Stretches of rugged, untouched coastlines are stereotypical of much of Australia’s perimeter but there is one iconic area that stands out among every other part of the nation. If you are visiting Melbourne or anywhere in the state of Victoria, be sure to add a Great Ocean Road day trip to your itinerary because this is the ultimate example of breathtaking wilderness.
Having spent plenty of time reading about this amazing experience and admiring spectacular photographs of the Twelve Apostles and other landmarks along the Great Ocean Road, it was time to experience this route for ourselves. Exploring the Melbourne CBD may be a great way to spend your first 48 hours in Australia but there is nothing quite like heading out to experience the natural beauty of this nation.
How to Enjoy the Great Ocean Road
Let’s take a look at the options available to experience this drive.
- Self-Guided Tour – Rent a car and experience the drive at your own pace. This is a great option if you are considering an overnight stay along this route. It also gives you the opportunity to spend more time at certain overlooks and attractions rather than relying on your tour guide.
- Guided Tour Day Trip – There are plenty of Australian tour operators that will pick you up directly from your hotel in Melbourne and take you on a day trip along the Great Ocean Road. This is the option we opted for.
- Guided Tour Multi-Day Trip – Similar to above, you can experience a guided tour across multiple days where your accommodation along the Great Ocean Road is pre-booked and you can enjoy the drive at a slower pace.
Great Ocean Road Day Trip
We contemplated renting a car but visiting Melbourne in the heart of peak season meant this was a pretty expensive option. Our alternative that we opted for was to take a day trip tour courtesy of Sightseeing Tours Australia.
I am always skeptical prior to taking “guided” day trips because you are frequently taken to tourist traps but we can well and truly attest this experience was anything but a stereotypical tourist adventure.
Staying at the Pullman Melbourne on the Park, we hopped on the free tram to Flinders Street Station. We met our guide and the other members of our party outside St. Paul’s Cathedral at 7:15 AM and knew that it was going to be a long day (check our section below on how to be prepared before meeting your guide).
Our guide was knowledgeable, friendly and always looking to take us “off the beaten path” away from the large volumes of tourists. Having driven this route for years, she knew all the spots where the regular tour vehicles would visit and she provided alternative recommendations that we all appreciated.
The below map shows the route we took on the journey to the furthest point before we started heading back to Melbourne via the quicker ‘inland’ route through Geelong.
Throughout the 12 hour journey, our guide shared stories and adventures that she had experienced along this route but for much of the time, she just allowed us to take in the breathtaking scenery surrounding us.
Prepare for the Great Ocean Road
I want to start by giving you a few useful hints and tips that would have been extremely beneficial for us had we known what to expect along the Great Ocean Road.
- Food/Drinks – You are going to be outside of Melbourne for a long time (about 12 hours or so), so be prepared to have some snacks and water/drinks with you. Your tour guide will give you the opportunity to purchase items along the route and lunch will be included. However, in some of the smaller towns, selections may be limited and you will likely pay inflated prices.
- Bug Repellent – This really should be number one on the list! If you are visiting during the summer, be prepared to have swarms (and I literally mean HUGE SWARMS) of annoying bugs all over you throughout the Great Ocean Road. They save the worst bugs until last and it’s ironic really because it’s the most spectacular spot on the route – the Twelve Apostles.
- Camera and Back-Up – Don’t forget to charge your camera battery! This will be one of your biggest regrets if you get out on the Great Ocean Road and don’t have the opportunity to capture memories that you will cherish forever. The landscapes are stunning and this is one of those stretches of coastline where even novice photographers can capture amazing shots – it’s that photogenic of a region!
- Wear Appropriate Attire – Melbourne is renowned for experiencing all of the seasons in one day so be prepared for anything when you hit the Great Ocean Road. If you take a guided day trip as we did, the majority of the time will be spent cooped up inside a mini-bus but there will be ample opportunities to get out and stretch your legs.
Ok, so you are all set and raring to go! Let’s take a look at some of the highlight locations you can expect to see on a Great Ocean Road day trip.
Welcome to the Great Ocean Road! Our first stop was certainly a great way to start our experience and the moment we arrived at Point Addis, an overlook near Torquay, we realized that all of the rumors about this coastline were true.
We only spent about 15 minutes here but despite the persisent rain all the way from Melbourne to this point, we arrived just in time to enjoy spectacular views across the ocean (Bass Strait) with little precipitation to worry about.
The coastline at Point Addis is characterized by rugged sandstone and limestone cliffs that are visibly crumbling but create an amazing effect when capturing photographs of this landscape.
If you are taking a self-guided tour of the Great Ocean Road and choose to visit Point Addis, perhaps you will have time to head down and enjoy the white sandy beaches that were visible from the overlook.
This is unsurprisingly a popular spot for surfers just like much of the Great Ocean Road coastline. However, if you are looking for the perfect vantage point to capture your first glimpse of this amazing coastline, Point Addis is definitely a great place to visit.
Our journey continued as we left Point Addis and headed towards the town of Lorne, just a few miles further south.
Another popular tourist town in the heart of peak season, our guide opted to stay away from the crowds (she really did keep to her word!) and headed to a spot known as Teddy’s Lookout.
A short drive from the town center saw us climb a pretty steep incline until we arrived at Teddy’s Lookout.
There are a number of short walking trails that you can take to experience viewing platforms that overlook breathtaking coastal views and the winding Great Ocean Road.
