Planning a drive along the Great Ocean Road is one of the top things to do in Australia. And given that I have lived in this country for 30-something years before ever getting to see this beautiful part of the world, I simply couldn't resist this iconic road trip any longer!
So, when my parents decided to book a family holiday in Lorne, a beautiful beachside town located right on the Great Ocean Road, I simply couldn't come this far without going a little further to see the 12 Apostles!
You've most likely heard of the 12 Apostles, or seen them in photos on social media (see above). It's one of the most iconic rock formations in the world. And whilst the 12 Apostles might be the main attraction, there is actually has so much more to see along the Great Ocean Road. From rugged coastal hikes, amazing foodie finds, to iconic surf breaks, towering redwood forests, and gorgeous waterfalls.
Read on to learn about all the attractions we visited on our Great Ocean Road trip, plus a few that we didn't (but wish we did)!
Above: View of the Great Ocean Road coastline from Teddy's Lookout
How to Get to the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road drive starts at the town of Torquay, about 2 hours drive south-west of Melbourne. The road continues for 244 kilometers westward, finishing at the town of Allansford, near Port Fairy.
There are two ways of accessing the Great Ocean Road attractions – either from Melbourne or from Adelaide. The latter is a much longer route through remote parts of Australia that would require a lot more time to complete. For this road trip guide, we are going to focus on the most popular route to access the Great Ocean Road drive – from Melbourne.
Arriving into Melbourne Airport
To access the Great Ocean Road drive, we recommend flying into Melbourne airport. However, there are actually two airports in Melbourne:
- Tullamarine Airport – The main domestic and International airport closest to Melbourne city, and serviced by most airlines. If you plan to spend a few days exploring Melbourne before or after visiting the Great Ocean Road, then I would recommend arriving into Tullamarine airport.
- Avalon Airport – The other airport near Melbourne, which is smaller and serviced only by a handful of airlines, such as Jetstar Airways. Avalon Airport is actually closer to the start of the Great Ocean Road drive, but further away from Melbourne city.
Whilst I prefer to fly into Tullamarine with Virgin Australia, because I have gold status with them, Jetstar is a budget alternative and usually offers very low airfares by comparison – but don’t forget to take into account the extra fees you’ll have to pay on Jetstar, such as baggage and seat allocation fees – these are usually included on Virgin Australia.
You can search and compare all airfares to Melbourne using Skyscanner here, but be sure to search for Melbourne (All Airports) so you can compare flights into both Tullamarine and Avalon airports.
Above: The largest of the 12 Apostles still standing today.
Once you arrive in Melbourne, you’ll have two options to get to the Great Ocean Road – either a pre-organised Great Ocean Road day tour or a self-drive road trip. We always recommend self-drive, as it gives you the most flexibility to go at your own pace and set your own itinerary.
Option 1 – Great Ocean Road Day Tour
It’s possible to join a Great Ocean Road tour from Melbourne, but this is usually a long (12-hour) day trip, with an early start and limited time to spend at each of the Great Ocean Road attractions. Also, you won't get to see ALL the best Great Ocean Road highlights on a day tour. But if you only have limited time and are determined not to miss this stunning part of Australia, then we recommend this Great Ocean Road reverse experience to avoid the crowds, or the 12 Apostles at Sunset tour.
Tip: The main Great Ocean Road highlights, such as the 12 Apostles, are located around 4 hours drive from Melbourne city.
Option 2 – Great Ocean Road Self-Drive Itinerary
If you decide to do the self-drive option, rental cars can be collected from either Melbourne and Avalon airports, but as Avalon is much smaller there are limited options. It’s also possible to collect your rental car from Melbourne city. Search and compare prices from different car rental companies using Rentalcars.com.
Above: Surfers at Lorne Beach at sunset
The Best Time to Visit the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is a beautiful place to visit year-round, but there are a few things to consider when planning your visit.
Peak season along the Great Ocean Road occurs during summer (December through February) when you can take advantage of warmer-weather activities, such as swimming and surfing. But these months attract, not only a throng of tourists, but also half of Melbourne as families flock to the towns along the coast for the summer holidays. You’ll need to book accommodation well in advance during this time.
