A Great Ocean Road trip is one of the most beautiful drives in the world – stretching 244km from Torquay to Warrnambool with pristine coastline on one side and lush forest on the other. We have been fortunate to complete this iconic drive twice (in opposite directions and in opposite seasons.) This means our guide will cover our top tips for planning a Great Ocean Road itinerary regardless of rain or shine.
With so many stops (and often limited time) planning your Great Ocean Road itinerary can be overwhelming, so we have put together a guide of the best places to stop, eat and sleep along the way. We were also fortunate enough to have a friend who had lived in the area for over 20 years that let us in on a few local gems, ideal for those planning to self drive Great Ocean Road as you can head off the beaten path.
As one of the most popular day trips from Melbourne, we have created a sample 2 day Great Ocean Road itinerary which includes our favourite campsites (and free camping tips) if you have an entire weekend to explore. Not to fear, if time is not on your side, we also show how to drive Great Ocean Road in one day.
Regardless of the time available, this route can be tailored to your adventure, so whether you have an afternoon or a week exploring this iconic route, we can guarantee it will live up to the hype.
GREAT OCEAN ROAD MAP
If you plan to self drive Great Ocean Road, use the map below to guide you. Make sure to save the map offline as signal can be scarce at some points in the route. All stops mentioned on this Great Ocean Road itinerary are marked on this map, so you won’t have to plan a thing – just enjoy the epic drive!
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HOW TO PREPARE FOR A GREAT OCEAN ROAD TRIP
When is the best time to self drive Great Ocean Road?
The first time we did a Great Ocean Road trip was from Melbourne to Warrnambool in Winter and it was incredible – no tourists, stormy grey skies and empty towns. The second time we drove the opposite direction, Adelaide to Melbourne and in the height of Summer – glorious sunshine, crowds of people and the bluest sea we have ever seen.
Although we couldn’t choose a version we prefer, do keep in mind most tour buses start in Melbourne so it’s often a race against the crowds to each of these Great Ocean Road stops. The joy of a Great Ocean Road self-drive tour is you can leave as early as you like and spend as little or as much time as possible at each stop without waiting for the entire bus to take a photo.
Also starting your Great Ocean Road itinerary from Melbourne means you are in the lane closest to the ocean so it’s easier to stop and take photos as well as offers the best views.
When we drove it for a second time in Summer, we found camping on Great Ocean Road proved a huge advantage. You could camp nearby the popular attractions and secure a sunrise spot before the crowds arrived or similarly, visit later at night for sunset when the tour busses had all finished for the day.
What to pack for your Great Ocean Road trip
Don’t be fooled by the stunning backdrop, the road at times involves dangerous corners, crazy heat in Summer and limited water & fuel stops.
First & foremost you should always have travel insurance, enough petrol & water supplies.
Secondly, you should have a banging playlist, enough snacks and a road trip partner to snap those desired insta snaps at The 12 Apostles (if you need to whip your travel partner into shape, our couple travel tips might help!)
We then recommend reading our road trip packing list for the essentials we take with us every drive, and for a safe Great Ocean Road trip.
Finally, if you plan on camping along the way, our guide to camping on Great Ocean Road covers the essentials you’ll need for a stress free sleep under the stars.
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Where is best to go camping on the Great Ocean Road?
Understandably Great Ocean Road accommodation can be expensive due to the popularity of this drive. During our first visit we stayed in a motel in Apollo Bay, which despite being in the height of Winter and the town being completely dead still cost us A$100.00.
We LOVED camping on Great Ocean Road as it is not only super affordable but you wake up to some of the best views in the country or if you’re lucky, even a koala or two! If your Great Ocean Road itinerary is on a budget we can recommend over 10 free campsites on Great Ocean Road which means you won’t need to pay a penny on accommodation.
As we were in a campervan, we had to plug in occasionally to charge so needed to stay at paid campsites too. Our favourite paid campsites are below, all of which offered power & home comforts such as hot showers and camp kitchens as well as excellent wildlife (more on that later.)
Remember to book in advance as understandably camping in Australia is incredibly popular and near impossible during school holidays – some campsites even introduce a ballot system a year in advance. We booked our campsites the day before but we were not travelling in peak season (we planned our our Great Ocean Road itinerary in February, then did it again in May.)
If your Great Ocean Road trip is on a budget, we also suggest cooking up a storm on route to save money. From vegetarian camping recipes to one pot camping meals, we LOVE cooking as we camp as nothing beats a heart-warming meal under the stars (especially if it avoids tourist trap restaurants!)
