The Great Ocean Road is a popular scenic touring route along the coast of Victoria. There are dozens, if not hundreds of little places to stop along the way. While it’s great to just get in the car and stop at whatever takes your fancy, it’s also good to have a few things in mind before you start. Here are just some of the places to stop along the Great Ocean Road.
About the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road officially begins near the town of Torquay to the west of Melbourne and runs for 243km until it stops at Allansford. Most people driving it start from Melbourne and finish in Warrnambool, or perhaps continue on further into South Australia.
Driving the GOR will take you past arguably some of the best coastal scenery in the world. Stop off to see popular rock formations, such as the Twelve Apostles, see waterfalls, enjoy small seaside towns or take part in one of the many activities that are available. You can skydive or go whale watching, walk amongst the treetops, learn to surf or see the wildlife.
This is no ordinary road though. It’s important to understand that the Great Ocean Road is the world’s largest memorial. Work started on the road back in 1919, as soldiers were returning home from the fronts of World War I. They needed work, and at the time this area of Victoria was accessible only by sea, so a project began where more than 3000 returned servicemen built the road – and dedicated it to their fallen comrades. The road was completed in 1932.
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Before the Great Ocean Road
If you are starting your road trip in Melbourne and you are not in a rush, then there are a few stops you can make even before you get to the Great Ocean Road. It’s around 100km from the centre of Melbourne to Torquay, so of course you can get there in only an hour or so, but why not slow down and really enjoy the drive.
On my most recent trip along the Great Ocean Road, we spent the first night on the outskirts of Melbourne in Werribee. We had a leisurely morning in Melbourne, then spent the afternoon at Werribee Open Range Zoo. This is a huge zoo, where most of the animals are seen as you take a safari tour around the park. They are doing some really great conservation work, particularly with rhinos, and your dollars spent here will certainly help them out.
We stayed in the Holiday Inn Werribee, which was brilliantly located right next to dozens of restaurants and pubs in the heart of Werribee. The hotel was quite nice, and we were upgraded to one of their suites, so I was a little sad we were only staying the one night and moving on early the next morning.
After Werribee, the next major city is Geelong. Geelong is actually a destination all on its own, with dozens of things to do and see in the area. If it’s summer there are great beachside areas to explore, and a good selection of museums in town for those rainy days. In particular I like the National Wool Museum since I grew up on a sheep farm.
Geelong is also the gateway to the Bellarine Peninsula with even more to do and see. Of course there is even more beautiful coastal scenery and cute little seaside towns (like Queenscliff) but train buffs will have to stop and take a ride on the historic Bellarine Railway.
It’s not far then from Geelong to Torquay. Before hitting the Great Ocean Road proper, stop in for lunch (or breakfast) in Torquay – we ate at Pond Cafe and were not disappointed. It was pouring with rain during our stop, so we didn’t explore as much as we would have liked, but I can certainly see why this is one of Victoria’s most popular destinations for getting out of Melbourne during the summer.
We have a museum for everything in Australia, and Torquay is the home to the Australian National Surfing Museum, so if you are a surf bum, or just wish you were one, pop in and have a look.
If you spent all day exploring in Geelong and decide to stay a night in Torquay before moving on, then there are dozens of accommodation options in town, ranging from a powered site at the Torquay Foreshore Caravan Park (perfect if you’ve rented a camper to drive the Great Ocean Road) to the luxurious Wyndham Resort Torquay.
And finally, as you leave Torquay, you are on the Great Ocean Road
Places to Stop On the Great Ocean Road
Driving along the Great Ocean Road sometimes means detours off to the side to see and do some of the best things. This is definitely not an exhaustive list of everything along the way, but rather a list of ideas to help you start to plan your own Great Ocean Road itinerary.
