Discover the secrets of the Great Ocean Road on a self drive tour

Discover the secrets of the Great Ocean Road on a self drive tourThis article may contain compensated links. Please read disclaimer for more info

The Great Ocean Road in Australia’s south is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Winding through lush rainforest and along spectacular coastline the road runs over 240 kilometres from Torquay to Allansford on the southern coast of Victoria. A Great Ocean Road tour is a must do on any Australian itinerary.

I am very fortunate to have spent a lot of time in this region of Victoria. We spent childhood family holidays at Anglesea where my parents now live and a dear friend from school is raising her beautiful family in Apollo Bay.  With their help I have compiled some of our favourite places along the Great Ocean Road for a memorable self drive or walking holiday full of unique local experiences. This guide is for those who like a self drive holiday and  spending a few days to discover this remarkable destination.

Great Ocean Road tour overview

Your Great Ocean Road adventure will likely start in Melbourne from where it is an easy hour drive past Geelong to Torquay and the start of this great coastal drive. Driving this way along the coastline means you will be hugging the shoreline for the best views. Make sure you drive on the left hand side of the road. There are many signs to remind you along the way. Take the drive slowly as it is a winding road prone to rock falls and slippery conditions but most of all enjoy the unique landscapes.

Aerial photo of the great ocean road

By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, http://bit.ly/2aydsVY

This map of the Great Ocean Road shows the highlights of the area as well as some of the lesser known local secrets that a bus tour may not cover. On your journey you will pass through small hamlets and larger towns each with their own unique character and local experiences. I would love it if all visitors to the region made a special effort to stop at Wye River to support the community rebuilding their town after the devastating bushfires of Christmas 2015.

I have always wondered what this landscape looks like from above. One of my dreams is to do a helicopter tour of the Great Ocean Road after watching my husband fly the route in a vintage tiger moth plane.

Natural wonders of the Great Ocean Road tour

Of course you should not miss the limestone formations the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge the very natural wonders that this coastline is famous for. The best vantage points to view them are the viewing platforms a short walk from their car parks.  They are both very popular attractions however so be ready to share your moments gazing out to see with many other people.

The Grotto - highlight of self drive tour Great Ocean Road

The Grotto close to London Bridge is a naturally formed cave set among a series of beautiful rockpools. Explore a little further west from the 12 Apostles and you will find lesser known Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Islands both boasting scenic views of the rugged coastline and rock formations without the crowds.

Note – peak time for visits to this area is between 2 – 3 pm when the tourist buses arrive so if you value a more peaceful experience these are the times to avoid. Regardless, sunsets and sunrises are always spectacular in this part of the world.

Find beautiful beaches on your Great Ocean Road tour

Bells Beach – home to World Surf League events, Bells is a pilgrimage for surf fans. Watch the swell and admire the local surfers ride the waves at this iconic beach.

Point Roadknight – this sheltered beach is a favourite with families with small children. The small bay is protected from the surf conditions and has shallow waters and a wide sandy beach for little ones to play on. During the summer months a kiosk near the beach keeps visitors happy with coffee, snacks and ice cream.

dogs on the beach at Point Roadknight on the Great Ocean Road

Photo credit: Dad

Urquhart’s Bluff – we love walking along this windswept beach with our dogs. Walking west you can catch a glimpse of the Split Point Lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet in the distance. Urquhart’s Bluff is home of the famous ‘mermaid’ deep pool for relaxed swimming. You will also find a grassy picnic area and public toilets

Favourite walks in the Great Otway National Park include a walk down to the beach at Parker River inlet at low tide or taking the cliff walk to Crayfish Bay, a gorgeous sheltered lagoon. Drive further to Blanket Bay on the Cape for a lovely walk along the beach. All along the coastline keep your eyes open for Aboriginal middens eroding from the dunes. A ‘midden’ is an occupation site where Aboriginal people left the remains of their meals (source). These sites are often comprised of mounds of shells and are an important for archaeological resource. Lastly, walk to the mouth of the Aire River – it’s a wild and uncompromising piece of coastline.

