Exploring the Great Ocean Road has to be on most people’s bucket list when they visit Australia. It’s certainly one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state of Victoria. If you ever find yourself in Melbourne you’ll notice that day tours on the Great Ocean Road are offered and it’s commonplace for the locals to head to this area for a long weekend over the warm summer months.
Never one to follow convention, I drove the Great Ocean Road in reverse – so to speak – as I chose to tackle it from the opposite direction from Adelaide to Melbourne. I found myself in Adelaide and wanted to get to Melbourne. Instead of flying and skipping over one of the prettiest roads in the country, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to hire a car and drive the Great Ocean Road myself.
Like with most road trips, you can amend your itinerary to fill the time at your disposal. If you research “how long does it take to drive the Great Ocean Road?” you will find that the road itself only takes two days to travel. However, there is so much to see and do along the way that your options are endless for creating a fun road trip.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
What Is The Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road starts at Torquay in the state of Victoria, Australia. The road runs along the coastline for 244 kilometres to finish at Allansford, near Warrnambool in South Australia.
Work on the road began in 1919 using the labour of 3,000 returned servicemen from World War 1. The road was necessary to link up isolated settlements along the coast that had previously only been accessible via the ocean and rough bush tracks. It was hoped that the road would benefit the burgeoning timber industry. The work was carried out by hand using pick axes, shovels and explosives and the men camped alongside the track. The first section was declared open in 1922 with the entire road opened in 1932. Tolls were used to recoup the building costs and in 1936 the road was handed over to the State Government.
By 1962 the road was deemed to be one of the world’s most scenic roads by the Tourism Development Agency [source].
Three Day Itinerary For Driving From Adelaide to Melbourne via The Great Ocean Road
It’s incredibly easy to plan where to visit on the Great Ocean Road. The points of interest are clearly marked with road signs meaning that all you have to do is drive from one spot to another. In some cases, you will only be in the car for a few minutes until you spot another sign telling you to pull off the road.
I didn’t plan what I needed to see because all of the work was done for me. There’s no chance of missing an attraction as you’ll usually spot the car park even if you somehow miss all of the road signs.
Day One: Adelaide to Port Fairy
In the morning I went to pick up my hire car from Europcar in the centre of Adelaide and headed out of the city along the M1 highway.
It is worth mentioning that the Great Ocean Road does not start near Adelaide. The first day of this trip was about getting from Adelaide to the start of the Great Ocean Road. That meant I drove roughly 650 kilometres, or for about 6.5 hours. I know that the prospect of a long drive may not fill you with joy, so if you have the time, this is the day when you would want to head towards The Grampians and spend a night out there walking and camping to break up your journey.
The Grampians are home to ancient, rugged rock formations and Aboriginal history dating back 22,000 years. There are lots of hiking trails, view points, art galleries and museums plus wineries to sample. The Culture Trip has an article on the top 10 things to do in The Grampians.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to include The Grampians on my trip so I finished my day in Port Fairy, a tiny little town on an estuary by the beach. I stayed in an attractive, rustic YHA with a homely kitchen. There was a lounge room to relax in and chat with your fellow travellers and it felt more like spending the night in an older relative’s home than a hostel.
Day Two: Port Fairy to Cape Otway
I started my day with a stroll along Port Fairy beach before joining the start of the Great Ocean Road.
This first section of the Great Ocean Road from Adelaide to the 12 Apostles was much quieter than the Melbourne end. Driving to the 12 Apostles from Melbourne is as far as many visitors get, which is a shame as the geology on the Adelaide end of the road is spectacular. I found the viewpoints here to be a lot less crowded so you could linger and enjoy the scenery without jostling for position for photos like at the 12 Apostles.
First stop is The Bay of Martyrs, which is a 2.5km wide beach that is good for swimming in the summer months. The jagged coastline provides beautiful views coupled with sparkling blue waters. This area has a slightly dubious history with local folklore suggesting white settlers killed Aboriginal locals by running them off the cliffs. No evidence survives to back up this story, but with Massacre Beach also nearby there are sombre undertones to this attractive area.
Just down the road is a naturally created grotto, washed away by the sea water. It’s not quite a blow hole, not quite a cave and not quite an arch – an enchanting blend of all three. To access the grotto you walk down steps from the car park that tuck you into the bottom of the cliff. From here you can view straight into the grotto and out to the sea.
