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Australia – The Great Ocean Road is a spectacular drive. Here’s an itinerary that highlights the top attractions from historic villages to the spectacular 12 Apostles and beyond.
Article by Monique Skidmore
Move Over Route 66 – Why You Need to Drive Australia’s Great Ocean Road this Winter
As summer ends in the Northern Hemisphere, the Australian sunshine is just beginning. The average temperature on Christmas Day ranges from a low of 48 F to a high of 100F in the southern state of Victoria.
And here, at the very bottom of this continent, is the Great Ocean Road. Australia’s version of Route 66, State Route 100 is a 413-mile stretch of winding coastal road that begins just south of Melbourne at Torquay and ends at the fishing village of Port Campbell.
The Shipwreck Coast
As you drive along the Great Ocean Road you occasionally travel inland through coastal hinterland and rainforest, before emerging again at what has been known since explorers began coming to Australia as the Shipwreck Coast.
It is a wild and fragile ecosystem, home to Great White and bronze whaler sharks as well as fur seals and humpback and Southern Right whales. On land you can easily see koalas, kangaroos, platypus and cockatoos.
A Great Ocean Road Itinerary
Driving a convertible beside the Southern Ocean in an Australian summer is an unforgettable experience. Wild beaches with golden sand dunes and clean, clear waters stretch along the southern continent shore for thousands of miles.
This ragged edge of coastline takes in hip coastal towns of Torquay, Lorne, and quieter villages like Apollo Bay, Port Fairy and Port Campbell.
National Parks, lighthouses on headlands, coastal rainforests, dramatic escarpments and rock formations are all part of the fun of winding your way beside the coast on the Great Ocean Road.
Now let’s get back to our self-drive Australia Great Ocean Road itinerary.
What to See in the Eastern Beaches
Torquay, the first stop on the Greta Ocean Road is home to one of the worlds’ most famous surf beaches, Bell’s Beach as well as the Surf World Museum.
Looking for fun things to do on the Great Ocean Road? Try a 2-hour surfing lesson.
Barely ten minutes further along the coast is Anglesea and the Great Surf Walk. Continuing onwards, you soon arrive at Airey’s Inlet, a small coastal hamlet with a picturesque Split Point Lighthouse close by.
You can dive and snorkel at the Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary. Kids love peering in the rock pools here.
The next stop is the town with the most sophisticated vibe on Australia’s Great Ocean Road. Lorne faces Loutit Bay and backs on to Great Otway National Park. There are 10 waterfalls within six miles but it’s hard to tear yourself away from the cafes, bars and restaurants on the water with their fresh seafood and excellent coffee.
Lorne makes for an ideal base because of the quality of its accommodation and the range of places to eat, drink, shop and be pampered.
Exploring the Central Capes and Bays
Further along the coast is Apollo Bay, a sleepy village with lovely beaches and good accommodation. This is a good mid-way point for the attractions along the Great Ocean Road.
The towns and villages closest to Melbourne are a few hours east, and further west is Cape Otway, the rainforest to the north and The Apostles.
Cape Otway is one of my favorite parts of the Great Ocean Road. The sea is wild here, as Bass Strait meets the Great Southern Ocean. When eight ships were wrecked at the Cape, a lighthouse was erected in 1846 to steer ships safely around its treacherous rocks.
Cape Otway National Park
Cape Otway National Park is the original home of the Ganubanud people. Middens in the area show their earliest habitation of this part of the world, thought to be at least 30,000 years ago. Filtered sunlight falls upon the car as you drive through rainforest and coastal eucalyptus forests to the Lightstation.
You’ll see people veer off the road and stop suddenly. They’ve just found a koala. Once you get the hang of it, you can find dozens here.
Outdoor Adventure on the Great Ocean Road
There are plenty of things to do on the Great Ocean Road and the Otway mountain ranges are great for outdoor adventure. Activities include tree top canopy walks and ziplining, and you can spot platypus in the streams criss-crossed by small bridges on the trails to these activities.
The Twelve Apostles
And then its onwards to the most spectacular part of Australia’s coastline: The Apostles, limestone stacks rising from the seabed to the height of the cliffs. This is a true Australian bucket list destination.
