Great Ocean Road Australia

Driving the Great Ocean Road: The Ultimate Guide

I’ve driven the Great Ocean Road twice, and it’s still one of my favourite parts of Australia. The first time I hired a van in Melbourne and drove to Port Campbell and back in just under three days. The second time I was taking part in the World Nomads Vantastic Road Trip, so I drove from Melbourne all the way across the border into South Australia.

If you have a license and you can rent a car then I suggest you drive instead of taking a tour, because that’s the whole point of the Great Ocean Road- sitting behind the wheel and driving around the windy coastal road. At each turn you find a new lookout, a better wave and a new beach.

Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, Australia

The south coast just doesn’t look anything like the east coast of Australia. This scenic road reminded me somewhat of the coastline of Devon in England, with green forests, golden sandy coves and rugged cliffs. I drove it once in February and once in March- both times it was quiet and empty, but I have heard it can get really busy during holiday periods.

I experienced a sense of freedom driving the Great Ocean Road without the crowds and I love road trips in general. The climate was different to other states- it got chilly at night, the beaches are windswept and the sea spray lingers in the air.

In this guide you’ll find all the information you need to know to help you plan the perfect Great Ocean Road trip.

Where Does the Great Ocean Road Start and End?

The Great Ocean Road is located in Victoria, Australia. It starts at Torquay and finishes at Allansford. It’s an absolutely beautiful 240-kilometre (150 mi) stretch of road that stretches along the Australian coastline. Renowned for its picturesque scenery, the road weaves its way along the coast, offering stunning views of the ocean, rugged cliffs, and sweeping beaches.

Officially completed in 1932, the route was built by returning soldiers from World War I and is the world’s largest war memorial, dedicated to the casualties of the conflict. Along the way, visitors can witness the Twelve Apostles limestone stack formations, explore rainforest in the Great Otway National Park, and observe a diverse array of wildlife, making it one of Australia’s most famous road-tripping adventures and a bucket-list journey.

The Route

Driving out of Melbourne, you follow signs to Geelong and then you’ll get to Torquay, Bell’s Beach, Lorne, Apollo Bay, Port Campbell, Port Fairy and Portland, before crossing the border into South Australia.

Here’s a general overview of the driving directions. Keep in mind, the journey itself is better experienced at a leisurely pace, allowing for stops to fully appreciate the views, landmarks, and towns along the way.

  1. Starting in Torquay: Begin your Great Ocean Road adventure in Torquay, which is about a 21-kilometer drive from Geelong, the closest major city. From Geelong, head south on the Surf Coast Highway (B100) to reach Torquay, the gateway to the Great Ocean Road.
  2. Torquay to Lorne: Depart Torquay heading southwest on the Great Ocean Road (B100). This segment offers scenic coastal views, passing through small towns like Jan Juc, Bellbrae, and the famous Bells Beach. Continue through the charming towns of Anglesea and Aireys Inlet before arriving in Lorne. This stretch is particularly known for its surf beaches and for the Split Point Lighthouse in Aireys Inlet.
  3. Lorne to Apollo Bay: From Lorne, stay on the Great Ocean Road as it begins to wind more dramatically along the coast, offering breathtaking ocean views and passing through lush sections of the Great Otway National Park. This segment is known for its rainforest scenery and coastal landscapes until you reach Apollo Bay, a perfect spot to rest and explore the local eateries and beaches.
  4. Apollo Bay to Port Campbell: Depart Apollo Bay, continuing on the Great Ocean Road. This section includes some of the most picturesque and photographed parts of the journey, including the Twelve Apostles, the Loch Ard Gorge, and Gibsons Steps. The road slightly moves away from the coast as it approaches the lush Otway rainforest before returning to the coast near Princetown and descending towards Port Campbell.
  5. Port Campbell to Allansford: From Port Campbell, keep following the Great Ocean Road westward. This last segment leads you towards Warrnambool, another larger town before you reach the road’s endpoint near Allansford. The route becomes the Princes Highway (A1) as you approach Warrnambool, with the official end of the Great Ocean Road shortly before reaching Allansford, where you can visit attractions such as the Cheese World.

Throughout your journey, make sure to allow time for detours and stops at lookouts, walking trails, and historical sites to fully appreciate the natural beauty of this area.

