Although I travel a fair bit, I always love to come back home to Melbourne for a little while. The summer, between December and March, is my favourite time to be in the city. There are so many things to do and things to see in Melbourne and around. The Great Ocean Road self-drive is definitely an experience that I love to do once a year. I will never be tired to see places as the 12 Apostles, the London Bridge or the Loch Ard Gorge.
I have just finished my 2016 trip and once again I found a couple of new incredible spots I never seen before. The first one is the Carisbrook Creek stacked rocks beach and the second one is an awesome Port Campbell High Viewpoint suggested to me by a local I met at the pub. I will talk more about them later.
I like to do this itinerary in reverse order, from The London Bridge and the 12 Apostles to Torquay and Melbourne. The Great Ocean road itinerary is all beautiful however I think the best sector is probably the one around Port Campbell, which is the town I suggest to stay for an overnight stay.
There are many ways to experience the Great Ocean Road.
The most physically demanding one is surely walking. The complete Great Ocean Walk is a 104km that can be accomplished in 7 days. There are smaller walks as well to cover only part of it. All in all it must be an awesome experience and sure enough I will do it sooner or later. If interested to this experience I suggest you to check the Regional Tourism GOR website.
Cycling is another option, although it may be dangerous due to the very narrow road
The other possibility is by bus and organised tour. This is an easy going option. You jump on the bus in Melbourne and you will be taken to the major spots. The advantage of this solution is that you just have to follow the group you are with at any stop planned by the organiser. The drawback is you will end up seeing only what is planned with the time decided by the driver. If you think that the 12 Apostles is very busy, that is most probably because you will be there around 3pm when all the buses arrive. The same applies to all the other places to see.
My suggestion is to have a go and organise your self-drive itinerary to the Great Ocean Road. If you are in 2 of you it may cost the same as the bus option. If you are in 3 or more people you may end up saving. Moreover, you will enjoy your trip at your pace, stopping whenever and wherever you want.
If you love photography and generally speaking travel photography, the Great Ocean Road self-drive itinerary will allow you to visit the planned attractions at the time you want, staying at the place for the time you want. You can even organise your sunset and sunrise as you wish. To my eyes, this is the option to go.
You can rent your car in Melbourne or Adelaide and drive it back to the same city or the other one.
The only question mark is about your driving capability and adaptability. In Australia we drive on the left, the British way. If you decide to drive yourself I can give you just three suggestions
In this post I assume a Melbourne back trip
The Great Ocean Road is actually a route registered in the Australian National Heritage list. It is a road 243km long, or 151 miles, that starts in Torquay and ends in Allansford, a small town between Port Campbell, the major village closed to the London Bridge and the 12 Apostles, and Warrnambool, the biggest town in the area where you can find all you want, including the major chain superstores.
As you probably already know, the Great Ocean Road is the world’s biggest war memorial. It was built by the returning soldiers, between 1918 and 1932, and dedicated to the many soldiers killed during the WWI. You may want to stop at the memorial arch, between Lorne and Aireys Inlet, however this should not be confused with the official start. It is indeed a great place for photos 😉
The length of the Great Ocean Road itinerary is by itself 243km. You may want to skip the last 30km between the London Bridge and Allansford, which makes it around 210. If you add also the road from either Melbourne or Adelaide you soon end up with at least 600-650km.
Yes you can. This is not the way I would suggest it however. It’s like asking if you can visit Florence in 1 day. It is all doable, but you will miss many things. Moreover you will not enjoy the experience as you will spend most of the time in the car.
If it is true that the road from Melbourne to Geelong (around 80km) is a straight freeway, keep in mind that the speed limit is 100kmh. It is hard to keep an average of 50kmh on Great Ocean Road itself, very beautiful however very winding as well.
If your time is limited and you can spare 1 day only, I probably suggest to drive from Melbourne to Port Campbell the direct way in the early hours (6am) and start the Great Ocean Road self-drive itinerary from there.
The advantage of this solution is that you will enjoy the best part without the crowd of tourists. Most of the buses from Melbourne do the route to Torquay, Anglesea, driving the Great Ocean Road with few stops and arriving at the 12 Apostles around 2-3pm. Some of them will not make the London Bridge at all.
If you are in the Port Campbell area by 9am you will experience all of these major Great Ocean Road attractions with just another bunch of visitors. Most of the viewing platforms will be empty.
Budget 2-2.5 hours in the area if you want to visit the London Bridge, The Arch, the Loch Ard Gorge, the Razorback, the Tom and Eva point and finally the 12 Apostles. I would personally not skip any of them, they are all beautiful and spectacular in the own way.
This is usually the way I do it (sometime 3 days). My favourite village to stop is Port Campbell. It’s a nice little town and just 15km from all of the major attractions. This means I can go to any of them either on sunset or sunrise.
The sunset at the 12 Apostles is spectacular. The last time I was even able to watch the penguins parade down at the beach (take a binocular with you).
In this case I usually drive from Torquay the Great Ocean Road and I stay in Port Campbell. I leave all of the top sites for the early morning, when they are almost empty.
