A locals guide to The Great Ocean Road Drive

A locals guide to the Great Ocean Road | Beaches, Cafes, Places to see and things to do by See Something New
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*****This post has not been updated since 2016, its on the list for review but for now its possible some information about specific shops etc may be out of date******

Welcome to my backyard – the Great Ocean Road Drive!

It is a world renowned coastal drive for a reason, with sweeping coastal vistas, temperate rainforest, award winning cafes and some of the regions best waterfront pubs! You just need to jump in your car or book on a tour and get over here!

The Great Ocean Road Drive officially starts just beyond Torquay however if you are coming from Melbourne, there are plenty of opportunities to visit new places before you officially start! Check out the detour boxes for ideas of other places to see along the way if you have more than one day and time to turn off the Great Ocean Road!

Melbourne to Torquay

There are two major ways to get to The Great Ocean Road from Melbourne.

Both start by heading down the Princes Freeway towards Geelong, then you can bypass Geelong or head straight through it. If you are on a day trip dash you want to be-line straight for the Great Ocean Road however if you are on a longer trip you can stop at some of the detours along the way.

Detour 1. The You Yangs. Turn off at the Little River Road Exit or take the Lara Exit and follow the signs

If you are on a multi day trip and have the time, the You Yangs is a lovely regional park to check out and stop for a picnic lunch. It has a series of highly sought after Mountain Bike tracks so if you have your bikes you will definitely want to plan a stop. There is also a number of walks you can do, including my favourite, the Flinders Peak hike, a steep uphill track which rewards your hard work at the end with spectacular views out over the Geelong and Bellarine Peninusala region. You can even see the Melbourne Skyline on clear days. Its a great track for training so if you are trying to keep fit on holidays it will definitely get the blood pumping. Best of all? You can take your dog! The viewing platform at the top of Flinders Peak makes the uphill climb worthwhile! You want to continue back towards Geelong through Lara, via Forest Road North, where wildlife lovers can make a quick stop at Serendip Sanctuary and spot kangaroos and emus on the Wildlife Walk and twitchers can get their nerd on at the bird hides.

From the outskirts of Geelong you have two choices, those in a hurry should veer right and stay on the M1 Princess Freeway, those with more time can head into Geelong down the A10 Princes Hw (Melbourne Road), which is your second option for getting to the start of the Great Ocean Road. If you don’t like sticking to Freeways, you can take this option and not turn off, and if the traffic is light, it wont add much time to your journey however pick the wrong time of day and you will be stuck and the multitude of traffic lights on the Hwy. Geelong is a lovely seaside town so if you have more than one day, its worth the stop!

Detour 2. Geelong. Exit by veering left on the A10 Princes Hwy

If you opt for going via Geelong make sure once your in town you turn off the highway by following the signs for the waterfront scenic drive (if you take this option your going to want a map or a GPS to get back on the highway) which takes you on a short picturesque tour of the stunning waterfront town. Geelong, despite getting skipped on most trips, is my home town (I now live on the surf coast) and it really is a fantastic place with with lovely waterfront restaurants and bars and views out over the bay to the You Yangs. On a nice sunny summers day, with the water sparkling and beer in hand you will really wonder why you would live anywhere else!

Sunset on the Geelong foreshore at the end of a beautiful sunny day.
The end of a beautiful sunny day on the Geelong foreshore!

If you make the detour, you want to park down at Eastern Beach where you can take a stroll out over the water on the esplanade,  have a dip in the free waterfront pool and get your photo taken with one of the many Bollards lining the Geelong Waterfront. They are made from old pier pylons and were painted by artist Jan Mitchell. Many tell stories of the area, and our lifestyle, with everything from a team of surf life savers, to 14 pairs of rabbits dotted amongst bollards which are symbolic of the original 24 rabbits released near the town in 1859. If would like to see more of Geelong, visit the visitors information centre, where you can also pick up a book with information on the bollards. The guide ‘Whats On in Geelong’ is a great monthly publication which you can use to plan your visit. Once you have explored my home town Geelong, you want to get back on the Princes Hwy/Latrobe Terrace and head towards Torquay. On your way to Torquay, you can stop for a beer at Odyssey Tavern and Brewery, Geelongs first Craft Beer specialists. They have a beer menu to please the most crafty of all beer lovers, serve you with a smile and are open from midday onwards Fri – Sun (dinner only wed- thur). 

