Great Ocean Road Drive – Self Drive from Melbourne

the 12 apostles great ocean road

The drive along The Great Ocean Road is one of the greatest and most scenic drives in Australia, if not the world. You can visit The Great Ocean Road as a day trip from Melbourne, or you can drive along it as part of a road trip between Melbourne and Adelaide. Below I have listed all the best places and must-visit stops along The Great Ocean Road! The route below is from Melbourne from Adelaide, although you can visit it from either direction. If you are coming from Adelaide, just reverse the route and start from the bottom!

great ocean road self drive itinerary

What is The Great Ocean Road?

The Great Ocean Road is a 243km long coastal drive that runs from Torquay to Allansford in south-west Victoria, linking several coastal towns on Australia’s south-east coast. It started as a project to create work for returned servicemen from the First World War and subsequently became a memorial to those who died during WWI. It was built between 1919 to 1932.

The Great Ocean Road drive is truly one of the most scenic and famous coastal drives in the world. It is an absolute must-see when in Victoria. There aren’t any big cities along the route, just a few towns. But The Great Ocean Road is more about beautiful scenery, winding coast roads and stunning coastal views. If visiting The Great Ocean Road from Melbourne, the drive mostly starts off going past surfing beaches, then heading through lush rainforest before ending with some stunning cliff top views.

The highlight of The Great Ocean Road is seeing The 12 Apostles. However, The Great Ocean Road is not just about reaching The Twelve Apostles; there are lots of beautiful beaches to stop off at along the way, some quaint seaside towns, and also the views from the road of the dramatic rugged cliffs and beautiful blue waters are breathtaking. You’ll also be able to spot some kangaroos, koalas and even humpback whales if you’re here during the winter months!

great ocean road Victoria the twelve apostles great ocean road

How long does it take to drive The Great Ocean Road?

It is possible to visit The Great Ocean Road in just one day from Melbourne if you start out early. However it is best seen over 2 or even 3 days. This way you can stop off at all the sights and not be rushed. If you visit for just one day you will have to skip seeing some of the less important stops along the way. Plus bear in mind it is a 3 hour drive back to Melbourne from The Twelve Apostles.

Guided Tours of The Great Ocean Road

There are some really good tours of The Great Ocean Road leaving from Melbourne daily. Sightseeing Tours Australia have a great one day trip, you can also do a 3 day trip from Melbourne. CLICK HERE to go directly to the link for The Great Ocean Road tours.

Self-guided drive of The Great Ocean Road

If you are driving the Great Ocean Road yourself it is easy enough to do a self-guided tour. Just follow the brown tourist signs, they point out all the important stops and where the turn-offs are. Equally, they are all marked on offline maps such as maps.me.

twelve apostles great ocean road Gibson steps great ocean road

You’ll also find information boards on at most stops that provide information about the landmark.

There are several small towns you can stop off at when you want to stop for some food or if you plan to stay overnight.

GREAT OCEAN ROAD SELF DRIVE FROM MELBOURNE

Must visit stops on The Great Ocean Road

  • Torquay – surf capital of Australia
  • See wild Koalas at Kennett River
  • The Iconic 12 Apostles
  • Loch Ard Gorge
  • The Razorback
  • The Arch
  • London Arch
  • Bay of Islands

great ocean road Victoria  great ocean road Victoria

Torquay

Just before you reach The Great Ocean Road you’ll come to the town of Torquay – the surfing capital of Australia. It takes just over an hour to drive from Melbourne to Torquay. There is a lovely beach at Torquay called Bells Beach. Bells Beach is known around the world for it’s surfing competitions such as the Rip Curl Pro, and big swells. Watch the surfers, relax on the beach a little, and then continue on your journey – this is only the beginning! As you leave Torquay, the main road (Surf Coast Highway) turns into The Great Ocean Road.

Great Otway National Park

Shortly after you leave Torquay you’ll see Great Otway National Park. For the majority of the drive to the 12 Apostles you’ll pretty much be driving alongside Great Otway National Park. You’ll be hugging the cliffside, with stunning sea views to your left, and the National Park will be to your right. At some parts during the drive you’ll leave the coast and follow the road a bit inland. Great Otway National Park is really big, spanning over 100,000 hectares of rainforest, waterfalls, dramatic coastline and impressive beaches. There are lots of places you can stop off and explore if you wish!

