Great Ocean Road self drive trip itinerary

The Ultimate Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary

A Complete Guide for the Perfect Road Trip Along Australia's Great Ocean Road

Driving the Great Ocean Road is a truly unforgettable experience. One of the world’s great road trips, our Great Ocean Road self-drive itinerary covers all of this legendary road’s must see sights and much more besides.

Winding around over 200 kilometres of Victoria’s spectacular south western coastline, the Great Ocean Road is filled with gorgeous historic seaside towns and packed with spectacular natural scenery.

The wild and ragged Shipwreck Coast is the most famous stretch of the Great Ocean Road, home to a breathtaking cluster of world renowned geological landmarks, such as the Twelve ApostlesLoch Ard Gorge and London Arch.

Before you reach the Shipwreck Coast you’ll come across countless heavenly beaches and idyllic bays via spectacular national parks packed with koala bears, kangaroos and wallabies.

Apollo Bay, part of our Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary
The Great Ocean Road, one of the world's greatest road trips.

Once you reach the end of the Great Ocean Road, the best thing to do is to keep going. There is much to explore beyond the Shipwreck Coast, and we’ve included some of the many highlights that lie a little further onto our Great Ocean Road self-drive itinerary. 

These include the heritage cities of Warrnambool and Portland, the enchanting old town of Port Fairy, and the wild and windswept Cape Nelson and Cape Bridgewater. Each stop makes a great addition to any Great Ocean Road trip itinerary.

Great Ocean Road Itinerary: Table of Contents

Top Tips For the Perfect Great Ocean Road Itinerary

The Best Way to Travel is by Car

Easily the best way to experience the Great Ocean Road is by car. Driving the Great Ocean Road allows you to experience so much more of this iconic road. 

Your own set of wheels gives you much more choice and freedom to decide on your own itinerary as well as how long you want to spend in each place.

That’s exactly why we’ve put together this in-depth Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary.

Sunset near Kennett River, Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary
The Great Ocean Road at sunset

Great Ocean Road Trip Car Hire

If you’re arriving from overseas and planning a Great Ocean Road road trip you’ll need a set of wheels. The starting point for the Great Ocean Road is the town of Torquay, roughly an hour and a half drive from Melbourne.

We always use Discover Cars to find the best rates on car hire wherever we head out on a road trip. 

You can search for the right car and the best car hire deals from Melbourne Airport by clicking here.

Take Your Time

Whilst it is possible to cram in the Great Ocean Road’s biggest attractions in a day or over a weekend from Melbourne, this is the worst way to see the road. 

Attempting to speed through everything on your Great Ocean Road itinerary is not going to make for the best experience.

Stuffing the whole journey into a day trip or over a weekend will mean you’ll spend a lot of time driving and hardly any time sight-seeing. 

There’s so much to see and do along that Great Ocean Road  that the longer you have to explore here the better. Space out your Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the trip. 

Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road

There's Plenty of Good Accommodation Along the Way

We’d recommend spending at least five days exploring the Great Ocean Road to see as much as possible along the way. There’s a huge variety of great accommodation all along the coastline that will suit every budget.

We make several suggestions for great places to stay as we go through our Great Ocean Road itinerary, but you can also search for the perfect accommodation along the route by clicking here.

For a real taste of adventure and the great outdoors then there are lots of free camping spots along the Great Ocean Road too.

Recommended Stops Along the Great Ocean Road

To really make the most of this incredible corner of southern Australia, spend a night or two at towns along the way. We recommend stopping at towns such as Lorne, Apollo Bay, and Port Campbell.

These towns all offer great accommodation and other amenities such as shops, restaurants, cafes and places to fill up on petrol. Well placed, they’re also great bases to many of the beautiful points along and just off the Great Ocean Road.

Consider Driving the Great Ocean Road Outside of High Season

During the hot summer months the Great Ocean Road becomes stuffed with tourists and coaches full of day trippers, all sweltering under the sun. Driving the Great Ocean Road isn’t much fun if you’re stuck behind an army of coaches in the scorching heat.

For that reason consider taking a Great Ocean Road trip during the spring, autumn or even the winter, when the road will be much less busy. The temperatures are also much more bearable and the ocean scenery can be spectacularly dramatic.