London Bridge Great Ocean Road tour Melbourne

A note on swimming at beaches along the Great Ocean Road

It would not be a trip to the Great Ocean Road without visiting its beaches. A couple of tips though. The water can be very cold. These are the waters of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean with currents that come from Antarctica. The ocean can be very rough and subject to strong rip tides that challenge even the most able swimmers. If you want to swim, make sure you are in an area patrolled by the local surf lifesaving clubs and swim between the flags as directed.

Rainforests and waterfalls on the Great Ocean Road

Cape Otway National Park is a pristine natural wilderness where you can discover the diverse ecology of the region. Follow the Turtons Track Tourist Drive as it winds through incredible mountain ash forests and cool temperate rainforest. It finishes up at Beech Forest where you should avoid the crowds at the Otway Fly tourist walk and head instead further down the road to Triplet Falls. For a beautiful boardwalk into rainforest gullies with ancient Myrtle Beech trees take the Maits Rest Rainforest Walk.

If you love waterfalls then I also recommend a trip to Hopetoun Falls that cascade 30 metres into the Aire River below.

Hopetoun Falls Elle ID AU - Great Ocean Road tour

Photo credit: Elle, contact http://bit.ly/2ajOn0A

Wildlife on the Great Ocean Road

Many bus tours will stop at the Anglesea Golf Club to watch kangaroos graze on the greens but you can see native Australian wildlife at many places along the coastal drive and in their natural habitat.

Join the Anglesea heathland cliff walk to the north of the Anglesea River at the Anglesea Bowling Club.  This coastal trail passes through eucalypt forests and winds along the cliffs. You can expect to see koalas, echidnas and wallabies. There is a map available at the Tourist Information Office and the walk takes between 45 minutes and an hour.

Koala Otways National Park

Stop at Kennett River just past Lorne and take a walk up Grey River road for one of your best chances to spot koalas in the wild.

Several species of whale visit the coastline and can be seen during the winter months of June, July and August, the time of their annual migration. Keep an eye on local whale sightings via this link. You can also see a seal colony at Marengo Bay and little fairy penguins near the base of the Twelve Apostles.

Eating and drinking on the Great Ocean Road

There are some fabulous eating out options at towns along the Great Ocean Road but if you are self catering you can take full advantage of the fresh local produce available from southern Victoria.

Eating out

The Airey’s Inlet Pub has a huge beer garden with an inhouse brewery and wonderful views over the coastline. Children can run around on the grass outside while you enjoy the view. There is a roaring fire in the bar in winter if it is cold outside.

One of our favourite local restaurants is just across the road from the pub. Melburnians love Greek food and the menu at á la grecque is delicious. We usually have lamb but there are always several varieties of fish available too.

great ocean road tour melbourne - places to visit

A favourite place to eat in Lorne is the old school seafood restaurant near the pier. It’s not the place for cutting edge cuisine but it is a great spot for lunch if you are craving a seafood feast with a view and sea breezes.

Stop at Wye River General Store for freshly baked bread, pastries and provisions and delicious lunches and dinners.

Experience outstanding fine dining at Brae Restaurant. I have not yet visited but reports from friends and chef Dan Hunter’s CV, including a stint at Mugaritz in Spain, are testimony enough.

Fresh produce

Collect eggs and seasonal produce just before reaching Torquay at The Farmer’s Place at Freshwater Creek. This tiny hamlet is also famous for the high rise passionfruit sponge cakes from Freshwater Creek Cakes.

Wine lovers should visit the cellar door at Bellbrae Estate for tastings and purchases of their locally grown and produced pinot gris and pinot noir ranges.

Lorne seafood and poetry great ocean road

My favourite place for fresh fish is the Lorne Fisheries Co-op at Lorne pier. Here the daily catch is presented with a side of haiku by fishmonger poet Christos Raskatos. You can see his latest creations posted on the black board outside the shop. There are usually several varieties of oysters on offer as well as squid, crayfish and many varieties of fish.

Don’t miss the weekly Apollo Bay market on Saturdays where you must stop by Otway Coast Regenerative Farmers for locally reared grass-fed beef and seasonal vegetables. You can even buy truffles by Wongarra Farm when in season.

