What is the Great Ocean Road?
The Great Ocean Road is a scenic coastal drive that stretches over 200 km along the south coast of Victoria. It was officially completed in 1932, connecting Torquay to Allansford. The road was built as a memorial for those who fought in WW1. It was carved into the coastal limestone by the returning servicemen. The road features limestone features carved by the wind and waves of the Australian coast. You can also see various Australian wildlife and explore the coastal rainforests.
Limestone features of the Great Ocean Road
How long do you need to travel the great ocean road?
Well, the answer to that question is: it's entirely up to you! Most people do it in one day and stop at all the main attractions. Though you could spend as long as a week exploring each stop and hike along the way. I will tell you how to do it in 2 days from Torquay to the Bay of Islands, visiting all the main stops as well as the hidden secrets.
When to travel the Great Ocean Road?
The Great Ocean Road is a highway, not a tourist site. You can drive the highway at any time of year. That being said there is a Great Ocean Road Running Festival that occurs in May every year. The first stretch of the road is closed to motorized vehicles over the weekend of the run. You can google the run-fest before your trip to confirm dates. The road is also very busy during school holidays and public holidays. If you can spare the time to go during the weekdays in the school term, you won't have to fight any crowds at the viewpoints! Personally, I did the road in two days during the first weekend of April and saw a few other tourists.
Coastal driving the Great Ocean Road
How to travel the Great Ocean Road?
The easiest way to travel the road is via vehicle. The road is safe to drive and wide enough to drive comfortably. If you're traveling in the Australian heat, take the motorbikes. Ocean air in your face on a scorching hot day, what could be better? If you're like me and aren't talented enough to ride a motorbike, then just take any four-wheeled vehicle. Just as good with the windows down, right? Traveling by vehicle is no problem, there are parking lots at all the stopping points along the way. Bonus if you can camp in your car and save on a night’s accommodation. The last option is with a pre-planned tour bus company, the smaller the better. If you are able to get a small tour, it will be more personal with your own semi-private guide! We chose the tour bus company and it was fantastic, we had the whole van to ourselves. The tour company name is Around and About. It's a privately run tour, the owner and guide is so friendly and knowledgeable, we learned so much from him about the road.
2 Day Itinerary for Great Ocean Road
Now the fun begins! The night before the tour I stayed in a YHA Hostel in Melbourne. YHA is a Hostel chain all through Australia with a clean and well-maintained reputation. YHA is very reliable if you're looking for a cheap place to stay.
Day one had a 6 am start to get to the beach for sunrise. An early start also allows you to stay ahead of tour buses so you can properly enjoy the stops. We watched the sunrise from Torquay Beach, the official starting location of the Great Ocean Road.
Sunrise at Torquay
Most of the stops we made were 15 minutes from the last, meaning we got to explore a lot while also covering ground towards our hostel for the night. After Torquay sunrise, we made a quick stop at Bells Beach, a well-known surf beach in Victoria.
If you are a sweet tooth and can eat chocolate at any time of the day, then the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery is a must stop. You can do a chocolate tour and sample their many flavors of chocolate. This was a great stop for my friends and family who weren't with me, they received chocolate slab souvenirs.
Continuing beyond the chocolate factory, Airleys Inlet is a great stop to see your first limestone feature towering out of the ocean. Airleys is also home to Split Point lighthouse and boardwalk. I highly recommend walking the path to the lighthouse. The path is a limestone sandy color with dark green tropical forests engulfing it from either side, occasionally creating tunnels of trees.
Airleys Inlet limestone feature
The Pole House
Moving on towards Fairhaven Beach, make sure to look up the cliffs on the right of the highway to spot The Pole House. This house is one of the most iconic homes in Australia, and easily the most photographed house on the Great Ocean Road. It is given its name because it literally built on a pole extending out from the cliff side. The access to the house is a glass railed walkway extruding from the edge of the limestone cliff.
As you continue along the highway, you will soon arrive at the Memorial Arch. The arch was built to acknowledge the difficulties faced by the construction workers while building the road. There are statues of the workers as well as information boards explaining the story. The arch is a good stop spot for photos and a walk down to the beach to stretch your legs.
Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch
We stopped in Lorne for lunch. You can pack your own lunch to save some extra money. Either way, if you're planning to stop for lunch, Lorne is perfect. It's a small fishing town right on the beachfront. You can grab your lunch and sit on the beach watching the waves as you eat
After lunch, we continued on the Sheoak Falls, it's a quick 2 km walk from the car park, and you can see the falls within 10 minutes. Be warned that it is not an overflowing waterfall, it is just a few trickles of water most of the year. Sheoak falls is a beautiful stop for the forest walk and the stone footsteps crossing the river.
