One of the world's great scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road is an important coastal highway in the South West Coast region of Victoria. It's the world's largest war memorial.
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.
It was built by around 3,000 soldiers returned from World War I to keep them in some form of work after the war, and then envisioned as a war memorial. Construction began in 1919, with much of the work done by hand rather than using machinery. It was partially completed in 1922, and fully opened in 1932 but tolled. Even then, it was considered to be the world’s largest war memorial. The toll then stopped after it was handed over to the Victorian government.
By the 1960s the road was starting to be considered as “one of the world’s great scenic roads.” While there were improvements to the road, it was still considered a challenging drive. Today, the Australian National Heritage listed road is well-loved by tourists and locals alike.
You won't need to worry about any special clothing for this itinerary — the climate in this area of Victoria is only a few degrees cooler than Melbourne. However, it can get very windy in parts.
The next question is if you want to drive the whole way on the road, or stop and take a slower view via the bush walks along the road. This will come down to time. A simple trip along the road can be quite time consuming. For example, from the Melbourne CBD to the Twelve Apostles can take up to 5 hours on the road. There are other direct routes you can take to get you there faster without going on the winding ocean road.
You can do the road in a long day - starting quite early from Melbourne (6AM) and finishing the loop back quite late. If you do so, make sure you are road tripping with someone, or a group of you who can share the driving. There are also options in staying in one of the villages along the road and breaking the trip in multiple days.
Most will want to drive down to the road and see the sights over a day. If you need a car rental, there are numerous places to rent a car for a day in Melbourne, but you may want to check to see when those rentals are open, and when they close. Most places will open at 9AM and close at 6PM, which means that a day itinerary might be a little difficult to complete.
One option to avoid this is to take the train to Geelong and renting a car there. You may save a little bit of money, and you avoid learning how to do a hook turn in the city! The Melbourne—Geelong Train runs every 30-40 min from Southern Cross station, with buses taking you a bit closer to the beginning of the Great Ocean Road in Torquay.
- 1 Budget Car & Truck Rental Geelong, 152 Latrobe Terrace, Geelong 3220, ☏ +61 3 5273 6666. M-F 8AM-6PM, Sa 8AM-4PM, Su 9AM-4PM.
- 2 Car Rental Geelong, 16 Bayley St, Geelong, ☏ +61 3 8658 3334. M-F 9AM-5PM.
- 3 Europcar Geelong, 48 Mercer Street, Geelong, ☏ +61 3 5229 8188. M-F 8AM-5PM, Sa Su 8AM-noon.
The Great Ocean Walk[dead link] is a collection of bushwalking routes which follow the road from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles. The full route takes up to 8 days to complete in full. But taking the time to do a short section of the walk gives a different pace to the rest of the itinerary.
Melbourne to TorquayEdit
Speed Limit: 100
While not part of the Great Ocean Road, the journey out of Melbourne is generally part of most people's itinerary! From the 1 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 2 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 3 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 LorneEdit
Speed Limit: 40-80
4 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 5 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 6 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 7 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 BayEdit
Speed Limit: 40-100
The town of 8 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 9 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 CampbellEdit
Speed Limit: 40-90
10 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 1 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 1 Great Otway National Park, or simply, The Otways. You'll soon leave the cover of the native forest and travel through the 2 Aire Valley complete with wetlands, 2 waterfalls and an abundance of birdlife. 3 Johanna is the next rural location on the itinerary. It is one of the most beautiful valleys along the Great Ocean Road. In the small town of 11 Lavers Hill, there's an opportunity to take another turn-off on the right and head deeper into the Otways and surrounding hills. 12 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: 4 The Twelve Apostles, in Port Campbell National Park. 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 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 5 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 WarrnamboolEdit
Speed Limit: 60-100
With only a short drive to the Twelve Apostles and other rock formations, 13 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 6 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 14 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 7 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 15 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.
The stunning landscape tends to draw driver's focus away from the (sometimes windy) road. When driving, concentrate on this task and rather stop for nice views rather than trying to admiring the coast and driving in parallel.
When walking on paths and to viewpoints, stay on the secure trails and behind any safety barriers.
Be weary of animals while driving.
While bushwalking, beware that animals do roam freely in the area, these also include snakes, exercise usual caution.
- Continue west into South Australia via the A1/B1 Princes Highway
- North: various locations allow inland links (for a loop and back to Melbourne perhaps)