One lesson we learned during our travels is that traveling is about the journey – not about the destination. So often we found ourselves driving to a special place, just to find out that what we liked most was the drive itself. The best journeys are not linear. They loop. They turn. They meander and surprise. They thrill and nurture. A journey along the Great Ocean Road gives you the same – it is more than a coastal road. It is a collection of experiences, which enable you to create your own story, chase your free spirit, feed your wanderlust and explore. This road does not only take you from A to B. It takes you on your very own little adventure.
How to get there?
The 243 km Great Ocean Road takes you from Torquay to Warrnambool. You can start driving in either direction. Trains run regularly between Melbourne, Geelong, Colac and Warrnambool. Buses run the coastal route several times a day.
There are many advertised highlights along the Great Ocean Road. From the famous Twelve Apostles, to the Loch Ard Gorge or the Cape Otway Lightstation. Most of them get super crowded with tourists and for us they did not seem like what the Great Ocean Road should be like. This is why we decided to find the road less traveled and discover some of the real Great Ocean Road gems. For us this gem definitely was the Childers Cove – no other people, a picture-perfect little cove with a nice beach to relax, good views, the ocean…that was all we needed. Another place we really enjoyed was Bells Beach. Bells Beach has pretty good surf and the beach is one of the many locations for the annual surf world cup. So our unplanned travels once more were timed very well and we arrived just in time to see some pro surfers in the water. And we got a pretty nice surf festival on top.
How long to stay?
There are many options to explore the Great Ocean Road – we saw people on bikes and bicycles, big and small campers, and many tour buses. A tour most probably will take you along the road in day-tour, stopping at all the major and popular points of interest. This is doable, and it sure gives you a feeling of the famous Great Ocean Road experience, but if you really want to explore what the Great Ocean Road has to offer and do so in your own pace, we recommend to at least plan two nights (and go for more if you feel like it).
Where to stay?
As we had to drop off our rental in Melbourne after exploring the Great Ocean Road, we decided to start the drive in Warrnambool. So the day before we headed out, we camped for free at the Ash Wednesday Memorial RA in Panmure. We spent our first night close to Princetown at the Princetown Rec Reserve (25 AUD, powered site) and the second night close to Apollo Bay at the Skenes Creek Beachfront Park. We unluckily picked the long Easter weekend for our trip so the choice for free campsites was limited and the prices were insane (55 AUD for an unpowered site at Skenes Creek). In general all the campgrounds along the Great Ocean Road have to be paid for and free campsites are often just too far away or located in the wrong direction. We felt like we could have stayed in some of the “hidden” parking lots over night (for example at the Childers Cove) but we did not dare to try.
Port Campbell National Park Rugged seas, dramatic limestone rock sculptures, and tales of seafaring days make this area popular with tourists. Port Campbell National Park is the place where you will find the most famous points of interest along the Great Ocean Road. Dominating this treacherous stretch of coast is the Twelve Apostles – a majestic series of rocks rising from the water. As the most photographed attractions along the road, there are many vantage points as well as other rock formations to explore. Memorials at Loch Ard Gorge tell the dramatic story of how two young people survived the wreck of the namesake ship. The once-natural rock formation archway named London Bridge is living testament to the constant erosion of the area. In 1990, part of the bridge collapsed spectacularly into the sea, leaving the two ends, but no middle. The Arch is a particularly good spot to look back at the Twelve Apostles, while the calmness of the still water at The Grotto, a naturally formed cave, contrasts with the wild backdrop of the ocean. For more information visit the Port Campbell National Park website. Torquay The official start of The Great Ocean Road, Torquay is Australia’s surfing headquarters. Every Easter, the world’s best surfers descend on the region to ride the perfect waves at Bells Beach in the Rip Curl Pro Surfing Competition. Additionally, sheltered beaches offer opportunities for beginning surfers with lessons available. The grassy foreshores are the perfect spot for a picnic, and the main street is lined with eclectic galleries and cafés. The Surf World Museum, the largest in the world, offers an insight into the history and development of this popular water sport. Tower Hill Volcano Situated 15 kilometers west of Warrnambool, Tower Hill is an experience not to be overlooked. Steeped in history, this inactive volcano erupted 30,000 years ago unearthing Aboriginal artefacts, which indicate indigenous life in the area at that time. Today, it is possible to drive down the inside of the crater where an abundance of Australian animals live, including koalas, kangaroos, and emus. Logans Beach Whale Watching Platform As the largest town in the district, Warrnambool blends the services of a city with a country. With a variety of beaches and excellent scuba diving opportunities, the town is a popular summertime destination. However, one of the biggest attractions to Warrnambool happens during winter – whale watching. The viewing platforms at Logan’s Beach overlook the playground of southern right whales as they give birth and raise their calves, often just meters from the shoreline. Try something new As in every region, there are heaps of things to do besides riding the Great Ocean Road. Maybe you want to try one of these?
Surf at Torquay Torquay is known as the home of Australian surfing. Grab your board or book a lesson and tip your toes in the water. The thrill of riding a wave is something special and only surfers know how addictive this feeling can get.