Get your caffeine fix at Hello Coffee, a boutique roaster from Apollo Bay. They have a stall at the market and a cafe where apart from a great pour you will also find treats such as orange and cardamom buns and smoked pork rolls.

History and culture on the Great Ocean Road

Learn about the indigenous history of this part of Victoria on the Koori cultural walk at Point Addis. The 1.6 km loop-track takes around an hour and you can connect to other walks from here including a short cliff top track that takes in stunning sea views.

Most visitors to the Great Ocean Road stop for a photo opportunity at the famous sign over the road at Fairhaven. The road was a post WWI project to provide work for ex-servicemen and serves as a memorial to Australians that lost their lives in that conflict.

Great Ocean Road sign - great ocean road tour melbourne

By Bobak Ha’Eri, CC BY 3.0, http://bit.ly/2agpvLq

The Great Ocean Road looks over a treacherous seascape and was the scene of many maritime disasters. Over 630 ships are known to have been wrecked on this coastline. Light stations such as Split Point Lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet and the Cape Otway lightstation were critical in improving the safety of ships passing through Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean to and from Melbourne. Learn more about the lighthouses and their history with on site guided tours.

Loch Ard Gorge between Princetown and Port Campbell is the site of one of the more famous shipwrecks. The ship ran aground in 1878 in misty conditions with the loss of all but two of the 56 passengers onboard.

At Moonlight Head you can walk 309 steps down to Wreck Beach. Massive cliffs preside over an eerie beach where you can find evidence of shipwrecks. Learn more about the shipwreck coastline here

Point Split lighthouse Aireys Inlet and view

Great Ocean Road resources

Visit Victoria provides accommodation suggestions,  itineraries and highlights for planning your trip to this region and beyond. For more information on walking trails and routes check the Great Ocean Walk website.



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Many visitors to Melbourne take a one or two day bus day tour or helicopter ride along the Great Ocean Road but I encourage you to go slowly and enjoy this most beautiful ancient landscape, its people and history.

Have you visited the Great Ocean Road near Melbourne, Australia? What were the highlights?


Big thanks to my parents and friend Libby for assisting with the content of this post. Libby is a wonderful writer, archaeologist and expert on Australian indigenous history as well as an amazing cook. Do check out her blog – here.


Visiting Melbourne? Check out my posts My Melbourne – highlights for visitors and Enjoy St Kilda like a local


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26 Comments

  1. 3rd August 2016 / 1:51 PM

    spectacular coastline!

    • 3rd August 2016 / 8:17 PM

      my favourite Tanja!

  2. 3rd August 2016 / 10:13 PM

    I love the photos, but my favorites are the pups. I squealed when I got to the photo of the WESTIES!! I grew up with westies and love them a lot. I really want to visit this coastline. I’ve just moved to New Zealand, so I hope I can someday soon!

    • 4th August 2016 / 2:39 PM

      They are such lovely dogs. My parents are looking after my pup while we are in the UK. I miss her a lot. Hope you can hop over the pond to Australia soon but I am sure you have a lot to see in beautiful NZ also

  3. 3rd August 2016 / 11:26 PM

    I’ve always wanted to do this drive! If I go, I would definitely stop past the Bellbrae Estate for some wine and snacks!

  4. 4th August 2016 / 8:35 AM

    Oh wow! This is such a great guide Katy! I think if ever I do this drive (I hope) it’ll take me sooo long to finish it with all the stops that I’d want to do! It looks gorgeous! Not sure about swimming though, even on the photo it looks cold. Lol

    • 4th August 2016 / 2:37 PM

      Thanks Noemi, I know you would love this drive. I am strictly a paddler in those waters except if the temperature that day is over 35 degrees because yes, it is cold!

  5. travelerettenyc
    4th August 2016 / 9:41 AM

    I’ve been to Melbourne but sadly not the Great Ocean Road. Unfortunately I think I’d need to take a tour because I don’t drive. I would love to see a koala in the wild though!

