Guide to the Great Ocean Road

Here is everything you need to know about one of Australia’s best driving routes!

Known as one of the most spectacular driving routes in the world, the Great Ocean Road is an iconic Australian destination. Hugging the coastline, meandering through the rainforest and cutting through pretty towns, it is a route that offers not only stunning views but action-packed adventures and activities too.

The essential facts

  • The Great Ocean Road is 243km long, stretching from Torquay to Allansford, which is 10minutes from Warrnambool.
  • The road begins approximately 100km from Melbourne.
  • It is the world’s longest war memorial.
  • WWI veterans built the road from 1919 to 1932.
  • You can visit the road in one day or take a few days to experience all that it offers.
  • It is home to some of Australia’s most iconic animals.
  • The most popular attractions are Bells Beach, the Memorial Arch, the 100km Great Ocean Walk, Great Otway National Park, the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, London Arch and Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve.

The history of the Great Ocean Road

The first plans

Before the creation of the Great Ocean Road, it was very difficult to travel between the towns on the southern coast. Following years of discussions, it wasn’t until the end of the First World War that the Country Roads Board finally committed to the road’s construction. They approached the State War Council and proposed a plan to hire returning WWI veterans to build a road as a memorial to the soldiers that died in the Great War. The plan suggested beginning the route at Barwon Heads, continuing west along the coast through Cape Otway and finishing close to Warrnambool. In 1919, the construction of the South Coast Road began.

The construction

Around 3000 ex-soldiers helped to build the Southern Coast Road, and it wasn’t easy. They worked on rough terrain, through treacherous weather and on rocky cliffsides. Unsurprisingly, a few of the soldiers died during construction. Using tools such as explosives, picks and shovels they carved the road into the cliffside, camping in the bush as they went.

The road opens!

On March 18th 1922, officials opened the first section of road from Eastern View to Lorne. To recoup some of the building costs, travellers had to pay a toll of 2 shillings for cars and 10 shillings for wagons with 2 or more horses.

In November 1932 the road had its full official opening, celebrated with a weekend of festivities held near Lorne’s Grand Pacific Hotel. Officially renamed the Great Ocean Road, it was then acknowledged as the longest war memorial in the world. When the State Government acquired the road in 1936, they abolished all tolls.

Things to do along the Great Ocean Road

  • Go surfing

    Bells Beach

    The stereotypical Aussie pastime, surfing is fantastic along Victoria’s southern coast. Bells Beach is home to the world-famous Rip Curl Pro but there are several other excellent places to jump on a board no matter what your ability level. If you’re a beginner, then head to Torquay, Anglesea and Lorne and take a lesson from the pros at the surf schools. If you’re a more advanced surfer, then experience the great winds and big breakers of Torquay and Bells Beach before visiting one of the best surf spots in Victoria, Johanna Beach (35km west of Apollo Bay).

  • See incredible natural wonders

    12 Apostles

    Some of the most iconic sights along the route are the natural rock formations, carved from the limestone cliffs over millions of years. The 12 Apostles are the most famous of these. Standing high above the waves, these tall limestone stacks battle to remain standing as the crashing waves slowly wear down their bases. Interestingly, there were never 12 stacks and the name of the 12 Apostles was adopted because it sounded more appealing than the previous name, the Sow and Piglets. Only 7 stacks now remain but they are still an impressive sight, especially at sunset!

    Nearby is Loch Ard Gorge, a picturesque inlet featuring clear blue waters and flanked by two yellow-hued cliff sides. This small bay has a fascinating history involving a shipwreck that sank beneath the waves in 1878. On route from England to Melbourne, the ship named Loch Ard collided with a rocky reef and all but two of the passengers perished. The only survivors, Tom and Eva, became famous throughout Australia and England, and the two rock pillars at the gorge take their names from them.

    Further west is London Bridge (sometimes called London Arch), in the Port Campbell National Park. Just like in the song ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, that is precisely what happened here. In 1990, the ‘bridge’ that connected the rock formation to the land unexpectedly collapsed, leaving the natural arch isolated from the mainland. Even without the bridge, the London Arch is still a beautiful example of the erosive power of the ocean.

  • Spot amazing wildlife

    Koalas

    Several of Australia’s cutest critters live along the Great Ocean Road. Stop off at Kennett River and gaze up into the branches of the eucalyptus trees to see a koala and purchase seeds from the on-site shop to feed the colourful king parrots.

    During the winter months, many of the lookouts along the Great Ocean Road offer fantastic viewing platforms for whale watching. South right whales and humpback whales swim through these waters during this time of the year on their way to breed in warmer waters. Look out for the tell-tale plumes of spray to spot one of these incredible marine mammals.

    Kangaroos and wallabies also live along the route. Generally favouring grasslands and forests, they are most commonly seen hopping through the landscape at dusk and dawn. You can also see kangaroos and wallabies, and many other animals, in the Otways National Park or at the wildlife parks such as The Great Ocean Road Wildlife Park and Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve.