Camping on Great Ocean Road is one of the best ways to get closer to the beautiful landscape and wildlife, but always remember to take only photos, leave only footsteps and only camp where permitted. For more tips, take a peek at our Australia camping guide.
The Best Hidden Gems on The Great Ocean Road
Although everyone wants to drive this epic route to catch a glimpse of the world famous icons such as The 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and Gibson Steps, very few people know that if you head a little inland you will find some of the best waterfalls in Australia!
If you have some spare time during your Great Ocean Road itinerary or you simply prefer to travel off the beaten track, take some time to explore the endless Great Ocean Road waterfalls.
With some just a 15 minute hike and others nestled deep in the Otways National Park these waterfalls are often overshadowed by the Great Ocean Road so you’ll be treated to a crowd free photo opportunity. Not to mention the endless wildlife and total serenity these waterfalls offer.
As a tip, the waterfalls on Great Ocean Road are best enjoyed during Winter, when they are in full flow. During the Summer months, rain is in short supply so understandably the waterfalls are only a trickle and not near as impressive. Regardless, we’d highly recommend the detour for a relaxing escape from the tour buses and selfie sticks.
How long do you need to drive Great Ocean Road?
In an ideal world, we would recommend at least 2 or 3 days to drive Great Ocean Road. Keeping in mind weekends are understandably the busiest. If you simply hop out for photos at the main attractions, it is possible to do the Great Ocean Road in one day, but this will feel rushed.
How to Self-Drive Great Ocean Road in One Day
It would be difficult but not impossible to see the Great Ocean Road highlights in one day. To do the full route, it would take a minimum of 9 hours (approx.) of constant driving from Melbourne to Warrnambool, going via the Great Ocean Road one way and the main highway the opposite way.
Therefor, if you have just one day we would recommend only driving as far as Port Campbell which is a slightly shorter 7.5 hours round-trip. Only visit the main Great Ocean Road stops mentioned below – many of which are mere minutes apart anyway and you should make it home by bed time.
We’d recommend leaving Melbourne as early as possible and be prepared for a long day to ensure you won’t be too rushed and to beat the tour buses.
- Great Ocean Road Sign
- Teddy’s Lookout
- Kennett River Koala Walk
- Gibson Steps
- Twelve Apostles
- Loch Ard Gorge
- Port Campbell
To return, take the inland route instead of the Great Ocean Road route. Although this will still take around 3 hours, it is far quicker than being stuck behind motorhomes, tour buses or being distracted by the scenery and stopping some more.
THE ULTIMATE 2 DAY GREAT OCEAN ROAD ITINERARY
Before your Great Ocean Road itinerary begins note that this route welcomes over 2.5 million visitors a year, so you can imagine the impact this many people have on The Great Ocean Road and surrounding scenery.
Please be a responsible traveller and stick to designated parking spaces, pay attention to all signage and do not leave the designated walking tracks/viewpoints.
This is our tried & tested 2 day Great Ocean Road itinerary that includes our favourite camping spots and foodie finds along the way.
GREAT OCEAN ROAD ITINERARY
1. Melbourne – Torquay
Drive Time: Melbourne to Torquay 1.5 hours
We recommend leaving Melbourne as early as you can to beat the tour buses. From Melbourne it is around a 1.5 hour drive to the start of the Great Ocean Road. What better way to start your Great Ocean Road itinerary than in the surf capital of Australia – Torquay. It is the birthplace to Rip Curl and Quicksilver, so you can imagine some seriously good surf beaches perfect for beginners to book a first lesson or pros to tackle some insane waves.
2. Admire the Surfers at Bells Beach
Drive Time: Torquay – Bells Beach is around 10 minutes
Bringing us to the second of your Great Ocean Road stops, Bells Beach. Famous for the Rip Curl Pro surf competition which has been hosted in Bells Beach since 1962. It is the world’s longest running surf competition, so if you want to witness this historic event, it takes place at Bells Beach in April.
3. Grab A Photo at Memorial Arch
Drive Time: Bells Beach to Memorial Arch is around 30 minutes
Arguably one of the most photographed Great Ocean Road stops is the sign itself welcoming you to the start. It’s surprisingly around 30 minutes from Torquay which is considered the start of the route, but it is in fact a memorial to the workers who constructed the road.
There is a car park to pull up and snap the sign (you can view it from either direction) and the fascinating history of the Great Ocean Road can be read on the signs nearby.