With 3 or more days you can have also a bit of lazy time, experiencing the best of the area. It’s not just about viewing the top sites but also about having some lazy time at the most beautiful beaches in Australia. You can take some surfing lessons. You can go and look for the koalas and the kangaroos or just enjoy some lazy hours with a beer at the pub.
My favourite village along the coast is Lorne. There is a lovely peer with an awesome fish restaurant facing the coast, the best lunch location on the Great Ocean Road. I usually spend the night at the pub opposite the pier, an historic building that takes me back to two centuries ago.
These are the two sites I would start the Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary. They are both 15km west of Port Campbell and 1km from each others.
The Arch is not visible till you walk down to the bottom of the small viewing platform. This is not a site where the buses usually stop. That is because the parking is limited as well as the platform is too small in size. And that is a pity because you will miss a great site. Opposite The Arch is a never ending cliff. Definitely a place for some amazing photos
The London Bridge is one of the most popular destination on the Great Ocean Road. I went twice there. The first time during a cycling trip I was doing around Australia. I was there at 3:30pm and it was packed. The second time, with a self drive, was at 9:30am and there was nobody there. The viewing platform is gigantic, which tells a lot on the number of people visiting this spot.
Once you arrive at the London Bridge parking area, check the view from all of the main platforms, it’s really hard to say which one is better. The only tip I can give here is to go also to the small platform on the left side (there is a small path taking you down). From there the view is completely different, from the bottom up, as you are getting closer to the beach.
The London Bridge is actually not anymore a bridge, it is nowadays the London Arch. In fact in 1990 the London Bridge collapsed. This video here below, from 1975, shows the entire bridge, the way it used to be
Interesting that you could actually walk on it.
Tourists were there at the collapse time and a couple was lucky enough to be just past the bridge, on what is now the remaining arch. I was reading few days ago the interview of Dave Darrington, the guy that got trapped on the arch “We did what most tourists did, we took a photo and had a look around….she (the wife) noticed small rocks falling and said that it might fall down….I said ‘no, bits and pieces must fall off’…it just went bang”.
An helicopter rescue mission was needed to take them off the island! This is also to say that many signals are around the area suggesting not to leave the designated path for the same exact reason, ground erosion. Up to you the decision
On the way to the 12 Apostles from the London Bridge, I stopped at the Port Campbell High Viewpoint. One of the locals suggested it to me the night before. You can also walk up from the beach. The view to Port Campbell and the river is quite spectacular. Check the exact point on the map below
Loch Ard Gorge is one of my favourite spot between all of the attractions on the Great Ocean Road, probably only second to the 12 Apostles.
This is the place where I spent most of my time and I could spend even more ahahahah. This is the beauty of any self drive itinerary, you can stop wherever you want spend more or less time, based on your feeling
Loch Ard Gorge is named after the ship “Loch Ard” that in 1878 crashed against the nearby Muttonbird island. It was a ship that navigated for three months, from England and destination Melbourne. There were only 2 survivors in that night. A real tragic event.
Beside the history of the place, the gorge is just grand and reminded me the one of “The Beach”, the movie with Di Caprio in 2000. In the film the full bay was actually created with the computer. Here, what you see in the photo is what you get, a grand gorge with two beaches and a beautiful green/blue water.
Do not be foolish to have a swim there, the sea current can be really strong and you will be in trouble in no time.
If you walk on the left side of the parking area you will see the other two attractions. The first one is the Tom and Eva viewpoint, just 200 meters from the car.
Interesting enough, Tom and Eva are the names of the two survivors from the Loch Arch ship. The names were given only in 2009. The two pillars were actually connected before that year making the so called Island Archway. Again the cliff around looks quite stable, till you read all of these little stories that tell a lot about the ground erosion
The last interesting attraction in the area is the Razorback. Walk past the Tom and Eva viewpoint and there is a loop with two platforms. Again an incredible view!
I planned to visit the Loch Ard Gorge for sunset however the sun was visible only till 45 minutes before sunset and it was covered by the cliff after that. I will go back in winter as I suspect the sun will be perfectly aligned with the gorge.
The Razorback is better for sunrise
I was here two years ago during a cycling trip, around 2pm. It was literally packed. This year I made it at sunset time and around 11am.
The sunset was quiet. Few photographers and few others with the binoculars looking at the penguin parade.
At 11am the site was already busy but still lots of space to move through the different platforms.
It’s hard to describe the view. I leave the photos below to talk.
This is one of the most interesting questions about the Great Ocean Road. In reality Apostles come and go. Of the original 12 only 7 are left, with the last one, just in front of Razorback, crashed in 2009.
However, as the old apostles go, new apostles come when the arch between two pillars collapses, as it was the case of Tom and Eva and as it will be the case, sooner or later, of the London Bridge.
The most amazing experience would be to see the collapse of one Apostle, from really far away, but the waiting time may last decades…or just minutes 🙂
Erosion is the simple answer. I was lucky in most of the cases I was there. I had mostly sunny nice weather. However this is not usually the case, especially in winter. The southerly wind can be strong and the weather condition can be really harsh.