If there is one beach in Australia that can claim legendary status, then Bells Beach would certainly be a contender. You may have even come across references of it in movies such as “Point Break” (although that was actually filmed elsewhere) and “The Endless Summer”. I’m sure a surfer could give you all the reasons why this is a popular surf beach, and why it is the location of the longest continuously running pro surfing competition in the world. I just loved standing above the beach and watching the long, breaking waves make their way into shore.
Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery
Confession – I didn’t actually stop here, because only days earlier we had stocked up at the chocolate factory on Phillip Island, and I really didn’t want the temptation, but I do know this is a really popular stop along the way. And road trips do require road trip snacks, so what could be better than picking up some local goodies right at the beginning.
This is a must, after all, you need to get that photo under the arch (or at least to the side, I don’t recommend standing in the middle of the road) to prove you were here. This is also the place to have a read about how the Great Ocean Road was built, and to learn about its status as a War Memorial.
There are dozens of waterfalls along the Great Ocean Road and really you can stop at any of them. This one sits right next to the road, so you don’t have to take a big detour. The path also gives you some great views back over the winding highway and out to sea which makes for some lovely views too.
The walk is about 600m from the carpark to the waterfall, and while it’s up and down a few small hills and on a rough track, it’s not overly difficult. Since it was raining the day we were here, the path was a little muddy. I recommend not wearing your best white sneakers for this walk if it’s wet.
Kennett River Koalas
There isn’t a whole lot in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Kennett River, but if you stop and take a quick walk you may be lucky enough to see the koalas that live in the trees around here. If you park in front of the shop (don’t worry, you will know where I mean when you get there), make your way along the dirt road to the left with the huge gum trees and keep your eyes peeled. There was also a map on the shop door showing where the koalas are if you are unsure.
On our visit this is when the rain really decided to come down, so we did a super quick walk with our heads down, only glancing up occasionally. And of course we did not spot a single koala! I hope your weather is better though and you see a whole bunch.
After spending the night in Apollo Bay, Marriner’s Lookout was our first stop. Thankfully, the sun was shining and we had great views over the town and out to sea. The lookout is located on private land, but the owners are happy for visitors to follow the marked path. The walk to the lookout is an easy 500m each way.
It’s a bit of a hike from Apollo Bay to Hopetoun Falls, but we wanted to see a few things in this area. The drive is along a windy road through the hills, and since the sun was out after rain, we had stunning misty views through the trees.
Hopetoun Falls sits on the Aird River and has a drop of around thirty metres. It’s certainly worth taking a look, but you will have to navigate down 200 steps to get to the viewing platform. It was wet and a little slippery on our visit, but this is likely seasonal. The god thing about visiting in winter is that there is plenty of water coming over the falls. I also love looking at all the different mushrooms growing in the wetness too.
The Redwoods Otways
Just down the road from Hopetoun Falls are the Redwoods Otways, so if you are going to one, you should go to both. We’ve all heard of the huge Californian Redwoods in the USA, the tallest trees in the world – well, there is a stand of them right here in Victoria. Officially named Sequoia Sempervirens trees, they were planted here in 1936 so are still babies in the grand scheme of things, but one day, one of these could take that title of tallest tree in the world.
Today the trees are already incredibly tall, and it’s fun to walk amongst them and take some really cool photos. They sit right on the banks of a creek, and since The Otways are a great place to try to spot platypus in the wild, a short stroll might mean you do just that!
Otway Fly Treetop Adventures
Now this is really cool. We came here to do the treetop walk, but there are other activities to do here that would be fun too, such as zip-lining through those same treetops!
The treetop walk takes you along 600m of raised platforms from the floor of the rainforest up to the tops of the trees. In the middle of the walk is the spiral tower, which takes you even higher, 47 metres up above the ground. Walk out onto the cantilevered platform for an unobstructed view of the rainforest – but be warned, it does sway a little!
While the walk on the platforms themselves isn’t very long, the walk to and from the platforms is around 1km each way. It’s an easy walk and there is an enchanted garden to see along the way. If you don’t want to walk that part, there is a shuttle that runs each hour to take to you the start of the treetop walk and pick you up at the end. Speak with the people in the visitor centre to arrange it.
