One of the highlights of our year spent in Australia and our 7 months living in Melbourne has to be The Great Ocean Road, an icon of not just Victoria but of Australia in general and something people flock from the other side of the world to experience. Living in Melbourne has meant we’ve been able to come down here on several occasions, some on overnight camping trips and others just for the day. That means we are in a position to advise how long you should spend on Great Ocean Road and where we think the best stopping off points for sightseeing, experiences and camping are. Here’s our three day Great Ocean Road itinerary!
Great Ocean Road History
This incredible 243 km long coastal stretch is not only one of the most impressive spans of road in the world, but it is also an amazing piece of constructions and historically significant. Starting around the seaside towns of Anglesea and Torquay the road winds its way around some of Australia’s most impressive coastline, from sweeping beaches to rugged cliffs and jagged sea stacks when it reaches the Port Campbell national park towards its end. The road was created between 1919 and 1932 in tribute to those who fell during the First World War and is the largest war memorial in the world. It was also a way of connecting several isolated rural communities that existed along the coast cut off from the rest of the state.
How long should I spend on Great Ocean Road
How long is a piece of string! We’ve done a 3 day camping trip twice and done two day trips too! So really you could easily spend a week on Great Ocean Road and not see everything or at least have more time to spend at each spot and truly take it in. Having said that, if you are pushed for time you can see the main places in a day but you will have to start VERY early, you will be pushed for time and it will be a LONG day, you will also want to go in the summer to maximise sunshine hours! We did add it to our recent Melbourne 5 Day Itinerary post but we recommend probably taking a tour if you do a day trip!
Read about the other amazing day trips from Melbourne here: The Most Incredible Day Trips to Take from Melbourne, Australia
For us the best way to see Great Ocean Road is over a 3 day camping trip where you can break it down into three main sections and camp over in some great spots which allow you to get on the road early and beat the crowds. You can rent out a station wagon and sleep inside, a camper van or a tent, either are great options for our Great Ocean Road itinerary but it can get cold during the winter!
Tips for camping on Great Ocean Road
Download Wiki Camps, it does cost you £5 but it is an invaluable resource in finding places to camp. It is illegal to just pull up in a car park or by the side of the road and camp overnight on Great Ocean Road and with it being quite popular they do clamp down on it more than other areas in the country. If you get caught you will get a hefty fine! There are many places to camp along the road but quite a few are overpriced so it’s best to plan out your Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Some great places to camp are:
The Barwon River Reserve, Winchelsea. This is free but a little out of the way and inland. Apollo Bay Rec reserve, costs $25 a night for 2 adults unpowered, had a kitchen, showers, toilets etc. Princetown Rec reserve, same as above. If you are willing to go more inland and use Wiki camps you can find free places to camp that are pretty basic.
Make sure you bring along plenty of camping equipment, cooking gear and camp furniture, warm bedding and food as there are plenty of great places to pull up and eat but some of the cafes and supermarkets can be overpriced.
Tips for Driving On The Great Ocean Road
Watch your speed and your driving. Speed limits change around corners and where there are towns and many of these do have speed camera/ speed traps. The roads here a winding and tight so the limits are for good reason. Plus, there’s no need to speed when you want to take your time and take it all in. But plan your timing ahead to avoid rushing.
Rent out a good quality car with brakes that have been serviced! Equally if you’re taking your own car then be sure it’s in a good condition to tackle the roads, plus breaking down along here is a major hassle and expensive! With the sea air blasting your car for the entire 3 days you might also consider protecting it with a ceramic car coating or at least making sure to give it a good clean afterwards to avoid rust on the bodywork.
Take your time and stop at some of the smaller lesser known spots along the way. But also be very careful where and how you pull over and pull back out again. It might be best to park somewhere and walk. Also be mindful of wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies and koala that live along the road and can appear without warning on the roads!
Our 3 day itinerary for the best way to explore Great Ocean Road: both the well know and more obscure spots.
Day 1: Set off from Melbourne, visit Torquay and the first section of the road
Day one on the Great Ocean Road itinerary you will be setting off from Melbourne, the beginning of the road starts around Anglesea but the first leg should take you to the surfing mecca of Torquay and Bells Beach. This is around 104 km from Melbourne CBD and should take 1hr 30mins and is a perfect stop off point.
Torquay/ Bells Beach
Bells Beach is the home of the world’s oldest continual Surf competition and is a world famous break. In the nearby town of Torquay is where the the world famous surf company Ripcurl was founded and is still home to many outlet stores of big surf and skate brands. The town and beaches are a perfect place to take a surf lesson or just to take in the surf culture and beautiful surroundings. It is also a great place just to hang out, get something to eat and has a very young and hipster vibe about the town, if you know Melbourne, it’s like Fitzroy by the sea!