The Memorial Arch

A few kilometres after the village of Airey’s Inlet – where the popular Australian TV show ‘Round The Twist’ was filmed and also where you’ll find the famous Split Point Lighthouse, is the Eastern View Memorial Arch.

The Memorial Arch marks the beginning of the 243km Great Ocean Road, so it is a popular place to stop off and have a photo to mark the start of your adventure! As The Great Ocean Road was built by returned servicemen from World War 1, you’ll see a statue of them here.

great ocean road memorial arch great ocean road memorial arch

Lorne

Lorne is a really nice hip town with several restaurants, about 30km from Torquay. It is a great place to stop for some lunch and has a really nice atmosphere.

Kennett River

Drive a further 20 minutes or so past Lorne and make a quick stop at Kennett River to see some koalas! The Kennett River Holiday Park is located right off the main road and you can park your car here even if you aren’t staying at the campsite, and have a wander along the ‘koala walk’ on Grey River Road. Look up in the gum trees and you’ll be sure to find some koalas sitting in the trees.

Read:  Hanging Rock Blue Mountains - How To Get There!

Continue along the beautiful coastal road towards Apollo Bay.

koala Otway national park koala otway National park

Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay is the next coastal town you’ll come to along The Great Ocean Road. There are lots of restaurants here, and you can take some nice walks from here. You can relax on the beach and watch the surfers too.

From Apollo Bay you’ll drive inland into Otway National Park for a while, driving through lush rainforest.

Cape Otway Lighthouse

If you want to visit Cape Otway Lighthouse – the most important and oldest remaining lighthouse on Australia’s mainland, you’ll need to make a little detour off of The Great Ocean Road. Turn left onto Lighthouse Road – this is the only road going to the lighthouse and it is about a 45 minute drive. The lighthouse is where The Bass Straight meets The Southern Ocean, is perched 90 metres high on a cliff edge, and was often the first land sighting European immigrants had of Australia.

Entrance to the lighthouse is $19.50, with last admission at 4.30pm (it is open 9-5). Also there is an Aboriginal cultural site here you can visit. Accommodation is available here at the lighthouse if you wish – click here to book.

There is also a walk you can do on the left hand side of the lighthouse through the bush to get a view of it from the distance. If you miss the admission you can’t even see the lighthouse from the carpark as it is a little walk away, so this will be your only way to see it.

When you get back onto The Great Ocean Road, continue driving towards The Twelve Apostles Marine National Park.

THE SHIPWRECK COAST

The Great Ocean Road then continues to run along the Shipwreck Coast, which is the most stunning and picturesque stretch along The Great Ocean Road. It spans from Princetown (near The Twelve Apostles) to past The Bay of Islands, and is full of impressive natural rock formations and incredible views that go on for miles. It is sadly named The Shipwreck Coast because of all the shipwrecks that have happened here in the past – it is thought around 700 shipwrecks are submerged under the waters here. Only 240 though have been discovered.

The coastline along this stretch of headland is very isolated and dramatic and is one of the most stunning in the whole of southeast Australia. You will drive close to the cliff tops and have stunning views out to sea. Lots of the stops are very close to each other (just a couple of kilometres away), unlike during the first part of The Great Ocean Road which is more spread out. Just look out for the brown tourist signs pointing to the car park for each stop along the route. Each of the attractions are located very close to the main road.

12 apostles great ocean road

Why is the Shipwreck Coast so dangerous?

The Shipwreck Coast receives very strong winds from the Antarctic. This causes huge swellings in the waves and they crash against the land and gradually erode it, thus forming a very jagged and rough coast line. The waves are particularly rough here as there is nothing to break the wind coming up from the Antarctica. The waves are incredibly strong and very big – even reaching as high as 30km in a storm. Combine this with the fogs that often present here, and it is easy to see why there have been so many shipwrecks here.