The Ocean, with the time, eroded the limestone of the cliffs to form caves which became arch and, after the collapse of the bridge, here they are two huge pillars, 2 new Apostle,
The London Bridge is the typical example. The bridge collapsed in 1990 and once the arch is gone we will see another 2 apostles
If you desire to see the 12 Apostles from the beach, you need to drive your car for another 2 km and park at the Gibson Steps. This is an experience for my next trip
The drive through the park is magnificent. Cycling here is a dream although it can be dangerous as the road has few potholes here and there.
There are few interesting attractions in the Great Otway National Park. The Cape Otway Lightstation is one of them (fee applies), look also for the waterfalls (see map below).
The road from Apollo Bay to Lorne is probably the most scenic part of the Great Ocean Road self drive. A succession of beaches, cliffs, rock formations, majestic waves. I usually take my time and I stop for a break and a swim.
Unfortunately in December 2015 there was a huge fire that destroyed a big part of the forest on the coast leaving a cemetery of black trees. There was also a famous spot for koalas but not anymore as there are no more leaves. The koalas were moved to a different area.
In my last trip I found a new attraction on this part of the Great Ocean Road. I do not think there is still a name for it. I like to call it Carisbrook Creek stacked rocks beach. People stop here and pile rocks one of top each other building remarkable towers of stones. Think of a wish and it may happen! There are thousand of these towers.
The balance is temporary and I am sure that at the first big storm most of them will crash down. It’s like a dynamic art exhibition.
Lorne is another nice village where you can stay for the night. The size is almost there to be called town.
One of the top attractions to see is the long Lorne Pier. There are two reasons for that.
It’s a great spot for a walk, a dive, a photo and probably the longest pier in the area too. If you love fishing this is the place to be, based on the number of fishermen around. The second reason is the Pier Seafood Restaurant, an hidden European/Greek corner of the Great Ocean Road
The second place to visit in Lorne is Teddy’s lookout with its magnificent view of the windy Great Ocean Road.
It’s the memorial arch for all the workers that built by hand, literally, this incredible road. The arch is nothing to call back home about however it is the point where most of the photos are taken. This is not however the start, or finish, of the Great Ocean Road itinerary. In saying that, does it really matter where does it start or finish? The most important thing is that we enjoy our self drive itinerary!
This is another nice place to visit and possibly take a coffee at the lovely cafe just before the lighthouse. If you come from Torquay you will have here the first preview of the magical Great Ocean Road cliff. Walk down the path to the two platforms to have the best view.
It’s a popular place and there is a good reason for that. I would add it to any Great Ocean Road itinerary and it is just 5 minutes off the main road.
The access to the area is free however the access to the lighthouse has a fee and you may have to book in advance.
I never went into the lighthouse, it’s not my kind of visit. I just love the view from the lighthouse area, magical.
Point Roadknight beach is still one of my favourite beaches on this itinerary. This is the great advantage of the Great Ocean Road self drive experience. You can stop wherever you want, even if just for a quick swim.
This is a beautiful bay covered by the big ocean waves. The water is crystal clear and if you stay on the right side you still have some nice swells, mostly for long boards.
The sea current is not a big problem, however I would never swim too much out. This is a great place for kids too, as the water is shallow for few hundred meters.
Body riding the small waves is a great fun as they are not that powerful to feel in a washing machine but still have the energy to take your body for tens of metres
This is on the road and it can’t be missed. It’s a great viewpoint to admire, on the left, the Anglesea village and beach, and on the right the Roadknight bay.
Just behind the viewpoint there is a more elevated point of view. You can easily walk there
If you have some spare 20 minutes drive to the Golf Club to see the big colony of Kangaroos living there. Always a good fun.
Bells Beach is the mythical surfing beach where every Eastern the Rip Curl Pro Surf & Music Festival is organised. If you are around this time of the year you should not miss it. It’s a lot of fun. The best surfers in the world are there. There is an entrance fee however both times I was there I did not pay 😉
The first time I rode my bike past the gate and I went to the beach through a secondary unsealed road. Nobody asked me for the ticket 🙂 It was my first time there and I did not even know there was a fee. I just wanted to ride my bike as close as possible to the beach 🙂
The second time the crowd was so big that they reached capacity and they open the gates. I had to park my car so far away that by the time I was there I could get in free of charge. Quite lucky!!
Torquay is the last, or the first, village of the Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary. There are two things to do in Torquay:
These are my favourite hotels in the area. I tried a few however I usually go in these two nowadays. These are the ones I would definitely suggest
In Lorne I go to the Lorne Hotel, the accommodation behind the pub. It’s not noisy in the night, it has kitchen facilities and it is meters away from the last beer. What can I want more
In Port Campbell I go to the Best Western Great Ocean Road Motor Inn. It’s only two blocks from the beach and it has great facilities to cook in as well. They have some special offers from time to time. The price is very competitive anyway for what you get.
The Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary is most definitely hot. I usually do it in 2 or 3 days and that is the minimal length of stay I suggest. It can be done in a single day but it’s a bit of a tapas trip, spending most of the time in the car/bus and not really enjoying the place
My best tips are:
The full drive is over 200km. Here is usually the time I spend at each leg or attraction. This should give you a rough idea of the timing involved with the trip.