The Great Ocean Road is arguably one of Australia’s most popular and most loved road trip itineraries. This beautiful, winding coastal route will take you past beautiful beaches, historic ship wreck sites, immense rock formations, and cute little towns.
The Great Ocean Road is just as spectacular in the winter as it is in the summer. Our first Great Ocean Road trip, in winter 2012 was a wild and beautiful journey where I saw my first wild koala, walked along beautiful windy beaches, and spent cozy nights in cute towns.
Our second Great Ocean Road Trip, in summer 2015 saw us spending more time on the idyllic beaches, trekking through rain forest trails, and capturing on film some incredible storms over some of the routes most famous land marks.
The Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road can be completed in several ways, but two routes are the most popular. The first route, and the route we took on our first trip in 2012 is the route from Melbourne to Adelaide (or vice versa). The other most popular route is to start and finish in Melbourne. Many travellers chose this option, as they can rent their hire vehicle in Melbourne and return it to the same spot, therefore saving on one way rental fees.
Our second Great Ocean Trip followed this format. We took a long weekend to drive the Great Ocean Road, and decided to head home via the inland route instead of backtracking along the coastal road.
Day 1 : Melbourne to Apollo Bay
Start your trip in Melbourne. Head west out of the city, driving on the highway in the direction of Geelong. Bypass the city of Geelong and head towards the small town of Torquay. This is a great place to stop and visit the local tourist information centre. Grab a map, speak to the friendly staff and get ideas for side trips.
Your first stop will be Bells Beach. This is the famous beach where the annual Rip Curl surf competition is held. It’s a great surf beach and is extremely popular in this region. It’s the first of many beautiful beaches you will be visiting in the next few days.
After Bell’s Beach, head until you reach the small village of Aireys Inlet. There is a lighthouse here with a couple really nice viewing platforms where you can look out at the dramatic coast line.
The next little town that you will come to is Lorne. Lorne is a cute little town and has a handful of really lovely little cafes and restaurants. This is a great place to stop for lunch.
After lunch (or before, depending on your timing), head slightly inland from Lorne to lovely Erskine Falls. Your legs might be burning a little from the stairs, but the view of the waterfall is definitely worth the effort.
As you drive west along the Great Ocean Road from Lorne you will pass a few nice little beaches worth a look. The next main stop will be Kennett River. This spot is a good place to spot wild koalas. Have a quick drive around a see if you can spot any grey bums.
After visiting the koalas of Kennett River, head towards your first overnight stop, Apollo Bay.
Day 2 : Apollo Bay to Port Campbell
After resting up in Apollo Bay, your first stop will be a lovely little introduction to the Victorian Rain Forest. The Maits Rest Rainforest Walk is an 800n m, 30 minute loop walk that takes you through a little slice of rain forest and past trees up to 300 years old. It’s a very easy walk and both my 2 year old toddler and 60 something year old mother completed it with ease.
Your drive will take you slightly inland now, and your next opportunity to get back to the coast is at the Cape Otway Lightstation. The Lightstation is a major tourist attraction, and as such, comes with a not so cheap Australian price tag. We didn’t visit, but the drive up to the lighthouse is definitely worth it. Why? Koalas, that’s why. The first time we visited we saw dozens of koalas, but on our most recent trip we saw a lot fewer. Many of the trees the bears survive on had died, drastically reducing their population. What the state of koalas will be during your visit is anyone’s guess, but this is still a great place to try your luck at finding wild koalas.
Today is more of a driving day, however there are quite a few little viewpoints you can stop at along the way. The next major stop is the big world famous attraction itself. The Twelve Apostles are the famous limestone formations that can be found on postcards and magnets all over Australia. Despite being called the Twelve Apostles, there were only ever nine stacks originally, although now there are eight left due to one collapsing.
The Twelve Apostles can get extremely busy. We arrived at what must have been tour bus o’clock, so we decided to head to our hotel in Port Campbell to check in and then double back to the Twelve Apostles at sunset after the tour buses had left. Best. Decision. Ever.
Day 3 : Port Campbell to Melbourne via the Inland Otway Harvest Trail
After resting up in Port Campbell, grab a great coffee from a cafe in town and start heading back towards Melbourne. Yesterday I had you skip over another main attraction, with the aim that it will be our first stop today. That attraction is Loch Ard Gorge. Loch Ard Gorge is a wonderful little beach which was the site of a tragic shipwreck where only two teenagers survived. The ship was the Loch Ard and there is a viewpoint where you can spot the point where it all happened.
Start to backtrack until Lavers Hill. Here the road splits. You can either take the coastal road, the way you came the day before, or you can take the inland road through Forrest.
As you drive towards Forrest through a beautiful forest (go figure!) you will pass a couple waterfalls worth visiting if you have the time. The best waterfalls are Beauchamp Falls and Hopetoun Falls. The road is so windy and narrow, it will feel like an eternity to get to Forrest. You will be rewarded for your effort at the Forrest Brewing Company. Great food and craft beer awaits you.
As you continue from Forrest back towards Melbourne you will be passing through the Otway Harvest Trail. Stop and visit a couple wineries on your way home while you reflect on the last couple of action packed days on the Great Ocean Road.