The Great Ocean Road drive has been on our list for quite some time and I’m so glad we were able to do it over the Queen’s birthday weekend!
Overview: It is an absolutely gorgeous drive that takes you down Victoria’s Southern coastline. You’ll see stunning beaches, charming coastal towns, and lots of native Australian wildlife. Starting in Melbourne – the driving time to Port Campbell is only three hours, but you’ll want to stop several times along the way so I would allow yourself a whole day at the very minimum. We did 3/4 of the drive in one day, stayed overnight along the way, drove another few hours in the morning and made it back to Melbourne to catch a 7PM flight. I think two nights would have been ideal, but we saw all the key landmarks we’d intended in one night.
We’d stayed in Melbourne the night before so we could get started in the morning. If you plan on doing the same, we recommend staying at one of the Art Series Hotels – most comfortable beds EVER, wonderful staff and fun design. We rented a car for the weekend and opted to hire a GPS unit as well (highly recommend this as there is terrible cell reception along the way so your phone won’t always be able to guide you). We hit the road around 10AM and in about an hour we were hungry…naturally. We stopped for brekky at the most adorable little cafe, The Picker’s Union Cafe, in North Geelong. The Chicken Satay Roti Wrap is an absolute must and they also have a really cute vintage market right next door that you can check out if that’s your thang. There’s also apparently a cute water-front area here, but kept it moving.
We got back on the road and in about 30 minutes we reached Torquay – the official start of the Great Ocean Road. Torquay is a pretty cute little town with lively esplanade and a few nice beaches and parks including the famous Bell’s Beach. There’s also the Surfworld Australia Surfing Museum, but we skipped that also. My brother and sister-in-law happened to be vacationing in Torquay so we stopped for some Fish n’ Chips and a cuddle with the little nieces and nephews.
From Torquay to Apollo Bay there aren’t any must-see sites, but there are a lot of gorgeous lookout points that you will want to stop at and take photos – maybe go for a little bush-walk if you have the time. Some photo-worthy stops along the way are Anglesea, Aireys Inlet and just past that Moggs Creek. Further on you’ll come across Lorne where it’s worth driving up to Teddy’s Lookout for a few photos.
About 20 minutes South of Lorne, you’ll hit the Wye River and the start of the Great Otway National Park (where the drive starts to get a little bit more rugged). From there, you’re about 30 minutes away from Apollo Bay – lot’s of shops, restaurants and accommodations here. Could be a good base if you have more than 1 night. There’s also a restaurant that was recommended to us that we didn’t get a chance to try – Chris’s Beacon Point (1 hat). It was about 3:30PM at this point and we wanted to get to our accommodations before dark so we pushed on.
Our next actual stop was the Cape Otway Lightstation – about an hour from Apollo Bay. Perhaps I was getting bit grumpy as it started to get pretty cold and gray at this point, but to be honest I thought that the lighthouse itself was just okay. It’s pretty – probably even more so against a blue sky. There’s some cool history behind it as it is the oldest lighthouse in all of Australia. There’s a friendly older gentleman dressed in some cool light-house operator attire when you get to the top of it and apparently on a good day you can even see whales. But I felt a little ripped off by the $18.50 per adult entrance fee and it’s quite a long drive out of your way to get there. So many people highlight this landmark on the trip though so I suppose it’s worth it to say you went and to snap a pic.
The real highlight is the drive there through the Great Otway National Park- read KOALAS. About halfway to the lighthouse there were a bunch of people pulled over taking photos. We quickly realised that we were SURROUNDED by Koalas. In the wild. Some sleeping, some awake. One woman had even found one in a lower branch and was petting it! We don’t recommend this, but do stop and respectfully take a few pics without disturbing them too much. This was our first time seeing a Koala in the wild! Excitement!
After the lighthouse, it was about 4:30 and we were losing light at this point so we decided to make our way towards our accommodations in Johanna – about an hour drive from where we were. Boy were we glad we made it there before dark! 1) because it would have been a bit difficult to navigate in the darkness 2) because the sunsets on the way were GORGEOUS and 3) because our accommodations – Acquus Zinga – a newly opened bed & breakfast in Johanna – was STUNNING! Highly recommend this place. Great for dinner and breakfast is included. More details here.
After an amazing stay at Acquus Zinga, we headed out for the last leg of our trip towards the main attractions of the Great Ocean Road Drive about an hour away from Johanna. Here you’ll find Gibson’s Steps, the Twelve Apostles (only eight at the moment, but the headlands will one day become the other four), and Loch Arch Gorge. We wanted to take our time around those three sites so we didn’t check out anything else, but the London Arch is another nearby attraction and if you have the time – driving up to Warnambool will take you through such spots as Peterborough and the Bay of Islands. We didn’t have the time, but again – that’s why two nights would have been ideal.
At the end of the Great Ocean Road drive, you can drive back the way you came of course (which we were tempted to do) or you can take the inland route, which tends to be a bit quicker as you stop less frequently. We opted for the inland route and it took us about 3 hours to drive back to Melbourne. The road is a bit easier on the inland route – I even gave driving on the other side of the road a shot!