While you can get tickets for both the treetop walk and zip-line on arrival, you will receive a discount if you book on line more than 24hours in advance. You can book Treetop Walk tickets here and Zip-lining tickets here
Cape Otway Light Station
Unfortunately we missed the Cape Otway Light Station because we took the northern road to Otway Fly, but if you have more time or prefer to stick to the coastal route (which is the Great Ocean Road proper) then stop in here.
The lighthouse here is the oldest lighthouse remaining on mainland Australia. It was built in 1948 and sits high on a cliff overlooking Bass Straight. It has been named “Beacon of Hope”. Visitors can explore a whole historical precinct, including climbing to the top of the lighthouse. There is also accommodation and a cafe here too.
When you park in the carpark at Gibson Steps all you see in front of you is a sand dune. Make your way to the viewing platform at the top for great views over a pristine beach and two rocks in the sea called Gog and Magog.
This is pretty cool in itself, but it’s not the main attraction. The 86 steps down to the beach are said to have been originally used by the local Kirrae Whurron people. In 1869 local landowner Hugh Gibson carved the steps a little more to make access easier on his regular trips down to the beach.
You can follow in Gibson’s footsteps and also make your way down onto the beach. This is a great area for fishing, but swimming here is not advised as the sea can be treacherous.
We visited Gibson Steps before we got to the Twelve Apostles, but you can also walk here along the. coast from there – it’s around 1km.
The jewel in the crown of the Great Ocean Road is arguably the Twelve Apostles. They can be spotted all over Australia’s tourism campaigns, postcards and visitors’ Instagrams. But to be honest, I don’t think they are any better than any other spot along the coast.
Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely should stop here. If the light is right, the view is breathtaking and the seven remaining apostles look gravity-defying. Strangely, there were never actually twelve rocks here, only eight (one collapsed in 2005). While there doesn’t seem to be an exact reason why they were called the “Twelve” Apostles, it is surmised that it’s because they are standing straight and tall, just like those other biblical apostles did – or perhaps no one bothered to count!
A popular activity at the Twelve Apostles is a helicopter flight over the coast. I will be putting that on my list for my next visit.
Loch Ard Gorge
Loch Ard Gorge is another very popular place to stop along the Great Ocean Road, and we actually spent more time here than we did at the Twelve Apostles. The gorge itself is horseshoe-shaped, with the ends almost touching so that there is only a narrow opening for the sea to enter. The other end of the gorge is a beautiful curved beach of white sand, sitting below towering cliffs.
While you can just stand on the top of the cliffs and admire the view, you can also climb down to the beach below. If it is a warm, calm day you could take a dip in the water here, but remember it still can be potentially dangerous and care always needs to be taken.
It’s not just the gorge itself in this location. There are a number of walking trails to other viewpoints around the gorge. Learn about the shipwreck that gave the gorge its name, or take a walk to the Thunder Cave like we did. There are longer walks too, to see even more of this dramatic coastline.
While London Bridge is the name this location has been known as for decades, its new name of London Arch is slowly starting to catch on. London Bridge is another victim of Mother Nature, as the bridge part collapsed in 1990. It happened as two visitors were on the wrong side of the bridge, leaving them trapped until they could be rescued by helicopter.
It’s just a quick stop here to marvel at the remaining arch and to imagine what it would have been like to spend hours stranded on top of it.
I was prepared for this to be a disappointing stop (other “Grotto’s” have been in the past) but I was surprised to discover it was worth the walk down the steps to see the bright blue sea here framed by the limestone formations.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands area looks a little like the Twelve Apostles, with a group of sandstone pillars and islands sitting inside a bay. I don’t want to say it too loudly, but I think I found this area to be more spectacular. Perhaps it helped that we were here just after the sun sunk below the horizon so we had those muted evening colours on the rocks.