Kayak to the seals at Marengo Team-up for a 2-hour guided ride at the Marengo Marine Sanctuary. Learn how to steer and paddle a kayak, discover how Australian fur seals live as you get close, paddle out and catch waves back to shore.
Feel nature’s power at Gibson Steps Take the gravel path from the Twelve Apostles car park and descend 86 cliff-hanging steps down to beach level. Feel the power of the ocean, the shifting of the sands beneath your feet and the majesty of sea-bound limestone stacks rising majestically above you. Make sure to check tide conditions before you go.
Venture inland to climb a mountain The top of Mount Leura is waiting for you. Or take the easy trail to nearby Mount Sugar Loaf, a perfectly formed volcano cone. Pack a picnic and enjoy the 360-degree vistas stretching across basalt plains.
Waterfalls With its diverse terrain and coastal margin, the entire Great Ocean Road region is a natural for waterfalls. Typically they offer shady respite from summer days and walkable access through forest settings alive with sights and sounds of wildlife. keep your eyes peeled for koala, echidna, wallaby, weird fungi, wildflowers and native birds. There are a so many stunning waterfall walks (Erskine Falls, Triplet Falls, Phantom Falls, Hopkin Falls and more), so make sure to have a look before you go and pick some to see along the road. You will find more information about the waterfalls on this website. There also is a guide to the Lorne Walks & Waterfalls, as well as one for the Apollo Bay and Otways Walks & Waterfalls. Great Ocean Walk Besides only discovering the beauty of the Great Ocean Road by car, you can also choose to decide to explore by foot. It is said that on the Great Ocean Walk nature’s drama unfolds at every step, and each day is different. The walk is located in the Great Ocean Region between Apollo Bay and the iconic Twelve Apostles (just down the road from Port Campbell). It takes you through rugged coastline and traverses through the Great Otway and Port Campbell National Parks for more than 100 km. The walk lets you discover the region’s diveristy of plants, animals and scenery. Weave your way through tall forests, coastal headlands, beside wild rocky shores and along windswept cliff-tops presenting amazing views. There even are places on the walk where you will feel a million miles away from the world you left behind. And you will have lots of deserted beaches (Sation Beach, Ryans Den, Devils Kitchen and Milanesia Beach are all remote and rarely visited) all for yourself.
No matter if you just walk part of the walk for a few hours, go for a few days, or the whole eight-day experience, the Great Ocean Walk is a great experience for your mind, body and soul and this experience will stay with you forever. If you decide to go for the whole or a longer piece of the walk, you can either choose to camp under the stars in the hike-in campsites along the walk, or – if you prefer a little more comfort and luxury – you can also go for the “step-on and step-off” option where you stay the night in (luxury) accommodation and head out the next day for the next chapter.
Day 1 – Apollo Bay to Elliot Ridge Points of interest: Sweeping beaches of Apollo Bay and Mounts Bay, panoramic views, small rocky shores and coves, rock-platforms leading into heathland, tall forest and Shelly Beach
Day 2 – Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay Points of interest: Towering tall forest trees, lush fern gullies, descent into Blanket Bay, River Crossing and Inlet
Day 3 – Blanket Bay to Cape Otway Points of interest: Cape Otway Lightstation, woodlands and ridge-tops before descent into Parker Inlet and river crossing, Parker Hill lookout, Crayfish Bay and approaching Cape Otway
Day 4 – Cape Otway to Aire River Points of interest: Cape Otway Cemetery, cliff-top views above Station Beach, Aire River lookout
Day 5 – Aire River to Johanna Beach Points of interest: Rugged cliff-tops above Castle Cove Lookout, grass-tree forest and heathland, Johanna Beach
Day 6 – Johanna Beach to Ryans Den Points of interest: Changing wild nature of the walk, Milanesia Track leading to Milanesia Beach, steep country, remote and breathtaking views from Bowker Point
Day 7 – Ryans Den to Devils Kitchen Points of interest: Ryans Den Lookout – views well earned, The Gables Lookout, Wreck and Moonlight Beaches at low tide, sunset views from Devils Kitchen Campground
Day 8 – Devils Kitchen to Twelve Apostles Points of interest: Cats Reef views towards the last day’s walking down to Gellibrand River, Princetown cafes, boardwalk and the last undulating hills revealing Gibson Beach and the Twelve Apostles
Australian wildlife is the nature of the Great Ocean Walk – look and listen carefully and you will be rewarded, as the walk offers many opportunities to view wildlife in its natural settings – on land and out to sea. Watch for migrating whales in winter, small rockpool creatures at low tide and keep a sharp eye and ear out for small and large birds. Offshore at Marengo Reefs Marine Sacntuary, seals are often seen resting. You may also see grazing kangaroos in forest clearings, sleepy koalas, or the Muttonbird colony at dusk near Loch Ard Gorge (between spring and autumn). A colony of little penguins lives at the base of the Twelve Apostles viewing area. Best seen at sunset with binoculars, the penguins begin to arrive about 10 minutes after sunset.
For more information about the walk visit www.greatoceanwalk.com.au.