One, two or a three day Road trip along the Ocean. Done it all and it’s always Great.
The Great Ocean Road is a beautiful 234 km long drive along the south-west coast of Victoria, Australia. It was built towards the end of WWI and unbelievably the whole thing was done by hand! It became a vital transport link connecting inhabited areas along the coastline as well as it opened new doors for tourism. It starts in a small town called Torquay which is rather close from Melbourne, and goes all the way to Allansford. For people visiting or living in Melbourne, this is a ‘must do’ trip not just because it’s so close and affordable for everyone. Australia is a huge land and everything is really long distance so it’s not that easy to escape the city life. The Great Ocean Road though, provides an awesome getaway into the wild and it’s just at your doorsteps. I lived in Melbourne for almost two years and during this time I’ve done the Great Ocean Road three times and each time a little differently. : )
In Melbourne, there are many travel agencies on each corner, organizing day tours to the Great Ocean Road but it is always better to rent a car and go by yourself. I don’t think I have to explain you why : ) The first time I went there we rented a car from Wicked Campervans. They are definitely the best! These guys, they take old wrecked cars and vans that are just to be put on a landfill and do them up in an absolutely amazing way! All their cars went through a safety check so you don’t have to worry – they are not wrecks anymore. Moreover, they spray the cars with graffiti and funny pictures or mottos so you even travel with a swag! Also every single car is unique. If you travel more of Australia on four wheels I would also recommend the Wicked rental, because their vans are remade inside into really comfortably looking interior with a double bed and some shelves. Look it up but I’m pretty sure you can rent the van in one town and return it somewhere else.
Port Campbell and the Loch Ard Gorge
From my experience it is much better to get up in the morning and go from Melbourne straight to the end of the Great Ocean Road via Princes HWY towards the Port Campbell. Firstly, you get there quite quickly on the highway and secondly, you get to these most touristy parts still quite early that it’s not so crowded yet. You will also know for sure that you will see these wonderful views at all. To explain: in Australia the sundown is quite early whole year long (unlike Europe) so the first time I went there we got to the Twelve Apostles and it was already dark outside. : D
Don’t waste your time with breakfast at home because it still takes around an hour and a half to get there so you can eat in the car. : ) Start your trip in Port Campbell and when you head towards the Twelve Apostles make sure you don’t miss the turn towards the Loch Ard Gorge, which is just a few kilometres before them. This stop is not that popular because everyone is rushing to the main points but it is definitely worth it. There is a small parking spot from where there are several different pathways. One leads you to a viewing point overlooking two massive rocks that used to be connected into an arch. In 1878 a ship Loch Ard wrecked here during a storm and had only two teenage survivors that hid in a cave and spent the night there… I’m sorry no, there wasn’t any romantic ‘great love’ happy ending for these two.
From this lookout continue walking on this narrow path between bushes, that leads towards a river (follow the arrows). The nature here is just spectacular. After couple of minutes walking you will see a tiny little beach with something that is probably supposed to be the signed river. It ends there all of a sudden and then there are about 20 metres and then the ocean starts. Weird. On the right hand side there is a little cave with water splashing into it but in the time between each wave you can try to run into it : ) On the left hand side of the beach there are rock cliffs you can climb onto and have a beautiful view from them. Seagulls everywhere and barely anyone else around – the perfect spot for a picnic! But watch out it gets really windy there so hold your plates.
The Twelve Apostles
Yes yes, the commonly known and so popular Twelve Apostles, that were photographed so many times. Well, you gotta see them right! Beautiful, human like shapes, that have been formatted by the ocean from the limestone cliffs. There were originally twelve of them from which there are only eight left standing. You will park your car on a big parking lot by the visitor centre from where you will follow signage which will lead you to the main viewing point. And there we go – selfie sticks everywhere. You won’t probably need to spend here more than couple minutes as the masses of people from tour buses will annoy the whole experience for you. You can do a small circuit here and head back to your car to continue to less popular spots. Although, if you’re lucky as I was once, you can see here a massive, two meters long, thick and very dangerously looking black snake! We googled it and I’m pretty sure that it was the red bellied snake which is quite common in Victoria. And this one? It was just happily crossing the path at the Twelve Apostles when no one was watching. : )
Cape Otway is the next destination on the Great Ocean Road that has, for me particularly, two awesome attractions worth visiting. One of them is a lighthouse that is at the very tip of the peninsula. You will have to pay a small entrance fee to the areal and then walk through it. There are some interesting educative boards which you can follow into multiple objects that you can go into. There is also a small restaurant where we had a beautiful seasonal soup to warm ourselves as it was really windy out there. The highlight though is definitely the lighthouse itself. You can go all the way up where there is an old chap that will explain you whatever you would like to know about ship navigation and more.