The Winter Months
The winter months of June through to August offer an escape from the heat and crowds and many people think it to be the best time to visit the Great Ocean Road, as accommodation options are easier to come by.
The Shoulder Seasons
As always, shoulder season is usually my favourite time to visit a place as the crowds are still small and the weather is mild, and much more bearable. The Great Ocean Road is much the same, which is the reason I recommend this as the best time to visit.
We planned our Great Ocean Road trip in late-April, which is Autumn (March to May). The weather was brisk in the morning and we needed a jacket when visiting the 12 Apostles at sunrise, but the temperature was very pleasant during the day – think jeans and t-shirt weather.
Springtime is also lovely as the waterfalls experience peak run-off and wildflowers begin to bloom along the coastline.
Above: Walking along the Pier at Lorne
The Perfect Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary
The Great Ocean Road drive might be one of the most popular day trips from Melbourne, however, if you’re looking to do the self-drive option, we highly recommend you plan at least a 2 day Great Ocean Road Itinerary. This should allow enough time for the long drive from Melbourne (around 4 hours) and ensure you get to experience all the best things to do on the Great Ocean Road, including seeing the 12 Apostles at both sunrise and sunset!
Below, we’ve listed three options for your self drive Great Ocean Road trip – including 1, 2 and 3 day itineraries.
Option 1: A 1 Day Great Ocean Road Itinerary
Make an early start and head directly towards the 12 Apostles. Aim to arrive around sunrise (or soon after) to avoid the tourist buses that begin to arrive around 9 am. Take the inland road, which should have you arriving at the 12 Apostles in around 3 hours. The coast road is very windy and takes a lot longer.
After spending an hour or so at the 12 Apostles, continue west towards the other Great Ocean Road attractions – including Loch Ard Gorge, The Arch, London Bridge and The Grotto. Grab some lunch in the town of Port Campbell, before heading east along the Great Ocean Road back towards Melbourne. In the afternoon, you could explore Cape Otway or some of the attractions around Lorne, depending on time, before arriving back in Melbourne in the evening.
Above: The lookout at The Arch along the Great Ocean Road
Option 2: A 2 Day Great Ocean Road Itinerary
On the first day of your road trip, collect your rental car from Melbourne city, or the airport and spend the day leisurely driving along the Great Ocean Road coastline. If you’re flying into Melbourne, be sure to get an early flight!
Stop at the iconic Bell’s Beach and Airy’s Inlet along the way. Grab a bite to eat for lunch in Torquay or Lorne – see our recommendations below. Then spend the afternoon exploring Lorne Township, Teddy’s Lookout and Apollo Bay. But don’t lose track of time – plan to finish up the first day with sunset at Gibson Steps. Spend the night somewhere near the 12 Apostles.
On day two, plan to arrive at the 12 Apostles at sunrise to beat the crowds. Then continue your drive west towards the other Great Ocean Road attractions – including Loch Ard Gorge, The Arch, London Bridge and The Grotto. Grab some lunch in the town of Port Campbell, before heading back east along the Great Ocean Road towards Melbourne.
In the afternoon, make a stop at Cape Otway Lightstation and admire the stunning Redwood Forest at Great Otway National Park. Then, take the inland road for a faster route back to Melbourne.
Option 3: A 3 Day Great Ocean Road Itinerary
This option will allow you to see many of the Great Ocean Road attractions at a much more leisurely pace. On the first day, make your way from Melbourne to Lorne. Take your time and spend the day exploring Torquay, Bell’s Beach, Airey’s Inlet and Lorne. Book some accommodation in Lorne or Apollo Bay for the evening.
Spend day two exploring the Great Ocean Road hinterland and check out the many local artisan food producers, as you make your way towards the 12 Apostles. Spend your second night near the 12 Apostles.
Spend day three exploring the star Great Ocean Road attractions, starting with the 12 Apostles at sunrise to beat the crowds. Continue your drive west towards Loch Ard Gorge, The Arch, London Bridge and The Grotto. Then head back east along the Great Ocean Road towards Melbourne, making a pitstop at Cape Otway Lightstation before arriving back in Melbourne in the late afternoon.
