Great Southern Touring Route
842 km/523 miles, about 13 hours
See the star attractions of the south on this five-day round-trip. Wind your away along the spectacular coastline of the Great Ocean Road, climb a summit in the magnificent Grampians National Park and soak up the riches of the spa country's mineral springs.
Learn about Western Victoria's fascinating Aboriginal history and culture, and delve into its gold-rush and maritime history. Sleep like royalty in heritage hotels and indulge in the finest regional produce at award-winning restaurants.
Wildlife watchers, keep your binoculars poised for whales, wombats, koalas and kangaroos along the way. Adventure seekers, pack your climbing shoes.
Melbourne to Apollo Bay
187 km/116 miles, about 3 hours
Ease into your road trip with the leisurely drive from Melbourne to Torquay, just over an hour's drive. Home to some of Australia's best-known surf beaches, Torquay marks the official beginning of the Great Ocean Road. Dose up on surf culture at the Australian National Surfing Museum before visiting Bells Beach, host of the annual Rip Curl Pro.
Stop at nearby Anglesea and take a detour to the golf course, famous for the kangaroos lounging under the trees surrounding the greens.
Magnificent coastal views will dominate the next 30 kilometres as you drive to beach town Lorne, the perfect spot for lunch – fish and chips on the beach is a must.
Another twenty minutes winding along the coastal road will bring you to Kennett River and its most famous locals: koalas. Take some birdseed for their flighty friends then follow the 'koala walk' with your camera ready.
As you make your way to Apollo Bay, you'll travel up along cliff-tops offering incredible views and alongside wild beaches – take time to stop at the lookouts for photos, or beachside for a stroll.
From coastal town Apollo Bay, follow the Great Ocean Road into the lush Otway National Park, and turn off to the Cape Otway light station (about a 50-minute drive). Take a tour of the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia, climbing to the top to see where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean.
Make your way back to Apollo Bay for the night. Dine at Chris's at Beacon Point, where gourmet food is complemented by spectacular cliff-top views. Take the short stroll from the restaurant and settle in at the sumptuous Beacon Point Ocean View Villas, where you'll wake in the morning to see the sun sparkling on the ocean below.
HighlightsDestinationsApollo BayBase yourself in Apollo Bay at the foothills of the Otways to explore the Great Ocean Road region, 12 Apostles or stopover on the Great Ocean Walk.Maritime historyCape Otway LightstationClimb for dramatic views and stories of shipwrecks at this historic lighthouse perched on towering cliffs where Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean.RestaurantsChris's RestaurantOnly food this sumptuous could rival the stunning ocean views from the dining room. Expect Southern European cuisine and fresh seafood at its best.Nature & wildlifeScenic lookoutsView Victoria's stunning coastline from scenic lookouts of the Southern Ocean to rugged cliffs, picture-perfect beaches, islands and ancient forests.Nature & wildlifeWildlifeSee amazing wildlife in the Great Ocean Road region from whale watching to spotting koalas, seals, kangaroos and the elusive platypus.Great Ocean RoadTorquayDose up on surf culture at Torquay, the start of the Great Ocean Road, home to Bells Beach and birthplace of iconic brands Rip Curl and Quicksilver.Beaches & coastlinesBells BeachCheck out the waves at Bells Beach, one of Australia's famous surfing beaches and home to the Rip Curl Pro held every Easter.
Apollo Bay to Port Fairy
189 km/117 miles, about 3 hours
From Apollo Bay, follow the Great Ocean Road into the lush rainforest of the Otway National Park and turn off to the Otway Fly Treetop Walk, an easy hour's drive. Reach for the sky along the treetop canopy walkway – the longest and tallest of its type in the world – or up the adrenaline with a zip-line tour.
Back on the Great Ocean Road, get your camera ready for the spectacular coastline leading to Port Campbell and its famous 12 Apostles, a group of magnificent rock stacks rising up from the Southern Ocean. Descend all 86 of the Gibson Steps to walk down to the wild beach for a ground-level view of the 12 Apostles. Take plenty of time to stop at lookouts over the cliffs of the Loch Ard Gorge and, just beyond Port Campbell, the hauntingly beautiful Bay of Islands. For the best views of this beguiling coastline, take to the skies on a helicopter tour. Unforgettable.
Continue along the Great Ocean Road west, to Warrnambool. Explore the maritime capital's history then head to the viewing platforms at Logans Beach to spot its impressive winter visitors: southern right and blue whales. Catching a glimpse of these giants schooling their calves just offshore is truly awe-inspiring.
From Warrnambool, drive towards Port Fairy and take the turn-off to Tower Hill State Game Reserve, an easy 15-minute drive. Take to the walking tracks, keeping an eye out for koalas, emus, kangaroos and waterbirds who roam freely among the hills and lake-filled craters of this extinct volcano. Visit the Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre to find out more about the reserve's Aboriginal and geological history.