The Bay of Islands area actually stretches for 32km along the coast towards Warrnambool, and there are a few viewpoints along the way. The most popular spot has two viewing platforms looking in different directions and is the beginning of a few walking trails, including one to the nearby Bey of Matyrs.
We didn’t stop at Childers Cove because the sun had gone down and we still needed to get to our accommodation, but it is certainly on the list for the next time we drive the GOR. This is one of those picture book coves that we imagine to be on some deserted island. You could certainly think you are on a deserted island here, because I’m told most people do not stop. You could be the only people on this whole strip of beach, enjoying the idyllic location.
Great Ocean Road Itineraries
You can visit the Great Ocean Road with a long day tour from Melbourne (like this one) if you only have one day to see the highlights, but I would recommend spreading this out over 2-4 days, or even longer. My recent trip was over 3days/2nights and I certainly would have liked another day to see more. Here are a couple of suggested itineraries for various length trips
2Day/1Night Great Ocean Road
On day one drive to Apollo Bay, stay the night there then continue on the next day, finishing in Warrnambool.
In Apollo Bay we stayed at the Apollo Bay Eco YHA in a private room. It was cheap and had everything we needed and it’s great if you are only stopping overnight. There’s plenty of car parking available too.
3Day/2Night Great Ocean Road
On the first day leave Melbourne and visit Werribee Zoo or Geelong or even go straight to Torquay and explore there. Stay the night at Torquay. Day two should be from Torquay to Apollo Bay, including the detour up to Otway Fly Treetop Adventures. Day three is the remainder of the way across to Warrnambool.
4Day/3Night Great Ocean Road
Day one this time is similar to above, but this time definitely stop into Werribee or Geelong on the way down, perhaps even explore the Bellarine Peninsula. Arrive at Torquay just as the sun is going down. Day two is spent taking a look around Torquay, before making your way to Apollo Bay in the afternoon. Day three is for exploring the waterfalls and other attractions of the Otways, including the Otway Fly Treetop Adventure, before returning to Apollo Bay for a second night. Day four is the remainder of the Great Ocean Road across to Warrnambool.
5+ Days Great Ocean Road
If you have five days or more then you have the best amount of time to spend on the Great Ocean Road. Take your time in the areas I’ve mentioned, and stay longer if you want to enjoy the beaches or surfing or just the awesome views.
Just past Warrnambool is Port Fairy, and I would recommend you add a day or two there onto your GOR itinerary too. After rain the rest of our trip, the sun came out in Port Fairy and we had a great morning strolling around the town and exploring the local farmer’s markets. On another trip years ago we did a whale watching boat trip from Port Fairy, but I’m not sure they still run. If you are visiting in winter though, there is a good chance whales will be around and there are some great whale watching spots on the cliffs around town.
Tips for a Good Aussie Road Trip
Here are a few things to think about that will help you make this the best possible road trip
- Drive on the left – I know everyone already knows this, it’s just a reminder.
- Don’t drive at night – even as a seasoned Australian driver who grew up in the country, I do not drive after dark if I can help it. There is a lot of nocturnal local wildlife that can ruin your holiday if they run out on the road in front of you. Best just to stick to daylight hours when they are asleep and you have better visibility
- Don’t speed or drink drive – again, very obvious, but I really do mean it. In Australia we have pretty strict laws around speeding and drink driving. If you get caught speeding or with a blood alcohol reading of more than 0.05 then at the very least, you will be hundreds of dollars poorer. And I’m not exaggerating, speeding fines for just 5km over the limit start at around $300
- Stop at least every two hours – you will likely see signs everywhere reminding you to take a break while you are driving, and to be honest, I don’t think this will be an issue on the Great Ocean Road, but in other parts of the country, those long roads with not a whole lot on them can easily lead to sleepiness and inattention. Take a break and make sure you continue on your way safely.
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