The Great Ocean Road – it’s pretty great for a number of reasons. Built in the early 1900s, the road runs for 243 kilometres along the spectacular Victorian coastline between Torquay and Warrnambool.
The best way to see the Great Ocean Road is to rent a car and go at your own pace. Woo roadtrip!
The Nunnery recommends at least an overnight trip to the Great Ocean Road, as there are a lot of things to see and do. If you want time to relax and hang out at the beach, we’d recommend a 2 or 3 night trip, but you can fit most of the highlights into 1 day if you don’t have time to do 2 or 3 days. Check out www.wildlifetours.com.au and other tour providers for one day tours to make the most of your time.
Do not underestimate how long the Great Ocean Road is! The road is very windy and driving on it can be very tiring. If possible, split the driving up between a few people, and avoid driving at night – there are no street lights outside of the towns and wildlife is harder to see. It is quite common to see kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and wombats whilst driving; drive carefully under the speed limit to ensure you don’t hit any of our furry friends!
The following driving timeframes are to be expected:
Melbourne – Lorne: 2.5 hours
Lorne – Apollo Bay: 1.5 hours
Apollo Bay – 12 Apostles: 1.5 hours
The good thing about the Great Ocean Road is that it’s the only main road along the coastline, so you’ll have to try pretty hard to get lost once you’re on it. There is also an inland route which you can take via Colac which is faster, so you can drive that way to save time on the way home.
Whilst you shouldn’t have any trouble getting phone reception in the towns along the Great Ocean Road, there will be spots where you will have no phone reception when you’re driving between towns. It’s a good idea to get a hard copy of a map for these times where you can’t use google maps.
Be sensible – make sure you’ve got a full tank, otherwise you will be stranded on the side of the road! You can fill up your petrol tank in Lorne, Anglesea, Apollo Bay and Torquay, as well as in Melbourne before you leave (petrol will probably be cheaper to buy in Melbourne anyway).
Water and food
You must make sure that you have a decent amount of water with you, as the last thing you want is to get stranded along the road without water, especially in summer. You can, of course, drink the tap water in the towns along the Great Ocean Road, but if you are planning on camping and won’t have access to tap water, be safe and take extra water along. There is a Foodworks supermarket in Lorne and an IGA in Apollo Bay, other than that there are service stations and convenience stores dotted along the road. If you want to save money by bringing your own food, do a big shop in Melbourne before you leave.
Bushfires are a serious threat during the summer (November – March), and also should be monitored throughout winter. You must follow the advice of any locals or authorities; bushfires are unpredictable and claim lives every summer in Australia. The best way to get live updates on any potential bushfire threats is to download the smartphone app ‘FireReady’ and allow the app to send you notifications based on your location.
MUST SEE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD
If you’re pressed for time, here’s what you must see on the Great Ocean Road:
12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge
The 12 Apostles is the most well-known tourist attraction along the Great Ocean Road, and the spectacular Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge are a stone’s throw away from the 12 Apostles.
The 12 Apostles are lovely at sunset. However, do keep in mind that if you choose to stay for sunset, you will have to drive in the dark back to wherever you are staying (most people choose to stay in either Port Campbell, an easy 10 minute drive, or Apollo Bay, a windy 2 hour drive, to visit the 12 Apostles). The 12 Apostles are just as spectacular in the day time, so if you don’t have time to stay for sunset or the day is overcast, don’t worry too much.
There are lots of beautiful spots to swim along the Great Ocean Road. The water is pretty cold all year round, so if you want to rent a wetsuit and surfboard, there are surf shops at Torquay, Lorne, Anglesea and Apollo Bay. Be careful of the swimming conditions – sometimes the water can look very calm but the currents underneath are strong. During summer there are usually lifeguards at the main beaches, and there will be red and yellow flags on the beach which indicate the safe area for swimming. Always swim between those flags if they are displayed. If there’s no lifeguards and flags, you can still swim, but be careful and don’t go in too deep if you’re not a confident swimmer.
There are beautiful beaches at Fairhaven, Airey’s Inlet, Anglesea, Lorne, Wye River, Apollo Bay, Torquay (Bells Beach, famous for surfing competitions), so drive along and stop at the beaches that take your fancy!
You may see wild koalas, kangaroos and wallabies along the road – be careful when you’re driving so that you don’t accidentally hit any!
There are a lot of wild koalas in Cape Otway National Park, so have a drive down to the Cape Otway lighthouse and keep your eye out for koalas in the trees and strutting their stuff along the road. You can also stop at Kennett River, known for its big local koala population!
There is a wildlife park where you can see some native animals, it’s quite close to the 12 Apostles: http://www.greatoceanroadwildlifepark.com/
Alternatively, if you’re more interested in seeing animals in their natural environment rather than in an enclosure, you can head to Tower Hill Reserve in Warrnambool. It’s another 1.5 hour drive from the 12 Apostles, and is a sacred site to the Aboriginal people. You should be able to see plenty of emus, kangaroos and koalas. More information here: http://visitwarrnambool.com.au/things-to-do/tower-hill/#.VxLeTo9OKUk
Otways Treetop Walk
Walk along the treetops of the Otways rainforest! Not recommended for those who are afraid of heights.
More information here: http://www.otwayflytreetopadventures.com/
You will need to drive from Lorne down Erskine Falls Road. From there, you can walk to see the beautiful 30 metre waterfall and there are a few longer walks you can do. It is one of the most popular walks around Lorne.
EATING AND SLEEPING
Ah, my two favourite things. It is pretty important that you have at least one meal of fish and chips on the Great Ocean Road – there’s a fish and chip shop in almost every town. Delicious!
Also check out the Wye River General Store for brunch – a tiny café in a tiny town, right next to the beach, with the best coffee on offer outside of Melbourne.
There is a number of free camping spots along the Great Ocean Road. We recommend downloading the ‘Wiki Camps’ app, which is free for the first 30 days. It has comprehensive information on both free and paid camping spots, and all the included facilities.
Please note that most of the free camping spots do not have water available, and if they have toilets, they will be drop toilets (toilet seat over a hole in the ground, no flushing), and no power. Free camping is great, but only if you come prepared with all of your own gear (eg. enough water, toilet paper, and gas cooking facilities if you want hot food). The free camping spots are often located in the national parks, rather than on the beach or near the main roads, so if you’re driving there try to do it during the day rather than at night when it’s very easy to get lost.
There are a number of paid campgrounds, attached to hostels or caravan parks, where guests can camp and use the facilities for a small fee.
There are hostels available in the following towns:
Bells Beach, Torquay: http://bellsbeachbackpackers.com.au/
Port Campbell: http://portcampbellhostel.com.au/