One of the world’s most iconic road trips, the Great Ocean Road, which hugs Australia’s southwest coastline, is a must do on many bucket lists.
With only a limited amount of annual leave up my sleeve, the promise of a relaxing short trip with panoramic views of incredible beaches, lush rainforests and seaside towns, sounded ideal.
My trip was in July (mid-winter in Australia), the off-season for tourists, and it was better than I had imagined.
I would highly recommend this stunning drive to others, so here’s the stops I took along the way, highlights and top tips.
Day 1: Melbourne – Lorne
Werribee Open Range Zoo
After picking up the rental car in Melbourne, the first stop en route to Lorne was Werribee Open Range Zoo. It was amazing to see the animals in an open range environment and entry to the zoo includes a free safari tour amongst some of the world’s most iconic grassland animals.
Bells Beach is one of Australia’s most famous surfing beaches, stopping in was a must, and I was excited to see what the break was like. Arriving later in the afternoon, it was cold and windy, but that didn’t stop the surfers who were out in numbers. We watched a few sets of waves and it was incredibly soothing, with an impressive cliff-face and picturesque views.
Split Point Lighthouse
Have you ever…ever felt like this? Or watched Round the Twist growing up? If so, then you will want to make a stop at the Split Point Lighthouse, located outside of Airey’s Inlet. It’s a beautiful spot to stop in at for those who aren’t familiar with any of the famous lighthouse’s television or movie appearances. Also known as ‘The White Queen’, the tall white building’s bright red cap makes it a bold landmark on the south-west Victorian coast. After seeing the lighthouse and taking a few photos, it was on to Lorne.
Day 2: Lorne
Lorne is a picturesque town and located right on the Great Ocean Road. With great cafes (for some hearty deliciousness try a burger from The Bottle of Milk), unique shops, art gallery and with Otway National Park on its doorstep, it was an ideal first overnight stop. It’s lovely to walk around the town, stroll the beach and along the foreshore to the pier, and then meander to lookouts nearby.
A short drive up the hill behind Lorne is Teddys Lookout. Drive up to the picnic area at the end of George Street and spectacular views of the Great Ocean Road from the lookout.
Drive 9km up into the hills and that’s where you’ll find Erksine Falls. There’s a car park above the falls, with the upper lookout an easy five minute walk from the car park and then the lower lookout at the base of the falls is a further 240 steps.
Day 3: Lorne to Port Fairy
Shelley Beach Circuit Walk
The first stop after departing from Lorne was the Shelley Beach Picnic Area in Great Otway National Park, where we went for a walk of the beach circuit. The distance was only 2km and it was a beautiful walk to an isolated beach, with no one else to be seen.
Maits Rest Rainforest Trail
A 30 minute self-guided boardwalk at Maits Rest provides an opportunity to see the Otways rainforest in all its glory with beautiful fern gardens and giant rainforest trees up to 300 years old.
Cape Otway Lighthouse
We were intrigued to find out more about Australia’s oldest working lighthouse. A 14km detour from the Great Ocean Road, there is an extensive complex surrounding Cape Otway Lighthouse. It’s important to note that it is operated as a private business, so to get close to the lighthouse, entry fees apply ($19.50 for adults). I wanted to note this, as often road trippers try to stick to a budget. The history surrounding the lighthouse is fascination and you could easily spend half a day there if you had time.
The Twelve Apostles
And here’s where all the tourists are! After being pleasantly surprised with how quiet the roads were (even for it not being peak season), we arrived at The Twelve Apostles to see this iconic stop swamped with people. It’s worth the crowds though, with the massive limestone structures towering above the ocean. Having arrived before dusk, seeing the light soften across the eroded cliffs was awe-inspiring. It’s worth walking the boardwalk around the cliff tops, viewing the Apostles from the various viewing platforms, taking your time to soak it in, and snapping plenty of photos.
Day 4: Port Fairy and onwards!
Our last stop on the Great Ocean Road, before leaving for the Grampians, was Port Fairy; a small, charming fishing village. Griffiths Island with its winding pathways and the spectacular lighthouse at the eastern tip, is a great place to explore. A short walk along the causeway from Martin’s Point gets you onto the island that has a secluded beach.
With a beachfront location and numerous facilities, the Mantra Lorne was a perfect spot to stay in Lorne, especially as we were looking for a relaxing experience. The booking was made through Luxury Escapes, a website that provides limited time offers at ‘insider’ prices. The Luxury Escapes offer included a voucher for the Manta’s restaurant The Larder – it was lovely sitting by the fire on a cold winter night and enjoying their signature Lorne cocktail.
At Port Fairy and afterwards we left the Great Ocean Road for the Grampians we stayed in BIG4 cabins. Extremely convenient and reasonably priced, with superb local tips from all the staff, it was a great choice. With over 180 parks all over Australia, there is no shortage of opportunities to stay with BIG4, so if you are planning at staying at a few, membership to their loyalty club is a good idea; you can save 10% on every holiday.
There are tour companies that do it as day trips and short tours, but if you’ve got the time, and company lined up, driving yourself is the ideal way to see the Great Ocean Road in my opinion. Driving offers the flexibility of where you stop and for how long. We booked a car through Jucy, which has locations near the Great Ocean Road at Melbourne Airport, Melbourne City and Adelaide.
Four tips to help you on your Great Ocean Road adventure
- You need more time than you think. There were so many other places we could have stopped at, even just pull off viewpoints. Also, with the hook turns and only one lane each way, the amount of time it takes between stops in longer for people unfamiliar with the roads.
- Bring warm clothes. One common question on the return from the trip, many people asked if it was freezing. Although decidedly cooler than Queensland, with thermals and a jacket, it was doable.
- Be on the look-out for wildlife – we saw many wallabies, an array of native birds and more!
- I would recommend if you can only drive in one direction, as we did (returning to Melbourne via the Grampians), that you drive from east to west, so you are on the road closest to the ocean and able to pull off easier at the viewpoints.
Have you visited the Great Ocean Road? I’d love for you to share in the comments your personal highlights, or what you most want to see!
Until next time,
My Eclectic Muse x