One of the highlights of our trip to Australia was driving the Great Ocean Road for three days. We were lucky enough to stay with friends in Melbourne, Australia the majority of time but in the middle of the week we headed out to tour one of the most scenic drives in the world! Our friends thought we were somewhat crazy as three days really isn’t that much time but we think it was just about perfect. Granted we didn’t have time to relax too much but we love being active and busy anyway.
For our journey we started on the southeast side of Melbourne at Noble Park so please keep that in mind if you want to use our trip as a basis for your travels on the Great Ocean Road. The itinerary I will outline below worked very well for us and I would only suggest a couple tweaks based on our experience. I will note those at the end of each section. Bolded items are key stops or activities that we did.
Map of Itinerary
- Day 1 – Driving to the Great Ocean Road via the ferry from the Mornington Peninsula with stops at Bells Beach, Lorne, Erskine Falls, and staying at Apollo Bay.
- Day 2 – Stops at Maits Rest, Cape Otway Lighthouse, Twelve Apostles, Lord Ach Gorge, Port Campbell, London Bridge, Bay of Islands, and ending in Warrnambool.
- Day 3 – Relaxation at the beaches near Warnnambool and driving back to the ferry on the inland highway.
Day 1 – Journey to Apollo Bay
With us starting on the southeast side of Melbourne, our friends suggested taking the ferry that departs from Sorrento on the end of the Mornington Peninsula. It was a great suggestion as we did not have to deal with traffic going through Melbourne and got to experience the relaxing Searoad Ferries. Time wise it was about the same time going through downtown versus taking the ferry from where we started. As for the actual driving this was our first time driving on the left side of the road!!! Honestly after about an hour of driving it started to become somewhat normal. The only confusing parts were when turning on to a street when there are no cars to guide you and the damn blinkers! I hit the freaking windshield wipers a million times instead of the turn signal. By the end of the trip I was used to it and when I went home I had the same problems again, haha.
After taking the ferry we drove along the coast and made our first stop at Bell’s Beach where some of the best surfing competitions in the world are held. The Rip Curl Pro was going on when we stopped but it was the beginning rounds so not too many people were around. We still managed to see some surfers ride the waves.
Onward we went towards the official beginning of the Great Ocean Road. Which is just a wooden sign built over the road, pretty anticlimactic. From there Lorne is a great stop and we spent a couple hours exploring and having lunch. The sun managed to come out and the water was insanely beautiful as we walked out to the short pier at the end of the bay. Of course a picture in front of the giant I Am Here bench was needed at the beach.
We drove up into the mountains to get a glimpse of the Erskine Falls which was at most a 15 minute drive from Lorne. Worth it if you like waterfalls. Just be warned it is a short, but very steep hike down the stairs. It was decently busy when we were there making it difficult to get a picture without people being in the falls.
We said goodbye to Lorne but wished we could have spent a couple more hours enjoying the sun and beach there. The stretch of road between Lorne and Apollo Bay is by the far the exhilarating driving part of the Great Ocean Road. The road hugs the coast while winding up and down the many hills. Views were incredible and we made more than a couple stops just to take pictures and really soak it in. One unfortunate part of this section is that some of the forests were decimated by bush fires just last year. The scars still remain and it is a sad thing to see but important to understand the power of mother nature in this area.
As we started approaching Apollo Bay just before dinner the hills started to level out some. We checked into the Great Ocean View Motel near the edge of town which was sufficient for our one night stopover. The hotel was nothing too special but like the name implies it does have a good view of the ocean. We ventured into the Apollo Bay for dinner which had a decent amount of choices for such a small town. Nothing too memorable but it is also a good place to pickup supplies at one of the grocery stores.
I loved our itinerary for the first day. The ferry, Bell’s Beach, Lorne, and the fun drive make for a great day. My only suggestion is if you have more time I would suggest an overnight in Lorne as it was one of my favorite towns on the trip. The beach there was beautiful and had a lot of options for accommodations.
Day 2 – The Twelve Apostles and More
This was by far the busiest day of our entire trip, but also one of the best. We woke early in the morning to try and pack in as much as possible. Departing from Apollo Bay we drove up into the Great Otway National Park which is filled with a beautiful rain forest that reminded me of Olympic National Park. We stopped at Maits Rest which is a short loop trail in the middle of the rain forest. No detour needed from the main road and definitely worth the short one hour hike. It provides a great contrast to the ocean and rocks on the Great Ocean Road.
