The Great Ocean Road: A Guide to the Ultimate Road Trip

The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most popular road trips. The winding coastal drive goes for 243km from Torquay to Allansford along the southwest coast of Victoria. The combination of spectacular coastal scenery and dense rainforests of the Great Otway National Park make it one of the most beautiful regions in Australia. 

I spent three weeks in November exploring this part of Victoria in a van. I drove up and down the Great Ocean Road numerous times stopping at both the popular attractions and lesser-known spots on the way. It was such a great solo adventure and is the perfect place to get out and enjoy some nature, whether you’re on your own or with a group of friends.

There’s plenty of information out there for planning your road trip along the Great Ocean Road, but I’ve compiled this guide from my own experience camping and driving along the famous coastal road. This guide is aimed at people who are planning a self-drive and camping trip, with plenty of tips and information on the best places to stop and things to see along the way. 

I also walked a section of the Great Ocean Road by completing the Great Ocean Walk which stretches for 104km from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles. You can read about my time on the trail here.

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Self-driving the Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road is best explored in your own vehicle or a hired one. The freedom of self-driving the Great Ocean Road means that you can stop whenever you like and visit whichever sights and attractions you want to see.

If you need to hire a car or want to hire a campervan, basic rates can start at $49 per day, but you’ll also have to factor in insurance coverage and extra items like cooking equipment for the campervan as well. Check out JUCY Rentals, one of the most iconic van rental companies in Australia.

When planning a trip along the Great Ocean Road, keep in mind that there are many sights off the main road and side trips are often required to get the best out of your trip. Not all of the best things to do on the Great Ocean Road are actually on the coast either, with plenty of inland attractions and beautiful spots in the Great Otway National Park too.

Memorial Arch
Memorial Arch

Great Ocean Road itinerary

The Great Ocean Road spans more than 240km and begins in Torquay, which is located just 90 minutes southwest of Melbourne. With this in mind, you can easily tackle a road trip down the Great Ocean Road and back to the city over a two-day weekend. However, the longer you have the more you can see, so it’s best to think about all the things you want to do rather than just look at the distance on a map. There’s plenty of things to see to keep you busy for days.

An ideal Great Ocean Road itinerary is over four to five days, but you could easily spend much longer than that if you have the time. Travelling west from the city, some of the popular overnight stops are Torquay, Lorne, Apollo Bay and Port Campbell. If you plan an overnight stay in or around each of those towns, you would be able to check out all of the highlights and even some of the less-visited spots too. Here’s how you could break your Great Ocean Road trip down into sections (from east/right to west/left):

Great Ocean Road map

Of course, you can also stay in some of the smaller towns on the road including Aireys Inlet, Kennett River and Wye River. At the same time, many of the free bush camps are inland further and require a bit of a detour.

Great Ocean Road accommodation

If you’re hiring a campervan or packing camping gear into your car, the Great Ocean Road is a great place to go camping along the way. There is everything from free camps in the bush to paid public campgrounds and caravan parks for those looking for more comfortable amenities. If you’re interested in camping along the Great Ocean Road, check out my post on 14 of the best campsites on the Great Ocean Road.

If camping isn’t your ‘thing’ then there are literally hundreds (maybe even thousands!?) of places to stay in the pretty coastal towns. You can find hostels and B&Bs to waterfront guesthouses and luxury hotels with something to suit every budget. You can find some of my suggestions further below or have a browse on booking.com for the latest deals.

Sharps Campground
Sharps Campground

A note on budget travel

Keep in mind that the Great Ocean Road is not the cheapest place to spend time. Being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Victoria, you can expect high prices, especially in the warmer summer months (literally prices can be ridiculous in summer). Even if you opt for camping, it’s not the easiest place to stay overnight on a budget, with strict laws against overnight parking unless in designated camping areas. There are a few free camps, which you can find in my post on campsites on the Great Ocean Road here.

Cafes, shops, supermarkets and fuel stations are also a little expensive along the Great Ocean Road. However, you can still save some money by self-catering with supermarkets and finding cheaper fuel in larger towns. You can certainly still travel on a budget if you plan accordingly and by avoiding the busy Christmas and New Year period if you can.