The second great thing to do in Otway area is the Otway Fly. It is little bit off the course of your drive up into the forests but if you aren’t rushing go check this out! It also isn’t that easy to find so make sure you have a GPS for this bit. We paid $25 and did the whole 2 km long treetop walk in the 25 m height above the ground that goes through a rainforest. Truly amazing experience! It is in a form of narrow bridges that go from one connecting point on a column to another. Approximately in the middle of the walk there is a spiral tower that you can climb, but watch out, it is quite wobbly. This tower reaches 45 metres height and yet still there are trees much higher than that! Amazing this nature hey : ) All the paths are made of this annoying steel which you can see right through as you walk on it. Little scary so if you don’t like heights too much, reconsider going there. I’m not the biggest fan myself but I managed, so it depends on the individual. For the more adventurous ones they also offer the Otway Zipline Tour for $120 that takes up to three hours so it is really up to your time options.
Apollo Bay is a typical coastal small town and yet this one grew close to my heart. Twice we spent a night here and both times in the Morengo Holiday Park. It is a campsite at the end of the town but it was quite cold so we booked a cabin here. They are super cute and cozy and still very affordable. You have all you need there – bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, little dining area and a terrace. I can easily imagine spending a whole week here in summer! The beach is at its doorsteps and to the town it’s only few minutes. The town itself offers many little bistros and restaurants as well as two supermarkets with a liquor store.
Lorne to Torquay
From the Apollo Bay on, it is just absolutely beautiful everywhere. That is pretty much where the proper drive along the coast begins and never stops. Many turns with the coastline shape and hours of priceless views at the ocean. There is plenty of resting places aside the road where you can park your car for a minute and just enjoy the smell of salty water while listening to the splashing of the waves breaking on the shore. While on one side of the road there is the ocean on the other there are hills and forests. There are also many waterfalls which you can walk to. We went to see the Sheoak Falls once, they are really beautiful and we had it just for ourselves as there was no one else!
My most favourite little town on the Great Ocean Road is Lorne. There are quite a few great spots to have lunch in and you will be most likely accompanied by dozens of cockatoos. If you never tried surfing this is in my opinion the best place for complete beginners. You can rent a surfboard and a wetsuit in many stores here and as the town is in a bay there is hardly any waves so you don’t even need very expensive instructors. You can really just hire a board for an hour or two and give it a go! The water is shallow so you can just grab the board and walk with it beyond the point where the waves break and then try to catch some. I know, I know it may sound lame, but I enjoyed it so much more when I actually managed to stand up on the first go here, than when I was struggling even to get past the massive waves on Gold Coast.
Torquay is pretty much the first town on the Great Ocean Road when you going the direction from Melbourne. Just before it, there is Bells Beach – surfers heaven. It is an iconic beach where many surfing competitions take place so stop by and have a quick peak. In Torquay itself we visited a surf museum which was really nice and also reasonable in size. : )
From Queenscliff to Sorrento and more…
When I went to the Great Ocean Road for the third time we decided to do it for three days. From Torquay we continued to Queenscliff where we caught a ferry to Sorrento and there we stayed overnight in a little house rented via AirBnb. Make sure you check the ferry schedule in advance so you don’t miss the last one. The timetable varies from season to season so beware of that. Also remember that in the main season it might be better to purchase the ferry tickets online beforehand. The ferry crossing the Port Phillip Bay takes about 45 minutes, but don’t worry, the view is gorgeous and there is a bar inside! : D
Sorrento is a typical beach town where many people from Melbourne go for a weekend in summer. It is super cool because on one side of the city there is very calm water as it is in the bay, but as you drive across to the other side of the town the ocean is raving. Massive waves breaking on the rocks…definitely not safe to swim here as locals advise. Our little house was super conveniently located steps away from the beach and the main road where were some great tapas places and fish restaurants. Besides lying on the beach and swimming you can do some cycling along the ocean or go check out some of the vineyards as there is so many of them all around the Mornington Peninsula.
The best way how to finish the whole Great Ocean Road experience is definitely by going to the Hot Springs Mornington Peninsula on the way back to Melbourne! It is an area on a hill with many outdoor pools filled with mineral hot water. The entrance is around $50 per adult person but definitely well spent! Just a few recommendations. Firstly, weekends are really busy there so plan it for a weekday. Secondly, it is always a good idea to book it online in advance and finally, go there around 6-7 pm when it’s getting cooler because you definitely do not want to sit in a 38 degrees hot water during the hot summer days. Going there this late is also great because there is nothing more charming than to see the Victorian landscapes around from the pool on the very top of the hill at sunset. : )