Top off the day with dinner in nearby Port Fairy. Dine in the historic dining room at the Merrijig Inn, Victoria's oldest inn, where you can book in to stay the night in cosy country-style comfort. Or, make the short journey back to Warrnambool for modern European fare at the celebrated Pickled Pig and stay overlooking the beach in coastal luxury at the Lady Bay Resort.
HighlightsNational parks & reservesTower Hill Wildlife ReserveMeet koalas, emus, kangaroos and many species of waterbirds roaming freely in Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, which sits inside an extinct volcano.DestinationsWarrnamboolWonder at the beauty and terror of the Shipwreck Coast, catch a glimpse of a southern right whale, and explore the vibrant community of Warrnambool.Beaches & coastlinesBay of IslandsChoose from two different viewing areas and get that perfect sunset picture of the Southern Ocean and the limestone stacks of the Bay of Islands.DestinationsPort FairyUncover history in every corner of this charming fishing village at the end of the Great Ocean Road with tree-lined streets and heritage buildings.Beaches & coastlinesLoch Ard GorgeStand on top of the cliff and you'll be amazed at the sheer size of the cliffs and the narrow opening out to sea at the Loch Ard Gorge.Beaches & coastlinesGibson StepsTake 86 steps down to the beach below to be dwarfed by the 70-metre high cliff line. Walk along the beach to the enormous offshore rock stacks.Wildlife and zoosWhale watchingWatch breathtaking southern right whales and blue whales as they make their annual migration to the coastal waters off Warrnambool and Portland.Outdoor activitiesScenic flightsFly above the spectacular scenery of the Great Ocean Road on a light plane or helicopter to see the famous 12 Apostles and breathtaking coastline.Walking & hikingOtway Fly Treetop AdventuresEnjoy a real bird's eye view and sway with the branches when you take a walk high in the dense rainforest canopy in the heart of the ancient Otways.
Port Fairy to Halls Gap
158 km/98 miles, about 2.5 hours
Spend the morning exploring charming fishing village Port Fairy. Wander along the river, visit the beaches, or follow one of the historic walking trails to see old whalers' cottages and grand public buildings. For more wildlife, take a cruise out to the seal colony just offshore on Lady Julia Percy Island.
From Port Fairy, make the easy drive 90 kilometres north to Dunkeld (about an hour's drive), gateway to the southern Grampians. Popular with wildlife watchers, outdoor adventurers and history buffs, the Grampians is a series of rugged sandstone mountain ranges and forests rich with wildlife and home to significant Aboriginal rock art sites.
The stunning twin peaks of mounts Sturgeon and Abrupt provide a glorious backdrop for Dunkeld, and inspiration for much of the art in the galleries. Wander through the galleries and museum or be inspired by fine food with a sumptuous lunch at the award-winning Royal Mail Hotel.
If you're feeling fit and energetic, tackle a challenging but rewarding climb to the summit of Mount Sturgeon or Mount Abrupt for panoramic views of the surrounding ranges and volcanic plains. Both hikes take around three hours return, require good levels of fitness and suitable walking attire, and promise camera-worthy rewards.
Leaving Dunkeld, take the scenic Grampians Road right through the national park to Halls Gap, an excellent base for exploring the ranges. If you're the outdoorsy type you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to activities: hiking, canoeing, rock-climbing and abseiling, fishing and more. Whatever your activity of choice, keep your camera poised for wildlife – the park is home to a profusion of native animals and birds, including kangaroos, koalas, emus and wedge-tailed eagles – and wildflowers.
Spend the night in luxury at the Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld. Alternatively, bunk down in a Safari Tent at Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Lodge or relax in a self-contained cabin at D'Alton's Resort in Halls Gap.
HighlightsRestaurantsWickens at Royal Mail HotelIndulge in a five- or eight-course chef's tasting menu with sublime wines and views of the Southern Grampians. Awarded two hats by Good Food Guide 2019.Walking & hikingMt Sturgeon (Wurgarri) WalkThis walk to the summit of Mt Sturgeon offers panoramic views of Dunkeld and the surrounding ranges and volcanic plains.DestinationsHalls GapGet right to the heart of the Grampians at Halls Gap and spend days exploring the nearby wonders and evenings tucked in front of a cosy fire.Walking & hikingMount Abrupt (Mud-Dadjug) WalkThe walk to the rugged top of Mount Abrupt crosses rocky slabs surrounded by low sub-alpine vegetation to one of the park's finest lookouts.National parks & reservesGrampians National ParkDiscover grand and rugged mountain ranges, spectacular wildflowers and a wealth of Aboriginal rock art sites in the Grampians National Park.DestinationsDunkeldBe inspired by fine art, fine flora, and the stunning twin peaks of mounts Sturgeon and Abrupt in Dunkeld, gateway to the southern Grampians.