The cliffs are very steep here and the wind and the waves cause this landscape to be constantly changing. Often landmarks and cliff edges here collapse without warning due to the wind and the waves eroding the limestone. This makes the Shipwreck Coast very fragile. Rockfall can occur at any time and for this reason it is very important to only stay on the designated paths here.

Gibson Steps

Park at Gibson Steps and make your way down the 86 steps built into the cliff face. You’ll end up on the incredible Gibson Beach where you can catch your first glimpse of a couple of The Twelve Apostles up close at sea level (the others are behind the land and you’ll see them at the next viewpoint. Admire their sheer size and beauty as they rise from the water.

12 apostles great ocean road Gibson steps great ocean road

Then head back up the stairs and drive for 1 minute or so to reach The Twelve Apostles carpark. This will take you to the iconic viewpoint of The 12 Apostles.

12 apostles great ocean road Gibson steps great ocean road

The Twelve Apostles

The 12 Apostles are the highlight of The Great Ocean Road. The iconic Twelve Apostles are magnificent towering limestone stacks formed by erosion from harsh weather conditions from the Southern Ocean. The soft limestone eroded to form caves in the cliffs, which in turn became arches. These then collapsed, leaving limestone rock stacks isolated from the cliffs as high as 50 metres. It became known as The Twelve Apostles, despite only ever having 9 stacks. Now only 8 remain – the 9th one (50metres high) collapsed dramatically in 2005. The others continue to erode each year by the waves and will eventually fall down into the ocean too one day.

the 12 apostles great ocean road the twelve apostles great ocean road

It is thought The 12 Apostles were named after the biblical reference because they appear to emanate power, and people are in awe of the natural structures.

As The 12 Apostles is the busiest and most popular point along The Great Ocean Road, the car park here is quite big. This is also the only tourist stop where you will find toilets along the route! There are toilets in the Visitor Centre as well as free wifi.

From the Visitor Centre you’ll walk about 10 minutes on the path to get to The Twelve Apostles. If you’re very lucky you might see some wildlife along the route including wallabies, echidnas and possums. You’ll then walk on a elevated wooden walkway and be able to get a stunning side-on view on the limestone stacks and the impressive coastline from a couple of different viewing platforms. The 12 Apostles are stunning at any time of day, although sunrise and sunset are particularly impressive. On the other side of the viewpoint is Gibson Beach where you were earlier.

Read:  Manly Wormhole (Queenscliff Tunnel) Freshwater to Manly

12 apostles great ocean road the twelve apostles great ocean road

If you want to do a helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles, the helicopters are the other side of the 12 Apostles carpark to the visitor centre.

the 12 apostles great ocean road the twelve apostles great ocean road

Loch Ard Gorge

A 5 minute drive from The 12 Apostles will take you to the incredibly picturesque Loch Ard Gorge. Loch Ard is very impressive and is a definite must see on your Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary. The picturesque Gorge is enclosed by two sheer cliff faces and has stunningly clear, still water. It really is very beautiful.

loch ard gorge GOR loch ard gorge great ocean road

Loch Ard Gorge is named so because of the ‘Loch Ard’ ship that got shipwrecked very close to here after a long and tumultuous journey from England to Melbourne in 1878. Loch Ard is the most famous shipwreck off the Shipwreck Coast. The boat got caught up in fog and the Captain didn’t realise how close he was to the land. Only 2 out of the 54 passengers onboard survived – Tom and Eva. They got washed up on the gorge and the two cliffs have been named after them in their memory.

loch ard gorge great ocean road loch ard gorge great ocean road

Take pictures from the viewpoint above the gorge, then go down the stairs onto the beach. As the beach is protected from the wind, it is a popular place for people to sit and relax and enjoy the beach for a little bit before moving on to the next spot.