4. Lunch in Lorne
Drive Time: From Memorial Arch to Lorne is 15 minutes
There are so many things to do in Lorne that it’s understandably one of the most popular day trips from Melbourne. It is a stop that cannot be missed from your Great Ocean Road itinerary for numerous reasons, but most importantly – food!
We recommend stopping at the funky Bottle of Milk for lunch or a take away coffee (don’t forget your Stojo cup) and then head around the corner to the Bakery Café for a tasty caramel slice, lemon tart or a famous Australian pie!
The views in Lorne are just as amazing as the café culture and if time is on your hands it’s a fabulous spot to stay overnight to explore the surrounding Lorne waterfalls before continuing your Great Ocean Road trip.
5. Visit Erskine Falls
Drive Time: From Lorne to Erskine Falls is 15 minute drive inland
If you have time to drag yourself away from the coast, head inland to explore the numerous Great Ocean Road Waterfalls – we counted over 10 around Lorne alone! If you have time for only one or two waterfalls, we recommend Erskine Falls as it was one of our Great Ocean Road highlights. At over 30 metres high there are two viewing platforms to witness it flow into a luscious fern gully.
The walk is steep in parts but not particularly challenging and a fun way to stretch your legs during your Great Ocean road trip. As a little tip, it was on the road to Erskine Falls where we saw our first ever koala in the wild, simply drinking from a puddle on the road so keep your eyes peeled. If you want a guaranteed koala sighting head to stop 7.
6. Photo Stop at Teddy’s Lookout
Drive Time: From Erskine Falls to Teddy’s Lookout is 15 minutes. If you’re skipping out Erskine Falls, it’s only 6 minutes from Lorne to Teddy’s Lookout.
Another advantage if you’re choosing to self-drive Great Ocean Road is that you can stop at places such as Teddy’s Lookout which both times we’ve been (in Winter & Summer) have been surprisingly quiet.
It’s literally a 5 minute walk from the carpark to the viewpoint to grab a photo and it offers some of the best views of the Great Ocean Road, so it is worth the (very steep) detour. During our Summer visit, it was such a clear day we spotted dolphins and rays in the sea from here. If you have time, there is also a walking track here which takes around 45 minutes to complete.
7. Kennett River Koala Walk & Campground
Drive Time: From Teddy’s Look out to Kennett River it is a 25 minute drive.
It might be surprising but one of the most common things to see on the Great Ocean Road is koalas. The small seaside town of Kennett River is often referred to as the Koala capital of Australia and we can confirm that this was one not just one of our Great Ocean Road highlights but a highlight from our entire time camping in Australia.
If you head off Grey River Road you will find the Kennett River Koala walk. It’s not an official walkway, simply a road lined with many eucalyptus trees and LOTS of koalas.
We witnessed around 5 including one crossing the road and one which climbed above our campervan. It’s also a great spot to see colourful native birds such as King Parrots and Crimson Rosellas. Please remember to be a responsible traveller and do not feed the wildlife or try to touch them, no matter how cute they look!
If you are looking to go camping on Great Ocean Road, we cannot recommend Kennett River Holiday Park enough – there were SO many koalas in the actual camping ground as well as the koala walk mere minutes away. The beach out front is also spectacular and surprisingly quiet. A night here was under $35 too which was surprisingly affordable considering the epic location.
You could either end day one of your Great Ocean Road itinerary here and stay the night at Kennett River, or just visit the koalas and jump back in the car.
8. Visit Apollo Bay
Drive Time: From Kennett River to Apollo Bay is a 25 minute drive.
When we first visited Apollo Bay in Winter, we struggled to even find a fish & chip shop that was open, when we did our second Great Ocean Road trip in Summer it was so busy that we couldn’t park never mind find a café without a queue.
It is a popular spot to fill up fuel, pack supplies and wander along yet another incredible beach front before continuing your Great Ocean Road itinerary. It also happens to be the home to the BEST pie we have ever eaten so if you fancy a delicious snack the lamb, honey & mustard pie from the Apollo Bay Bakery will blow you away. It’s also famous for their scallop pie which is worth the Great Ocean Road drive alone!
9. Visit Cape Otway
Drive Time: From Apollo Bay to Cape Otway light house is a 35 minute drive.
It’s not just the beaches that will blow you away during your Great Ocean Road trip but the trees. Yup, trees. From Apollo Bay, Great Otway National Park is a worthwhile detour to not only explore the fascinating rainforest (which even has a tree tops walk way, 25 metres above ground) but to also see some of the coolest trees we’ve ever seen.
