664 km/413 miles, about 9.5 hours
One of Australia's most scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road is a magnificent three-day self-drive touring route from surf capital Torquay to the famous 12 Apostles, ending at historic fishing village Port Fairy.
Starting from Melbourne, it's an easy drive taking you along cliff tops and surf beaches and through lush rainforest. Along the way, spot koalas, kangaroos and even whales, zip-line your way through a treetop canopy, climb to the peak of a volcanic crater, and relax over regional dining atop a cliff or by the beach.
Most importantly, take the time to stop at the lookouts and watch out for wildlife. It'll be worth it.
Melbourne to Apollo Bay
187 km/116 miles, about 3 hours
Ease into your roadtrip 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 Surfworld before visiting Bell's Beach, host of the annual Rip Curl Pro.
Stop at Anglesea Golf Club for a kangaroo tour and see kangaroos lounge under trees on the surrounding 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.
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 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. Climb to the top, 90 metres above sea level, to see where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean.
Opening December 2020 just west of Apollo Bay, the Wildlife Wonders ecotourism experience is a conservation area where visitors will be able to see koalas doze in the treetops, potoroos and bandicoots forage on the ferny forest floors and kangaroos hop along the horizon against a spectacular ocean vista.
Make your way back to Apollo Bay for the night. Dine at Chris's at Beacon's Point, where gourmet food is complemented by spectacular cliff-top views, and sleep next to the beach at Whitecrest. Or enjoy dinner with a view at La Bimba in Apollo Bay, and retreat to Great Ocean Eco Lodge, a conservation centre nestled 25 kilometres away in the Otway National Park, for an extraordinary encounter with native wildlife.
HighlightsBeaches & 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.MuseumsAustralian National Surfing MuseumCheck out the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame plus interactive displays and exhibits celebrating the history of surfing and beach culture in Victoria.National parks & reservesGreat Otway National ParkThe Great Otway National Park stretches from Torquay through to Princetown and up through the Otways hinterland towards Colac. The park features rugged...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.
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 Tree Top 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. Take time out for the Maits Rest Rainforest Walk in Great Otway National Park (reopens late 2020).
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 on seasonal regional fare at the historic dining room at the Merrijig Inn, Victoria's oldest inn. Book in to stay the night in cosy country-style comfort, or make the short journey back to Warrnambool and stay overlooking the beach in modern luxury at the Lady Bay Resort.
HighlightsBeaches & coastlines12 ApostlesWitness the rugged splendour of the famous 12 Apostles, magnificent rock stacks that rise up from the Southern Ocean on Victoria's dramatic 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.National 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.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.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 & 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.
Port Fairy to Melbourne
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 here, choose your own adventure:
- Trace your trip back along the Great Ocean Road, stopping to spend more time at your favourite spots and photo opps.
- Extend your roadtrip by a couple of days and take the Great Southern Touring Route north to Dunkeld and Halls Gap to visit the magnificent Grampians mountain range and the historic goldfields on your way back to Melbourne.
- Go on a culinary crusade via craft breweries and top regional restaurants on the short inland route back to Melbourne via Colac (below).
Inland route, via Colac
288 km/179 miles, about 3.5 hours
Make your way back through Warrnambool and along the easy inland route towards Colac (approximately 140 kilometres). Along the way (about an hour's drive) stop at Camperdown for a cup of tea and for 360-degree views from Mt Leura and Mt Sugarloaf, the highest points between the coastal ranges and the rolling western plains.
Continue on the road to nearby Colac, and prepare your appetite for the gourmet-food and craft-beer detours ahead.
Quench your thirst at craft breweries Otway Estate and the Forrest Brewing Company, nestled in the foothills and hinterland of the stunning Otways.
While away your afternoon with a gourmet meal at Brae, awarded three chef's hats in the Good Food Guide. You'll find Brae near Birregurra, just 20 minutes from Colac.
From Birregurra, head towards Winchelsea and make the easy two-hour drive back to Melbourne.
HighlightsWildlife and zoosSealsSee playful Australian fur seals waddle, lumber and tumble down off rocks and into the sea on a Lady Julia Percy Island or Cape Bridgewater cruise.RestaurantsBraeAllow plenty of time to savour Dan Hunter's Otways hideaway, awarded Regional Restaurant of the Year 2020 at the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards.WineriesPrickly Moses BreweryWet your whistle with a range of cool climate wines, premium handcrafted beers and farmhouse ciders served with platters of fresh local delicacies.