Great Ocean Road
- This article is an itinerary.
Other states of Australia do not have their coastal roads as well situated as this one - with either the views, the access, or the length and variety of environments. To travel from Melbourne along this route, even only in sections if restricted by time or budget, is an experience that has an impact on most travellers.
Melbourne to Torquay
While not part of the Great Ocean Road, the journey out of Melbourne is generally part of most people's itinerary! From the Melbourne city centre, it is necessary to cross the Yarra River via King St or Wurundjeri Way and enter the elevated West Gate Freeway heading westbound towards Geelong. Cross the West Gate Bridge, one of the infrastructural icons of Melbourne, and follow the freeway through Melbourne's west, passing the Wyndham region on the city's urban fringe and the Werribee Open Range Zoo, a fun stopover for a couple of hours if you have a lot of time on your hands.
Nearing Geelong, Victoria's second largest city, you will have the option to follow the brown Great Ocean Road signs and continue on the freeway, skipping Geelong's city centre and taking the quick route to Torquay. If you have more time, you can take the turn off onto the Princes Highway and see some of Geelong's attractions, including its waterfront, the Maritime Museum and the National Wool Museum, with the option of continuing on and seeing Queenscliff and the Bellarine Peninsula. From Geelong, follow the Torquay signs to leave the city to the south. If you took the freeway route, you will eventually encounter a roundabout, with the option to turn right and skip Torquay, or turn left and see the town.
Torquay to Lorne
Torquay is the official start point of the Great Ocean Road, and has built up a reputation as a surfing oasis. Nearly every surfing brand you could think of has set up shop in town, including Australian favourites such as Billabong, Quiksilver and Rip Curl. Head out of town to the west; from this point on, an anchor symbol on road signs will mark the route of the Great Ocean Road. On the left, you will find the turn-off to Bells Beach, the famous surfing beach which regularly plays host to numerous international surfing competitions. If taking the turn-off, turn left at the junction and follow the road to the beach. Following the road the same direction will eventually intersect the main highway, allowing you to turn left to continue your journey.
After a few bends through the Australian coastal scrub, you'll reach the seaside town of Anglesea, the point where the Great Ocean Road finally meets the ocean! The local golf course is known for the abundance of kangaroos hopping across its green, while the beach is popular with families from Melbourne getting away for the weekend. Continuing along the road, the vegetation thins out, the landscape flattens, and a beautiful panorama of the ocean comes into view on the left.
Not far down the road is the tiny village of Aireys Inlet, most famous for its 19th century lighthouse that is still in operation to this day. Heading out of town, the homes of multi-millionaires line the cliff-face on the right, overlooking the ocean on the left. Five minutes out of Aireys Inlet you will find the timber-log Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch, built to commemorate the returned soldiers who constructed the road in the 1930s, many of whom lost their lives. If you are able to pull over, it's a great photo opportunity. The road starts to become a lot windier, as it snakes its way in and out of the coast. Take care while driving, but also appreciate the native gum trees that tower over you around the bends. As the road straightens, you'll arrive into Lorne.
Lorne to Apollo Bay
The town of Lorne has shaken its old reputation as a sleepy seaside village, having transformed into a major summer destination. A long beach provides an interface between the town and the ocean, while forested hills provide a scenic backdrop. There are more eateries and fish n' chips shops than you could wish for, and a variety of accommodation at different price points if you decide to stay the night. The pier is well worth a walk; check out the catch of the local fishermen, or organise a fun fishing activity for yourself through the visitor centre.
Continuing on the road towards Apollo Bay, the Great Ocean Road becomes the breathtaking journey that you've heard so much about. The road curls around the cliffs, with a breathtaking view of the ocean. A number of viewpoints allow you to pull over and take some shots for the collection. The small village of Kennett River is a popular place to stop, where you are guaranteed to see koalas up in the gum trees. Take the turn-off on the right, just after the bridge, parking near the café; then walk up Grey River Rd on the left and keep your eyes peeled!
Continue along the Great Ocean Road and you will reach the town of Apollo Bay.
