Expect to find plenty of reasons to stop along one the world’s most scenic drives.
The Great Ocean Road cuts its way through a bewitching limestone wilderness that is fringed by native bushland teeming with wildlife on one side, and with the wild beauty of the Southern Ocean, a long list of secluded swimming spots and the iconic Twelve Apostles on the other.
Along the 255 kilometre route, there is plenty to see and do: from dining at one of Australia’s best restaurants to uncovering a famous surfing culture, here are the places worth a pit stop on the Great Ocean Road.
One of the better-known highlights along the Great Ocean Road are the Twelve Apostles. Find the offshore collection of limestone stacks rising proudly out of the ocean, standing 45 metres high. The lookout is located within the Port Campbell National Park and taking time to marvel at them is a requirement of every journey to the region.
But don’t just stop at the Twelve Apostles. The Port Campbell National Park has plenty more natural attractions to explore. Including, London Bridge, an offshore natural arch located just a few minutes’ drive west of the Apostles. The stack, which was formed by a gradual erosion process, was connected to the mainland until 1990 when it collapsed to create a detached double-span natural bridge.
Loch Ard Gorge is another treasured site within the park. Named after an 1878 shipwreck that beached on nearby Muttonbird Island, this mighty rock stack will leave you feeling like a tiny speck by comparison. Walk along the stunning sandy beach and marvel at the yellow limestone cliffs, and take your pick of several short walks to explore in the surrounding area. Including the 900-metre Geology Trail that loops through Razorback and Island Arch. Or opt to walk to Loch Ard Wreck Lookout to see the expanse from a different perspective.
It’s true that Brae isn’t technically located on the Great Ocean Road, but its accolades make it worthy of a slight detour inland to Birregurra.
Under the stewardship of its renowned chef, Dan Hunter, Brae has been consistently named one of the best restaurants in the country in the Good Food Guide. Its ever-changing menu incorporates produce from the restaurant’s organic farm and the surrounding producers who use ethical and sustainable means to grow their farm-fresh bounty.
Expect a meal to set you back around $300 per person, or add matched wines for an additional $180 – a small price to pay for one of the best meals you will ever have.
3. Head to one of the famed lookouts
The Great Ocean Road provides much by way of rich scenic grandeur – best appreciated from one of the many viewing platforms below.
Mount Elephant is an extinct volcano. The landmark mass stands 240 metres above plains and lakes with stunning panoramic views to reward its energetic visitors.
The community came together to purchase the land in 2000 and the summit has been open to walkers every Sunday between 1pm and 4pm ever since.
Take a short drive to the top end of George Street to find the renowned views of the Great Ocean Road sighted on many a Lorne postcard. It delights just as equally in person.
Between June and September, female southern right whales return to Logans Beach in Warrnambool to birth their young. They often swim within a hundred metres of the shore and a specially constructed platform has been built to view them at play.
Located between Kennett River and Wongarra, Cape Patton provides dramatic views of the windswept coastline. It marks the western end of what was considered the Great Ocean Road when first constructed by World War One veterans. A plaque at the lookout tells the story.
Visit the Twelve Apostles at dawn or hang around after the sun goes down to see little penguins – they come ashore each evening on the beach at the base of the 70-metre cliffs.
While Lorne mightn’t be known for its artistic prowess, one venue does well to showcase its unassuming talent.
QDos Arts is a studio, gallery, café and sculpture park that specialises in fine and contemporary art. It’s the first space of its kind in the region, hosting seven gallery exhibitions a year. Notable represented artists include Tasmanian painter Ian Parry, Canadian sculptor Ashika, and local artist Sisca Verwoert.
There is also boutique accommodation onsite, with luxury Japanese-style tree houses sleeping two people each.
5. Attend a festival
The residents of the Great Ocean Road love a good bash – and visitors can expect a celebration for everything from folk music to seafood.
In March, the Port Fairy Folk Festival – or ‘folkie’ – transforms the historic fishing village into a four-day reverie of musical and theatrical delights. Feast on international and local folk, blues and roots artists alongside street theatre, comedy, interactive workshops and arts gravitas.