  • Go hiking

    What better way to take in the wonderful scenery of the Great Ocean Road than by strolling through its rainforest trails and along its coastal tracks while taking in dramatic views. With walking tracks found throughout the national parks and along much of the coastline, there is something to suit walkers of all ages and abilities.

    Watch the surfers tackle the waves along the Surf Coast Walk from Torquay to Lorne or meander through national parks towards the 12 Apostles along the Great Ocean Walk. For a look at some of Australia’s best rainforests, you can explore the walkways of the Great Otway National Park. Enjoy the peace and tranquillity here as you watch the sun’s rays break through the canopy and reflect off the trickling streams and cascading waterfalls.

  • Try excellent food, wine and beer

    Scattered throughout the towns along the Great Ocean Road are several superb places to grab a bite. Enjoy an ice cream snack at Dooley’s Ice Cream in Apollo Bay or indulge at the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery in Bellbrae.

    For a more substantial meal, you could stop at Aireys Pub or enjoy a taste of the Mediterranean at the Greek restaurant in Lorne, Ipsos, whose owners were welcomed back with open arms after owning a restaurant on the road years before.

    There are also breweries and wineries along the road serving up excellent drops. Airey Pub has its own micro-brewery, Rogue Wave, and in Lorne you can enjoy free samples at the cellar door of St Anne’s Vineyards. No matter what your taste, there’s something for you along the Great Ocean Road!

The Great Ocean Road’s beautiful towns

  • Torquay

    Torquay

    The gateway to the Great Ocean Road, Torquay has everything you need for a relaxing stay or an exhilarating water-based adventure! Home to the world-famous Bells Beach, it is a surfing mecca, whether you want to jump in the waves, shop among the surf brands or explore the Surf World Museum.

  • Anglesea

    Just like the other towns of the Great Ocean Road, Anglesea has beautifully clean air and ocean views, but it also has excellent opportunities for wildlife and nature spotting. Look out for eastern grey kangaroos hopping through the bush or across the golf course and search for rare orchids among the abundant flora. If you love art, then embark upon the Anglesea Art Walk, a 2.5km walk that displays unique mosaics along the way.

  • Lorne

    Lorne

    A town where bush meets the beach, the delightful town of Lorne is the perfect place to fire up the BBQ and gaze across the blue waters of the Bass Strait. With 10 waterfalls within 10km, Lorne also offers great chances to see the natural wonders of the region. Or if you want to take it easy, then grab a towel and head to the main beach. It’s one of the only patrolled beaches during summer so it’s a great place for all the family.

  • Apollo Bay

    Apollo Bay

    A popular stop along this coastal route, Apollo Bay has a great selection of places to eat and to stay. A perfect mix of seaside town and outdoor escape, you can relax on the beach here, stroll among the rolling green hills, or explore the nearby Great Otway National Park. This town is also excellent for seafood, with scallop pies being particularly popular with visitors.

  • Port Campbell

    If you’re looking for a place to stop close to the 12 Apostles, then Port Campbell is perfect! Located west of the most popular sights on the Great Ocean Road, the town boasts many restaurants and cafes and has shops and galleries to explore too. For the keen angler, the harbour and local creeks offer excellent fishing, or you can join a boat tour and cast your line into the open ocean.

Where to stay on the Great Ocean Road

No matter what your budget, there are several accommodation options along the Great Ocean Road.

  • Camping

    If the weather is good (and even if it’s not, to be honest) then one of the best ways to experience the stunning local habitat is by camping among it. If you’re a beach lover, then you can pitch up at one of the excellent beachfront campsites such as at Johanna’s Beach or Blanket Bay. Or if you love to be among the greenery then you can camp at a site in or near one of the national parks.

  • For the budget conscious

    Youth hostels such as Bell’s Beach Backpackers and Apollo Bay YHA offer great self-catering accommodation for those on a budget and are a fantastic choice for solo travellers. But if a hostel isn’t your thing then there are other options. The Lorne Hotel has great value rooms, as does Ocean Road Brewhouse in Apollo Bay. The latter is connected to a brewery so you can sample some of the local brews before heading upstairs for a comfortable night’s sleep.

  • For any budget

    Stay at the place where the Great Ocean Road celebrated its official opening by spending the night at Grand Pacific Hotel in Lorne. Steeped in history, this beautiful building has charming rooms and an on-site restaurant with sea views. If you’d like to opt for a self-catering apartment then Airbnb have several unique options to choose from, or you can book into one of the campsite lodges or at one of the many hotels.

    For a real taste of luxury with some of the most stunning views on earth then you can stay at the road’s most photographed property, The Pole House. Suspended 40m above Fairhaven, this luxurious pad has views that will take your breath away – guaranteed!

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