Great Ocean Road travel guide

The Great Ocean Road celebrated her centenary year in 2019. Just cause for a day trip from Melbourne you might think, or an ideal excuse to see the Twelve Apostles before they finally disappear into the ever increasing swells of the Southern Ocean. Well, before you start estimating how quickly you can drive 243km and back in a day, we think you should take a look at our travel guide and find out some responsible ways to visit the Great Ocean Road to ensure she gets to 200.
Book into B&Bs in tiny townships or walk through manna gum groves and mountain ash forests. Make the most of your time before and after the coach convoys bugger off back to Melbourne.
Don’t just drive to the Twelve Apostles, snap a selfie, and leave. Watch out for southern right whales around Warrnambool; join an Aboriginal guide on the rim of Budj Bim; listen to tales of shipwrecks at Castle Cove and dinosaurs on Milanesia Beach. The longer you stay here the more time you’ll have to see koalas and kangaroos without the crowds, enjoy afternoons exploring around Anglesea, or eat the biggest berries you’ve ever seen at a PYO (pick your own) in Portland. The Great Ocean Road might be over 100 years old but that doesn’t mean she only deserves a one day outing.

The Great Ocean Road is…

the world's largest war memorial and testament to Victoria's variety of landscapes, ecosystems and Aboriginal cultural heritage.

The Great Ocean Road isn't...

the Twelve Apostles theme park.

What we rate & what we don’t

Underrated

Aboriginal culture

The Gunditjmara people are the rightful owners of the land incorporated into the Great Ocean Road from Portland to Warrnambool, including Port Fairy and the Princess Highway. Finding out more about Aboriginal culture will take you to the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape in the company of an Aboriginal guide, the Tower Hill Nature Reserve near Warrnambool, or the Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Geelong. Our guides will untangle uncomfortable topics with sensitivity and facts.

Winter

The Great Ocean Road in winter is really underrated. Local guides and drivers get to work with travelers outside of peak season; independent B&B owners welcome guests with affordable prices; and summer crowds are cosying up in Melbourne’s malls and museums. Windswept deserted beaches, traffic-free roads and award-winning restaurants without the waiting list – what’s not to like?

Hinterland

Although it can be tempting to stick to the coast on the Great Ocean Road, head to the hinterland and you’ll uncover even more natural variety in Victoria’s volcanic lakes, rainforest gulleys and underground limestone caves. Follow the Aire River through Great Otway National Park and discover wetlands and manna gum (eucalyptus) forests as well as storks, pelicans, black wallabies and koalas.
Rated

Wildlife

Whales off Warrnambool, wallabies on Parker Inlet, and glow worms, platypus and cockatoos in the Otways; wildlife watching on the Great Ocean Road is as unique as it is exciting. Coastal heath and bushland are alive with kookaburras and kangaroos and exploring with a koala researcher provides unique insight into the habitat and behaviours of Australia's indigenous animals. Short beaked echidnas, for instance, are very shy and rarely seen, but they're there, if you know where to look.

Food & drink

The Great Ocean Road is more than equal to Melbourne in terms of food and drink, and what the big city boasts in quantity the Great Ocean Road matches in quality fresh local ingredients and passionate regional retailers. From award-winning restaurants and cosy coastal cafes in Apollo Bay and Mount Gambier to farmhouse breakfasts with your hosts and the cellar doors of Coonawarra, Padthaway and Barossa Valley, you’ll find more than enough to keep you stocked up all the way to Adelaide.

Walking

The Great Ocean Walk is a 104km inn-to-inn trail that leads from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles. Tackling sections of the Great Ocean Walk on a self guided walking vacation is an ideal way to take your time and appreciate the natural variety of Victoria without windows or crowds. You’ll also be causing minimal disruption to the environment and staying with local hosts in small townships or on working farms.
Overrated

The Twelve Apostles

Especially in the summer, the narrow road leading up to the Twelve Apostles is gridlocked. Day trippers reach the car park, snap a selfie and hightail it back to Melbourne. There are also minimal facilities – toilets – to cope with the continual caravans of cars and coaches. It’s far better to stay in the area overnight, at least, and see the Twelve Apostles on foot, when the crowds have gone home.

Tourists buses

You can take a large tourist bus onto the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne just as easily as you can to Ramsey Street. These heavy coaches are damaging the road and don't encourage travelers to stay in the area longer than a couple of hours. A much better idea is to self drive or join a group (max 8 people) in a smaller vehicle and stay in the area for longer than a day. You'll meet local people in remote areas and be able to take your time to really soak up the scenery without feeling rushed.

Swimming

The further west you go on the Great Ocean Road the larger the swells and the stronger the rips – great for surfers, not so good for swimmers. Torquay and Apollo Bay have some sheltered spots for swimming as does Warrnambool and the white sand beach at Port Fairy. Stick to beaches with lifeguards, only swim between the flags and only get in the water if you’re a strong swimmer.

Our top Great Ocean Road Vacation

Melbourne to Adelaide 3 day tour, Australia

Melbourne to Adelaide 3 day tour, Australia

Experience the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to Adelaide

From AU $1545 3 days ex flights
Small group travel:
Departs every Thursday and Sunday throughout the year
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Great Ocean Road or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Diliff] [Is/Isn't: Tim Patch] [Underrated: Dhx1] [Rated: patrickkavanagh] [Overrated: Filip Hudcovic]
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