Above: View of the 12 Apostles at sunrise
Great Ocean Road Accommodation
There are plenty of affordable luxury accommodation options along the Great Ocean Road, including hotels, Airbnb rentals, and luxury holiday homes. If you're planning to do this trip by any other mean than luxury, then I would highly recommend renting a campervan or motorhome. There are many great campgrounds along the Great Ocean Road, many with spectacular ocean views.
Accommodation Near the 12 Apostles
Given that the 12 Apostles is the star attraction along the Great Ocean Road drive, this is the best place to stay, especially if you plan to follow our itinerary. However, given the remoteness of this area, there are limited accommodations options in this area. Be sure to book early if you plan on visiting during peak season.
Anchors Port Campbell – Beautiful cottages on 30-acres of private land with free bike rental and a Chinese massage room.
Port O'Call Motel – A cute little refurbished motel with basic rooms and only a 5-minutes drive to the 12 Apostles.
Rotten Point House – A holiday home with 4 bedrooms and spectacular ocean views. Great for families and groups.
Accommodation Near Lorne or Apollo Bay
The township of Lorne is located about 2 hours drive south-west of Melbourne, on the Great Ocean Road. It's the summer vacation destination of choice of many wealthy Melbournites and home to some amazing vacation rental houses dotted along the coastline. Lorne is located near the start of the Great Ocean Road drive and a perfect place to set up a base for your 2-day Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Lorne Hotel – Newly renovated apartments right across the road from Lorne Beach.
Seafarers Getaway – located on a hill overlooking the ocean with direct access to the beach, near Apollo Bay.
Beeches by the Sea – Beautiful self-contained villas with full kitchen facilities. Great for families or groups.
Manta Ray One – A beachfront holiday home in Apollo Bay with 3-bedrooms. Great for families or groups
Accommodation in Melbourne
If you are planning to do a day trip from Melbourne, here are some great affordable luxury hotels in the city that we love and recommend:
InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto – A stylish and sophisticated hotel built inside an old Victorian building – this is my favorite place to stay in Melbourne!
QT Melbourne – A stylish design hotel located in the heart of Melbourne city.
NOTEL – Stay in a unique vintage Airstream trailer located on a rooftop in Melbourne!
Things To Do on the Great Ocean Road
There are so many things to do on the Great Ocean Road, however, we've narrowed our list down to 10 of the best attractions that can be easily experienced during a 2 day Great Ocean Road Itinerary. If you plan on doing a day trip from Melbourne, you probably won't get enough time to experience all the following Great Ocean Road highlights. I would suggest picking 5 or 6 highlights.
Bells Beach is iconic in the surfing world. As the host of the annual Rip Curl Pro, you simply can’t drive past without stopping to check out the swell. Most people wouldn’t dare tackle the sheer size of the waves here, let alone brave the freezing cold Antarctic waters. But it’s a beautiful place to stop for a look.
Above: A surfer carving it up at the iconic Bell's Beach
If you grew up in Australia in the ’90s, you'll probably recognise the lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet as the set of the popular kid's TV series, Round the Twist. If you didn’t grow up in Australia in the ’90s, this place is still worth a visit. The view from the top of the lighthouse is pretty amazing. There are also some great cafes nearby. We stopped for lunch at Onda Food House and it was excellent!
Lorne is a holiday favourite amongst Melbournians. This beautiful little seaside town is around halfway between Melbourne and the 12 Apostles. During the summer, Lorne is buzzing with markets, galleries, festivals and carloads of holidaymakers flocking to Lorne’s beautiful beaches.
Above: The pathway on the way to Teddy's Lookout
My nephew's name is Teddy, so there was no way we were not going to stop here. And it didn't disappoint. Teddy’s Lookout is within walking distance from the centre of Lorne town. But be prepared for a steep uphill walk. The view from the top makes for a very rewarding expedition. It’s also possible to drive up to the lookout if you really don’t feel like walking.
Left to right: Looking towards Cape Otway Lightstation; A field of dead gum trees along the drive to Cape Otway.
Cape Otway Lightstation
You'll need to take a 35-minute detour off the Great Ocean Road drive to get to Cape Otway Lightstation. The oldest working lighthouse on mainland Australia. Entry to the Lighthouse costs around $20 per person, but you can save $3 by pre-booking online. But walking around the grounds and climbing up the lighthouse itself was actually pretty cool. Be sure to allow at least an hour to experience the history of the Cape Otway Lighthouse. The drive into the lighthouse is also spectacular, as you'll pass through a beautiful Redwood forest with some of the tallest trees I've ever seen! You can even spend the night at the Lightkeeper's cottage – book here!