London Arch was formerly known as London Bridge as it spanned across into the ocean in a double arch formation. In 1990, the arch nearest the coastline collapsed unexpectedly into the sea causing two tourists to be stranded on the outer span. They had to be rescued by police helicopter but no one was injured.
Loch Ard Gorge
Loch Ard Gorge gains its name from the Loch Ard vessel that ran aground on an island off the shore in 1878. The only two survivors from the wreck were a crew member called Tom Pearce and Irish passenger, Eva Carmichael, both 19 years old. Tom was washed ashore and rescued Eva from the water after hearing her cries for help. He then climbed out of the gorge to raise the alarm with local pastoralists.
There is a walkway and wooden steps leading down onto the beach in the cove here where you can enjoy the views and a stroll along the sand. Loch Ard Gorge is only 3.5 kilometres from The 12 Apostles.
This is a rock formation that has been subjected to the wind and salt water to form a narrow, jagged topped slice of rock separated from the mainland. The views of the coastline here are impressive and I enjoyed the many caves and limestone karsts dotted around. The wind was buffeting me as I walked along the easy track here, so remember to bring your layers to wrap up warm.
This section of the GOR is pretty straight and the cliffs are hidden by the bush land between you and the ocean. It’s not until you pull off of the road, park up and walk out to explore do you get to see the attractions here.
We stopped for lunch in Port Campbell, which is the first of the small towns dotted along the Great Ocean Road. There is a small bay here with a grassy area overlooking a sandy beach. I sat and ate my picnic at a bench amidst a rather large amount of seagulls. If you’re not bringing your own sandwiches there are several cafes and other eating options in the town.
The 12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road
The 12 Apostles are arguably the main point of interest along this famous road. They are a beautiful series of limestone rock islands protruding from the ocean just offshore. Once connected to the mainland, the weather conditions have gradually eroded the soft limestone rock until they detached altogether. There used to be 12 of them but erosion over the years has reduced their number to eight. They are an impressive sight, towering at up to 45 metres above the swirling Southern Ocean.
You’ll find a visitor centre here with information about the cultural heritage of this area plus details on the formation of the 12 Apostles. There is a short walk from the visitor centre to the boardwalks on the cliff top from where you can enjoy the views along the coastline.
After I’d viewed The 12 Apostles I headed down Gregson’s Steps to the beach below to view the dramatic, 70 metre high cliff from a different perspective. You can also see the 12 Apostles from the water’s edge. There are a lot of steps here, but worth the heart pumping and leg ache if you are able to climb them to escape the crowds of the viewing platform.
Taking A Detour
At this point I chose to divert away from the main Great Ocean Road. I drove up to Lavers Hill, a tiny settlement in amongst forest, and along a road called Turton’s Track in a conservation park. I had been recommended this drive by a local because it is a beautiful, twisty-turny road through lush rainforest. The vegetation here was spectacular and it made me think of Jurassic Park as you got a sense that this old forest had not changed in centuries. The ferns here were immense. You could only crawl along at 40 kilometres an hour as you craned your neck out the window and wound your way along the snaking road through the trees.
It made a welcome contrast to the coastal road of the Great Ocean Road, but of course you can choose to carry on driving straight along this if you don’t fancy this detour.
My destination for day two was Cape Otway. Here there is a campsite called Bimbi Caravan Park, where you can camp under koalas. Quite literally as they are snoozing in the trees above your heads if you spend some time looking for them. Just driving into Bimbi Park we saw 8 koalas nestled high up in the gum trees either side of the road.
Bimbi Park is a campsite and caravan ground, perfect for road trippers or families. If you don’t want to camp you’ll be pleased to know there are also bunk rooms available. There is a modern wash block and kitchen area available that you share with your fellow campers. If you choose to sleep in the bunk room, note that you have to bring your own bedding.
If you don’t fancy a caravan park (but, koalas!) then there are many alternative options such as the nearby Apollo Bay that offers a selection of BnBs, hotels and holiday rentals that may be more to your taste.
Accommodation often gets booked up ahead of time, especially at weekends or during the summer months, so my advice is to book ahead to secure a place to lay your head.