You will also come to Cape Otway lightstation – the oldest light house in Australia which is one of the most popular things to do on Great Ocean Road because at 90metres high it offers incredible views. However, it does come with a A$20.00 entrance fee and being backpackers short of cash and time we skipped this and continued our drive, admiring the unusual trees from the car.
10. Wreck Beach
Drive Time: From Cape Otway light house to Wreck beach it is a 1 hour and 10 minute drive.
This stretch of your Great Ocean Road itinerary is arguably one of the most beautiful and is referred to as the Shipwreck Coast. It is estimated that over 700 ships have been lost along this stretch of coast and at low tide you can even witness one of the shipwrecks yourself at Wreck Beach.
Be warned, there are over 300 steps down to the beach, so it is not a stop for the faint hearted. Make sure it is low tide, otherwise you could make that treck down for no reason!
Camp at Princetown Recreation Reserve
This is where you have a choice on how to end day one of your Great Ocean Road itinerary. You could either visit the famous Twelve Apostles for sunset or we have a sneaky tip on a fabulously affordable camping ground on Great Ocean Road that is a mere 10 minutes away. This means you can have a well deserved rest and have a short drive to witness sunrise at the 12 Apostles the next morning.
Affordable camping on Great Ocean Road is hard to find but this was a hidden gem at only $25 for a powered site with hot showers. As we were staying here on a Saturday there was a cricket match on at the oval which we watched from the back of our van and was a fun wee bonus. The site is also frequented by many kangaroos at dusk, so another excellent Great Ocean Road stop for wildlife.
GREAT OCEAN ROAD ITINERARY
11. Princetown Reserve to Gibson Steps
Drive Time: From the campsite at Princetown Reserve to Gibson Steps is 7 minute drive.
We recommend getting up early for day two of your Great Ocean Road itinerary. We left Princetown Reserve campsite around 6am thinking another advantage of doing a Great Ocean Road self-drive tour is that you can beat the crowds (more on this shortly).
You can view the Twelve Apostles from ground level by climbing down the 86 Gibson Steps to the shore. A stunning spot regardless of the time of day and surprisingly quiet – both times we have been we’ve been we were the only ones there.
Perhaps over shadowed by the 12 Apostles next door, or perhaps very few can be bothered with the steep climb back up the steps. The photo of Loz was taken in Winter and the photo of Daz was from our Summer visit, regardless of the weather Gibson Steps are a must see during your Great Ocean Road itinerary.
12. Sunrise at The Twelve Apostles
Drive Time: From the Gibson Steps to The Twelve Apostles is only 2 minutes!
Unquestionably the most famous of all Great Ocean Road stops is the Twelve Apostles. When we visited in Winter we were blessed with an empty car park and only around a dozen other visitors.
In February however we arrived at 6:30am to quite a crowd and were lucky to secure one of the last few sunrise spots. Despite only 7 of the Twelve Apostles still standing it is incredible to witness these giant (45 metre high) limestone formations in real life and for many sunrise here is the highlight of their Great Ocean Road itinerary.
13. Go for a paddle at Loch Ard Gorge
Drive Time: From the Twelve Apostles to Loch Ard Gorge is only 5 minute drive
A mere 5 minute drive later, you will come to another of the many Great Ocean Road Highlights – Loch Ard Gorge. Although the Twelve Apostles are arguably the most famous stop, Loch Ard Gorge is our favourite and one not to be missed from your Great Ocean Road itinerary. You could easily spend an hour or two here.
It is named after one of the most famous ships from the Shipwreck Coast (Loch Ard) which was travelling from England to Melbourne in 1878. There is a fascinating story about the 2 survivors of the shipwreck which you can read on a board at the gorge.
We were shocked along this drive at the addition of crowd control style barriers which had been put up in the Summer months to prevent people parking illegally. These not only spoiled the natural landscape and tarnished photos but it angered us that money and time needs to be spent on fencing because of tourists who won’t obey the signage.
Instead they stop for photo opportunities where they fancy. Please do not be this person, stick to the road and designated stops to avoid further erosion and potential accidents.
14. Lunch at Port Campbell
Drive Time: From Loch Ard Gorge to Port Campbell is only 10 minute drive
Port Campbell is a sleepy seaside village home to beautiful boutique accommodation and some fabulous foodie spots. We recommend Forage on the Foreshore not only because our lunch was delicious (we also had coffee & cake to take away for the drive) but because of the restaurant’s ethos.
They pride themselves on sustainability and their menu focuses on produce that is foraged and produced along The Great Ocean Road – including herbs and vegetables from their own garden. Enjoy the incredible view as you relax to the tunes from their 1960s radiogram before hopping back in the car to continue your Great Ocean Road itinerary.
