Road Map to the Great Ocean Road – How to Plan your Trip
The Great Ocean Road is considered one of the “not to be missed” experiences for those staying a decent amount of time in Victoria, Australia and it is accessible from Melbourne. While there are definitely things to consider to learn if it is right for you, it is truly a unique experience that cannot be found anywhere else.
Some facts about the Great Ocean Road:
- It is 243 kilometers / 151 miles long starting in Torquay and ending in Allansford and a straight shot from one end to the other on highway B100.
- The Great Ocean Road is dedicated to WWI Australia soldiers which makes this the largest war memorial in the world.
- The entire road is also man made and done by hand largely by soldiers that returned from the war starting in 1919 and completed in 1932
- Shipwrecks were very common, so much so it was named Shipwreck Coast with over 700 ships that periled beneath the sea.
When to Go
Obviously this will depend on when you are traveling to Australia – you are not going to plan when you travel to Australia based on when the Great Ocean Road is least busy. However, low season in Australia means less tourists to embark on the journey. What I would recommend is avoiding the weekends. We went on a Tuesday and Wednesday – that combined with the low tourist numbers (winter time) meant that we had the entire Great Ocean Road practically to ourselves – including many of the stops along the way. I know we got lucky here so expect to have some company. Another tip is to leave very early in the day to beat the crowd – especially if you are doing this in one day.
Some considerations for wintertime on the Great Ocean Road:
- Low tourist season means less people we barely saw anyone which means no wait at the popular stops, no competition for photos, no issues parking and increases your chances of seeing wildlife.
- Waterfalls are large and since the Great Ocean Road is full of them you will never be disappointed by a dry waterfall.
- Daylight hours make it difficult to get the most out of every hour and impossible to make this a day trip.
- Weather is more unpredictable and more cold than traveling in the summer – we had the wackiest weather day including record cold and hail.
How to Drive
Due to the length of the Great Ocean Road, doing the entire thing in one day is very challenging. It takes four hours from the start atTorquay to the end at Warrnambool without stops and the iconic parts of the road are at the end. And there are several long extensions off the Great Ocean Road that could easily make this a three day adventure, especially if you are traveling in the summertime. So the amount of time you dedicate to the Great Ocean Road is going to depend on how much time you have on your trip as well as your must do’s on the road.
We ended up doing one overnight stay to make a two day trip where we would stop along the way to the end and then tackle the iconic attractions on the second day. If the weather was nicer, I would have been tempted to extend to explore more of the hikes and waterfalls, as well as dive into the culinary scene.
Where to Stop
Building your itinerary is largely going to depend on how long you have to complete the drive and what time of year you are visiting for the hours of daylight. Without stopping, it takes four hours driving from the start of the Great Ocean Road in Torquay to the end at Warrnambool so you need to be realistic with your time. You need at least one over night to give the Great Ocean Road the time it deserves.
It is important to learn the stops along the Great Ocean Road and select the ones that are your top priority. While it is possible to hit every stop, plans change and interruptions occur that may inhibit your ability to do it all. If you only have one day, it could be a stressful day trying to fit everything in and not having enough time at some of the bigger stops. Having a “must do” list will help chronograph your drive and determine how much time you really need. Plus, your priorities and focus may be completely different from a guide or even my list so a little homework will go a long way.
My “must do” list:
- Bell’s Beach
- Anglesea Golf Course for kangaroos
- Lorne for waterfalls and lookouts
- Kennet River for koalas
- Apollo Bay for lunch
- Maits Rest Rainforest Trail
- Twelve Apostles
- Loch Ard Gorge
- Explore the 12 Apostles Food Artisans Trail
If you have more time, then add spots int he middle of the drive such as:
- Cape Otway Lighthouse
- Great Otway National Park for hiking, waterfalls, and tree walk
- Enjoy one of the many beaches
- There are also tons of lookouts along the way so do not be afraid to stop and enjoy the views
Here was our complete itinerary.
While this drive is not as harrowing as the Road of Hana, there are some things to note.
- This may be your first time driving on the left side of the road – take your time and remember, the driver is always in the middle of the road
- It is a long drive to plan stops accordingly, especially if you are note switching off driving
- Do not stop in the middle of the road – there are periodic pull off locations if you need to stop, especially for pictures
- If you have someone behind you or a line forming, move over
- Make sure you have a full tank of gas before leaving Melbourne – there are gas stations in the towns so keep an eye on your gas
- Take you time – it is not a race and these curves can be really tight at times – remember it is about the journey
Where to Eat
There are great spots for food along the Great Ocean Road! Depending on your timing, Lorne is a great spot to stop for breakfast (The Bottle of Milk) and Apollo Bay is a great spot to stop for lunch (Apollo Bay Bakery or Apollo Bay Fisherman’s Co-op). As you get farther down to Great Ocean Road, make sure to review the 12 Apostles Food Artisans Trail and incorporate some of these stops on your drive. We ended up stopping at two of these places (Schulz Organic Creamery and Cafe and Timboon Fine Ice Cream) for dinner and it was a great choice.
And finally… download the Gypsy Guide App
After loving the Gypsy Guide for the Road to Hana, I immediately looked if one was available for the Great Ocean Road and sure enough there is! I purchased for this drive and it was once again invaluable to our trip. Basically, it is a guide that does not require any data or wifi – it only uses your location to prompt dialogue at certain points on the drive. It is so informative and entertaining – like we were on a Disney attraction – Living with the Land meets Dinosaur. This made the drive go by fast and we learned so much that we would have absolutely never known without it. It even tells you where to park, which stops are must do’s and which to skip.
Everyone says the Great Ocean Road is about the journey and not the destination and while cliche, I have to agree. It is one of the most unique drives in the world navigating Shipwreck Coast. The views are breathtaking, the waterfalls are abundant, and the road itself – while scary at times – forces you to slow down and examine each mile. I hope you make time to enjoy the Great Ocean Road when you visit Australia!