The Great Ocean Road from Melbourne - 1-Day Itinerary
Built between 1919 and 1932 by returned World War I soldiers, the Great Ocean Road is one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world and an important tourist attraction in Australia. It was dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives in World War I, making it the world’s largest war memorial.
Although the Great Ocean Road is best known for the limestone rock stacks in the ocean called “The Twelve Apostles”, it also has many other highlights along the route, including forests, waterfalls, lighthouses, beaches, and koalas. If you visit at the right time, you might even be able to spot whales!
During my visit to Melbourne, I had the opportunity to visit the famous route when my host offered to take me there.
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About the Great Ocean Road
Where is the Great Ocean Road?
The Great Ocean Road is a 243-kilometre (151-mile) route located along the coast of Victoria in southeastern Australia. It starts in Torquay and continues westward to Allansford.
Most visitors to the Great Ocean Road travel from Melbourne, which is the nearest major city. It’s also possible to travel from Melbourne to Adelaide via the Great Ocean Road, although the journey is close to 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) and may take you a few days to complete.
A Brief History of the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road was first planned toward the end of World War I to connect isolated settlements on the coast and to become a transport link for tourism and the timber industry. At the time, the communities around the rugged southern coast were only accessible by sea or a rough bush track.
After receiving enough funds, the road was built by returned soldiers, and was officially opened on 26th November 1932 by Lieutenant Governor, Sir William Irvine.
Best Time to Visit the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is great to visit at any time of the year, with its mild winters (6°C – 15°C) and pleasantly warm summers (12°C – 26°C).
The summer months (December to February) are perfect if you plan to spend most of your time on the beach. But this is also the busiest time of the year, which means bigger crowds, traffic delays, and difficulty in finding parking spaces.
On the other hand, the winter season (June to August) can be chilly, but there will be less crowd and if you’re lucky, you might get a chance to see whales. Going on the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) is also a good idea to avoid crowds.
I visited in September and while it was quite cold and windy, I don’t think I encountered any more than one or two other tourists at each of the attractions.
How to Get to the Great Ocean Road
Traveling by car is the most popular way to visit the Great Ocean Road as it gives you the freedom to go at your own time and pace. Not only will you get to make as many stops and stay for as long as you want, you also get to time your visit to avoid crowds.
Car rental can be arranged in Melbourne city, at the airport, online, or through your hotel.
From Melbourne, take the Princess freeway (M1) toward Geelong, then take the Geelong bypass toward Torquay. Here, you will join the B100, which will later become the Great Ocean Road.
By Tour Bus
For those of you who can’t drive or prefer not to, there are many day tour options that can take you to the major highlights along the Great Ocean Road without the hassle of renting a car and driving the long route.
Things to See & Do on the Great Ocean Road (1 Day Itinerary)
The Great Ocean Road is more than just a long drive by the coast. There are plenty of things to see and do along the 243-kilometre stretch, both natural and man-made.
Here is a list of things you can see on a day trip to the Great Ocean Road:
1. The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch
First thing first! Gotta let ’em people know you’ve been to the Great Ocean Road, right? Therefore, a photo in front of the iconic wooden arch — right at the start of the road — is a must for any visitor.
But don’t be mistaken — the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch is not a mere photo op. It was erected in honor of the 3,000 returned soldiers who built the road by hand between 1919 and 1932.
There’s space to park along the road and a carpark off to the left of the arch.
2. Split Point Lighthouse
If you had ever watched the Aussie 90s kids TV show “Round the Twist”, you’d probably remember this lighthouse. The exterior was portrayed as the family’s lighthouse home.
Also known as “The White Queen with the Red Cap”, the Split Point Lighthouse is clearly visible once you come around the bend in Aireys Inlet. It has been guarding the coast since 1891 and is still a fully functioning lighthouse, guiding ships through the treacherous Bass Strait.
For $10, visitors are allowed to go inside on a self-guided tour. Don’t forget to go to the lookout point to see spectacular views of the Fairhaven Surf Beach.
3. Erskine Falls
After Aireys Inlet, the next town you will arrive at is Lorne. You can stop here and explore the hipster cafes, eateries, and cute shops. We didn’t. Instead, we went straight to Esrkine Falls, about 10 minutes’ drive from town.
The 30-metre high falls are nestled within a lush conifer forest and require a short hike up some stairs to get to. When the water level is low, it’s possible to cross the river right up to the falls. But do wear proper shoes, as the path can be slippery and muddy.
Watch out for snakes if you go in the summer.
