Top Sites Along the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is one of the prettiest coastal drives in Australia, if not the world. Big call I know, but when you’re driving along the windy road hugging the side of a cliffs dropping into the ocean below, you’ll know what I mean.
You can visit the area as a very long and exhausting day and not see much besides the road (which is still pretty amazing), or you can spend a couple days along the coast to really take in the sites (highly recommended).
Sitting on the southern coast of Victoria, the usual departure point for the drive is Melbourne. Leaving central Melbourne and getting onto the freeway is pretty easy. Follow the signs for the M1 to Geelong (the next major city outside of Melbourne) and then the brown sign for the Great Ocean Road. Now before we got much further, I have to note my (only) problem with the GOR – there are “scenic lookouts” pretty much every 300m, so trying to get to your destination takes a long time because there is so much to see! So when planning, make sure to add in plenty of time for “taking pictures of the pretty”.
Ok now that I got that out in the open, here are my must-see sites along the Great Ocean Road. Beware, most of them are incredibly pretty coastal views with a bunch of limestone rocks perched out in the ocean as decoration (if you’re into that sort of thing).
Torquay is the first major town on the Great Ocean Road and makes a great stop for stocking up on tourist information. The very helpful and friendly staff will answer your questions and most importantly, will provide you with a map showing key stopping and vantage points and nature walks. If you decide not to stop in Torquay, there are tourist information stations in pretty much every town so you have no excuse for getting lost or missing out on the sites.
The next main stop is the world famous Bells Beach. This is where the movie Point Break (starring Keanu Reeves) shot some surf scenes. It’s also the host of the annual Rip Curl Surfing Competition and where Mick Fanning, an Aussie surfing champion, won his first championship. This place is famous for surfers and depending on the day and the conditions, you may be able to see some surfers in action, or brave the chilly water and catch a wave of your own.
The next stopover (not counting pulling over at the last second to take pictures while driving past an awesome view) is Anglesea. Just outside of the town centre is a golf course with 1,000 resident kangaroos. Being Canadian, any time there is going to be a large collection of kangaroos in the wild, I’m going to be making a detour.
The first thing you see when you pull into the golf course parking lot is a sign telling people they are not allowed to go on the course just to look for kangaroos. Of course people (including myself) do just that. It didn’t take long to find a really big group of kangaroos hanging out in the shade. When I visited, there were a couple female kangaroos with babies in their pouches which was pretty cool to see. If you are going to trespass onto the golf course, make sure to do so discretely!
Airleys Inlet and the Split Point Lighthouse
Continuing along the drive, you’ll pass through Airleys Inlet and come across the famous Split Point Lighthouse. There are tours every 45 minutes to explore the inside of the lighthouse but you can check it out from the outside for free. It gets pretty windy up there on the point, so bring a jacket.
One of the must-take photos is of the Memorial Arch, erected to acknowledge the challenges faced by workers in the construction of the road. There’s a beach across the road which makes for a convenient resting spot.
The next major town is Lorne, a very popular place for holidaying Aussies escaping Melbourne for the weekend. This is also the location of the very popular Lorne Pier to Pub, the largest open water swim in the world. It’s on in early to mid January so keep this in mind when planning your visit, as the area will be busier than usual. When I visited in January there were people swimming and the swells looked pretty big and tough to swim in (not to mention the water looked freezing!). I preferred to watch from the shore …
More information on the swimming race, click here.
The Erskine falls are located about 10km inland from Lorne. It only takes about 10 minutes to walk to the falls, which is mostly down a long set of stairs. The climb back up the two hundred stairs is not as much fun, but worth it for the beautiful falls. Like most waterfalls, the amount of water flowing will depend on the season of the visit.
If you enjoyed waterfall stopover number one, why not have a look at another, but very different and closer to the main road, waterfall called Sheoak Falls. The brochure described the waterfall as a “natural amplitheatre”. And well, after seeing it, I can see how they came up with the description. The car park is very close to the main road and the walk to the waterfall is beautiful, so definitely worth a short stop.
If you’re staying overnight the area (highly recommended), there are a few coastal communities to choose from. I chose Apollo Bay as our stopover staying at a lovely B&B called Angela’s Beach Stays, just outside of the main street in town. I’d selected it because the town’s central along the drive but westward enough so that the day starting in Melbourne and getting as far as the 12 Apostles and then back wasn’t going to be too draining. The town itself is fairly small but has a number of restaurants in a variety of cuisines.
Just past Apollo Bay, the road heads away from the coastline, through Great Otway National Park and the views change to this instead.
Now I can’t promise you’ll see a Koala while driving through the forest like I did, but keep an eye out for them. During our drive, there were a few places where people had pulled over and were looking up in the trees. We stopped at one and a man pointed out where some koalas were sitting up in the trees. Needless to say, I was quite excited to see a koala in its natural habitat. But what was even more exciting was a little while later, while we were driving, a koala was walking along the side of the road. We pulled over about 20m down the road. By time I had walked back, he was about 2 metres up the tree so I had a perfect view of him. Definitely heed the signs and keep an eye out for koalas!