The Memorial Arch
The arch marks the official start of the Great Ocean Road and is a perfect place to pull over and reflect on the significance of the road before enjoying it. The arch is the gateway to the Great Ocean Road and is a memorial to the 3,000 returned soldiers who worked tirelessly to create this memorial to those who didn’t make it back and a perfect first stop on our Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Growing up I always wanted to visit Australia, probably in large part to the fact that we would watch “Round The Twist” before school and “Neighbours” in the afternoon after classes! Well the famous lighthouse that features in the opening credit of “Round The Twist” is the Split Point Lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet. The lighthouse itself dates back to 1891 and for years has been helping ships negotiate this dangerous coastline in what was considered a remote location at the time. Now many people come to see not only the famous lighthouse but also the beautiful town and coast that surrounds it.
Drive inland up to the little village of Winchelsea and free camp at the The Barwon River Reserve. It’s a pretty basic set up by the river, it has areas to sit and eat and some public toilets.
If you don’t mind paying for your camp, there are some amazing campsites around Torquay and Anglesea. Be sure to ring up beforehand and secure your spot, especially in peak times.
Day 2: Spot wild Koalas and explore Lorne and Cape Otway
Day two of our Great Ocean Road itinerary starts in the wonderful little seaside town of Lorne. This is one of our favourite places to stop off on Great Ocean Road. Firstly the town is a lovely place to grab some food and just sit by the beach with your fish and chips! Exploring the pier and coast around here could easily take up half a day. But the real highlight of Lorne is Teddy’s Lookout just above the town. The short but steep drive inland reveals an incredible viewpoint out over the turquoise waters and gives you a Bird’s Eye perspective of the twists and turns this amazing roads takes as it wraps around this landscape.
Just inland from Lorne is one of Victoria’s most impressive waterfalls. Plunging an incredible 30m into the lush rainforest that surrounds it, it is a great side trip from the coast and a nice change of scenery on a Great Ocean Road itinerary. There are two vantage points you can take the falls in from, the higher which is a short stroll from the carpark or the lower viewpoint which requires you to walk up and down almost 250 steps but leaves you with amazing views at the base of the falls.
See wild koalas at Kennett River:
Another great spot to stop off at as you make your way along The Great Ocean Road is the little village of Kennett River. In itself there isn’t really much around here, though there is a nice caravan park if you did want to stop the night. However the big attraction are the wild koalas that call the gum trees around here home. We’ve been three times and at least spotted one Koala each time and often many more, it’s a great place to see Australian animals in the wild. Seeing as these docile little fur balls are pretty slow, they seem to hang around here and often stay in the same tree for weeks, making them pretty easy to spot! There are also often many local birds and parrots around here too making it a great place to spot come classic Aussie wildlife, which is a must on your Great Ocean Road itinerary.
W.B Godfrey Wreck and Artillery Rocks at Separation Creek
These two spots probably aren’t ones you will find on most Great Ocean Road itinerary plans and the truth is we just stumbled on them by accident. But what we did find are two spots of exceptional beauty that you will likely have all to yourself or share with a couple of locals fishing!
The first is the wreck of the W.B Godfrey which crashed in 1891. The coast around here isn’t know as the Shipwreck Coast for nothing and was famous as an exceptionally dangerous last stretch of water before making it to Melbourne. Many ships had travelled months from England only to run aground is rough weather so close to their destination. Though no one died in this wreck, 5 lost their lives on 3 different salvage attempts before the wreck was left to the sea. Today at low tide the anchor and several other pieces of the ship can still be seen.
Probably our favourite off the beaten track stop on The Great Ocean Road is Artillery Rocks. We initially just stopped here on our first trip down the road to stretch our legs but soon noticed the strange rock formations below. Named after the strange cannon ball like rock formations that seem to magically float on the sandstone rock shelf it resembles an alien landscape more than the Australian Coast. The formations here have been sculpted, carved, pitted and formed over thousands of years of weathering to form this beautiful and surreal landscape.
Take in the several amazing view points as you make your way along the road
The area along the road from Lorne towards where it cuts in at the Otway National Park has many great viewpoints and stop off you can take along the way. This section of the road will probably be the slowest as around each corner there will be yet another inlet to jump out of and snap a few photos. Some of the best are Mt. Defiance lookout and Cape Patton Lookout. However most aren’t sign posted and are usually spotted at the last minute! There are many little beaches too along here that make a wonderful place for a dip. The town of Apollo bay is also a lovely little place to eat, get supplies and relax.
After a long day exploring the section of the road around Lorne you have two options and the road down cuts inroad and through the Otway National Park.
You can choose to stay in Apollo bay at the recreational reserve for $25 per couple unpowered and then make an early start in the morning towards the 12 Apostles 83 km away which should take around an hour. Apollo Bay is a great place to stay due to it being a mid way hub along the road with lots of facilities and a great seaside town vibe. If you have time it’s a nice place to stop during the day on your Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Another option if you have time is to push on through the Otway National Park and head to Port Campbell Recreational Reserve which is also $25 per couple unpowered. This is a great little site situated on an oval and often full of wild kangaroos, it is also only 6.7km away from the 12 Apostles which makes it a great base for getting an early start on this section of the road. There are also a few trails around here and coastal walks if you make it before night falls, so bringing some hiking equipment with you is always advised!