15. The Arch
Drive Time: From Port Campbell to The Arch is 6 minutes
You won’t be back in the car for long as it’s under 10 minutes until your next Great Ocean Road stop – The Arch. As the name describes it is an arch naturally sculpted by the stunning swell that has worn away the rock.
It is particularly beautiful in the afternoon as the rocks turn a warm golden colour. There is a walkway leading to a viewpoint which also offers a unique perspective looking back on to the Twelve Apostles.
16. London Bridge
Drive Time: From The Arch to London Bridge is 3 minutes
You will barely have time to switch songs on your road trip play list before it’s time for the next stop in your Great Ocean Road itinerary. At just a 3 minute drive away is London Bridge.
Originally named after the British equivalent because it was an actual natural bridge, until 1990 when the arch connecting it to the mainland fell away leaving two tourists stranded on the remaining sea stack (later rescued by helicopter).
Although no longer a bridge as such, it is sometimes referred to as London Arch and is a worthy Great Ocean Road highlight nonetheless, with two viewing platforms offering spectacular views.
17. The Grotto
Drive Time: From London Bridge to The Grotto is a 5 minute drive
Can you believe we nearly missed out The Grotto from our Great Ocean Road itinerary but we are so glad we didn’t. Do not be fooled into thinking it is just yet another rock formation, this unique natural phenomenon is actually part blowhole, archway and cave all in one stop.
You can view the fascinating reflections below or from above at the look out. Just don’t climb over the wall and aid the erosion further for an insta-snap, which we witnessed tourists do during our Great Ocean Road trip.
18. Bay of Martyrs
Drive Time: From The Grotto to Bay of Martyrs is 8 minute drive
Despite the breath taking views and beautiful beach at The Bay of Martyrs, there is a horrific history that surrounds this area of Victoria.
Although deemed folklore as there is no written evidence, it is believed the name and surrounding look outs such as Massacre Bay and Massacre Point are titled after the devastating events that occurred here.
Local stories spanning generations claim that Europeans killed a large group of Karrae-Wurrong Aboriginal men here, proving a thought provoking stop on the Great Ocean Road.
19. Bay of Islands
Drive Time: From The Bay of Martyrs to Bay of Islands is a 5 minute drive
Approximately 30 minutes from Loch Ard Gorge is The Bay Of Islands. You will be forgiven for mixing images of The Bay of Islands with the Twelve Apostles – to us, they are remarkably similar.
The Bay of Islands also boasts striking limestone sea stacks and is a stunning spot for sunset. The main difference being however, that it is considerably less crowded here than Twelve Apostles so is one of the most peaceful stops on this Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Drive Time: From The Bay of Islands to Panmure campground is 28 minutes inland
The finishing line is mere minutes away but if you have time to spare in your Great Ocean Road itinerary we have a fabulous FREE campsite that we cannot recommend enough.
Free camping on Great Ocean Road can be difficult as spaces are limited however this is one of the few designated sites which was peaceful, clean and surprisingly quiet. We recommend arriving early (around 4/5pm) to secure a good spot. Best of all, there are FLUSH TOILETS which was a welcome change to the drop toilets we encountered while free camping in Australia.
Drive Time: From Panmure campground to Warrnambool
It is officially the final stretch of your Great Ocean Road road trip and just 20 minutes from the Panmure camping ground is Warrnambool. If you are driving the Great Ocean Road in 2 days so want to skip the camping, then it is 40 minutes from Bay of Islands to Warrnambool.
If you have enjoyed the fascinating stories of shipwrecks so far, you can learn much more at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village.
If your Great Ocean Road itinerary permits and you are visiting between May and October, Logan Beach in Warrnambool is the perfect whale watching spot and a memorable way to end your Great Ocean Road trip.
Returning to Melbourne
Now your 2 day Great Ocean Road itinerary is over, it is time to head from Warrnambool to Melbourne which is 257km. In total it takes 3 hours to drive back to Melbourne, but along the Highway not Great Ocean Road.
If you’d prefer to see those epic attractions again, then driving from Warrnambool to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road will take 5 hours and 30 minutes.
We hope this guide has given you endless inspiration for planning your Great Ocean Road itinerary. Whether you only have a day and want to just tick off the icons or you plan on making it a week long affair and discovering some hidden gems, we are sure you’ll have an epic Great Ocean Road trip regardless. Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed your favourite campsite or stop from our guide, we’re always looking for excuses to return!