The drive on the Great Ocean Road, hugging the Victorian coastline, is no doubt one of the most scenic drives in the world. Approximately 300 kms from the capital city of Victoria, Melbourne to Port Campbell (destination: 12 Apostles), the drive takes you through Australia’s most picturesque natural wonders like aquamarine ocean, beaches which are surfers’ paradise, dense rainforests, colonies of koalas , kookaburras and wild kangaroos in their natural habitat (if you are lucky!), gorgeous limestone formations, ‘to die for’ sunsets and sunrises…
The distance is just under 300kms and there are several bus operators in Melbourne offering day trips to the Apostles and back. Even with one’s car it maybe tempting to do the while round trip in a day racing to the ultimate attraction the Apostles. But the ultimate attraction is the Road itself!! There are numerous scenic lookouts to take photos from, a number of scenic beach towns to stretch the legs, a number of cafes to stop for a break! A self-drive over a couple of days is the recommended option.
So we hired a car from Apex Car Rentals at the Southern Cross Station, Melbourne…
Torquay – 100 kms south-west of Melbourne, blindly following the straight Princess Highway, takes you to the first major attraction of the GOR-Torquay. It is a surfer’s paradise, you’ll see surfers with their colourful boards on the water, walking down to the beach, in cafes and eateries. Basically everywhere. Torquay, where the famous brands like Ripcurl and Quiksilver are born, is a great place to have your first pitstop for caffeine refill before heading back on the road.
This time we had stopped at this gem of a garden cafe in Bellbrae called Bowside Cafe (very close to Torquay) which was straight out of fairly tale; had mini garden gnomes and robots adorning the planters, indoor outdoor seating area and excellent food and welcoming hosts. Highly recommended!
The cafe was super kids friendly stocking these colouring papers and pencils…
Memorial Arch – This iconic arch marks the starting point of the GOR. The road was built between 1919 to 1932 by soldiers returning from the World War I and was dedicated to their fallen mates. This 243km road is the world’s largest war memorial. There is a designated carpark for those of us who love to pose for a picture or two to commemorate the adventure we are about to embark on in this road trip!
One of the lush green hillside plains we saw, punctuated with two horses – one white and one black – what odds for getting that in a picture!
Lorne – One of our favourite, this leisurely yet stunning town was our next major stop for lunch and to stretch the limbs. There are lots of boutique shops, fancy eateries and cool cafe places in this idyllic little beach town. There was a huge wooden play area on the sand that kept the kids amused and busy, while we soaked in some warm sun, with sand in our toes, feeding the friendly cockatoos. Erskine Falls is just 10kms uphill from Lorne, which we missed due to lack of time.
A short drive uphill at the end of the town of Lorne, will take you to Teddy’s Lookout – a viewing platform which will give you the most breathtaking panorama of the GOR.
Kennet River – Kafe Koala – If you want to see chubby koalas up close, this is the place to be. About less than 25kms (30mins drive) from Lorne, in the Kennet River town, there is a must visit spot, Kafe Koala where you will find quite a few koalas snuggled up on the nearby gum trees and numerous colourful king parrots. The birds are just everywhere, and the bird feeding is free. This unexpected visit was one of the major highlights of our trip, as the boys went crazy feeding the birds. A quick pitstop for the washrooms and snacks and whole lot of fun!
Cape Otway National Park and Otway Lighthouse – A little into the GOR, the road will turn north-west away from the ocean and take you through the Great Otway National Park – it’s just beautiful! Its a temperate rainforest which is home to numerous different kids of trees, birds and wild-life and also breathtaking waterfalls. Once you get down from the car, you’ll feel dwarfed amongst the giant Eucalypts, ferns and other mountain trees!
Unfortunately by the time we took the detour to see the Lighthouse (entry fees, required), it was closed already. But the best part was on the way back from the lighthouse we spotted a couple of super cute sleeping koalas high up on the trees. A stroll or trek through these lush rainforests, breathing some of the freshest air is on my bucket list now, someday….
Port Campbell National Park
Home to the beautiful lime rock formations and ship wreck coastline, this national park is a must visit on the Great Ocean Road. Apart from the famous and impressive 12 Apostles (now, there are only 8), there are other formations also which are equally breathtaking, like the Gibson steps which are carved into the limestone cliffs to give you the beach level view of the Apostles, and others like Lock Ard Gorge (do read the ship-wreck story here), London Arch, The Grotto.
There are lots of helicopter tours available if you want an eagle’s view of the stunners. There are small shops for snacks and coffee at the entrance to the Apostles.
Few things to remember for the road trip:
- Don’t rush! We had done it in 3 days; Day 1 – Melbourne to Lorne, Day 2 – Lorne to Port Campbell, Day 3 – Port Campbell to Yarra Valley.
- If it’s winter, the days are shorter, so driving through the windy roads in the dark is something we didn’t prefer with kids on board. It’s best to stay at a town for the evening. Also most lot of convenient stores close early, so if you have to get some shopping done for dinner etc, keep the time in mind.
- From Cape Otway to Port Campbell, we had the setting sun, right in front! Glaring into the eyes, it reduced visibility at certain points, so driving became difficult and slow. Keep those sun glasses ready and take the turns really slow.
- The GOR is a single carriageway with 1 lane for each direction and no dividers; it has the mountain wall on one side and ocean on the other and can get risky in some places when the weather suddenly changes and it starts pouring! So go slow, take your time to appreciate the nature and rest to stretch the legs and get some coffee. Getting your travel and car insurances done is also important.
- The weather is generally slightly colder than Melbourne, so keep a jacket handy when you wish to get down.
- Fuel up. There can be long stretches without a gas station, so its best to fill up the car tank before hitting the road.
- While going from Melbourne to Port Campbell, the scenic side is on the left-hand side, so pulling over to appreciate what the coastal side has to offer, is easier. So I would suggest, take longer time (2 days) to reach Port Campbell and you can drive back in a day with lesser breaks.
Hope this post helps you in planning your next trip to Australia this summer. Let me know in the comments section below if you found the article helpful. My post on things to see and do in Melbourne might help also.
Thanks and till then,