Arranging a Vehicle

Unless you have your own car, you’ll need to hire a vehicle. You can compare prices with Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com.

It’s really fun to experience the Great Ocean Road in a campervan though, and you can hire one through Wicked Campers, Britz Campers or sites like Outdoorsy and VroomVroomVroom. Hiring a campervan means you don’t have to worry about accommodation, since you can park up in a camp site and sleep in your vehicle. I personally loved the experience of cooking over a camp stove under the stars!

Hotels on the Great Ocean Road

Apollo Bay Waterfront Motor Inn – Offers comfortable accommodation with stunning ocean views, located close to Apollo Bay’s main attractions.

The Boomerangs at Johanna – Renowned for its unique boomerang-shaped cottages and panoramic views of the Otway Ranges and Johanna Beach, this is a perfect retreat for those seeking peace and nature.

Captains At The Bay – Located in Apollo Bay, this hotel provides a luxurious stay with easy access to the beach and local dining spots.

Great Ocean Road Resort – A family-friendly resort in Anglesea with spa facilities and comfortable lodging, positioned near the beach and bushland.

La Perouse Lorne – A boutique hotel in Lorne offering classy French-inspired rooms with exquisite sea views, emphasizing comfort and elegance.

Mantra Lorne – A beachfront property that blends historic architecture with modern amenities, offering a range of activities and relaxation options.

Alkina Lodge – Situated near the Twelve Apostles, this lodge provides exclusive, luxurious accommodations in a secluded setting, perfect for experiencing the natural beauty of the area.

Cumberland Lorne Resort – Offers spacious apartments with impressive facilities in the heart of Lorne, making it ideal for families and groups.

Southern Ocean Villas – Positioned close to the Port Campbell National Park, these contemporary villas are a convenient base for exploring the Twelve Apostles and surrounding attractions.

Seafarers Getaway – This Apollo Bay accommodation features modern studios and apartments with exceptional ocean views, emphasizing tranquility and privacy.

Best Stops on the Great Ocean Road

Torquay

Torquay is the first major stop on the way to the Great Ocean Road. It’s celebrated as a surfing haven, home to world-famous beaches like Bells Beach, host of the annual Rip Curl Pro surfing competition. This coastal town offers a vibrant surf culture, encapsulated in surf shops and the Surf World Museum. With its picturesque beaches, inviting cafes, and relaxed lifestyle, Torquay is a prime destination for beach lovers and surf enthusiasts seeking a scenic getaway. If you need surf gear or clothes then they have some massive superstores for all the top surf brands like Quicksilver and Billabong.

Bell’s Beach

You have to take a detour off the main road to get to Bell’s Beach, but it’s worth it to take a refreshing dip in the ocean after all that driving. Bells is where they hold the Rip Curl Pro surf contest in March every year, which attracts top surfers from all over the world. The beach is renowned for its powerful swells and challenging waves, making it ideal for experienced surfers.

rip curl pro 2009 bells beach australia

Lorne

Lorne is a picturesque seaside town along the Great Ocean Road, known for its vibrant arts community and the annual Lorne Festival of Performing Arts. Nestled between lush Otway rainforest and a spectacular coastline, it offers a serene swimming beach and the stunning Erskine Falls tucked into the hinterlands. Lorne’s lively main street is lined with boutique shops, cafes, and seafood restaurants, making it a popular spot for tourists. There’s also a petrol station, a camp site, a supermarket and various hotels.

The town serves as a gateway to the Great Otway National Park, where visitors can discover rich biodiversity and engage in outdoor activities like bushwalking and wildlife watching.

lorne beach victoria australia

Split Point Lighthouse and Aireys Inlet

Split Point Lighthouse, perched on the rugged cliffs of Aireys Inlet along the Great Ocean Road, serves as a beacon of history and beauty. This iconic lighthouse, operational since 1891, offers guided tours that provide insights into its maritime history and spectacular panoramic views of the coastline. Aireys Inlet, a serene coastal hamlet, is known for its natural charm, featuring unspoiled beaches, scenic walking trails, and a welcoming community atmosphere. The area’s striking landscapes make it a favored spot for those seeking a peaceful retreat amidst natural beauty, with the lighthouse standing as a proud emblem of the region’s allure.

lighthouse great ocean road victoria australia


Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay is a coastal haven nestled along the Great Ocean Road, embraced by rolling hills and the azure Southern Ocean. This tranquil fishing village transforms into a summer holiday favorite, with visitors flocking to its golden beaches for swimming, surfing, and kayaking. Apollo Bay offers a feast for the senses, boasting fresh local seafood and a bustling market showcasing regional produce and crafts. The town serves as a strategic base for exploring the nearby Otway Ranges, where lush rainforests and the enchanting Otway Fly Treetop Walk await those with a thirst for adventure and an appreciation for nature.

Great Ottway National Park

The Great Otway National Park is an expanse of diverse natural landscapes, spanning from the rugged coastlines of the Great Ocean Road to the shaded hinterlands. Famed for its ancient rainforests, the park is home to towering eucalyptus trees, fern-filled gullies, and the impressive Otway Fly Treetop Walk. Visitors can explore cascading waterfalls, like the magnificent Triplet Falls, or search for local wildlife, including koalas and glowworms. The park’s network of trails beckons hikers and nature enthusiasts alike to discover its rich ecosystems, offering a serene escape into the heart of Australia’s southern wilderness.

Twelve Apostles

Though it is called the Twelve Apostles, there are actually only eight left because several of them have collapsed due to erosion. This collection of limestone stacks near Port Campbell National Park is a popular tourist attraction.  There’s a large car park on the other side of the road and a wooden viewing platform so you can take picture-postcard photos. The Twelve Apostles, towering limestone stacks off the shore of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, stand as a majestic natural wonder, carved by millions of years of erosion from the Southern Ocean.

While their name persists, only eight apostles remain visible, yet they continue to captivate visitors with their breathtaking beauty, especially at sunrise and sunset when the cliffs and stacks glow in the changing light. This iconic Australian landmark, near Port Campbell National Park, draws travelers from around the globe, eager to witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of nature’s power and timelessness.

Loch Ard Gorge

Loch Ard Gorge, part of the Port Campbell National Park along the scenic Great Ocean Road, is steeped in natural beauty and maritime history. Named after the ship Loch Ard, which tragically wrecked nearby in 1878, the gorge is a site of stark contrasts: from its tranquil, turquoise waters embraced by towering limestone cliffs to the rough seas that remind visitors of its perilous past. Walking trails lead to several vantage points, offering breathtaking views and a chance to explore the surrounding arches, blowholes, and the historic cemetery, making it a poignant reminder of the power and beauty of nature.

Port Campbell

Port Campbell is a charming seaside village on Victoria’s spectacular Great Ocean Road, renowned for its picturesque setting and proximity to the Twelve Apostles. This tranquil enclave is enveloped by rugged cliffs and Norfolk pines, offering a serene coastal retreat. Visitors bask in its scenic beauty, from the shimmering waters of Port Campbell Bay to the dramatic landscapes of nearby natural wonders. Renowned for its hospitable atmosphere, the town provides an array of dining and accommodation options, ensuring a comfortable base for exploring the region’s iconic attractions, including Loch Ard Gorge and the London Arch, making it an essential destination for any Great Ocean Road itinerary.

London Arch

London Arch, formerly known as London Bridge before its collapse in 1990, is a stunning natural rock formation along the Great Ocean Road in Australia. As part of the Port Campbell National Park, it captures the imagination with its distinct double-arched shape, framed by the churning waters of the Southern Ocean. Visitors flock to the viewing platforms to witness the arch’s splendid isolation and the powerful forces of nature that shaped it over millennia. This remarkable coastal feature serves as a photogenic spot for observing the changing hues of the sea and sky at different times of the day.

Warrnambool

Warrnambool, located at the western end of the Great Ocean Road, is known for its expansive beaches and whale watching during the migration season. Rich in maritime history, Warrnambool features attractions like the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, which recreates a 19th-century port town. The area is also known for its stunning parks, rivers, and the famous Lake Pertobe Adventure Playground, making it an ideal destination for families and nature lovers.

twelve apostles great ocean road victoria australia

Tips for Driving the Great Ocean Road

Stock up on groceries in Lorne- You can eat in restaurants in the major towns along the Great Ocean Road, but if you’re trying to save money there is a supermarket in Lorne so you can buy snack and supplies.