4. Kennett River Koala Walk
It might sound unbelievable, but the Great Ocean Road is actually home to one of the largest koala populations in Australia. On top of that, it is also one of the best places to spot other Australian wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, platypus, wombats, and echidna.
Although it’s possible to bump into these animals at any of the forests (and even on the road and coastline sometimes), you’d have the highest chance of an encounter at the Kennett River Koala Walk.
You can either take a slow drive along the road or pull over and walk. Just look up into the eucalyptus trees and you surely won’t be disappointed. We spotted more than 10 chunky koalas. If they’re not snoozing on the branches, they’d be munching on the leaves.
Do keep in mind that these are wild animals in their natural habitat, and you’re the (uninvited) guest. Please keep a respectful distance. Do not make excessive noise or try to touch or feed them. These actions may stress them out and possibly threaten their survival.
If you still crave some animal interaction, you can pay a small fee to have a bunch of parrots eat out of your hands (or your head).
5. Triplet Falls
Arguably the nicest of all the waterfalls along the Great Ocean Road, the Triplet Falls feature wide pathways, tall fern trees, and unique cascading triplet falls falling side by side.
To get there, you need to hike for about 45 – 60 minutes through a fern forest. The trees were so tall and big that in the beginning, I thought they were oil palm trees that I was familiar with in my country.
The tall trees and ferns typically indicate a high-rainfall area, so make sure you wear sturdy hiking/walking shoes as the footpath can be slippery after rain.
6. The Twelve Apostles
For many people, the Twelve Apostles are their main or sole reason for visiting the Great Ocean Road.
The iconic rock stacks that protrude dramatically from the sea were formed more than 20 million years ago. Once part of the mainland, the limestone cliffs were eroded by the stormy Southern Ocean and gradually turned into caves, then arches, and finally collapsed, leaving the rock stacks behind, isolated from the shore.
Despite the name, there are now only 7 rock stacks still standing. Six of them are visible from the main viewing platform, while the seventh one is located several meters around the corner.
The rocks change color throughout the day. The best times for pictures are during sunrise and sunset, but most other photographers might have the same idea, so you probably won’t get the whole place to yourself.
However, it’s worth noting that the place is the most crowded in the afternoon when the tour buses arrive. We arrived after sunset, and there was no one else around. Our photos turned out to be quite dark but the rock stacks were still visible.
There’s a boardwalk that takes you along the best viewpoints of the Apostles. It’s about five minute’s walk away from the car park.
7. Lookout Points Along the Way
That was all that we had time for on our day trip to the Great Ocean Road. After the Twelve Apostles, we made our way back to Melbourne.
Even if you don’t have time to do the entire stretch, doing just a portion of the Great Ocean Road is still worth it. You’ll be guaranteed great views all the way, with many viewpoints to stop at for pictures.
Other Highlights on the Great Ocean Road
If you have more than one day, here are some other things you can see on the Great Ocean Road:
1. Beauchamp Falls
We had passed the Beauchamp Falls but had to skip them because they would take a long time to get to (about 1.5 hours’ steep hike from the car park). The 20-metre falls are hidden by a thick forest of ferns, mountain ash, and myrtle beech.
2. Loch Ard Gorge
A few minutes’ drive from the Twelve Apostles, you’ll find the Loch Ard Gorge, a popular stop with epic views and an interesting survival story of two teenagers who survived a shipwreck in 1878.
One of them was barely conscious at the gorge’s mouth before being rescued by the other. They then took shelter in a cave near the gorge before the stronger of the two barehandedly climbed the crumbling 11-metre-high cliffs to seek help. The gorge was later named after the sunken ship.
3. Thunder Cave
The Thunder Cave — which can be accessed from the Loch Ard Gorge car park — is a narrow gorge and cave that the ocean smashes into and makes a great splash, as well as a thunderous sound, hence the name.
A short walk from the cave, you can find the beach where the Sherbrook River meets the Southern Ocean and you will be awed by the beauty and force of nature.
However, do take extreme caution and keep a safe distance from the edge, as freak waves as high as 4 metres can occur at random. There’s also a permanent rip tide here, which makes the beach extremely unsafe to swim or wade in.
4. Gibson Steps
The Gibson Steps are steps that lead down to the beach, giving you a different perspective of the Twelve Apostles. They were once hand-carved into the cliffs but have since been replaced by concrete steps with safety railings.
This is one of the few places in the area that allow proper beach access, but do check whether the steps are open before you go. They’re sometimes closed if there had been any fallen debris from the clifftop.