Day 3: Get an early start and take in the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and the rugged coast
Now, down the far end of the Great Ocean Road, on the third day of this epic adventure, we are getting to what everyone comes here to see! But as a preclude to the main event is a smaller stop off called Gibson’s Steps. The unique thing about this section of the towering cliffs along this section of the road is that beach level can be reached via a set of steps clinging to the side of the cliff wall. Descending down here you really get a sense of the scale of these giant cliffs and the sea stacks that sit out from them. From here you can take in Gog and Magog, two stacks not considered part of the 12 apostles but just as impressive and a perfect stop on our Great Ocean Road itinerary.
The Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles are just over 1 km down the road from Gibson’s Steps are are undoubtedly the most famous feature of this magnificent road. This means they get busy, so heading to this spot as early in the day as possible is a must, the sun is also on the stacks themselves in the morning too and it sets behind them in the evening.
These incredible feats of natural engineering where always one of the reasons we wanted to come to Melbourne, but seeing them with our own eye we could never have imagined just how spectacular they are in person. Curiously there were never twelve sea stacks here having been renamed from a probably less catchy “Sow and Pigs”.
In fact there were only ever nine stacks here and today only eight remain after the last one dramatically collapsed in 2005. The coastline here is ever changing and another could fall into the sea at any moment, however with the coastline eroding too it is likely more stacks will also be created in the future.
Loch Ard Gorge
Just a touch further down the road is my favourite spot on the whole Great Ocean Road, even more stunning than the 12 apostles themselves in our opinion, is the Loch Ard Gorge. This picturesque spot is home to many different rock formations and features that create some impressive and beautiful coves, caves and stacks. If you add anywhere on your Great Ocean Road itinerary it has to be this spot!
Named after the clipper ship, the Loch Ard, which ran aground nearby killing all but two of the 54 passengers who had just made the arduous 3 month journey from England it is a peaceful spot to explore. Here you can climb the stair down into the narrow rock opening where the incredibly blue ocean gently laps against this naturally sheltered section of this unforgiving coastline. It really is an incredibly place to visit.
Nearby on the same section of coast are many short walks which provide again some of the best views along Great Ocean Road. A favourite of ours is the Island Archway lookout, a one time sea arch which collapsed to form two stacks now named Tom and Eva, the two survivors of the Loch Ard wreck. Other places of note are the impressive Razorback formation, the mutton Bird Lookout as well as many others that can be seen from the walks around this area.
London Arch and The Grotto
Further down the road just on from the town of Port Campbell is another spectacular feature of this coast line, the London Arch and a must do on your Great Ocean Road itinerary. This incredible natural arch was at one time a double span natural bridge that connected to the coast line and was known as “London Bridge”. The connecting section of rock collapsed in dramatic form with two hikers trapped on top of the now newly formed island in 1990. The two men were stranded for hours and eventually were rescued by helicopter, thankfully no one was injured and the new feature was renamed “London Arch”.
Another great little spot to stop off at and to round up a fantastic day is “The Grotto”, an enchanting part cave, part arch way, it is a beautiful rock pool that many miss out on being a little road weary on this leg of the journey!
Head back to the city along the coast or via the higher inland roads
Now your 3 day adventure of the Great Ocean Road is complete!! You can now either stay another night at Port Campbell and leisurely head back to the city in the morning back along the road, stopping off in the Otway National Park if you have time or at some of the spots you might have missed.
Or you can head straight back to the city on the inland roads which is around 245 km and takes just under 3 hours. After such a hectic and adventurous day you’ll be needing a day spa in Melbourne CBD and a well deserved coffee down one of the cities famous laneways!
If you are headed for South Australia as we were on our first visit to the Great Ocean Road you could push on to Mt Gambier just over the state border and stay at the showgrounds here for $15 unpowered before continuing on to Adelaide in the morning. This too is around 245 km away. A good midway point would be Warrnambool if you are pushed for time.
Can I do it in a day?
Yes and no. It is possible to plan a Great Ocean Road itinerary from Melbourne, but it is an awfully long day with a very early start, we usually set off at 5am and the drive out to The 12 Apostles is around 3 hours and is where you will most likely want to start. In order to do it in a day you will need to plan things out a little more and pick out the places you really want to see, spend a little time there and move on. One benefit to taking a day trip is not having to find places to stay or drag along camping equipment and of course spending less money on multi-day car or van rentals.
We will be writing a more detailed one day Great Ocean Road itinerary soon for those on a shorter time scale.
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What are your tips for a three day Great Ocean Road itinerary?
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