Day Three: Cape Otway to Melbourne
It’s worth spending a little time strolling around the caravan park in the morning to do some more koala spotting. There was a large koala munching on his breakfast in the tree directly above my bunk room. The area is peaceful with large gum trees as far as the eye can see.
We left Bimbi Park and continued eastwards along the Great Ocean Road towards Apollo Bay. Here you can spend several hours wandering round the shops, going for a coffee and spending time on the beach. It’s a bustling little town that thrives on the tourism to the area.
If you have time, you may wish to visit the Cape Otway lighthouse before heading towards Apollo Bay. It is the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia, established in 1848. Entry fees apply if you wish to visit the lighthouse.
The section of road past Apollo Bay in the direction of Lorne is where it really becomes fun. The road is twisty and turny and snakes its way along the water’s edge. If you are driving the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne on a day trip, this is the piece of road that you experience and is remarkably different from the straighter road on the Adelaide end at the Bay of Martyrs and the Razorback.
Lorne is another seaside town with a long, sandy beach perfect for swimming. Again, it is a possible base where you can stay the night as there are plenty of accommodation and food options here. There are also all of your usual amenities such as banks and supermarkets – plus it’s the perfect spot to indulge in some fish and chips.
It was lunchtime when I visited Lorne so I pulled over into a picnic area just before I reached the town that had a lovely view over the beach. After my picnic I walked down along the beach and had a quick swim in the ocean before heading back to the car.
Split Point Lighthouse
My next point of call was the Split Point lighthouse at Aireys Inlet. For a UK reader this little lighthouse is actually an interesting piece of TV trivia. In the 1990s Split Point was used in the children’s TV series Round The Twist. Can you remember the theme tune to it? “Strange things happen when you’re going round the twist…”
The lighthouse dates back to 1891. Prior to this there had been 10 shipwrecks offshore and so calls were made to build the lighthouse. Originally named Eagles Nest Point, it was renamed as Split Point in 1913 and the last remaining lighthouse keeper lived there until 1919. There is a short boardwalk here on the cliff top that gives you beautiful views of the coastline.
Access to the grounds of the lighthouse is free and you can also enjoy a 45 minute tour of the lighthouse.
Places To Visit On The Melbourne End Of The Great Ocean Road
Bells Beach was up next, which is a place that has become synonymous with surfing as it is the location for Rip Curl Pro surf championship competition. The surf here is renowned for being consistently good and challenging. At Bells Beach there are a couple of boardwalks on the cliff top if you don’t fancy walking down the (numerous) steps to the beach itself. Alas, there were no internationally famous surfers in their wetsuits the day I visited, but the view of the ocean and coastline were pretty and worth pulling over the car.
No trip to the Great Ocean Road would be complete without a stop at the famous road sign that welcomes you to the beginning of the GOR at the Melbourne end. There is a small car park here to pull over into and a wooden frame spans across the road with the welcome sign in the centre. There are also a few memorial statues here that share the history of the building of the road and the struggles of the men who built it.
In Torquay I visited Danger Point and watched the surfers here for a while. Torquay is a town before the start of the Great Ocean Road situated on the coast with a great beach and is a frequent bolt hole for Melbournites looking for a weekend escape. By this point you’re nearing the end of the road trip. You can choose to call in to Geelong, which is a fairly large city not far from Melbourne or head straight to the city.
Getting To The Great Ocean Road
As I previously mentioned, getting from Adelaide to the beginning of the Great Ocean Road is certainly the longest part of the trip, which you may want to break up if you don’t like long drives. The distance from Adelaide to the start of the Great Ocean Road at Warrnambool is approximately 650 kilometres, or 6.5 hours drive.
Melbourne to the beginning of the Great Ocean Road at Torquay is a lot close at just over 100 kilometres. This will take you roughly 1 hour 10 minutes, depending on traffic.
Hiring A Car To Drive The Great Ocean Road
If you would like to hire a car to drive the Great Ocean Road yourself, then there are plenty of car hire companies in both Adelaide and Melbourne.
The thing worth noting is that if you are only planning on driving in one direction – e.g. From Adelaide to Melbourne, or Melbourne to Adelaide – then you will be unable to return your hire car to its point of origin.