The Bonney Upwelling is the epic natural ocean occurrence that powers a seven-month feeding frenzy for the region’s marine animals. Upwelling Festival celebrates the commencement of this incredibly rich ecological food web with an epic one-day event. Held on the first Saturday in November, visitors and locals alike come for the music, market stalls and whale boat racing, and stay for the absurd street parade of aquatic ornaments and fish flags.
The Apollo Bay Seafood Festival is a great way to continue the marine celebrations. The three-day extravaganza dishes up world-class, locally-sourced seafood, straight from the ocean to the people. Take your pick of the morning catch direct from the fishermen, soak up the atmosphere of live music, order food from the pop-up restaurants, participate in the cooking competitions, and drink your way through an extensive offering of craft beer, wine and cocktails.
Ring in the New Year at Falls Music and Arts Festival. What once began as a small one-day concert in 1993 has evolved into a legendary four-day fiesta complete with contemporary music performances, dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret, and more.
Tucked away in the quaint town of Aireys Inlet, set amongst rolling hills peppered with coastal hamlets and boutique properties, you’ll find Great Ocean Road Gin distillery.
The owner, Ann Houlihan, is busy taking advantage of the local botanicals to produce her high quality, small-batch gin. The citrus-forward Guvvos variety is named after a favourite surfing spot of Ann’s daughter. Stop by for a sample at the distillery tasting room or in the outside garden. Stick around to learn about the gin making process while you’re there.
The beautiful setting, combined with friendly hosts and, of course, the high quality gin, make this the perfect way to while away an afternoon.
7. Discover some under-the-radar natural gems
While the heavy-hitters are definitely worthy of exploration, you should also consider adding some of these lesser-known gems to your itinerary.
In summer, locals swim at Childers Cove. Drive 19 kilometres west of Peterborough and turn off the Great Ocean Road at Nirranda South to find its wonderful seascapes and bask in relative isolation.
For striking limestone cliffs, dramatic rocks and relatively few people, try Bay of Islands and the Bay of Martyrs. Both are located near Peterborough and feature sprawling headlands to traverse and colourful wildflowers to peruse.
And while tourists flock to Loch Ard Gorge, the lesser-known Grotto is just as picturesque. Locals come here to swim and marvel at the tapestry of rock pools. The Grotto is a blowhole, archway, sinkhole, cave and swimming spot in one. Prepare to spend hours here immersing yourself in its varied beauty.
Torquay is world-renowned as Australia’s surfing headquarters – making it worthy of a spot on your Great Ocean Road hit list.
The Australian National Surfing Museum is a great place to start. Learn about the history and evolution of the sport and gain a tangible understanding of exactly how it cemented itself as part of our national identity.
Once you’re done, test your newly-acquired surfing knowledge at one of the many beaches. As the home of the famous Rip Curl Surfing Competition, Bells Beach provides an iconic introduction. Powerful Southern Ocean swells roll in over the shallow reef, giving visitors a front row seat to the waves that draw thousands of surfers from around the world each year. If you feel more comfortable staying on dry land, you can watch the experienced surfers ride from one of the cliffside vantage points.
Find gentler swells at plenty of other nearby beaches: Jan Juc, Torquay front and Torquay back beach all provide breaks for intermediates or beginners.
Top off your assimilation with a visit to one of the major surf brand giants that call Torquay home: both Rip Curl and Quicksilver still have flagship stores in town. Stock up on iconic surf gear and reminisce on your day of discovery.
This ruggedly beautiful one-hour walk takes in secluded beaches, a shearwater colony and the 1859 lighthouse. It’ll guide you along all the best scenic locations of Port Fairy, past nineteenth century buildings and old stone churches.
Named after John Griffiths, who established Port Fairy’s whaling industry on the island in the 1830’s, the island is home to the mutton bird colony. Each day they return in swarms to their nests after a day of fishing out at sea. Be sure to keep on the walking track to avoid disturbing the mutton bird nests burrowed into the sand.