Great Ocean Road driving vacations

Driving 243km from Torquay (100km west of Melbourne) to Allansford (600km southeast of Adelaide) is actually a more responsible way of traveling than you might first think. Firstly, it's less harmful to the environment than flying – which some folk actually opt for when heading to Adelaide from Melbourne. Secondly, you get to stay with local hosts and explore in more remote regions. And, lastly, you have the freedom to linger longer and walk with a local guide.

Also, you don't even need to do the driving. Small group trips (no more than eight travelers) encourage the use of smaller vehicles driven by passionate local guides. You'll also stay in smaller locally-owned accommodation and eat out at authentic Aussie restaurants – a la carte options and friendly folk rather than set menus and other tour groups.

Our driving tours are designed to avoid tailbacks rather than create them.
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.
Jeremy Redmond is co-owner and small group guide at our Great Ocean Road vacation company, Australian Natural Treasures: “The Great Ocean Road thrives on tourism but the popularity of the road can lead to congestion, so we’ve designed our itineraries to avoid the crowds. We are also focussed on gathering small groups together rather than running couples around on private tours. While having fewer cars on the road is good for the environment, we think travel should be a social activity and much better when shared.”

Small group guides

The guides taking small group tours are from the local area. They're employed because of their close connection to local communities as well as their passion for natural history and love of sharing what they know with travelers. It's no coincidence that they've built up great relationships with local folk out of their respect for the environment and commitment to low impact touring.

These types of guides listen to travelers and find out more about where they're from and what they're interested in. They then tailor an experience to ensure you get to see the Great Ocean Road from a local’s perspective. They'll take you 'off piste' to show off scenery that they get excited about as well as taking you to their latest greatest tavern for the tastiest tucker cooked the right way.

Groups will also visit important Aboriginal sites, such as the UNESCO-listed Budj Bim Heritage Landscape near Portland. The site is not open to the public or tour operators without the guidance of an Aboriginal guide. Our tours employ the services of a local Aboriginal guide to take your group through the landscape and explain more about the unique cultural history of the area.

Rather than one day tours where you drive from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles and back, our two and three day small group driving itineraries encourage travelers to stay in the area longer. You can also hire a car and take a nine day self drive road trip all the way to Adelaide. Not only do you stay with local hosts and benefit from local recommendations, detailed map and trip notes, but you’ll also get free days to explore off the beaten track and visit lesser-known areas, on foot.

Here's where you find out more about what to expect on the Great Ocean Road:

Great Ocean Road driving routes & distances

Torquay – Apollo Bay (92km, approx two hours)

The lively town of Torquay, 95km west of Melbourne, marks the start of the Great Ocean Road. This is Australia’s surf capital, a lively, outdoorsy community home to numerous surf schools, surf gear stores and some of southern Australia’s best surfing beaches. Spending a night in Torquay lets you shake off the city, and the jet lag, before getting ready to hit the road the next morning.

First up: Bells Beach. This legendary surf spot is the top of every surfer’s must-do list thanks to its range of Southern Ocean swells and large breakers. Dive right in or just watch from the beach before driving west along the coast towards Anglesea.
If you're looking for eastern grey kangaroos, call into Anglesea Golf Club where a large troop has made the course their home. Just watch out for the golfers – the 'roos are quite friendly.
More wildlife can be found just north of Anglesea on the heath. Get binoculars out for brightly coloured crimson rosella parrots which feed on the stringybark gumnuts and grass seeds. Also, if you're extremely lucky, you might catch sight of a spiny, almost mechanical looking, short-beaked echidna. These critters are shy and rare to spot but they have been seen in the area digging up ants.

Further west, Split Point Lighthouse at the small town of Aireys Inlet is a good place to break the journey. Take a guided tour of the lighthouse for stunning sea views from the balcony just below the lantern room and expect to see more kangaroos lolling around in the surrounding grasslands.

The landscape changes as you head towards Lorne, a small seaside town at the foot of the heavily forested Otway Range. This is a beautiful setting in which to spend the night and the town has several outlets to sample local produce, including a fishing co-op on the pier – fish and chips anyone?
Buy my hot-wood clematis
Buy a frond of fern
Gathered where the Erskine leaps
Down the road to Lorne
– Rudyard Kipling
Slightly inland from Lorne you’ll find the lush timbered ridges and fern gullies of Angahook-Lorne State Park. This temperate forest is home to blue gums and tall umbrella ferns that provide habitat for yellow-tailed black cockatoos, gang gang cockatoos and the bassian thrush. Red-necked wallabies can also regularly be seen here and there are several tracks for short walks around the area.

Don't miss the 30m-high Erskine Falls, where a steep but only moderately challenging track takes you up above the falls from where to look out over the river below.

Just a few kilometres west is the Kennett River Koala Walk, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Stretch your legs along the Grey River Road that passes through blue gum forest – koala heaven.

En route to Apollo Bay be sure to stop at Cape Patton Lookout for expansive ocean views and Skenes Creek where there are some wonderfully rocky short beach walks and great rock pooling at low tide.

If you’re in Apollo Bay for a couple of nights, take an early morning trip inland to the quirky rural town of Forrest. Lake Elizabeth is just a 10-minute drive from Forrest and offers a great opportunity to walk off an Aussie breakfast with a stroll or on an organised canoe tour with a registered wildlife watching company. You might be lucky enough to spot platypus on the lake's shores although these guys only tend to appear around sunset.

Alternatively, Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary is just offshore from Apollo Bay. This protected area is not only home to an abundance of corals, sponges and other invertebrates but also a sizeable colony of Australian fur seals which can often be seen lounging around sunning themselves on the reefs. Snorkelling and kayaking are both great ways to get out over the reef without disturbing the natural behaviour of the seals. Just be quiet, still and watch.

Another activity to try in Apollo Bay is surfing. Lessons help you gain confidence in the water, so you can stand on your board and catch your first wave. Or fall spectacularly into the ocean. It's all good.

Apollo Bay – Princetown (78km, approx one hour)

Leaving Apollo Bay, the Great Ocean Road heads inland and through the Otways. You'll wind through forests of eucalyptus, complete with clinging koalas, before heading deeper into the rainforest which consists of large, scaly myrtle beech and numerous tall, straight Australian blackwoods.

The dense canopy drips with pure water and little sunlight breaks through. The resulting cool, damp mossy earth is the ideal environment for the Otway black snail, a shiny, black carnivorous critter that feeds on worms and other snails and is only found in the rainforests of the Otway Ranges.

3km or so down the track, there's a short detour to Cape Otway Lighthouse. You'll find fantastic views of the coastline, via a short walk from the car park, as well as an overgrown cemetery which was used for the lighthouse keeper's family, local farmers and victims of shipwrecks from 1863 to 1901. The well-tramped 1km walking trail leads over coastal heath, a favoured hangout for kangaroos.

It’s not much further to Hordern Vale where Aire Valley Restaurant provides an authentic taste of Victoria's fresh, local, organic produce. Enjoying a couple of Otway Estate beers on the veranda overlooking the lakes and the Aire River Wildlife Reserve is a great excuse to stop for the night.
From here the road heads back to the coast and Castle Cove Lookout so be sure to stop for fantastic ocean views and the possibility of peregrine falcons flying overhead. Continue inland to Lavers Hill where a worthwhile detour of just 15 minutes will bring you to the Otway Fly Treetop Walk, a 600m-long, 25m-high elevated walk through cool temperate rainforest. There's no better way to get a grandstand view over giant ferns, myrtle beech, blackwood and mountain ash trees.

There's also a 45m-high lookout reached by an additional metal spiral staircase as well as a chance to catch a glimpse of a platypus in Young’s Creek, once you've come back down to earth.

Head back to Lavers Hill and continue on to Melba Gully where you can finish the day spotting glow worms. Visit after dark and look in the soil banks and overhanging ledges along the walking tracks for the chance to see thousands of tiny beads of light twinkling in the otherwise pitch-black forest. Bring a torch but don’t shine it directly at them – they’ll turn out their lights if you do.

From here it’s just a 25 minute drive to Princetown.

Princetown – Warrnambool (82.5km, approx one hour)

From Princetown you're just 4km from the Gibson Steps. This point also marks the first stop on the treacherous Shipwreck Coast that stretches from here to Port Fairy. Great for wild and windswept photography, as well as sandy strolls along deserted beaches, the area is characterised by steep limestone cliffs and offshore eroded rock stacks left by centuries of strong winds and crashing waves.

Gibson Steps were originally built by Aboriginal people and maintained by local settler Hugh Gibson, around 1869, hence the name. Take care when walking down as they're steep and often slippery. Once you've made your descent you'll find access to a wild, kelp-covered beach which sits beneath the vertical limestone mass of mainland, and across from the vast height of the two rock stacks out at sea: Gog and MaGog.

It’s here that the sheer size of the rock formations along Victoria's coast will start to sink in – head west into Port Campbell National Park and ever more spectacular, and often overcrowded, territory.

There are numerous points at which you can stop and appreciate the view along this stretch of road, however, the closer you get to the Twelve Apostles the more cars and people you'll see alongside.

These rugged pinnacles, which jut out of the Southern Ocean, are constantly being undercut by the water beneath and some even seem as if they must be on the verge of collapse – indeed in 2005 one of the stacks did suddenly crash into the sea, altering the iconic view forever.

For the best time to visit the Twelve Apostles arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds. If you want to get an even closer view, and a better sense of their sheer size, take a small boat trip around the stacks – you may even be lucky enough to see bottlenose and common dolphins.
A little further along the coast you'll reach Loch Ard Gorge, the scene of the Lord Ard shipwreck. Landlubbers should hope for rough weather because when the ocean roars through the narrow opening between the towering cliffs you get an authentic exhibition of the awesome power that has dashed so many ships and created these incredibly weird and wonderful rock formations.

There are numerous short walks around the gorge that lead to lesser-known landmarks, including the Blowhole, which, in the right weather, spurts blasts of water into the air. Umbrellas are optional. Also, keep a look out for short-tailed shearwaters (mutton birds) – large numbers of these impressive oceanic flyers nest on Mutton Bird Island, just offshore. You can borrow binoculars and get up-to-date information about migratory progress from the visitor center in Port Campbell.

Port Campbell makes a great place to explore and not just on dry land. This relaxed seaside setting is also the staging point for diving and has some great underwater options within Arches Marine Sanctuary where the limestone ocean floor forms an array of intriguing canyons, caves and tunnels. The cool waters and dark underside of the rock formations allow marine life normally only found much deeper to flourish. Look out for Port Jackson sharks, scaly fin, wrasse and zebra fish as well as colonies of brightly coloured sea fans, lace corals and gorgonian sponges.

Heading out of Port Campbell you’ll encounter more dramatic coastal formations. The Arch, for instance, lies around 6km west. It's best seen during rough seas when the water crashes through and around it. The viewing platform also has great views back to the Twelve Apostles. Further west, London Bridge was a natural arched bridge from the mainland to an offshore rock stack until 1990 when it unexpectedly crashed into the sea and became a bridge without a middle.

Brett Neagle, owner and walking guide at our Aussie tour experts Auswalk, shares a tale from the Great Ocean Road: “There's a classic (rather tall) tale that our guides tell when they're at the Twelve Apostles. There used to be a natural arch from the mainland to a sea stack known as London Bridge. People were actually allowed to walk on it and look out over the ocean. After years and years of buffeting by seven metre high swells the section connected to the land collapsed. Fortunately, no one was hurt; however, a couple were left stranded on the stack, out at sea. They had to be rescued by sea helicopter. Unfortunately, for the bloke who was air lifted to safety, he was with his girlfriend. His wife was at home, watching the drama unfold on national TV.”

Just along from the ‘crime scene’ is The Grotto: a calm, still rock pool which contrasts beautifully with the crashing ocean scene behind creating great photo opportunities.

The coastline between Port Campbell and Peterborough is home to small colonies of fairy penguins, best seen as night falls. Your best bet is to stay in Peterborough and head out to sit on the beach as the sun sets. Watch for penguins gathering beyond the surf – this precedes their return to shore.
From Peterborough make your way along the coast, looking out for dolphins playing offshore and coastal birds such as Australian gannets, oystercatchers and the white-bellied sea eagle as you go.

As you head to the end of the GOR in Allansford, 41km from Peterborough, make sure you detour to the lookouts across to the Bay of Islands, a collection of offshore rock stacks and small islands which make for some unique ocean views.

Despite coming to the end of the road, no visit would be complete without continuing 10km west to Warrnambool to welcome the town’s most famous visitor, the Southern right whale. Every year, usually in late May, a pod of around a dozen Southern right whales arrives on the south Victorian coast to give birth and raise their young. More often than not they choose Logan's Beach just to the east of town, making this one of the best places to see these awesome creatures without having to head miles out to sea.

After watching whales (hopefully) it's well worth making the 15km journey northwest to Tower Hill. This huge volcanic crater is home to a state game reserve where you’ll find koalas, emus, kangaroos and wallabies in numbers large enough to make sightings fairly easy.

The visitor center at Tower Hill is run by the Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Cooperative, an Aboriginal community that stretches back generations. The center houses Aboriginal cultural displays and historical information alongside authentic Aboriginal products such as textiles decorated with patterns based on ancient Western District Aboriginal art – great souvenirs to take back home.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Mark Watson / Visit Victoria] [Intro: Robert Blackburn / Visit Victoria] [Torquay-Apollo Bay: Robert Blackburn / Visit Victoria] [Apollo Bay-Princetown : Mark Chew / Visit Victoria] [Princetown-Warrnambool 1: Memory Box Photography / Visit Victoria] [Princetown-Warrnambool 2: Darren Donlen / Visit Victoria]