The sea is wild here; sharks swim in the deep waters and vicious rips and undertows can be present. It’s no wonder the Apostles are eroding and eventually toppling into the sea.
Why the 12 Apostles of the Great Ocean Road are 12 No More
These great rock formations were originally called the Twelve Apostles but the process of erosion that created them is slowly destroying them. Millions of years ago they were limestone cliffs until erosion caused them to become limestone caves, and then arches. As the arches collapsed these ancient sentinels further eroded and four have toppled into the sea.
How to explore the Apostles
Follow the path from the Apostles Visitors Centre to the Gibson Steps. These 86 stairs lead down to the beach closest to the Apostles. Sunset and sunrise are magical times here as the Apostles change color in the different light. After dark you can see baby penguins that nest next to the Apostles.
Port Campbell should also be a stop on your Australia Great Ocean Road itinerary. A stone’s throw from the Apostles, it’s the ideal base for exploring Loch Ard Gorge, the London Arch, the Grotto and the Bay of Islands.
It’s also where you can launch an underwater discovery that is just as stunning as the Apostles. The Apostles Marine Park runs along the coastline for almost 11 miles. Under the water are kelp forests and vibrantly-colored sponge gardens.
The reef are slope downwards steeply and there are canyons, fissures, arches and gutters below the water. It’s no wonder there are so many shipwrecks on this coast!
Things to do in the Western villages
Further to the west on Australia’s most scenic drive brings you to the fishing villages of Port Fairy and Portland and the end of the Australia Great Ocean Road.
These historic fishing villages have restored Georgian cottages and bluestone cottages built by sailors and whalers. There is a Shipwreck Heritage Walk in Port Fairy.
Portland is a former whaling town at the far western end of the Great Ocean Road and outside its Information Centre there is a flagpole. If there is a yellow flag flying, it means whales have been spotted in the Bay.
How long Does It Take to Drive the Great Ocean Road?
The Great Ocean Road is a leisurely three-day drive, assuming you don’t stop to surf, swim, sun bake, explore the coastal towns and villages, rainforest and headlands.
The unmissable spot on the Great Ocean Road is the Apostles which is about a five-hour drive from Torquay.
In 2022, Qantas plans to fly direct from New York and London to Melbourne and Sydney. For the moment you can fly direct to Melbourne from the west coast of the U.S. and Canada, and from London to Perth on the west coast of Australia.
The beginning of the Great Ocean Road at Torquay is 70 miles from Melbourne airport’s domestic and international terminals.
Hiring a car (preferably a convertible sports car!) from the airport for an Australian summer break is simple, and exploring this coastal road is about as far away as you can get from a dark and dreary northern hemisphere winter.
About Monique Skidmore
An award-winning cultural anthropologist and a prize-winning writer, Monique blogs at Tripanthropologist.com. An Australian and a long-time expert on Myanmar, Monique blogs about the culture, history and scenic beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating and iconic destinations.
For more scenic drives around the world, check out the Icefields Parkway drive in the Rocky Mountains of Canada.
For more ideas on how to escape winter check out some top beach resorts in Thailand.
Great Ocean Road Accommodations
There is a huge range of accommodation on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, from contemporary hotels to upscale apartments and glamping-style resorts. Here are a few options:
Alkina Lodge is top of the line, a lodge with forest and ocean views, located about 20 minutes from the 12 Apostles. Situated in Wattle Hill, Alkina is 27 km from Port Cambell and 62 km from Apollo Bay. Check prices and availability.
Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant & Villas at Apollo Bay: Perched in the Otaways overlooking Great Ocean Road is Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant & Villas. These deluxe apartments have balconies, ocean views, and a restaurant that specializes in seafood. Check availability here.
Drift House in Port Fairy: Awarded ‘Best Luxury Accommodation’ in 2014 by Victorian Tourism, the Drift House Apartments in Port Fairy have a stylish decor and arejust a 5 minute’s walk from East Beach. There is free parking, an outdoor pool and it’s near the Port Fairy-Warrnambool Rail Trail. Check prices here.
Check the map below for more hotel ideas: