Note: As I sit here to write this out, I’m feeling thankful we did two rounds of prep while planning our drive on the Great Ocean Road. Charles took care of the practical aspects of driving, hiring a car and road rules, distances, fuel, gps routing, accommodation and a million other things I’d never be able to wrap my head around while I checked out all the sights and stops and meals that we’d enjoy on the way. So we really do have a lot of information. Now that’s a double edged sword, because we loved every little detail of this trip so much, it’s going to be really tough weeding out the irrelevant stuff as I write this. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed experiencing and publishing this trip.
The Great Ocean Road. 243 kilometres across a tiny portion of Australia’s Southern coast, hours of nothingness peppered with great views and amazing stops. Oh, and the fact that you’re going to probably go from rainforest to cliffside to beach to meadow to hills within an hour. Just as many seasons within that hour as well. While we technically drive from Melbourne to Adelaide, there are bits we’ll leave for another post.
Charles did a fair bit of research and discovered through word of mouth that most of the low cost rental companies basically make up their profits by contesting massive charges deductible from the deposit when you return the car. So we decided it was worth paying the little extra and going with a reputed company like Avis. We arranged to pick up the car at their office in Melbourne and drop it off at their office at the Adelaide Airport. They didn’t charge our credit card right away though. We’re going to be posting a detailed Guide to driving in Australia where you’ll find more relevant info soon.
The Great Ocean Road itinerary:
We split the drive into 3 days from Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road and then another 2 to go inland and North towards the Barossa Valley.
Day 1 on the Great Ocean Road: Melbourne to Apollo Bay
- Melbourne – Geelong – Torquay (1 hr 10 mins/ 92.9 kms/ via M1)
We started off from Melbourne early in the am, packing our bags into a cab. We got an upgrade since the Holden Cruze we’d booked was unavailable. Win! We plugged in the GPS we’d booked with it and we were off! We enjoyed the 5 lane highway to Geelong and then stopped at the picturesque little town of Torquay. Little beach houses and holiday homes lined the road, and we got really excited at our first view of the South Australian coast. Along the esplanade would be a great breakfast stop, but since our Melbourne hosts had already fed us, we sipped a coffee and enjoyed a little chat about the weather with an affable senior local at a tiny grocery store (how quaint!) and got on our way.
- Torquay – Aireys Inlet (26 mins/ 27.9 kms/ via GOR)
Just after Torquay, lies a great stop for surfers – Bells Beach and some amazing surf shops including Rip Curl that we drove past. As you get closer to Aireys inlet the Anglesea Golf Club boasts a restaurant with kangaroo sighting at sunset. (Wrong time of day for us) At Aireys inlet we stopped at the magnificent Split Point Lighthouse. Also known as the White Queen, this was where our tryst with shipwreck legend began. We walked around, (there’s some great lookouts and a beautiful shrub walk) taking in not just the maritime scenery but also the great height of the red capped structure. 45 minute tours to the top need to be pre-booked and cost $14. We skipped the Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary thats just a short walk down to the beach, but with the rockpool and all its species of algae, seaweed, kelp, barnacles, mussels, seals, birds and shells and snorkelling for marine life, it’s definitely worth considering if you have the time.
- Aireys Inlet – Erskine Falls – Lorne (53 mins/ 38.3 kms/ via GOR + Erskine Falls Rd)
Erskine Falls was one of the major highlights of our trip. The drive there is steep and deserted. There are two viewing platforms 15 minutes from the car park, one that’s an easy walk and the other’s a bit steep. At the first platform, we waited till the crowds had dispersed and it was worth it. Apart from the distant roar of the waterfall’s 30 metre drop, the only other sound I could hear was the blood pumping through my veins. The air was pure, our phones had no signal and we were surrounded by a humid, lush and green blanket that closed in on us. The path down to the waterfall was slippery and we had to hold on to the railing. We got closer to the sound till she stood before us, roaring and raging into the river that continued into Lorne. There’s a tough but rewarding 3 hour walk to be taken from here along the riverbed if you can arrange for a car to meet you in Lorne.
- Lorne – Kennet River – Marriner’s Lookout – Apollo Bay (49 mins/ 47 kms/ via Great Ocean Road)
After a quick stop at the quirky Salt Dog Fish and Chippery for lunch in Lorne, we sat at the beach watching Cockatoos digging in the grass for food, kids chasing seagulls and surfers chasing waves. And then drove on. This stretch involves a tough 30 minute detour from Kennet River along Grey River road that allows you to see Koalas, plenty and plenty of Koalas along the road. But it’s a tough drive, a good idea only in an SUV so we didn’t risk it. On the outskirts of Apollo Bay was the Marriner’s Lookout (10 min walk from the carpark) where you can see the town as well as the coastline and sometimes hang- gliders taking off.
- Overnight at Apollo Bay
We spent the night at the Beachcomber’s Motel in the sleepy town of Apollo Bay and while the room was really tiny, we could park right outside the door, the bed was comfortable, good heating, a small but clean bathroom, laundry facilities up to 9pm. While we did plan on having dinner at the Fishermen’s Co-op, it was shut and we ended up having a pretty good greasy pizza at Iluka. We were supposed to pop into the Visitor’s Centre to get discounted tickets for the Cape Otway Lighthouse but it was shut by the time we got in. That first day we fell asleep almost immediately and probably dreamed of those wondrous winding roads that we’d navigated through the day.
Day 2 on the Great Ocean Road: Apollo Bay to Port Campbell
- Apollo Bay – Mait’s Rest (17 mins/ 16.5 kms/ via Great Ocean Road)
We started the next morning with a short drive to Mait’s Rest, a stop that boasted a fabulous rainforest walk. This was where the erstwhile park ranger used to tether his horse in earlier times. While the GOR website says it can get busy, there wasn’t a soul when we went and a beautiful wooden path beckoned us into the depths of the rainforest, home to swamp wallabies, carnivorous snail, koalas, possums and kangaroos that hide between the gigantic ferns covered in all sorts of mushrooms. Although just a short 800m walk, we didn’t go into this enchanted wonderland because we were on the clock. I had a surprise planned for Charles later in the day.
- Maits Rest – Cape Otway Lightstation (53 mins/ 15.8 kms/ via Great Ocean Road and Cape Otway Lighthouse Road)
This was one of the more popular stops on our route even though it’s a bit of a detour off the Great Ocean Road. Now a lot of people on Tripadvisor seemed to complain that the $19.50 entrance fee to the Cape Otway Lightstation is a bit steep, but I disagree. For everything that it offers, I think it’s a lovely stop. Great views from the top of the lightstation, a friendly chat with the lighthouse keeper, an old telegraph station and WW2 Bunker, Dinosaur bones, an Aboriginal culture site and a quaint museum with an extremely chatty keeper. We think it warrants an entirely different post of its own, so watch out for it soon.
- Cape Otway Lightstation – Gibson Steps – 12 Apostles (1 hr 49 mins/ 76.6 kms/ via Great Ocean Road and Booringa Road)
Ah. We were finally here. First climbing down the cliffside Gibson steps to a pretty empty beach from where we could enjoy the surf and close up views of the famous limestone stacks, we realised most people skip the Gibson steps and go directly to the 12 Apostles visitor centre across the road. We then walked across the visitor centre platform to the viewing areas where we jostled with the crowds to get some pictures and take in the otherwise beautiful sight. And then Charles’ surprise – a 15 minute helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles all the way to London Bridge and back. Then we went back and took some more pictures from the viewing platform as the sun set over 4 (yes 4) rainbows. Our experience at the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge and the Ghetto (coming up) warrants a post of its own.
- 12 Apostles – Loch Ard Gorge – Port Campbell (12 mins/ 11.5 kms/ via Great Ocean Road)
We zoomed to the next point – Loch Ard Gorge that was 5 minutes away because we’d heard you can see the mutton birds returning to mutton bird island at dusk, but alas, it was the wrong time of year. While there are 3 varied walks to choose from, based on your interest – Geology, Shipwreck and Cliff edges, we just took the closest one because it was late and about to pour! We carried on into our second halt on the drive.
- Overnight at Port Campbell
Port Campbell was pretty quiet as well, and we found ourselves in the quaint Port Campbell Holiday Park with powered caravan and tent sites as well as cabins. Naturally we’d booked a cabin, which was quiet and comfy (except for the fact that we couldn’t figure out the heating and the reception was shut by then) We drove out to find some dinner, and while there were several nice (and expensive) dining options on the main road (by several I mean 3) we hopped into the Frying Nemo Fish and Chips (attached to a fuel station) and picked up a parcel of, what else? fish and chips and took them back to the cabin to veg out in front of the TV. The free wifi was non-existent. We also enjoyed a nice quick fried egg and bacon the next morning at Alcove.
Day 3 on the Great Ocean Road: Port Campbell to Portland
- Port Campbell – The Grotto – Bay of Islands (45 mins/ 35.2 kms/ via Great Ocean Road)
On our third day we started off with a quick stop at the Grotto. It’s relatively unknown and pretty quiet, but definitely worth stopping at to take a couple of steps down to this beautiful natural formation. Relatively quiet because we did see a really old couple having quite the loud spat which kind of rang in our ears in the quietness of the middle of nowhere! From there we carried on to the Bay of Islands, where we stared at one of the apostles for the longest time ever, rubbed our eyes and stared again. Because we could see these strange birds, little dots from our distance that looked just like penguins sitting on the rock and preening themselves. We changed the camera lens just so we could get a closer look, and we decided they were, and then no they weren’t about 50 times before we saw a sign that described a bird called the Oystercatcher. Damn. So close.
- Bay of Islands – Princes Highway (36 mins/ 24.8 kms/ Via Great Ocean Road)
24.8 kilometres after the Bay of Islands, the Great Ocean Road came to an end and we turned onto the Princes Highway. I’ll end this post here since it’s technically the end of the Great Ocean Road, but just so I don’t leave you on the highway, the nearest town, Warnambool is just another 12 kilometres ahead. But we’ve got a stop before that, so continue reading our Great Ocean Road to the Barossa Road Trip.
Note: Since the Great Ocean Road technically ran out halfway through this day, I’ll end this post here. From here we went further along the coast to Portland and Cape Bridgewater and then North via the tiny towns of Keith and Tailem Bend into the Barossa Valley, stopping at the incredible Naracoorte Caves en route. Click here to read about that stretch and an unbelievable town that we discovered on the way.
Don’t forget to check out our video of the Great Ocean Road Trip Experience!