If you stick to the bypass road, follow the signs for Torquay or Anglesea  (not the inland route to Lorne or you will miss iconic destinations like the Great Ocean Road sign). On the other side of the dumbest round about in the world you want to keep your eye out for the Freshwater Cake Shop, a locally renowned bakery that does a mean sausage roll, sells lots of local products and you guessed it, does a ripper cake! Also, if you want to try the greatest Feta in the whole of Australia, pick yourself up a jar of Merediths Goats cheese. Its made in the Geelong Region and the melt in your mouth taste  is worth the price tag.

If you want to officially do the Great Ocean Road from its very beginning, have planned to visit the iconic beach front town of Torquay or love to shop, you will want to follow one of the signs that will have you turn left and short cut you across to the the Surf Coast Hwy and into Torquay. The alternative is to continue straight for Anglesea (if you take that option, we will meet up with you again in just a moment!)

On your way into Torquay you have a heap of options of what to do! If you turn left off the Hwy anywhere in town you will end up at one of Torquays amazing beaches. Torquay is one of Victoria’s hottest holiday destinations and quickest growing postcodes for a reason.

Its busy, but it has beautiful beaches and the influx of new residents has resulted in the town being able to support a solid collection of popular restaurants. There are heaps to choose from but Growlers is one of Torquays most loved and long lived waterfront restaurants and with a killer view over the beach, its worth a stop for a cheeky beer or iced coffee in the sun and they do consistently awesome meal. My other favourties are Front Beach Cafe, the towns Craft Beer go to destination, or Surfcoast Wholefoods (which is not near the beach but has an amazing menu of paleo and wholefood options and the best smoothies in town). Torquay is also the start of the Surfcoast walk, a multiday hike well worth your time (and with two cars can easily be done in sections as day walks which is how I have completed it).

Back on the Hwy you will find shopping heaven.  Torquay is the home of Australias favourite surf brands and boasts a number of large factory outlets. The outlets are mostly down the side streets and the full priced stores are on the highway. Go nuts, it doesn’t get better than this when it comes to Surf Brands.

At the bottom of the hill, you continue straight around the roundabout. Roll down the windows, put on your sunnies and crank the tunes because you are officially on the great ocean road and it cant be done any other way!

Here are some ideas on what to visit! Remember, just driving from Melbourne, along the GOR to the 12 apostles and back via the iland route is 7 hours and 25 minutes of driving without any stops so you want to keep this in mind when planning your day. I will highlight anwhat is generally considered not to be missed iconic stops along the road and then you can fill in the gaps based on what you would like to see.

Torquay to Anglesea

On your way out is Jan Juc, a picturesque leafy little suburb with some well known surf breaks down from the cliffs and also swimming at the Jan Juc beach.

Stop in for a visit at Bells Beach,  Australia’s most well known surf spot. If there is decent waves then there will more than likely be some phenomenal surfers to watch!

Next turnoff along is Point Addis. This area has a number of beautiful beaches and surf breaks and at low tide there is rockpools and the area is a marine park.

Point Addis Beach is a great place to stop for a long beach walk on the Great Ocean Road Drive
The expansive Point Addis Beach is a great stop for a long beach walk

Stop for an hour or two and explore the little maze of the Anglesea River with Canoe hire from under the bridge.If you are in need of a bite to eat McGains Cafe is a foodies heaven. It has won multiple trip advisor awards and is little patch of paradise hidden away in a nursery in the Anglesea Industrial site.

The inside of Mcgains Cafe
McGains Cafe is a little escape from reality.

And if you are feeling a little thirsty, the Deck Cafe is well worth a quick stop (or full arvo session in the sun if you have the time)! It is on your left as you head up the hill out of Anglesea and while its decor is for most parts ‘surf shack’ (its part of the surf life saving club), its clean, has lovely staff  and by far offers one of, if not the best, views for a beer along the great ocean road. The balcony is the place to be and it looks straight out over Anglesea Beach. *2016 note: currently closed for change of ownership

Anglesea to Lorne

As you head out of Anglesea up the hill, you will start to get sweeping views out along the coastline. Your first of many lookouts for the trip is partway up the hill so pull over at as many as you can to start getting photos of the coastal views the road is famous for!

Just remember to use indicators and don’t drive like a wanker (you would be suprised how many people forget these basic rules of driving on the GOR)! And if you are here from overseas, as the many signs say, in Australia, we drive on the left side of the road. As long as your sensible, don’t speed, and use the passing bays to let people pass if your feeling pressured or holding up the traffic, you will have a safe and awe inspiring journey!