Halls Gap to Ballarat
142 km/88 miles, about 2 hours
Start your day with a visit to the Brambuk Culture Centre to delve into the area's fascinating Aboriginal history and culture. Enjoy the art, artefacts and activities – try your hand at a boomerang. Join Aboriginal guides on tours to ancient rock art sites and to learn more about the landscape's spiritual significance.
Looking with a new point of view, explore the park further, taking in its famous lookouts: Boroka, Reed and the Balconies, all a short distance from Halls Gap and offering stunning views over the Mount William and Wonderland Ranges and Victoria Valley.
Make time to stop at another of the Grampians' star attractions: MacKenzie Falls, one of Victoria's largest and most spectacular waterfalls. Take the steep climb down to the base of the falls (allow an hour return) or the easier, more accessible trail that follows the top of the ridge line.
From Halls Gap, Ballarat is just under two hours' drive away. Out on the open road, along the Western Highway, admire the imposing Mt Ghiran and explore the beautiful Langhi Ghiran State Park, rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage and home to significant art sites.
Upon arrival in Ballarat, explore the burgeoning food and wine scene. Discover the boutique breweries that make it a craft beer mecca, and get to know the local wines. Treat yourself to contemporary Thai at Catfish, or to a regal treat: dinner at Craig's Royal Hotel, a grand heritage hotel. To really live like a king, book in to stay the night here. Before you lay down your crown, see if you can catch the Blood on the Southern Cross sound and light show at Sovereign Hill, for a dramatic introduction to local history.
HighlightsLakes & waterwaysMacKenzie FallsSee the iconic MacKenzie Falls, one of the largest and most spectacular waterfalls in Victoria, flowing year-round in the Grampians National Park.DestinationsBallaratVictoria's largest inland city, Ballarat is a thriving hub of contemporary arts, events and food and wine, with a fascinating heritage backdrop.Nature & wildlifeScenic lookoutsSet off down striking sandstone ridges and between unusual rock formations to behold the awe-inspiring Grampians region stretching out before you.Arts & cultureBrambuk - The National Park & Cultural CentreLearn about the flora and fauna of the region and explore Aboriginal culture in the natural oasis of the Grampians/Gariwerd National Park.
Ballarat to Melbourne
166 km/103 miles, about 2.5 hours
Spend the morning in Ballarat's heritage precinct and unearth the city's rich gold mining history and magnificent architecture on a self-guided heritage walk. The grand tree-lined streets are perfect for meandering, the heritage trails are dotted with elegant Victorian and Edwardian buildings, parks, gardens, statues and churches.
Dig deeper into the region's gold-mining history with a visit to open-air gold-rush museum Sovereign Hill. Try your luck panning for gold, brace yourself for an underground mine tour, and learn about rare 19th-century trades.
Back in the present day, fawn over native fauna at the Ballarat Wildlife Park. Pat a koala, watch wombats wander up close and see crocodiles feeding – from a safe distance.
Before you make your way back to Melbourne, treat yourself to a visit to Daylesford and the surrounding spa country. For food and pampering, it's nothing but heavenly.
Linger over a long lunch at the renowned Lake House, where local culinary hero Alla Wolf-Tasker's sensational seasonal menu and views across Lake Daylesford make for an unforgettable meal.
Enrich the last day of your trip with a short detour to nearby Hepburn Springs, named for its naturally occurring mineral springs. Taste the different mineral waters from old-fashioned pumps in the Hepburn Springs Mineral Springs Reserve, or soak it up – literally – with a pampering spa at Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa. Fully rejuvenated, make the short drive back to Melbourne – and start planning your next trip!
HighlightsWildlife, zoos & farmsBallarat Wildlife ParkBallarat Wildlife Park is an award winning Park that is owned and operated by Greg Parker and his family. Founded in February 1985 through a passion for...National parks & reservesHepburn Mineral Springs ReserveBring an empty water bottle and fill up on your favourite mineral waters, and enjoy the picnic and walking area with trails, barbecues and playground.Things to doSpa and wellbeingTake the waters in Victoria's spa country of Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges and experience total relaxation and rejuvenation from a mineral bath.DestinationsDaylesfordLead a double life in Daylesford, a village dedicated to wellbeing in the heart of Victoria's spa country just a stone's throw from Melbourne.Gold rush historySovereign HillStrike it rich with a day out in 1850s Ballarat and pan for gold, ride in a horse-drawn carriage and relive the Eureka Rebellion with sound and light.RestaurantsLake House RestaurantThe well-trod path to the Lake House is worth travelling for perennially innovative food in an inspiring space. Two hats in the Good Food Guide 2019.