From there we decided to make a detour and drive down to the Cape Otway Lighthouse. On the way there we encountered our first wild kangaroos and koalas so that was pretty awesome! The lighthouse itself was just okay. Don’t waste your time on the short hikes outside of lighthouse park as they don’t provide a great view. We did pay to go in the lighthouse area which has a lot of historic buildings, a cafe, aboriginal village, and of course the Cape Otway Lighthouse. We climbed to the top and got a great view of the coast line.
After our the lighthouse it was on to the climax of the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles and the many other rock formations. The drive on this section wasn’t nearly exciting as it flattens out and there was a significant amount of road construction which slowed down our progress. We finally made it there around lunch time along with hundreds of other people. The Twelve Apostles is filled with tourists so just beware of that. We tromped out the viewing platforms and despite all of the people it was truly magically.
No stop at the Twelve Apostles would be complete without hiking down the Gibsons Steps which surprisingly many people did not do. This was one of the highlights of the entire trip. Just a tip, if you want to avoid people while on the beach just keep walking towards a couple of the apostles to the right. Literally no one was over there and we had it to ourselves. This spot became one of our happy places in the world. Amazing to see how the ocean can shape these magnificent rock formations that jut out of the water.
With all the amazing rock structures and short hikes we literally forgot about lunch and just kept going! As you drive west from the Twelve Apostles there are a couple more stops at some equally amazing formations. Of course we stopped at almost of them. The water colors mixed with rocks here made for some truly epic pictures. One of our favorites was the Mutton Bird Island near the Loch Ard Gorge. Eventually we made it to the cute little town, Port Campbell, where we stopped for an early dinner overlooking the small bay.
It was then on to London Bridge which of course fell down. This is a rock formation that used to literally have a massive bridge section that connect the parts but that collapsed in 1990 which stranded two people on the formation. Don’t worry, they made it off safe via helicopters. It is still a great site and when we stopped there as the sun was starting to go down making for some even more beautiful views.
Our last true stop on the Great Ocean Road was at the Bay of Islands Coastal Park. From there the road turns inland and leads to Warrnambool. We made sure to stop here for the sunset. It was a truly perfect place to watch it. No one else was there making for a very romantic and secluded spot. We love sunsets and this was one of the better spots we have found. The Great Ocean Road officially ends right before Warrnambool where we stayed the night and caught up on much needed rest.
Our second day led to an extremely busy schedule but it was well worth it. Nothing compares to the magnificent rock formations along the coast. A couple of suggestions if you are pressed on time or are not big into lighthouses would be to skip the Cape Otway Lighthouse as the rest of the attractions are even more amazing. There is a distinct lack of accommodations in this stretch of the road but if you have extra time Port Campbell is a very nice stop and would let you checkout the rock formations over two days. Overall an amazing day!
Day 3 – Warrnambol and Back to Melbourne
We were wiped out after all of the exploring on the previous days so we decided to just lounge around. Fortunately the weather was sunny and the beach was just a couple of blocks from where we stayed. Off to the beach we went! A perfect way to end our driving tour of the Great Ocean Road. We spent the morning at the beach and headed back into town for lunch. Then a three hour drive back to Queenscliff via the inland highway to catch the ferry. One thing about the ferry is even if you buy tickets for a certain time you can also catch an earlier one or later one. The tickets are good for the entire day just make sure to make the last one!
Back on the Mornington Peninsula we decided to make the most of our day and stopped at Rye to enjoy the beach and grab a delicious dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Baha! We were honestly excited for the Mexican restaurant even if it wasn’t authentic. It was actually one of our favorite meals and a great stop. It was just then a short hour drive back to Noble Park to get back to our friend’s place where we spent the last couple days exploring Melbourne more.
Our last day was pretty lazy but some alternatives would be to either stay or go to Port Fairy which is only 45 minutes away from Warrnambool. The town is suppose to be a lot more historic than Warrnambool. If you don’t mind driving a little bit further our Australian friends said it was worth it. Another option is to drive back along the coast to Melbourne but it will take significantly longer than the easy three hour drive inland.
Wow! The Great Ocean Road lived up to our expectations and even succeeded them! While our three day journey did not lead to much relaxation time, it was nearly perfect for as it was filled with so many sights. If you do have time I would suggest to spend another day or two to slow down and experience more. The Twelve Apostles were amazing, although extremely touristy which is not usually our style. Still worth it and it is possible to find more secluded outcroppings in the area if you really want to. It was an epic road trip and I am glad we did it!