Point Roadknight turnoff is on the left just around the corner and is great beach if your not a big fan of pounding waves, have small children or are keen to explore the point at low tide.

Aireys Inlet is the home of the Split Point Light House. You know, ‘have you ever, ever felt this, had strange things happen, when your going round the twist’! Yep, you guessed it, its the home of the Round the Twist lighthouse so call in for a visit and trip down memory lane.You can stop and explore the towns lovely little creek (that I have been meaning to kyack for a years but have never quite made) and more beautiful beaches.

Eastern View (Not to be Missed Stop 1)

Tiny Eastern View is the home of the Great Ocean Road sign. It would almost be a crime to visit the GOR and not get the obligatory photo so make sure you pull off into the carpark on the left.  There is perfectly designed platforms to get your photo taken so skip standing in the middle of the road playing roulette with the cars (i’m guilty of this…….but only because I get to play down there when its super quite). Its also the home of, you guessed it, plenty more rugged beaches to stop and play on.

Lorne is another one of the Great Ocean Roads much loved tourist towns. I have been camping here since I was in kinder and again, lots of people, but its just such a lovely town, its hard not to fall in love. The iconic swing bridge on the way into town is fun regardless of your age and if you want to get to the Erskine Falls the hard (but beautiful) way, the hike leaves from the Caravan Park on the right just over the bridge.  Never fear, there is also an option to just drive there and climb down the steps.

The visitors information centre is on the left over the bridge and they have some easy to use guides to finding all the walks in the region (and there are loads of them, mostly surrounded by towering eucalypts or ferns and often with cascades or waterfalls at the end).

Bushwalk to Erskine Falls
The Erskine Falls Track from the Lorne Bridge is a long haul, but worth every step for surroundings like this!

The main beach in Lorne is truly spectacular, and if your on a meal budget,  continue round to the point where there is picnic tables and BBQ’s with five star vies looking out over the bay. On a sunny day, its one of my favourite places, with people from all of the world enjoying one of Australias most pictureqse seaside towns. Lorne point on your way out, is a fickle little surf break that only works in exactly the right weather conditions, but more often than not the whole bay is fairly flat and the beach is a great place to swim.

Lorne to Cape Otway

From here you start to hit the truly spectacular climbs and descents of the Great Ocean Road, with stunning lookouts and little roadside inlets to stop and explore.

Just out of Lorne is Cumberland River Holiday Park. It is one of the most beautiful private campgrounds on the Great Ocean road, fronting onto a creek, across the road from a little inlet and located in a valley between towering hills.

Next along is Wye River which has popular Caravan Park and a pub looking straight onto the ocean so stop in for a beer if you have the time! At low tide you can visit the Wye River Rock Pools where you can spend ours rambling in the rockpools spotting brightly coloured sea stars and aenemes.

Kennett River boasts another Great Ocean Road beachfront caravan park and if you walk up the gravel track to the left of the General store there is very good chance you will see a Koala. If you are REALLY short on time, then stop here however I highly recommend making the detour down Cape Otway Road to spot Koalas.

You will head through Skenes Creek and Apollo Bay (another popular sea side town) and the Great Ocean Road will start to veer inland through the magnificent Otway National Park. Wind down your windows and smell the crips, clean bush air!

Maits Rest (Nearly a not to be missed spot) rainforest walk is a short 800 metre cicuit boardwalk that winds its way through cool temperate rainforest and is definatly worth the stop!

From here you have the option to heady down Cape Otway Road to spot Koala’s. If you are on a tight schedule and stopped at Kennet River then continue on towards Port Cambell.

Detour 3. Cape Otway Road Koala Spotting (Not to be Missed Stop 2)

Cape Otway Road is by far the best accessible place to spot Koalas in the Otway National Park. Just keep driving to you hit roadside gum trees and pull over and look up. They are everywhere and very very cute so have your camera ready! Make sure you pull off the road properly because it may seem like a country road but its busy, and cars come around the corners quite fast.

This road also leads to the oldest surviving mainland light house, the Cape Otway Lightstation, an interesting detour rich with history for those with the time to stop and explore but at $19.50 an adult to enter, those on a budget (or who aren’t eager to head inside) are best to stop and explore around the base of the free access lighthouse back at Aireys Inlet.