5. The Grotto
As the cliffs fell away, they left a window in the rock wall, through which you can see a beautiful sinkhole, with the ocean in the background. To get to the grotto, you need to go down steep stairs.
6. The London Bridge
The Australian version of the London Bridge is actually an offshore limestone archway that was once connected to the mainland. As though fulfilling the prophecy of the London Bridge song, this archway did fall down in 1990, leaving two tourists trapped on the remaining arch and having to be rescued by a helicopter.
7. Bay of Islands
About 25 minutes away from the Twelve Apostles is the Bay of Islands, which is another collection of limestone rock stacks. Much like the Twelve Apostles, the bay also looks its best at sunset and has a boardwalk along the coastlines. The scenery offered here is almost similar to the one at the Apostles, but with a much smaller crowd.
8. Bay of Martyrs
Although not as impressive as the nearby lookout points, the Bay of Martyrs is a great place for escaping the crowds. It is also one of the few places where you can walk down to the beach to enjoy a scenic stroll.
9. Hopetoun Falls
Another one of the many waterfalls along the Great Ocean Road, the 30-metre-high Hopetoun Falls are located in the Great Otway National Park, about 4 kilometres south of the Beauchamp Falls. You can either stay on the upper platform or get a closeup view by descending 200 stairs to the base of the falls.
10. Cape Otway Lighthouse
Dating back to 1848, this lighthouse is 15 minutes away from the Great Ocean Road and provides excellent views of the rugged cliffs. For $19.50, you get to tour the lighthouse, hear the story of tragic shipwrecks, discover Australia’s extraordinary secret war history from WWII, and understand the local indigenous culture.
You also have the option of staying overnight in the historic lightkeeper’s accommodation. The Lightkeeper’s Kitchen serves an array of tasty homemade fare, including freshly baked scones and locally roasted coffee.
Cape Otway Lighthouse is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
11. Otway Rainforest Canopy
A short detour from the Great Ocean Road will take you to the Otway Rainforest Canopy, where you can take an hour-long 25-metre-high treetop walk amongst the giant myrtle beech, mountain ash, and blackwood trees.
You can also climb the spiral staircase to the canopy viewing platform, or — if that’s not adventurous enough for you — go ziplining.
12. Californian Redwood Forest
Not only does the Great Ocean Road have the London Bridge, it also has a Californian Redwood Forest! The 85-year old forest is a leftover from the logging industry that used to take place there in the 1930s. Now, the the trees have grown into 60-metre-tall giants.
Surrounded by dense ferns and local trees, the enchanting Otways Californian Redwood Forest is one of Victoria’s best kept secrets.
13. The Beaches on the Great Ocean Road
When in Australia, do as the Australians do and go to the beach — because why visit a country with 34,000 kilometres of coastline if you’re not going to go to the beach, right?
But be sure to check whether the beach is safe for swimming before you dip in. Stick to those with lifeguards, and swim between the red and yellow flags. Some of the safe beaches along the Great Ocean Road are:
- Torquay – Calm waters, surrounded by pine trees. Patrolled by lifeguards in summer.
- Jan Juc – Fringed by dramatic cliffs. Patrolled in summer.
- Anglesea – Wide sandy beach and calm waters. Patrolled in Summer.
- Lorne – 2-kilometre-long sandy beach with many trendy cafes and bars.
- Apollo Bay – Crescent shaped beach with protected waters, perfect for swimming, kayaking, and fishing.
- Port Campbell – The sheltered beach at the town of Port Campbell is one of the few in the area that are safe for swimming.
How Long to Spend on the Great Ocean Road
If you’re short of time, it’s possible to visit the Great Ocean Road on a day trip like I did, and still manage to see quite a few places. Start early in the morning to get the most out of your trip.
However, do bear in mind that it will be a long drive. Unless you really love driving long-distance, you might want to go with someone with whom you can take turns driving. Or consider taking a tour so that you’ll be able to sit back the entire trip and enjoy the views.
To see all of these attractions without feeling rushed, it’s recommended to spend at least 3 days and 2 nights..
Where to Stay on the Great Ocean Road
For those who are planning to spend more than one day on the Great Ocean Road, there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from. If you’re on a budget, you can even camp at the many free campsites and serviced holiday parks along the route, where you can pitch a tent or park your campervan.
Apollo Bay, Lorne, and Port Campbell are good locations to stay at. Apollo Bay is close to forests and waterfalls, Port Campbell is near to the Twelve Apostles and other coastal rock formations, while Lorne is a cool town on its own.