Great Ocean Road
Teddy’s Lookout

Self-driving and camping tips for the Great Ocean Road

  • Cheaper fuel stops include Torquay, Apollo Bay and Warrnambool (avoid Lorne and Port Campbell).
  • Recreation Reserves offer the best value for overnight camping spots. You can get powered sites for as little as $20 outside of the Christmas-New Year holiday period and most are located right in town.
  • Some caravan parks have limited reception hours and gates at the entrance so it’s best to pre-book by calling through or booking online here.
  • The Great Ocean Road and other roads in the Otway National Park are very windy and skinny in places with a high risk of wildlife crossing, so be aware of other cars and animals on the road. For this reason, it’s best not to drive at night either. 
  • The section from Aireys Inlet to Apollo Bay is the most spectacular section of the Great Ocean Road and is when the road hugs the edge of the coast.
  • All the free camps are in the bush of the Otways and require a detour off the Great Ocean Road. If you want to stay near the ocean, it’s best to opt for paid public campgrounds and caravan parks.
  • You need to book ahead for accommodation and campsites in summer and on long weekends throughout the year. Otherwise, mid-week for most of the year and weekends in the cooler months are quiet and easy to book on the day of travel.
  • Use the WikiCamps app to search for a variety of campsites and caravan parks with reviews, amenities and prices to help you decide where to stay.

Find everything listed here on the map

Must-see places and best things to do on the Great Ocean Road

There are plenty of things to do on the Great Ocean Road. When you first start looking at the list of attractions and things to see in the region, it can seem a bit overwhelming with everything from waterfalls to surf beaches to lighthouses. However, you can easily stop by many of the highlights in just a few days, with some of them not too far away from each other. 

Driving from east to west, here are the must-see towns and best things to do on the Great Ocean Road to help you plan your trip.

Torquay

Distance from Melbourne: 104km or 90 minute drive

The official start of the Great Ocean Road is in Torquay, just 22km south of Geelong. This trendy surf village with great shops and cafes has expanded over the last couple of decades into a major town. It’s certainly a more bustling place than the smaller coastal towns further west, but it’s considered the home of Australian surfing making it a must-see stop.

One of the most popular things to do in Torquay is to hit the shops at Surf City Plaza. This precinct on the Surf Coast Highway is home to major stores of many of Australia’s iconic surfing brands including Rip Curl, Roxy and Oakley. The real appeal lies down the side street beside the plaza where you can find the factory outlets and spend hours rummaging through seconds and last season’s clothes at discounted prices. 

If you want to hit the water and learn to surf, Torquay is one of the best places to do it in Victoria. You can check out this two-hour group surf lesson here which is perfect for beginners.

Where to stay in Torquay

Bells Beach Backpackers | This longstanding hostel is a great place to stay in Torquay for budget travellers. The owner is super nice and helpful and the place has a great vibe. It’s located right on the Surf Coast Highway, minutes from the outlets and an easy walk to the beach. They have dorm beds and offer overnight van parking too. Check the latest prices here.

Desa Retreat Ecovillas | Located in Jan Juc, just a few kilometres away from Torquay centre, these self-catering eco villas are the perfect luxury escape. You can even walk to Bells Beach from the property. Check the latest prices here.

Bells Beach
Bells Beach

Bells Beach

Distance from Torquay: 7km or 10 minute drive

Considered the home of surfing in Australia, Bells Beach has a spot in the heart of most Victorians, even non-surfers. The famous surf beach outside of Torquay is one of the most popular spots on the surf coast and is a must-see for any visitor. 

You can find surfers out catching some breaks year-round. The long strip of surf is actually home to a number of breaks including Winki Pop, Southside and Steps. There are some great lookouts along the cliffs and even the main car park offers a vantage point from where you can watch local surfers for hours.

If you visit on the Easter long weekend, the world-famous Rip Curl Pro surf comp takes place at Bells and draws pro surfers from all over the world. This is when Torquay is at its busiest and you need to plan your time here months in advance if you want to catch a glimpse of the competition. 

Bells beach
Surfers at Bells Beach
Bells Beach surfing

Point Addis Marine National Park

Distance from Torquay: 14km or 20 minute drive

Point Addis National Park is known for its spectacular sandstone cliffs and sandy beaches with epic surfing spots. It’s located between Torquay and Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road. To get the best view of the surf coast, the Point Addis Boardwalk offers an incredible panorama in both directions and is best enjoyed at sunset. 

Near the boardwalk, you can also get access down to Point Addis Beach, which is extremely popular on warm summer days. You’ll often find the limited car parking on the point overflowing with people parking just about anywhere down the road.