Apollo Bay to Port Campbell
Apollo Bay is one of the Great Ocean Road's larger towns, and a popular mid-point stopover for the route's thousands of travellers. The town hosts a large number of restaurants, cafés and bars in addition to dozens of accommodation options. Seafood is king in the town, with a bustling Seafood Festival held each February. Continuing on the route, the road curves inland for the next 80 km or so. About 20 minutes out of Apollo Bay, there's a turn-off to the left for Cape Otway Lighthouse. If you didn't check out the one in Aireys Inlet, then this is an alternative, being the oldest working lighthouse in Australia. From the turn-off, it's about 25 minutes one-way to the lighthouse, although you may wish to stop to gander at the dozens of koalas you are certain to see in the trees on the side of the road!
As the Great Ocean Road heads more inland, the gum trees begin to be interspersed with ferns, fungi and other floral biodiversity. The area is known as the Great Otway National Park, or simply, The Otways. In the small town of Lavers Hill, there's an opportunity to take another turn-off on the right and head deeper into the Otways and surrounding hills. Otway Fly is a popular tourist attraction that allows visitors to walk (or zipline) high up in the treetops of the rainforest. It's 20 minutes off the Great Ocean Road from Lavers Hill, though it can also be reached by a very scenic but narrow road from just before Apollo Bay if you'd prefer to take the full inland route.
Continuing westward, the road finally rejoins the coastline and the Great Ocean Road's most famous landmark: The Twelve Apostles. This collection of limestone stacks is the result of thousands of years of erosion of the coastline, and represents where the coast once extended. Controversially, there were never twelve apostles; only nine were ever recorded, with one collapsing in 2005 to leave a grand total of eight remaining. A small visitor centre provides more information and a gravel walkway leads down to the official lookout where you can snap that perfect holiday shot! A set of steps down to the beach are located about a kilometre back from the visitor centre, although have been closed until further notice due to serious safety issues.
When you're down admiring the region's greatest attraction, five minutes along the road you'll encounter Loch Ard Gorge on your left. Here, you can descend the steps to the beach, where you'll find a cosy little beach amongst fascinating rock formations and caves. Another five minutes on the road and you'll reach Port Campbell, where you'll need to turn right at two roundabouts to stay on the Great Ocean Road.
Port Campbell to Warrnambool
With only a short drive to the Twelve Apostles and other rock formations, Port Campbell is an ideal base for exploring the surrounding region. The town is home to a small little beach, which interrupts the long rocky coastline of cliffs. Heading out of town, take a left at the intersection to stay on the Great Ocean Road towards Warrnambool.
The next stretch of road until Peterborough is dotted with several turn-offs where one can witness other lesser-known, but still spectacular rock formations. About 5 minutes out of Port Campbell is The Arch, a natural rock formation best seen during rough seas when the waves crash against its foundations. Just another minute down the road is another more famous arch, now known as London Arch, but previously London Bridge. Originally it was connected to the mainland as two arches, allowing tourists to walk along the length of the "bridge", but collapsed in 1990, highlighting the coastline's unpredictability. Another minute up the road is The Grotto, an eerily quiet inlet where a sinkhole has created rockpools teeming with sealife.
The small town of Peterborough is next on the road, with a large, peaceful inlet that becomes separated from the ocean at low tide. Just after the town, you'll find the Bay of Martyrs and then the Bay of Islands. In this area is a number of separated rock formations much larger than the Twelve Apostles, seemingly forming a number of islands that are breathtaking to view, particularly at sunset.
Continuing on, the road heads inland, and you'll need to take a left. Follow the road around the bends, until reaching the official end of the Great Ocean Road at a major T intersection with the Princes Highway. If you're heading straight back to Melbourne, here it's possible to take the direct route on the right via Colac. However, most visitors will continue onwards to Warrnambool and Port Fairy. Turning left, you'll enter the small town of Allansford. There's a pub, a post office and a popular cheese factory, where visitors can taste local cheeses for free and learn about the area's history. Another 5 minutes on the road and you'll hit the major town of Warrnambool.
- Continue West - into South Australia
- North - various locations allow inland links (for a loop and back to Melbourne perhaps)