This isn’t a problem in itself as the car hire companies are used to this situation. However, it may mean the cost of a one-way rental is increased slightly. To reduce these costs you may want to look out for relocation cars, which essentially mean the car hire company wants someone to drive the vehicle back to where it has come from. You can snag a relocation car for as little as $1 a day – and sometimes they’ll even throw in a tank of petrol.
You have to be quick when organising this, and mostly I think it boils down to sheer luck and timing. The other main caveat is that you usually have a time and mileage limit imposed on your journey by the car hire company.
I researched this option at the time I drove the Great Ocean Road, but there wasn’t anything suitable available when I wanted it. If you’re keen to see whether you can reduce costs of car hire, take a look at Transfer Car and Imoova.
Car hire companies:
Driving The Great Ocean Road In A Camper Van
The GOR is of course perfect for those wanting to explore in a camper van or motor home.
It’s worth noting that there are no wild or free camping spots along the Great Ocean Road. The car parks for the tourist attractions do not allow overnight parking and there are no small turnings or pull-offs along the road to nip down to try and find a wild camping spot. The road twists and turns along the edge of the cliff and only opens out when it gets into the settlements, which of course are not suitable for wild camping.
Many of the small towns along the route offer campsites. My favourite was the Bimbi Park campground and caravan park at Cape Otway. Surrounded by eucalyptus trees, it was a haven for koalas and so you stood a high chance of spotting these fuzzy marsupials in the branches above your campsite.
Some of the bends are quite sharp so you’ll want to take your time and drive carefully, but it’s an excellent road to enjoy in a camper van.
Camper van hire companies:
Great Ocean Road Day Tour
If hiring a car is not something you are able to do, then there are plenty of day trips from Melbourne to the Great Ocean Road. Tour group sizes can range from a mini bus to a coach load of your fellow tourists. Your driver will usually act as guide and tell you about the geology and history of the area. Most day trips start early in Melbourne and get as far as the 12 Apostles before turning back.
If you do not have a car, or are a solo traveller and worry about the cost of hiring a car for yourself, an organised day tour is a great idea to be able to get out of Melbourne and explore the Great Ocean Road.
Day trips don’t run from the Adelaide end because the distance from Adelaide to the start of the Great Ocean Road is too great to feasibly offer such a trip. If you’re in Melbourne then your choices of day trips are numerous and I would recommend heading out with a smaller company rather than a large coach tour if you can.
A small guided group tour that I recommend leaves from Melbourne and takes in the 12 Apostles, Cape Otway, the rainforest, Loch Ard Gorge and more. You join a small group in a mini-van and benefit from the expert knowledge of a local guide.
Accommodation Options On The Great Ocean Road
With towns dotted along its length such as Torquay, Apollo Bay, Lorne and Port Fairy at the Adelaide end you will not be short of accommodation options. My advise is to organise your accommodation before you drive along the road as due to its popularity, places can be in high demand at any time of the year.
Hints And Tips
- Driving the Great Ocean Road from the Adelaide direction means that the viewpoints will be on the other side of the road from you. This requires you to cross over the road into the laybys provided when you want to stop and admire a view. I didn’t find this a particular problem, but it’s worth noting that if you drive the road from Adelaide to Melbourne you are effectively driving the route ‘in reverse.’ To make things easier on yourself, you may want to consider driving from Melbourne towards Adelaide, then all of the viewpoints are on the ‘right’ side of the road.
- As can be often the case, be prepared for a lack of phone signal anytime you are out of a built up area in Australia. It shouldn’t be too much of an issue along the Great Ocean Road but depending on your network provider you may drop in and out of signal in more rural areas.
- The 12 Apostles can get very busy. Avoid visiting around 3pm if you can when all of the coach loads of tourists from Melbourne arrive. The best time to visit is either at sunrise or sunset for a less crowded view and beautiful photos.
Inspired For More Australian Road Trips?
Of course you are!
If you’re keen to hit the road and discover the rest that Australia has to offer – and believe me, it’s a lot – then you may want to take a look at a few blogs I’ve written based on my amazing Australian adventures:
- Adelaide to Alice Springs Outback adventure
- Darwin to Broome road trip – through The Kimberley
- 10 days from Perth to Broome
- Easy ways to travel down the East Coast
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
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