Split Point Lighthouse
Split Point Lighthouse

Aireys Inlet 

Distance from Torquay: 28km or 25 minute drive

Aireys Inlet is a popular seaside getaway between Anglesea and Lorne. It’s a great spot for budding surfers with plenty of great beaches nearby including the well-known Fairhaven Beach

It’s also home to the iconic Split Point Lighthouse, which was the filming location for the 90s kid’s TV show ‘Round the Twist’ (if you’re an Aussie millennial you’ll know it!). The lighthouse offers an incredible view across the coast and is a great spot to catch the sunset if you’re staying nearby.

Memorial Arch

Distance from Aireys Inlet: 5.5km or 6 minute drive

If you want to prove to your social media following that you’ve been to the Great Ocean Road, this is a must-see stop. The Memorial Arch is dedicated to the soldiers who built the road after WWI and has become a favourite photo spot for visitors. There’s a dedicated parking area to the left of the wooden arch and plenty of room around it but be careful when taking photos as the Great Ocean Road runs right under it with traffic passing all year round.

Erskine Falls
Erskine Falls

Lorne

Distance from Aireys Inlet: 18km or 20 minute drive

Lorne is certainly the most popular and coolest spot on the Great Ocean Road. The trendy coastal town has plenty of boutique shops and fancy cafes along the main street. The beach in front of town is often packed with visitors on weekends and accommodation can be expensive and hard to come by in summer. But, a stop here for lunch is still an essential thing to do on the Great Ocean Road and there are plenty of things to do nearby.

Things to do around Lorne

Erskine Falls | By far the most visited waterfall in the Otway National Park, Erskine Falls is a 30-metre cascade which is widely considered one of the most picture-perfect waterfalls in Australia. The car park is just 9km from Lorne and a short walk will take you to the first lookout spot across the falls. If you continue down the steps, you can reach the bottom viewpoint which is the best vantage point for a photo. 

Lower Kalimna Falls | This unique waterfall does not have a spectacular amount of water but its a pretty little waterfall that spills over a rock ledge that you can walk behind. The trail also continues up to Upper Kalimna Falls which is a 15m cascade of water. It’s an 8km return hike through beautiful forest from the Sheoak Picnic Area.

Teddy’s Lookout | A short drive out of Lorne town and to the end of George Street, you can find Teddy’s Lookout. A short walk from the car park offers a beautiful panorama across where the St George River meets the ocean with the Great Ocean Road snaking around the coastline. It’s easily one of the best and most popular viewpoints in the region.

Where to stay in Lorne

Sharps Campground | A free campground just outside of Lorne and not far from Sheoak Picnic Area, you have to get in quick during busy periods to secure one of the six designated unpowered sites. Read more here.

Lorne Bush House Cottages and Eco Retreats | A great property just 3km out of Lorne which has a range of self-catering cottages and safari-style glamping tents for a more unique stay. Check the latest prices here.

Koala in the Otways

Kennett River

Distance from Lorne: 23k or 30 minute drive

The Great Ocean Road is home to plenty of native wildlife, but one of the real highlights is the chance of encountering a koala in the wild. The region has one of the largest koala populations left in Australia and Kennett River is considered one of the best places to spot one.

Kennett River is a small town on the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Apollo Bay. The most popular spot to see koalas is Grey River Road, which is often crowded with cars, buses and tourists on foot, so it’s not hard to miss. I actually had more luck spotting koalas outside of Lorne near Sharps Campground, and they’re also common along the Cape Otway road. 

Reminder: Do not feed, touch, pester or harass any of the animals that you see along the Great Ocean Road. Their environment is already fragile enough from visitors and overdevelopment.

Apollo Bay
Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay

Distance from Lorne: 46km or 1 hour drive

Apollo Bay is a laidback coastal town on the Great Ocean Road. In my opinion, it is one of the best towns to spend the night and is ideally located as a base for seeing some of the highlights of the region. The town itself is situated on a sandy bay with a long stretch of beach that is perfect for swimming and sunbaking. You also have access to a fuel station, supermarkets and plenty of choices of accommodation in town.

You should head up to Marriner’s Lookout, a short drive from town and a five-minute walk up from the car park. From there you can enjoy views right across Apollo Bay. It’s most popular at sunset time.