- Beachcomber Motel & Apartment (Apollo Bay) – Only 5 minutes’ walk from Apollo Bay Beach and the Apollo bay Golf Club, this motel features a beautiful garden with a sheltered barbecue area. All rooms are heated and come with a TV, a refrigerator, and a tea/coffee maker. Some also have a kitchenette, a fireplace and spa bath. From AUD 90 for a Double Motel Room.
- Sow & Piglets Guesthouse (Port Campbell) – This award-winning hostel is a 10-minute drive from the Twelve Apostles and a 3-minute walk from the beach. Available on site is a shared kitchen, a microbrewery and a bar. From AUD 35 for a bed in an 8-bed mixed dormitory room.
- Lorne Foreshore Caravan Park (Lorne) – Perfect for budget travelers, this campsite provides shared bathrooms, a communal kitchen, a children’s playground, and a terrace with BBQ facilities. Located along the Erskine River, 400 metres from Loutit Bay Beach and 10 minutes’ walk from Lorne, it also offers access to the Erskine Falls. From AUD 52 for a spot at the campsite. Tent and cabin options (with private bathrooms) are also available.
- Captains by the Bay (Apollo Bay) – Less than 5 minutes’ walk from restaurants and shops, and 15 minutes’ walk from Apollo Bay Harbor. Each room comes with a private bathroom, LCD TV and DVD player. From AUD 140 for a Studio Room.
- Port Campbell Parkview Motel & Apartments (Port Campbell) – Located on a quiet street, 5 minutes’ walk away from the beach. Each apartment and studio features a balcony or patio with ocean or garden views, a fully-equipped kitchen/kitchenette, and a private bathroom. From AUD 140 for a suite.
Mantra Lorne (Lorne) – Equipped with an indoor heated swimming pool, 4 tennis courts, a croquet lawn, a gym, a spa, and an 18-hole putting, this resort is the only property in Lorne that has direct access to the beach. From AUD 178 for a Classic Double/Twin Room, with breakfast.
- Apollo Bay Guest House (Apollo Bay) – Set in landscaped gardens with a sunny terrace only 200 metres from Apollo Bay Beach, this property features a lounge with a fireplace, antique furniture and French decor, From AUD 290 for a Queen Room with Ocean View, including breakfast.
- Southern Ocean Villas (Port Campbell) – Located on the edge of the Port Campbell National Park, the Southern Ocean Villas offer private patios with garden views, a fully equipped kitchen, and a barbecue area with outdoor seating. From AUD 230 for a Standard 3-bedroom villa.
- Pierview Apartments (Lorne) – A stylish apartment hotel with gorgeous ocean views, only a 10-minute walk from Lorne Beach. From AUD 340 for a 2-bedroom apartment.
Additional Tips for Visiting the Great Ocean Road
- If you choose to self-drive, remember that Australia drives on the left-hand side of the road. There are road signs reminding tourists of this, which shows that it is a common problem.
- Most of the best attractions on the Great Ocean Road are in the Port Campbell National Park, so if you don’t have time to see everything, try to focus your time here.
- It is best to drive from east to west, starting in Torquay. This way, you’ll be driving on the ocean side of the road, which gives you better views and easier access to viewpoints.
- The most scenic leg of the route is between Lorne and Apollo Bay.
- When planning your itinerary, bear in mind that the journey may take longer than you expect because of the many curves on the road, as well as the many photo opportunities that you may want to stop for.
- Avoid driving after dark if you’re not used to the area. The roads are unlit and there’s always the danger of accidents involving wildlife.
- Australian authorities are very strict on the use of seat belts both for drivers and passengers. Child car seats are mandatory for children aged 7 years and below.
- Using your phone (including taking photos or videos) while driving is illegal, even at traffic lights or stop signs. If you need to use your phone, the law requires you to pull over.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. You’ll be doing some walking to get to the waterfalls.
- Stay hydrated — bring enough drinking water, especially in the summer months.
- Don’t forget to put on sunscreen!
Final Thoughts on Visiting the Great Ocean Road
If you’re in Melbourne, a visit to the Great Ocean Road is something that shouldn’t be missed, especially for those who love road trips, beaches, forests, and dramatic cliff views. Many of the attractions along the Great Ocean Road are just a short drive from one another, so even if you’ve only got one day to spare, you’ll still see quite a lot.
Just remember to be respectful of the places you visit and their inhabitants, and above all, do not underestimate the power of nature. Stay safe!
Have you ever been to the Great Ocean Road? What was your favorite part about it? Share your experience in the comment section below.