A further detour down Blanket Bay Road to camp the night at Blanket Bay is must for those of you with time. Its a stunning bush campground right on the beach and offers the chance to spot wildlife, swim, fish and bushwalk. Keep in mind its a VERY popular campground in holidays and over long weekends so book before you go.


Cape Otway to Port Campbell

Most of your stops for the day are in this section so make sure you save plenty of time! From Cape Otway you keep driving to you hit the coastline again and say hello to the Port Campbell National Park for the first time.

If you are looking for someone to stay the night you can detour off the GOR to Aire River and Johanna Beach Campgrounds, both on the Southern Side of the the Great Ocean Road and both with grassy sites surrounded by coastal bushland. At around $35 a night per campsite for up to 6 people, they are still a MUCH cheaper option than hotels and the Johanna Beach Campground is a stones throw away from the sand, just a short walk down a little track (check out the above link to the Parks Victoria site for more camping options on the GOR).

From here you have the option to detour north up the Colac-Lavers Hill Road to visit the Otway Fly or continue on to rejoin the coast.

Detour 4. Colac-Lavers Hill Road. Otway Fly

The Otway Fly is one awesome side trip where $25 an adult or $70 a family will get you the opportunity to climb high up into the tree tops of the Otways temperate rainforest. The highest point is at the top of the spiral tower at a staggering 47m above the rainforest understorey. There is also the option to zipline or abseil from the fly for an extra hit of adrenalin. .

Gibson Steps (Not to be missed stop 3)

Gibson Steps is your first stop back at the coast and it is an AWESOME one. Pause at the lookout before you Climb down a long set of stairs carved into the cliffs to stand on a truly rugged Great Ocean Road beach. You will be dwarfed by towering limstome cliffs and be reminded exactly why Australia has a reputation for dishing up some of the most spectacular beaches in the world.

The Twelve Apostles (Not to be missed stop 4)

A drive along this rugged old coastline is a truly spectacular experience and from the air its just as magnificent!
A drive along this rugged old coastline is a truly spectacular experience and from the air its just as magnificent!

Just around the corner is the iconic 12 Apostles, which can be viewed from the wheelchair accessible viewing area which is around 280metres from the carpark or you can adventure on down the stairs and meander along the boardwalk. The spectacular Apostles are rock stacks made from limestone, and despite their name, there is not twelve of them and apparently never was. The ocean slowly wears away at the bases and several years ago one of them crashed dramatically into the ocean! Keep in mind that this is one of Victoria’s most visited tourist destinations so plan an early start to avoid the crowds if your not on a tour.

Loch Ard Gorge (Not to be missed stop 5)

Looking back towards Loch Ard Gorge and the spectacular Limestone Coast of the Great Ocean Road
Looking back towards Loch Ard Gorge and the spectacular Limestone Coast of the Great Ocean Road

Loch Ard Gorge is not only geologically beautiful but has a fascinating and sadly tragic history behind it.  You can learn about the Shipwreck in the area on the interpretive signs as you walk along the short tracks and if you have time you can plan to do the longer 3.4km ‘Living on the Edge’ track which visits a number of other sites including Muttonbird Island, the Blowhole and a cave.

I can guarantee by now you will be absolutely blown away from the days adventures completing one of the worlds most beautiful coastal drives. But if you have another night or two to stick around, the area has one more trick up its sleeve! If not, its time to grab a coffee in Port Campbell and hit the road back to Melbourne.

Detour 5. 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail.

12 Apostles Gourmet Trail (Loop Drive)

One of my favourite ways to fill in a day is to do the Port Campbell/12 Apostles Gourmet trail (I do this trail every year on the long weekend in March with a massive group of extended family and friends!). Find yourself a designated driver 😉  and spend the day taking in cheese factories, wineries, a berry farm, a chocolate factory, the regions most famous icecream shop and even a rum distillery . Its literally all the best food groups in one tasty drive.

And that my friends, is how to do the Great Ocean Road.

Looking along the Great Ocean Road as the sun sets on another magical day. Farewell one of the worlds best drives with this view firmly etched in your mind!
You can now farewell one of the worlds most spectacular coastal drives with this view firmly etched in your mind!

Useful Resource

Parks Victoria | Otway National Park

Parks Victoria | Port Campbell National Park

Visit 12 Apostles

Visit Great Ocean Road

See Something New | Great Ocean Road Hotel Deals

Tips & Hints

If you have limited mobilitiy you can check these destinations on the Parks Victoria website for accessibility information!

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