The Great Ocean Road is advertised across Australia, and the internet, as an amazing all day excursion departing from Melbourne. While they are not wrong, I strongly urge you to spend a couple of days driving the road at your leisure.
The path will take you to the edge of cliff tops, past the most beautiful beaches, and even through lush rainforest. There are many things to see and do along the way. For the adventurous traveler, you can zip-line along treetops or climb to a volcanic crater. For the animal lover, the drive will undoubtedly include spotting koalas, kangaroos, and whales (the latter if you're lucky).
Before I begin, I just want to remind you to pack your tripod, DSLR Camera, and remote clicker for the journey! If you want to read more about what camera equipment I pack for every trip, check out this article.
What Exactly is The Great Ocean Road
Named one of Australia's most scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road spans 413 miles. Driven straight through it will take about 10 hours but your best bet is allotting three-days to self-drive the route. The drive starts in Melbourne and takes you past the 12 Apostles, the most famous and jaw-dropping sights on the drive. The "end" of the drive is in the historic fishing village of Port Fairy but there are many options on how far to drive and what exact route to take.
The Best Way to See The Great Ocean Road
Renting a car from Melbourne, as opposed to joining a tour, is by far the best way to see the Great Ocean Road. You won't regret experiencing the scenery from behind the wheel, and having the flexibility in when to stop and for how long.
Many people rent a caravan, motorhome, or camper to drive the Great Ocean Road. The most popular company, Outdoorsy, can be compared to the Airbnb of camper rentals. We almost went this route and found their site easy to use. Plus they were one of the companies to include insurance!
Tip: Fuel up your car as often as possible. It isn't rare to travel large distances and many kilometers before seeing another gas stations. I know from experience, it's better to stop more often and be cautious than to run out of gas along the way.
Best Driving Route for Great Ocean Road
We set off on the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne, renting a car from a local Hertz. I definitely recommend leaving from here. Not only is Melbourne a great city to spend a couple of days in first but you also want to drive the road east to west. This ensures you’ll be on the left side of the road closest to the ocean, making it much easier to pull over for pictures at the various viewpoints.
Follow the M1 out of Melbourne, then drive through the town of Geelong and follow signs to the B100. You'll see many signs as you drive pointing you in the right direction, so don't be too concerned about getting lost. Keep following the Great Ocean Road signs or signs for Torquay.
Once you drive through Torquay you will be following the B100/Great Ocean Road signs the entire way. I have a full list of every place I stopped along the Great Ocean Road—including why I did or did not like them. I suggest reading that article to plan your road trip.
Google maps works perfect in Australia and we didn’t have any trouble on the road at all. Everything is really well laid out and signs are everywhere. Below I have included the exact route we took including a few detours. We did this drive in two days.
Our Exact Route
After driving through Torquay you will be officially on the Great Ocean Road. Our first attraction was the Memorial Arch on the B100. Quickly followed by the city of Lorne. From the city center we followed signs to Teddy's Lookout. The road was steep but well-paved. A roundabout pointed us to the correct exit for the lookout but you should take note of the turnoff for Erskine Falls—that's next. After driving the hill for about 5 minutes we reached a parking lot for the viewpoint. From there follow the hill back down and back to the roundabout. This time we took the small detour to visit Erskine Falls. After Erskine Falls we headed back to Lorne and got back on the B100 (also known as the Great Ocean Road).
We stayed on the B100. Take note this stretch is extremely scenic, especially for beach lovers. About 23 km from Lorne is a place called Forest Edge. This area is one of the best in the world to view Koalas so keep your eyes peeled. We stopped at Cafe Koala and parked then walked along Grey River Road. Tons of koalas! After we had our fill we continued on B100.
We kept following the road and around Apollo Bay, it veered away from the ocean and the scenery got much more rainforest-like. The road is still the B100. We had planned to stop at Maits Rest Rainforest Walk but felt short on time. I hear it’s great though, a perfect stop to stretch your legs. 4 km after the rainforest walk we took the turnoff for Great Otway National Park. There was a huge sign for both the park and the lighthouse, I doubt you'll miss it. I definitely recommend taking this detour into the park and driving to the end of the peninsula. Beautiful views at the lighthouse and the drive through the rainforest was jaw-dropping. We saw so many koalas on this road we lost count.
After the lighthouse, we double-backed on the same road and got back on the B100 continuing west. Eventually, the road returned us back to the coast and we stopped at a lookout spot called Castle Cove Lookout. After the lookout, the road starts to get more hilly and we spotted some kangaroos as we drove. This is where we decided to rest for the night. Yes, we did all that in one day. We stayed in Port Campbell at Sea Foam Villas.
The entire next day we dedicated to the 12 Apostles and all the other attractions west of them. Because of the weather (heavy rain in the morning, less in the evening) we decided to do 12 Apostles last and drove all the way west before slowly making out way back. We started at Bay of Islands which is quickly followed by Bay of Martyrs. Then we stopped at The Grotto, London Bridge, and The Arch in rapid succession. They are very close to one another. From there we spend a good amount of time at Loch Ard Gorge before heading to 12 Apostles. We ended the day at Gibson Steps on the beach for sunset.
Out route after that took us to the Grampians.
You can read more about that leg of the trip here.
Best Tips For Driving The Great Ocean Road
I hate repeating myself, but please don't drive the Great Ocean Road in one day. You will be missing out on so much if you rush to the 12 Apostles for a quick picture and then just turn back.
I understand not everyone can spend two weeks driving the road. Would be nice right? If you only have enough time to visit one section of the Great Ocean Road I suggest visiting the attractions west from the 12 Apostles.
The best direction to drive the road is east to west or Torquay to Warrnambool. This ensures you’ll be on the left side of the road closest to the ocean and it will be much easier to pull over for pictures at the various viewpoints.
Google maps works perfect in Australia and we didn’t have any trouble on the road at all.
Renting a car is great, there are tons of camper rental options as well.
Stop at Aldi right after you leave Melbourne and stock up on groceries for the car. Most of the towns along the Great Ocean Road are tiny. They will have a convenience store, or small grocer, but the prices were outrageous out here.
Planning a trip to Australia in general, can be overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion on this beautiful location and you may be frozen and unable to plan anything. Rest assured that no matter what you choose to do in Australia or where you choose to stay in Australia you're going to have a beautiful time.
One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing an Australian travel guide along with you. Here are some of the travel guides I used during my trip...
And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette at gmail dot com).