    • 5th August 2016 / 8:31 AM

      Or find someone to drive you! If you do get a tour I recommend you take one that goes for more than a day. Hope you get back to Melbourne soon 🙂

  6. 4th August 2016 / 2:02 PM

    Hi Katy, I’m so glad to have found your article on The Great Ocean Road. It has always fascinated me and I learned some amazing facts about it today, all thanks to you! You’ve provided some excellent information and pictures here. The Great Ocean Road offers amazing views throughout it’s approximate length of 150 miles which I hope to cover someday soon. Thanks for sharing this article!

  7. 4th August 2016 / 4:12 PM

    Such beautiful photos! I’ve been on part of the road, but not to the end. I camped at Bimbi Bimbi park, which has tons of koalas, and then turned inland.

    • 5th August 2016 / 8:29 AM

      Glad you got to see the koalas in the wild. They are such an iconic Australian animal and we need to do more to look after them

  8. 6th August 2016 / 2:15 AM

    This looks like an incredible spot for nature-lovers, which I am! I haven’t ever heard of this part of Australia, but it looks like a place I can’t miss when I go! The rainforests and limestone formations would be at the top of my list! Cheers!

  9. everyfootstepanadventure
    6th August 2016 / 6:12 AM

    Gosh your photos are so incredibly gorgeous! You’re making me want to visit the Great Ocean Road so badly! I love waterfalls so that is the number one must-see for me 😀

    • 7th August 2016 / 6:33 PM

      Thank you for your lovely comment. I really hope you are able to visit this very special part of the world.

  10. 6th August 2016 / 3:30 PM

    I had all these gushing superlatives about the beautiful scenery to share in the comments, and then I got to the fresh produce section and everything else went out of my head. Fresh seafood, pinot gris, passionfruit sponge cakes? BRB, I have to go pack my bags! ?

    • 9th August 2016 / 4:31 PM

      Ha ha, thanks Lauren. It’s a great place to feed yourself for sure. Wonderfully fresh and delicious local produce. You cant go wrong!

  11. 7th August 2016 / 8:47 AM

    whoa this place is super amazing! so many things to do and so many places to explore. i love waterfalls so im quite drawn to the hopetuon falls. thanks for sharing!

    • 8th August 2016 / 9:58 AM

      There are so many beautiful waterfalls in this region Janna. It’s such a beautiful place

  12. 22nd August 2016 / 6:40 PM

    Oh wow! This really is a stunning part of the world. I’ve never made it to Australia but this guide just might be the post that tempts me. Great food, gorgeous scenery and beautiful beaches – that’s me sorted!

    • 22nd August 2016 / 8:31 PM

      It’s my happy place Clare – hope you come to visit us sometime

      • 23rd August 2016 / 6:57 PM

        We just might do that, Katy. It really feels like a must-see place in the world.

  13. Ian Coles
    27th January 2017 / 3:37 AM

    Hi Katy. You may have been while you were in Anglesea, but Coffetti is best gelati in the town if not Victoria, and Captain Moonlight restaurant at the Anglesea Surf Club is great – view, food and value. (I think the fish co-op in Lorne has unfortunately closed)

    • 27th January 2017 / 2:28 PM

      Thanks so much Ian. I need to update this post! We sneaked in a few visits to Coffetti while we were there over Christmas – delicious! And we tried Captain Moonlite too. The food was exceptional and a welcome addition to Anglesea but the service was a bit challenging at times. All in all I think the news is all good for Anglesea. I am devastated about the fish co-op though. I loved that place. Thanks again for dropping by – K

  14. 22nd June 2017 / 5:47 PM

    You mentioned the Great Ocean Road in your Faraway Files post this week – It’s something that I would love to do, even more so now I’ve read this! The grotto, the sea views, the coastline and the koalas -so many different things on one journey. We went to Australia on our honeymoon but didn’t see this part of the country I’d love to return one day. #FarawayFiles

    • 27th June 2017 / 1:59 PM

      Jo if you do plan going let me know as it’s my favourite place in the world and I would make sure you love it too! Hope to see you there very soon

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