The town is also the starting point of the Great Ocean Walk, a 104km long-distance walk that takes you all the way to the Twelve Apostles. Read about my time walking the trail here or find my guide to the Great Ocean Walk here.

Where to stay in Apollo Bay

Marengo Holiday Park | One of the best caravan parks on the Great Ocean Road, this ideally located park is right on the edge of the bay in Marengo. They have cabins as well as powered and unpowered sites for camping. Check the latest prices here.

Apollo Bay Eco YHA | This great eco-hostel is just a two-minute walk from the town centre. They have great hostel amenities and offer double rooms, family rooms and dorm rooms. Check the latest prices here.

Maits Rest
Maits Rest

Maits Rest

Distance from Apollo Bay: 17km or 15 minute drive

A self-guided rainforest walk at Maits Rest is often high on any list of things to do on the Great Ocean Road. At first I had low expectations for the short 800m boardwalk through the dense rainforest, however, I was incredibly surprised. The beautiful rainforest in this part of the Otways includes lush ferns and giant trees that are up to 300 years old.  

The trail is a gentle 800m walk with plenty of parking at the car park, just 15 minutes outside of Apollo Bay.

Beech Forest

Distance from Apollo Bay: 38km or 50 minute drive

You could easily spend your entire time on the Great Ocean Road chasing waterfalls. Inland from the coast and in the heart of the Otway National Park, you can find numerous waterfalls to visit. The most popular and picturesque ones can be found around Beech Forest, which is a decent detour off the Great Ocean Road, 19km from Lavers Hill.

If you’re heading to the waterfalls from Apollo Bay, you’ll likely head back to Skenes Creek and along the skinny yet spectacular drive of C159 Turtons Track. In parts it’s only wide enough for a single car, but the towering forest is incredible.

The best waterfalls near Beech Forest include:

Triplet Falls | A 2km loop trail takes you through the Otways to various viewpoints of the stunning three cascades of Triplet Falls. It’s one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the region and the car park is accessed via Phillips Track. 

Hopetoun Falls | A plummeting waterfall in a serene forest setting, Hopetoun is often considered people’s favourite falls in the Otways. It’s located off Binns Road, not far from the Redwood Forest and requires a 20-minute return walk to get to the bottom viewing area.

Beauchamp Falls | A pretty 20m high waterfall in the Otways, Beauchamp is in the middle of surrounding mountain ash forest. You can access a viewing platform for the falls via a 3km return path from the car park that is located off Binns Road.

You might also want to check out Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, which includes an awesome 2km treetop walk and zip line tour. It’s conveniently down Phillips Track on the way to Triplet Falls. Purchase tickets online here.

Otways Road Trip
Near Beech Forest

Cape Otway

Distance from Apollo Bay: 33km or 35 minute drive

The Cape Otway Light Station is considered the oldest working lighthouse in Victoria. It has guided ships along the Southern Ocean coastline since 1848 and is open to visitors. You can explore the lighthouse precinct from 10am until 5pm with an entry ticket. There’s also a café on-site and souvenir shop. For a completely unique experience, you can stay at the lighthouse with accommodation available at the lightkeeper’s cottage and lodge. 

Cape Otway is also on the Great Ocean Walk trail. If you don’t plan on doing the full 104km thru-hike, you can opt for day hikes with popular options including the section from Cape Otway to Blanket Bay. Read more here.

Read next: What to pack for a day hike

Johanna Beach

Distance from Apollo Bay: 44km or 45 minute drive

An underrated spot on the Great Ocean Road is Johanna Beach. This surf beach is popular with experienced surfers who come for its powerful swells that can be even better than Bells at certain times. It’s also on the Great Ocean Walk trail and is the best campsite of the whole 104km walk. 

Although there’s not actually a whole lot of appeal if you’re not a surfer or walker, the public campground at the beach is still a great spot to spend the night. It offers a great place to enjoy a more secluded section of the coast, although you’ll always find other campers there. You can find the beach via Red Johanna Road off the Great Ocean Road. There are also some great accommodation options around Johanna Beach for those looking for a relaxing and comfortable stay.

Where to stay near Johanna Beach

Johanna River Farm and Cottages | Just a five-minute drive from Johanna Beach, this working farm has a couple of self-catering cottages suitable for couples and families. Check the latest prices here.

Glen Tara Cottage | For ultimate luxury, this stunning, two-bedroom cottage overlooks the surrounding valley and is just a short walk from the beach. Check the latest prices here.