We continued to viewpoint hop from Sheoak Falls to Kennett River. You can view where the river runs into the ocean and the delta is formed. Kennett River is also the best location to spot some sleepy Koalas in the nearby trees. In fact, it is the best location in all of Australia to see wild Koalas. To spot the koalas you need to go for a walk and keep your eyes peeled for any unusual growths on the trees. Koalas sleep curled up and often look like an unusual growth of the tree rather than an animal. You can also look for hoards of people located under one tree with their cameras in the sky, that's a dead give away too. Kennett is also home to hundreds of friendly wild parrots. If you take some bird seed, you'll have new friends before you blink.
Kennett River delta
Wild parrots in Kennett River
Back to the beach, we head over to Marriners Lookout in Apollo Bay. This is the last attraction before a stopover for the night in Apollo Bay. Apollo Bay is great to explore, you can walk out to the marina and watch the waves crashing. We stayed in the YHA in Apollo Bay, the perfect spot for dinner and wine night on the rooftop patio.
Early start again to stay ahead of the tour buses! Left Apollo Bay at 7 in the morning and headed straight to Maits Rest temperate rainforest. There is a self-guided circuit walk through this ancient rainforest You can even check out a potential tree house property in the massive tree hollow. The loop takes about 30 minutes in total to complete, depending on how many photo-stops you make.
Maits Rest forest walkways
Hollow trees in Maits
From rainforest to beach we continued, stopping at Castle Cove viewpoint. This viewpoint has minimal car park space. There are a few boardwalks to explore along here, each with a slightly different view to see. The beach is a popular surf spot, and you might be lucky enough to spot some early morning surfers.
Castle Cove surfing beach
The next stop is Gibson Steps, your first view of the famous 12 apostles! Only 8 of the 12 apostles remain standing, the other 4 have fallen to the seas. The Gibson Steps are carved into the limestone cliffs and take you down to the beach below. This beach access gives you a great ocean level view of the first of the apostles.
The first apostle from Gibsons beach
The 12 Apostles
This the most famous stop along the Great Ocean Road. You can see several of the apostles standing out of the crashing waves. You will find a visitor center and a large parking lot where you park before walking to the viewpoint. We also stopped at the nearby Razorback, a massive limestone feature separated from the mainland that still stands in the crashing waves.
The 12 apostles viewpoint
Loch Ard Gorge
One of my favorite stops was the Loch Ard Gorge. This was the next stop after the 12 apostles. When you arrive at the gorge, you can walk along the limestone cliffs to get an overlooking view of the beach before you walk down to it. The walk down is following stairs and trails and you come out behind the cliffs of the beach. You can explore the limestone cave to the rear of the beach before heading down to the shoreline. This is a great place to spend some time lounging or having a dip in the water. If you are considering swimming here be very careful, the water acts like a suction system back out of the gorge because it is such a narrow opening. If you are feeling adventurous you can time the waves crashing and run to the caves under the cliffs on the right of the beach. We got completely soaked trying to do this. Keep your feet planted if you get hit by a wave to avoid it picking you up while you're trying to run.
Views of Loch Ard Gorge from above
Loch Ard Gorge beach
Port Campbell is a great lunch stop, you can walk around the small-town shops and explore the beachfront. It's a perfect swim spot with the beach right next to the town edge. Near Port Campbell is the Arch limestone feature. It is 8 meters high at the center, spanning across the sea shelf in an arch shape. You can watch the waves crashing through the center of the arch.
London Arch is the next feature along this limestone coastline. Another arch shape standing in the waves unconnected to land. It wasn't always like this; it was originally two arches spanning from the land out to sea. When the land connection arch collapsed, two people had to be airlifted off the remaining arch. The funny part of the story is that both these people were married to other people, and were caught red-handed cheating while they were supposedly at work. That's one way to get caught is being airlifted off a limestone feature while being streamed on the news.
Another popular stop is the Grotto. You can look at this feature from above, or go own to sea level to get the full experience. There is a staircase leading down to the Grotto. The Grotto is a sinkhole where the limestone cliffs fell away. You can now see the Grotto is part blowhole cave, part archway, and part photo backdrop.
Bay of Islands
The last stop is the Bay of Islands. The Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands are an underrated section of the Great Ocean Road. Here you can find many self-guided cliff top walks that span the length of the bay. There are many crumbling limestone features in the bay itself, all standing solo amongst the waves. The 12 apostles aren't the only picturesque limestone features along the road.
Bay of Islands
Peterborough was the end of our Great Ocean Road journey. We traveled inland from here to return to Melbourne. Completely different to the coastal drive we'd spent the past 2 days doing, we were now traveling through farm country past Colac.
So why should you do the Great Ocean Road?
You get to see some of the most amazing geological features in the world whilst also spending time on the Australian beaches. Not only that but you also see more of the wildlife than you would in the bigger cities in Australia. And even better you get to explore the tropical and temperate rainforests of the Australian coastline. All of that in just 2 days? Now, why would anyone pass up on an opportunity that great?