After the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge is the second busiest stop along The Great Ocean Road. As it is such a popular stop, with tour groups and independent travellers alike, for this reason you may struggle to find a parking spot if you aren’t here early enough. Just be patient though as soon enough cars will come and go.

loch ard gorge great ocean road

After you have visited Loch Ard Gorge, do the short walks nearby that you can do from Loch Ard car park. Going on these short walks was one of my favourite things to do along The Great Ocean Road. The walks to the Loch Ard Wreck Lookout and Mutton Bird Island lookout are very impressive, as is the 900m return loop walk to the Island Archway Lookout and The Razorback. These walks are definitely worth doing: they are nice and short on a well paved footpath and the views and scenery is so incredible!

great ocean road Victoria  great ocean road

From Loch Ard Gorge all the way up to the last stops on the itinerary you’ll be driving along Port Campbell National Park.

The Razorback

The Razorback is an incredibly impressive long jagged cliff that rises out of the sea. This was definitely one of the scenes along The Great Ocean Road that took my breath away. On the walking path you can get quite close to it and see it side on. When I visited in early 2020 a small part of the walking path was cordoned off as there had been recent rock fall. Be sure to respect any signs that tell you not to go further – it is for your safety.

the razorback great ocean road

Thunder Cave

Thunder Cave is also at the turning for Loch Ard Gorge. The walk from Loch Ard car park to Thunder Cave is a little bit further than the previous short walks, but it is still an easy path. Thunder Cave is an epic place to visit and you’ll soon discover why it is called Thunder Cave! As Thunder Cave is a narrow gorge, the water rushes into the gorge and the sound of the waves hitting the cliff sounds like a large clapping sound – literally like thunder as the water tries to flow back! You’ll certainly be able to hear it before you can see it as it echoes very loud!

thunder cave great ocean road thunder cave great ocean road

Broken Head and Sherbrooke River

Carry on from Thunder Cave a little bit further to Broken Head, as well as down to the Sherbrooke River where you’ll find another beautiful deserted beach. Often the river doesn’t quite join up with the sea if you’re here at low tide. There is a fair bit of mist from the waves which adds to the atmosphere, and be careful as the waves are quite strong here.

broken head great ocean road broken head great ocean road

broken head great ocean road broken head great ocean road

The Arche Lookout

The Arch is a very impressive and unique arch formation and allows you to get quite close and see the crashing waves on the arch. There are two view points that both offer unique views of the arch.

the arch lookout shipwreck coast the arch lookout great ocean road 

London Arch

London Arch is another spectacularly impressive stone arch formation. It used to be called London Bridge and have two archways – one which connected to the mainland. But the arch connecting to the mainland fell down in 1990 as it could no longer support it’s own weight. The double archway became just one arch, and now it stands alone in the water. The name then changed from London Bridge to London Arch. The views from here are stunning and you can see for miles. This was one of my favourite places along The Great Ocean Road.

London arch bridge great ocean road London Bridge arch great ocean road

London Bridge arch great ocean road London arch bridge great ocean road

The Grotto

Lots of the viewpoints on The Shipwreck Coast are from the top of the cliffs, but at The Grotto you can go down the steps to get close to the crashing sea waves. The Grotto is really unique as it is a hollowed out cave shaped in an archway above a sinkhole. It is a lovely scenic place that is totally Instagrammable! There are several steps to climb down, but it is totally worth it when you get down! You can get really nice photos from the top and also from the bottom, with the waves crashing in the background.

Read:  24 Hours in Brisbane, Australia

the grotto shipwreck coast great ocean road the grotto great ocean road

Bay of Martyrs

A short drive further along the coast will take you to Bay of Martyrs. The views and the beach here are really stunning and peaceful. You can also walk down to the beautiful deserted beach where you’ll see some really interesting rock formations.

 bay of martyrs beach great ocean road bay of martyrs beach great ocean road bay of martyrs beach great ocean road bay of martyrs beach great ocean road

Bay Of Islands

A few kilometres down the road will take you to The Bay of Islands – the last picturesque stop on The Shipwreck Coast. Bay of Islands is a 33km long coastal park with lots of rare plants and animals and some absolutely stunning views out to towering limestone structures in the sea. There are some nice clifftop walks and beautiful sandy beaches here you can explore too.