Johanna Beach
Johanna Beach

Port Campbell

Distance from Apollo Bay: 97km or 80 minute drive

Port Campbell National Park is the world-famous section of the Great Ocean Road that includes the wind and wave-sculpted rock formations of the Twelve Apostles. The national park stretches from Princetown to Peterborough for 33km of the Great Ocean Road and has numerous stops and lookouts along the way. The small coastal town of Port Campbell is the central base for exploring this part of the road and is also a delightful town to stay in for the night. 

Port Campbell has a calm beach in town and a small strip of shops with plenty of nice cafes and a general store. There’s also a Port Campbell Discovery Walk which starts in town and heads up to a beautiful lookout and beyond for 4km return.

Where to stay in Port Campbell

Port Campbell Recreation Reserve | This campground is a great budget option for those with camping setups or campervans. They have a number of powered and unpowered sites with good communal cooking and bathroom facilities available. Check their website here.

Sea Foam Villas | For a bit more comfort and luxury, these villas are located right in town looking over Port Campbell beach. They have a range of options from standard villas up to three-bedroom apartments. Check the latest prices here.

Port Campbell
Port Campbell

Things to see in Port Campbell National Park

Gibson Steps and Gibson Beach | Gibson Steps is a popular scenic lookout above Gibson Beach which has beautiful views across the dramatic cliffs towards the Twelve Apostles. From the car park, you can also head down to the beach for a different perspective.

Twelve Apostles | The most famous sight on the Great Ocean Road and often the poster child for Victoria’s tourism industry, the Twelve Apostles are limestone stacks that are stranded off the coast. There aren’t 12 anymore, but it’s still worth a stop to take a walk along the boardwalk to various viewpoints. There is a huge visitor centre and car park there to cater to all the visitors. It’s busy most of the year, so sunrise or sunset is the best bet if you want to avoid the day trip crowds.

Loch Ard Gorge | This has emerged as the second most popular stop after the 12 Apostles. This incredibly beautiful gorge of crumbling cliffs has become an Insta-famous photo stop. You can simply view the gorge and small sandy beach from above or head down to the beach itself. Don’t make the mistake of just heading straight for the main gorge though, with a few other viewpoints accessible via short boardwalks from the car park. 

Twelve Apostles
Twelve Apostles
Loch Ard Gorge
Loch Ard Gorge

The Arch | Just west of Port Campbell town, this natural rock arch has impressive waves crashing below and is worth a quick stop.

London Bridge | Just down the road, you’ll find the London Bridge. This is a limestone archway that was once connected to the mainland, but has been stranded out to sea due to erosion. The large, boarded viewpoint area has beautiful views of the coastline in both directions.

The Grotto | A unique sinkhole and hollowed-out cave which has created a window out to sea. It’s just a short walk down some stairs to see the view through the cave. Do not cross the barrier and try to enter the rockpools (this can be dangerous and yes, I saw a couple doing this!). 

Bay of Martyrs | If you’re willing to keep driving a bit further than most people, then you’ll come to the Bay of Martyrs inside the Bay of Islands Coastal Park near Peterborough. From the footpath that traces the bay, you can get incredible views across the group of stacked rocks out to sea. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset.

London Bridge
London Bridge

Where to next?

If you make it to Peterborough or even the official end of the Great Ocean Road in Allansford, where do you go next?

  1. The coast doesn’t end at the end of the Great Ocean Road and if you keep heading through Warrnambool, you’ll find plenty more beautiful beaches and seaside towns. Port Fairy, west of Warrnambool, is a beautiful town where you can spend a few days away from the crowds of Lorne and Apollo Bay.
  2. If you have plenty of time and are keen to keep road tripping through Victoria, then another option is to head north of the Great Ocean Road to the Grampians. From Allansford at the western end of the Great Ocean Road, you’re only 105km or 75 minutes away from Dunkeld, the main town at the southern end of the Grampians National Park. Read my guide to the Grampians here.
  3. If your plan is to circle back to Melbourne but you just can’t deal with the windy and busy roads along the coast, then some people head inland and take the A1 Princes Highway back to Melbourne via Colac. This skirts around to the north of the Great Otway National Park.
  4. Or you can always turn around and take the Great Ocean Road back again and stop at places you missed the first time!

If you’re after another road trip minus the crowds, head for the Silo Art Trail in North West Victoria. Check out my guide to the Silo Art Trail here.

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