the Australia’s koala spotting capitals. The best way to spot them is to take leisurely stroll and keep your eyes peeled and you will see some. There is more wildlife to see in this area, I found a flock of Cockatoo and wild Kangaroos too!
Tip: Look at the places between the stem and the branches, there’s where the koalas usually hangout.
#8 Fairytale Forest at Californian Redwoods
Another stunning spot is remarkable Californian Redwoods. Walk along this enchanted forest that would you think came straight out of a fairytale! Planted in 1893 far from their native California, this spot is one of the world’s tallest tree species. Wandering through the massive trunks flanking the river for the first time, you will feel a sense of serenity and awe.
#9 Visit Cape Otway Light Station
Just 30 minutes away from Apollo Bay along the way to the Twelve Apostles, is Cape Otway Light Station also known as Australia’s most important lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in the 1850’s in response to significant loss of life in shipwrecks along the southern coast, particularly in the area of the Twelve Apostles. Check out Bimby Park along the road where you are guaranteed to see Koalas and grab some snaps of the Cape Otway Light Station.
#10 Hike to Marriner’s Lookout
Another jaw-droppingly photogenic stop is the Marriner’s Lookout. This is the perfect pit stop for getting out to enjoy a fantastic aerial view of Apollo Bay! Drive up the hill and park your car at the parking spots there. Pass through a gate and walk around 5 minutes up gravel track and you will reach the top of Apollo Bay. For the nature lovers, the view will make you melt!
Tip: Do not litter or make noise when you are there because the area is privately owned. This lookout was donated for visitors to admire the spectacular view, we do have to respect their generosity.
Where to Stay & Where to Eat
I chose Apollo Bay as my home base to explore Great Ocean Road. It’s a great location to stay with easy access to petrol, accommodation and food. Feeling happier when my Australian friend also recommended Apollo Bay, is where locals go to find the best food in Great Ocean Road. Moreover, it has halal and Muslim friendly eateries, too! Grilled barramundi is my personal favourite when staying there. I highly recommend to go to Iluka Motel & Restaurant located at 65-71 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay VIC 3233, Australia. They serve vegetarian food too.
Tips for Great Ocean Road Self Drive:
- Don’t do the Great Ocean Road trip in one day. For the perfect “sampler platter” of sights and activities along this scenic drive, I recommend planning 3 days.
- Most of the main highlights of the Great Ocean Road are located at Port Campbell National Park. Spend most of your time there if you have limited time exploring Great Ocean Road.
- If you plan to experience both coastal route and inland route, I would definitely suggest drive via the coastal route when coming from Melbourne. So you can stop along the way at the roadside viewing points without crossing the road.
- When you are at a petrol station, always fuel up your car. The petrol stations can be few and far between, and you never want to run on empty.
Great Ocean Road is truly a picture perfect Australia’s coastline. Your senses will be on high alert with a ton of history, beautiful beaches and amazing lookouts. This coastline is well worth a visit on your trip to Melbourne, Australia!
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