Bay of Islands is incredibly beautiful and is a lot quieter than other parts of The Great Ocean Road as it is the furthest away from Melbourne, so you won’t get the day trippers coming here. If you are coming from Adelaide, the Bay of Islands is your first big stop on The Great Ocean Road.

bay of islands marine national park bay of islands marine national park  

Where to stop for food along The Great Ocean Road

There are several places along The Great Ocean Road to stop for food – it just depends when you are hungry!

The 12 Apostles Tavern (as it appears on maps.me) / Princetown Tavern (as the name appears on the pub) is the closest pub to The Twelve Apostles. It is located in Princetown 7km from 12 Apostles. This is also a good place to go if you’re waiting for the weather to clear up at The Twelve Apostles! Food served 12-4 and is very reasonably priced. There isn’t anywhere else around for miles, so if you’re at The 12 Apostles and are feeling hungry, head here for some great pub grub!

Lorne or Apollo Bay are also good places to go for food. There are several restaurants available in both these coastal towns.

Where to see koalas along The Great Ocean Road

At Kennett River campsite you’ll be able to see some koalas in the trees. The campsite is located just off the main road so you can make it a quick stop.

You also used to be able to see lots of koalas on the road to Cape Otway lighthouse (maps.me even has a spot on Lighthouse Road C157 that says ‘koalas’) but nearly all of the gum trees here died in the 2019/2020 bushfires so it is a lot harder to see any koalas here now. We did see a couple of wallabies though, so do drive slowly when going to or from the lighthouse.

koala Otway national park koala Kennett river Victoria

Safety along The Great Ocean Road

Bushfires

Summer is particularly when bushfires occur. Always check the forecast. Bushfires can get very out of control very quickly, and they can cost lives.

Stick to paths

It is really important you stick to the designated paths here. Mainly because:

  • You can fall off cliffs due to sudden wind or rock fall
  • there are snakes in the bushland (yes I did see one!)

Gibson steps great ocean road Gibson steps great ocean road

A lot of the time you will be near sheer cliff edges. Do NOT steer off the fenced paths as erosion and rock fall can occur at any time. Several people have fallen to their death here because they went off the path and rockfall occurred. The drops are incredibly steep and the waves are very powerful. Stay on the designated walking paths. It can also be very windy so do not attempt to go off the paths.

Driving

Take care to avoid driving along the route around 1 hour before and after sunrise and sunset. This is when kangaroos are most likely to jump across the road. This causes many fatalities each year as drivers slam on the brakes and the kangaroo goes through the windscreen of the vehicle. Please take care along this road. If you see a kangaroo do not brake your car, simply lay off the gas. Do not swerve as you can cause an accident if there are other vehicles around.

wallaby wallaby

Also be careful driving along The Great Ocean Road as some parts of the road are very winding. Take care not to go too fast, especially if it is wet.

When should you visit The Great Ocean Road?

Every year millions of tourists come to visit The Great Ocean Road. Any time of year will be a good time to visit, although most people come in summer as Victoria can get quite cold and windy during the winter! There can also be a lot of mist around the cliffs and it can make visibility poor, especially around The 12 Apostles area.

As to what time of day is best to visit – try to arrive as early as possible as it gets very busy here. If you stay for sunset, it is so beautiful. Of course, there will be a lot of people at the 12 Apostles for sunset, but anywhere along The Shipwreck Coast will be a great place to watch the sunset. We watched it at London Arch and it was stunning, with just a handful of people.

great ocean road Victoria  great ocean road Victoria

Melbourne

If you will be spending time in Melbourne check out these itineraries to ensure you see the best Melbourne has to offer!

Instagrammable Places in Melbourne

Brighton Beach Boxes, Melbourne

24 Hours in St Kilda

Adelaide

If you will be continuing your journey onto Adelaide, proceed to follow the Great Ocean Road for several kilometres until it ends at Allansford. The road then joins onto the Princes Highway, which will take you almost all the way to Adelaide. There are lots of interesting places to stop off along the way, including Mount Gambier and the Coorong. You can also stop off at Kangaroo Island en route to Adelaide!

great ocean road drive great ocean road Victoria

Pin it for later!

great ocean road self drive itinerary great ocean road self drive itinerary great ocean road self drive itinerary

24 Hours Layover