Fern covered gorges and an area of mountaineous terrain are visible to the right while avid hikers may take this opportunity to head deep into the wilderness to experience Australian wildlife along the banks of the Saint George River.
We took this opportunity to grab morning tea as our guide generously provided coffee, tea and biscuits before we continued our adventure along the Great Ocean Road.
Any road trip around Australia wouldn’t be the same without having the opportunity to stumble across a wild koala.
Don’t worry, the Kennett River Holiday Park was our next stop because this was apparently the perfect spot to see koalas enjoying life…ok, well sleeping but that’s pretty much what they do all day except for eating.
Not only did we experience several koalas taking a snooze in the trees we also enjoyed had the opportunity to feed a bunch of colorful Australian parrots that were friendly enough to fly and land pretty much anywhere they could find…such as your arm or even the top of your head!
Kennett River also was an opportunity to grab bug repellent but of course, if you follow our handy packing tips you will already have this with you!
Grab a snack or a coffee in the wonderfully named “Kafe Koala” but I would probably recommend eating around this cafe rather than wandering where those mischievous birds can find you.
After an action-packed morning we were excited to visit Apollo Bay which was going to be our destination for lunch. A unanimous decision was made to get take-out pizza and head down to the beach to enjoy lunch in typical Aussie style.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that the majority of us were a little disappointed because despite the pizza being delicious, the experience was spoiled because of those pesky flies that literally won’t leave you alone especially with the smell of food around.
I am all for sampling local traditions and enjoying pizza on the beach is clearly one of those but trying to deal with all those flies really ruins your appetite.
Although lunch was a proverbial disaster, we did have enough time to enjoy Apollo Bay and take a stroll along the harbour which certainly made up for our earlier disappointment.
Maits Rest Rainforest
Ready for a complete change of scenery? I am sure by now you are probably tired of those awful panoramic views from the Great Ocean Road…ok, that’s a slight exaggeration because you can NEVER get enough of this amazing scenery.
Don’t worry, we will be heading back to the coast soon but first let’s take a look at Maits Rest Rainforest, a short 15 minute drive from Apollo Bay.
If you have ever dreamed of wandering through the Amazon rainforest, now is your chance to experience something similar on a much smaller scale and without the fear of stumbling across a venomous snake or spider.
The Maits Rest Rainforest trail is an 800-meter self-guided walkway that you can enjoy at your own leisurely pace while admiring the amazing rainforest that surrounds you.
It’s possible that you may be fortunate enough to see a variety of wildlife including swamp wallabies, koalas, ring-tailed possums and even the potential sighting of a grey kangaroo.
Unfortunately our visit lacked any of these sightings but despite this, we were still able to enjoy the amazing scenery all around us. Walking through a rainforest is actually a really cool experience and not something everyone gets to experience very often.
It’s the iconic spot that everyone driving the Great Ocean Road is looking forward to seeing. The Twelve Apostles…are they really worth the wait or are they just another glorified tourist trap? I think the following images answer that question because this natural attraction is breathtaking.
Having experienced overcast conditions through much of our journey along the Great Ocean Road, we were blessed to find some sunshine (in addition to thousands of flies!) that welcomed us to the site of the Twelve Apostles. This collection of limestone stacks were formed by erosion caused by the harsh conditions of the Southern Ocean.
Today, we can admire the remaining eight stacks as the others have already collapsed. It’s feasible that it’s only a matter of time before all of them disappear due to the continued weathering caused by the extreme waves. The only thing that we can guarantee is that if you make the effort to visit this landmark, you cannot help but be impressed.
Standing at the top of the overlook admiring the Twelve Apostles is well worth the 12 hours cramped inside a mini-bus. If you don’t enjoy anything else on your Great Ocean Road day trip, I am convinced that you will enjoy this location!
Loch Ard Gorge
Need a few moments to catch your breath after experiencing the Twelve Apostles. It’s ok, our journey along the Great Ocean Road is almost complete but our penultimate stop was at a spot known as Loch Ard Gorge.
This is another great spot to take a quick hike to capture some breathtaking views looking back across the Twelve Apostles but there is another magical spot that you have to experience here – the Gorge.
By the time you reach this spot, you will have seen a plethora of amazing rock formations throughout the Great Ocean Road journey. The Loch Ard Gorge is no different but what makes this location stand out from the rest is the turquoise colored waters that make this a paradise for folks to relax and take a swim before heading back to Melbourne.
There are a number of trails that you can experience if you prefer to stay on the move but we are so glad that our final act was to take the staircase to the beach in front of Loch Ard Gorge and spend a few minutes enjoying a location that is the epitome of natural beauty.
Taking a Great Ocean Road day trip is a jaw-dropping experience, there really is no other way to describe it. We spent a total of AUD 192 ($147) to take this 12-hour day trip and there is no question that this was probably the best value of anything we experiencing during our epic three week adventure around the world.
The focal point of the Great Ocean Road are the Twelve Apostles and they are well and truly worth the wait.
Would I take this drive again? Definitely! However, I think next time we would prefer to take a rental car and spend some more time at certain spots along this drive. The views are awe-inspiring throughout the drive and it’s fair to say that backup battery will come in handy as you create thousands of memories.
As we take time to reminisce on this amazing journey we want to thank our guide for sharing such valuable information and also for creating an experience we will never forget.
Have you experienced the Great Ocean Road? Are there other iconic drives in Australia that you would recommend us visiting the next time we head to the Land of Oz?