Tip: Whilst Cape Otway Lightstation is one of the Great Ocean Road trip highlights, the detour plus time to walk to the lighthouse will add an extra few hours to your trip. If you're only doing a day trip from Melbourne, I would recommend skipping this.
Above: The view towards Cape Otway from Gibson Steps at sunrise
This is the first port of call to marvel at the massive stacks that have made the Great Ocean Road so famous. The two stacks that you'll see from Gibson Steps are actually not considered part of the 12 apostles but are spectacular nonetheless. The steps carved into the cliff allow access to the beach.
Tip: Sunset from Gibson Steps is spectacular. You can park at the 12 Apostles car park and access the Gibson Steps via a 1.1km walking track.
Above: View towards the 12 Apostles. Note: you can no longer access this spot as you must stick to the constructed walkways in order to protect the native flora.
The 12 Apostles
After a 4-hour drive from Melbourne, you’ll finally make it to the main attraction. We actually drove from Melbourne the day before and timed our arrival here for sunrise. It was definitely worth the early start.
The 12 Apostles is the most popular Great Ocean Road attraction and it gets very busy throughout the day! The 12 Apostles car park was already half-full before sunrise. And by the time we left an hour later, busloads of tourists on a day tour from Melbourne had begun to arrive. It's free to visit the 12 Apostles and there is a visitors centre located just near the car park.
Words cannot describe the beauty of these amazing rocks formations. All I can say is, visit soon! The stacks are slowly being eroded away and disappearing into the sea. There are only eight of the original twelve still standing today.
Tip: It is illegal to stop or park along the Great Ocean Road itself. Keep this in mind. The area is regularly patrolled. The authorities have built designated carparks and under-road walkways so tourists don't have to cross the busy road. In spite of this, many tourists ignore the marked signs and some have been hit by cars while stopping to take photos or wander across the road. Don't risk it!
Left to right: View of Loch Ard Gorge from above near the carpark; View of the gorge from the beach.
Loch Ard Gorge
Just 3-minutes drive west of the 12 Apostles stands Loch Ard Gorge. The Loch Ard Gorge is another well-known Great Ocean Road highlight and has a very fascinating history. In 1878, a ship named Loch Ard sailed from the UK, bound for Melbourne. The ship ran aground on nearby Muttonbird Island. Only two of the fifty-four passengers survived. They washed ashore and were rescued by local farmers.
Back in 2009, an arch that joined the two rock pillars over the gorge, crumbled. The two pillars still standing (above) have been affectionately named Tom and Eva, after the two survivors of the shipwreck.
Above: View of The Arch from the coastal walkway
The next stop along the Great Ocean Road is a spectacular formation called The Arch. The viewing platform is a short walk from the carpark. This is an amazing spot to stand and watch the ferocious waves crashing against the rugged coastline.
Above: The London Bridge. The archway that used to be connected to the mainland (to the left) is now gone.
Heading further west along the Great Ocean Road, you’ll come to one of the most spectacular formations, the London Bridge (otherwise known as the London Arch). The London Bridge (above) used to feature a double archway, connected to the mainland, which visitors could walk across. But in 1990, heavy erosion caused the archway closest to the mainland to collapse, leaving two visitors stranded on ‘the island'. They had to be rescued by helicopter. Tiny fairy penguins can often be seen from this point.
Above: Two eroded stacks as seen from the Great Ocean Road coastal walkway
Additional Great Ocean Road Attractions
There are so many things to do on the Great Ocean Road, but we didn't get time to explore everything we wanted to. Some other Great Ocean Road attractions that were recommended to us by other travellers were:
- Port Campbell
- Beauchamp Falls
- The Treetop Walk at Otway Fly
- Hopetoun Falls
- The Grotto
- Bay of Martyrs
- Port Fairy Lighthouse
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Are you planning a Great Ocean Road trip and have any questions? Or can you recommend any other things to do on a 2 day Great Ocean Road itinerary? Leave us a comment below.
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