Remember to drive on the left- They have signs everywhere telling you to Drive on the Left. It may seem really obvious and stupid, but both times I’ve driven the Great Ocean Road, I’ve seen smashed-up cars on the roadside.

drive on the left in australia sign

Plan Your Route and Book Accommodation in Advance: Identify the key stops you want to make and book accommodations early, especially during peak periods, to avoid the hassle of finding a place to stay upon arrival.

Allow Extra Time: Do not rely solely on map app time estimates. Add an extra 20-30 minutes to scheduled times to account for possible delays and to ensure you can enjoy the scenic stops without rushing.

Observe Speed Limits: Speed limits vary between 80-100 km/h on open roads and 50-70 km/h in towns. Enforcement is strict, with potential fines for speeding. Remember, during busy times, limits might reduce further.

Use Turnouts: If faster vehicles are behind you, use the slow lane turnouts to let them pass. This is especially important if you’re driving slower vehicles like campervans or caravans.

Fuel Up: Start with a full tank from Torquay to manage costs and avoid running low on fuel, as stations are sparse and can be expensive due to their remote locations. I’ve played the how-far-can-i-get-before-this-tank-runs-out-of-petrol game, and it’s not fun. Take a map with you or use Google Maps so you can see where the nearest petrol stations are.

Prepare for All Conditions: The road has many twists and turns, which can be challenging and potentially cause motion sickness. Weather can also change rapidly, so pack for all conditions, from rain to shine.

Watch for Wildlife: The area is teeming with wildlife, which can appear suddenly on or near the roads. Drive cautiously and enjoy any sightings from a safe distance.

Keep the Environment Clean: Carry all trash with you until you can dispose of it properly, maintaining the pristine condition of the surroundings.

There are public showers in Lorne- The cheapest way to travel the Great Ocean Road is by renting a van and sleeping in it to save money on accommodation costs. The camp sites are expensive so your best best is to park on the roadside somewhere. What I discovered is that there are some HOT showers in Lorne in the public toilets near the beach. You can operate them with 1 dollar coins so make sure you have some change on you.

Sleeping overnight- If you have a couple of days I suggest sleeping the first night in Lorne because there are plenty of facilities. You can’t sleep overnight in the car parks or the main streets but you can park a little bit higher up the hill. Along the route there are several secluded spots at various lookout points where you can park your vehicle.

It gets cold at night- It gets really chilly at night if you’re not driving it during the hottest months of the Christmas and New Year period. I had two jumpers on, as well as a sleeping bag, and I had to keep turning the engine on in the middle of the night for more heat. Make sure you take plenty of warm gear.

The supermarket in Port Campbell sells everything in single-serve size– I found this quite exciting because I didn’t want to buy a whole jar of vegemite…

single serve condiments port campbell shop

A Final Word

Driving the Great Ocean Road was one of my favorite experiences in Australia. I loved the freedom of stopping at different spots along the way and camping overnight. It’s one of the most beautiful drives in the world and the views are spectacular. If you’re a passenger you may get a little car sick though, since there are quite a few twists and turns along the way. Follow my tips for dealing with motion sickness if you think you’ll have this issue.

For more Australia advice, check out my Australia travel guide and my list of the best things to do on the east coast of Australia.

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Driving the Great Ocean Road: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Hey, thanks for the tips! We’re off down the GOR in a few days, camping along the way.
    Looking forward to getting out of melbs sooooo much, want to see the sea!!

  2. louisa klimentos

    Some people say that the great ocean is not as spectacular as coastal drives from overseas.I have been there myself and though it was a pretty drive.Thanks for your nice comments.

  3. Hey Victoria, I’m in melbourne now – my boyfriend and I are planning to do the GOR next month. Where did you rent a van? A lot if places seem so expensive for what you get, just wondering if you could recommend anywhere to hire from (bargains!)? Thanks x

    1. Hi Rebecca, I wish I could remember the name of the place but it was such a long time ago! It was in St. Kilda, around the corner from my hostel Habitat HQ on the main road. Sorry I can’t be of much help!

  4. That’s okay, all sorted now 🙂 thanks for your reply! Your blog is great for ideas about what to do whilst were here x

  5. thanx for the tips about sleeping in the car.. I will go there for GOR marathon, and don’t want to spend extras on accomodation.

  6. I have to way the twelve apostles are not the main attraction now, the bay of islands, the grotto, the bay of matyrs – way more spectacular. Just got back from seeing it all 24/3/23

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