The Great Ocean Road was a true labour of love, totally unforgiving on about 3000 men that dedicated themselves to building it with picks and shovels. It’s now to be enjoyed for all its givings – its landscapes, wildlife and culinary wonders. There are dozens of ways you can do it, but here’s our guide on how to get the most out of the Great Ocean Road.
Great Ocean Road Trippin' | best places to stop along the way
Torquay to Anglesea
The Great Ocean Road officially commences in Torquay, a tight-knit seaside community built on hills that charismatically border the water. Its beachfront situ is to be celebrated, with an epic surf reputation and a new life-saving club due for completion in mid-2020. There’s also a serious scene of beachfront restaurants to rejuvenate when the day is done.
The drive from Torquay to Anglesea is a calm part of the road, not too windy and a pleasant way of easing into things. The Anglesea Golf Club welcomes those who roll into town, famous for the hoards of kangaroos that also play on the greens. Anglesea is lush with nursery cafes to sit in, soak up the green and enjoy some locally roasted coffee, like Cartel Coffee’s beans from nearby city Geelong. Expect Melbourne prices at these establishments.
Perfect night's rest before you start the Great Ocean Road tour
The first major hotel travellers will see on the Great Ocean Road is the momentous RACV Torquay, a new, award-winning resort with views of the coast and its very own championship golf course. The hotel hosts walking tracks weaving along cliff tops and through the bush. Whether the day is spent playing in the water or on land, bring the adrenaline levels down with a meal at one of three dining locations in the resort itself before retreating to a premium room.
Anglesea to Lorne
It’s during this leg where the route gets interesting, meandering in and out of verdant bends, back out onto roads right by the water close enough to hear the surf crash with the window down. Those who do experience motion sickness best have some tablets on standby.
The welcome to Lorne is utterly warm, first with a quaint river, then along the main strip part of town – a popular stop along the road. Lorne has it all, for lovers, friends and families. It’s a great spot to pick up a gift, with gorgeous stores full of fashion and jewellery – Flying Fishes notable for interesting pieces.
There are beachfront trampolines for kids (big and small) and great places to eat like the legendary Bottle Of Milk, famous for its burgers. Next door, visitors can pick up a frozen dessert or ice cream at Lorne Ice Cream. But if it’s dinner you’re hunting for, it may be wise to take a seat at casual diner Ipsos, where the Greek kitchen does what they know best to local seafood. Fresh, simple, and honourable cooking.
Those looking for a real challenge, head uphill to Lorne’s recently completed Live Wire Park. The 1.2 hectare high ropes and zipline course is a must-do for adrenaline junkies, with five high ropes courses to climb, walk, leap, swing and zipline through. Surrounded by grand trees and ferns, this is one to remember.
For those who find joy in chasing waterfalls, there’s Erskine Falls, a dramatic waterfall that falls straight down – no rocky interruptions. The short walk down to the base is suitable for most fitness levels.
A must-stay hotel while on the road
A veteran hotel of the Great Ocean Road, the Cumberland is a well-known landmark in Lorne. Right on the water, facing Louttit Bay, among the restaurants and stores of the main strip, the Cumberland’s views are some of the best on the coast. Leisure is found in the forms of tennis courts and a swimming pool, as visitors retreat into a one or two-bedroom apartment. Or, one of the indulgent penthouses.
Lorne to Apollo Bay
Soft winds pass plenty of lookout points to hop out and admire the ocean from Lorne onwards. There are also a few rivers with campsites frequented by families, such as Kennett River and Wye River. At Kennett River is the Kafe Koala, for those who fancy getting up close and personal with resident furballs over a cup of coffee.
Between the woods and the sea is the Wye General, a heralded store and cafe serving up all-day brunch. There’s also an abundance of fresh produce if you’re looking to get your fruit and veggies in. Along this stretch of the road is a parking lot for Sheoak Falls. Hop out and walk 15-minutes through the bush to soak up the sounds of nature.
Apollo Bay is home to the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse – a top pitstop for those looking for an ice-cold, locally-made beer. The fireplace makes for great refuge in the colder months. Competitive travellers can flaunt (or not) their skills on the pool table.