Cape Otway Lighthouse
The next stop, which involves a bit of a detour, is a famous lighthouse in Cape Otway, aptly named the Cape Otway lighthouse. The lighthouse is south of the Great Ocean Road when it is the most distant from the ocean, making it about a 40 minute round trip. The visit costs about $15 each ($20 now in 2018) to see the lighthouse or to visit the on-site cafe (no sneaking around like at Split Point Lighthouse). The “park” consists of the lighthouse itself and the old keepers cabin and a cafe that wasn’t open when we got there. Since it was such a detour to get to the lighthouse, I decided to visit, climb the 60 or so steps and had a chat with the very enthusiastic tour guide. The lighthouse is the oldest remaining in Australia.
For more information on visiting the lighthouse, click here.
Loch Ard Gorge
If there’s one area you’re going to visit besides the 12 Apostles, make sure it’s Loch Ard Gorge, about 4km from the 12 Apostles. With a number of sites to see at the one stop, you’ll get some pretty-view bang for your buck. In the area you’ll find the Blowhole, Loch Ard Gorge, Tom and Eva (two limestone rocks in the sea), the Razorback and one of the nicest beaches on the coast.
Loch Ard Gorge is named after a shipwreck named the “Loch Ard” which sunk and only two of the 54 people on board survived, named Tom and Eva.
The Blow Hole didn’t look like others I’ve seen and I expected to see a, well, blow hole. Instead it’s an inlet of water where the sign said a few bodies washed up from the shipwreck and it makes a lot of noise when the water rushes in. You could walk down to the beach which I highly recommend because the views from sea level are very different and pretty spectacular.
The other major site in the area is the Razorback, which features some really interesting rock formations and more coastal views.
So now for the grand finale! Though the Twelve Apostles is a bit of a misnomer (some of them have collasped into the ocean over time), this is the jewel in the Great Ocean Road crown. Before I saw the for myself, I wasn’t sure what the fuss was about. I mean, they are just a bunch of rocks out in the ocean. But just wait until you see them for yourself. Breathtaking is not a word I use lightly but it applies here. Besides the massive limestone rocks, the backdrop is a row of 70m cliffs and beautiful ocean.
As a rule, photos are going to be better at sunrise or sunset when the light is at its best, so plan your visit for these times for the best photo opportunities. And with a lot of visitors arriving by bus on a day trip, the day trippers either haven’t arrived or have long since departed if you pick your arrival time right.
I’ve visited the 12 Apostles twice. The first time at sunset and the second at mid-afternoon. No prizes for guessing which photos turned out the best. The photo below was taken at sunset, while sipping on a glass of wine. I hope the photo speaks for itself.
Besides the epic views, the Twelve Apostles area has a visitor centre complete with nice and clean facilities and interpretation centre.
Port Campbell is a cute town, conveniently located close to the 12 Apostles so makes for a good option for lunch or as your stopover spot. We stopped in Port Campbell for some lunch and much needed coffee. There are about three places to chose from if you want to grab a meal and they all had outdoor seating. The little town is quite nice and probably the best place to stay if you’re looking to stop this far westward.
Bay of Islands, the Grotto and London Bridge
If you continue westward past Port Campbell, you’ll find another natural wonder in the Bay of Islands which is about 5km west of Peterborough. If you haven’t had your fill of beautiful coast line, continue west and see the 20 or so big rocks out in the water just off the coast. This would be another great option for sunrise or sunset but I visited mid morning and it was still nice.
Closer to Port Campbell, you’ll find the Grotto and London Bridge. The latter used to be connected to the mainland and then erosion caused the bridge to no longer be a bridge! It’s still pretty cool to see.
Otway Fly Tree Top Walk
If you’re looking to mix things up a bit and you’re not afraid of heights, head inland to the Otway Fly Tree Top Walk for a wander through the rainforest. You’ll find it about 20km off the Great Ocean Road basically in the middle of nowhere. The tree top walkway includes a stroll through the woods and then a walk up a 600m metal gangways about 25 metres above the ground. If you’re prone to seasickness, the swaying platforms might not be a great idea.
For more information on the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, click here.
Tips for Visiting the Area
- If at all possible, rent a car in Melbourne and drive yourself along the coast instead of taking a bus tour. You can go at your own pace, stay as long as you want in each area and most importantly, stay at least a night on the coast.
- Keep in mind the area is full of tourists, many whom do not normally drive on the left hand side of the road. Keep left and watch out for other drivers.
- As evidenced by the side of the road koala I came across, keep an eye out for wildlife.
- Book early if you’re travelling in summer, especially on long weekends.
- Stay at least one night in the area if you can so you can visit the sites at a leisurely pace.
- Try to arrive at the key sites either early in the morning or in the late afternoon to avoid the majority of the crowds.
- Keep an eye on your fuel gauge. On my first trip, the tank was flashing empty, we were on an inland road with no indication of other people and definitely no petrol stations. We had a very nervous 20 minute drive before we eventually found life (and petrol!).
- And last, but not least. Be careful. So many things in Australia can kill you! 🙂
Have you visited the Great Ocean Road? What we’re some of your highlights? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below! 🙂