Grabbing some fish and chips at some point on the Great Ocean Road is a must, in Apollo Bay, there are a few places to indulge. One is the Apollo Bay Fish Shop on the main strip, otherwise, the Fisherman’s Co-Op on the pier if you’d like to dine with a view of the harbour.
A family-friendly hotel on the Great Ocean Road
‘Gulah’ is the Aboriginal word for koala (notice the similarity?). It’s apt as the furry friends in their trusty gum trees surround this contemporary property. Right on the ridge of Kennett River, where kookaburras and cockatoos provide the soundtrack, the two-storey house ideal for a four or five-person getaway that gets in touch with nature.
Gulah is spacious, bringing patrons together with a large open-plan living, dining and kitchen area. A deck looks out onto the deep blue, with an outdoor setting and barbecue to really maximise balmy evenings. If visiting in the colder months, the fireplace comes to the rescue.
Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles
Totally underrated on the pitstop scale is Johanna Beach, one of the wildest, most raw beaches the coast has to offer. The beach is accessible via an off-road revealing green as green gets rolling hills, quite a different backdrop to the rest of the road trip. As the hills recede, the beachside reveals itself. A short walking track leads to a magnificent, elevated view of Johanna Beach.
Sunsets here linger long in the mind after visiting. Sandstone cliffs mark the beach, whose violent waves show nature at its mightiest. From there, it’s back to driving through the tree tunnels of Great Otway National Park. Here adventurers will find the most verdant part of the journey, leading to the wondrous Twelve Apostles (eight actually remain) – breathtaking regardless of the weather.
Twelve Apostles to Port Campbell
Loch Ard Gorge follows the Apostles, a site where the Loch Ard clipper ship from England tried to enter Port Campbell’s waters and hit rocks in shallow waters, resulting in the tragic deaths of everyone aboard apart from two survivors. Massive sandstone cliffs define the area, hugged by turquoise waters. It’s nature at its best, perfectly picturesque and honest in form.
The landmark is close to Port Campbell, a quaint, almost sleepy town of 200 locals towards the tail end of the road. A petite beach is surrounded by cliff faces, and behind the beach is a concise number of restaurants, cafes and retail boutiques that have held their own and remained quite traditional, refusing to succumb to 2019’s trends.
Port Campbell's premium accommodation
A mere two-minute walk from central Lord Street, Sea Foam Villas are some of Port Campbell’s most premium accommodation options. Villas are equipped with a kitchenette or a full kitchen for those who feel like playing chef. Some come with a spa bath, others with views of the bay. There’s an onsite cafe for those who need their caffeine fix first thing in the morning, rather than later.
Port Campbell to Warrnambool
A scenic detour worthy of your company, just off the Great Ocean Road, is through the Conrangmite hinterlands. To the north of Port Campbell, open roads pass through bushland, paddocks and volcanic terrain, leading the way to relaxed towns and sites that are part of the much unknown Twelve Apostles Gourmet Trail. The trail is up of a collective of producers including whisky and gin distilleries, cheeseries, a berry farm and an ice creamery.
Back on route. What was once a whaling station, Warrnambool is now known as a place for admiring the majestic ocean creatures. As you step foot in Warrnambool, we suggest you go straight to the top. Cannon Hill is a historic spot that overlooks Warrnambool Beach and Lake Pertrobe. If you’re lucky, some time by the sea may gift you a whale sighting, more common between June and September. A walk on the promenade will lead you past Middle Island, a breeding site for little penguins.
Warrnambool’s beautiful tree-lined streets lead to heritage buildings and sites like the Cheese and Butter Factory, which offers free tastings of award-winning cheeses and a selection of locally made wine. There’s also a museum hosting a large collection of machinery and mementoes from the 1900s.
A perfect end to your Great Ocean Road trip
To conclude the road is Deep Blue Hotel and Hot Springs, a new resort gracing Warrnambool. It’s close to town but far enough to feel like it’s out of the hustle and bustle. It’s proudly Victoria’s first hot springs hotel, where visitors are treated to an array of body and wellness treatments. Perhaps a facial, a detox sauna or a body cocoon package.
Feature image courtesy of Road Trip with Raj / Unsplash
This article was updated in January 2020