Cape Otway, on our Great Ocean Road itinerary

Though a few shops and restaurants along the Great Ocean Road do close during the winter, most remain open all year round. Accommodation is also a lot cheaper in autumn and winter too.

Driving the Great Ocean Road between June and October is also the best time to see whales. Whales migrate north from the Antarctic to breed in warmer waters and are regularly seen close the shoreline at a number of spots along the Great Ocean Road. 

Our Suggested Route for the Ideal Great Ocean Road Trip

Starting from Melbourne our Great Ocean Road trip itinerary begins at the town of Torquay on Victoria’s coastline. From there we follow all along the Great Ocean Road to the end of the Shipwreck Coast. 

Once we hit the end of the Great Ocean Road at the Bay of Islands our itinerary continues, taking in some of the highlights at the western end of the Victorian coast.

Here’s an overview of the route of our Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary: 

Great Ocean Road itinerary map
A map of our Great Ocean Road road trip itnerary

Driving the Great Ocean Road

Beginning in the tiny surfing town of Torquay, here’s our complete guide to driving the Great Ocean Road and beyond.

Torquay - the Surf Town at the Start of the Great Ocean Road

It’s at the small town of Torquay, just over 100 kilometres from Melbourne, that that the M1 becomes the B100, more commonly known as the Great Ocean Road.

Surfing has a long and illustrious history here and Torquay and the surrounding beaches, plus the neighbouring town of Anglesea, are a global mecca for surfers.

The nearby Bells Beach is a world famous surfing destination. The prestigious Rip Curl Pro surfing competition has been held here every year since the 1960s. 

The global surf companies Rip Curl and Quicksilver were both founded in Torquay, which is also home to the Australian National Surfing Museum.

Bells Beach near Torquay, one of the first stops on our Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary
Addiscot Beach and Point Addis on the Great Ocean Road

Surfers on Bells Beach and the view of Addis Point and Addiscot Beach from the viewpoint on the Koorie Cultural Walk.

Point Addis

Sandwiched between the towns of Torquay and Anglesea is the headland of Point Addis. Here an elevated boardwalk offers one of the first views of the mighty ocean on the Great Ocean Road. Nearby are a number of walking tracks along the Surf Coast.

For a spectacular view of Addiscot beach, follow the Koorie Cultural Walk to the elevated viewpoint. Part of the Surf Coast Walk, the Koorie Cultural Walk is a fairly gentle two kilometre return stroll through the covered trees and bush.

The route documents the history of the region’s Aboriginal Wathaurung tribe, before arriving at the stunning panorama above Point Addis.

Aireys Inlet and Split Point Lighthouse

The small town of Aireys Inlet is most famous for the Split Point lighthouse. Split Point is a majestic example of the many historic lighthouses that perch along this perilous stretch of coastline. 

Fans of early 1990’s children’s TV shows may recognise Split Point lighthouse as the setting for Round The Twist.

Split Point lighthouse at Aireys Inlet
Eagle Rock at Split Point near Aireys Inlet, Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary

Split Point lighthouse and Eagle Rock at Aireys Inlet

There are several guided tours of Split Point lighthouse every day, offering the chance to see the tower’s inner workings and the 360 degree view from the balcony just beneath the light.

A boardwalk below the lighthouse leads to fantastic views of Eagle Rock, a single stranded chunk of rock separated from the mainland by many centuries of coastal erosion.

A few hundred yards from Split Point lighthouse on Federal Street is the lighthouse’s former stables, now home to Willows Tea House, an excellent rustic cafe.

Pass Through the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch

Great Ocean Road memorial arch, a key stop for any Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary
The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch

Just past Aireys Inlet at Eastern View is the famous Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch

The arch is an iconic stop on every Great Ocean Road itinerary, commemorating the backbreaking work carried out by the 3,000 soldiers who built the road after returning from the First World War. 

Next to the arch are a number of information boards that tell the story of the construction of the Great Ocean Road.

The Beautiful Seaside Town of Lorne

The historic seaside town of Lorne has attracted tourists since the late 19th century. Lorne’s long curved beach looks out on to Louttit Bay and is popular with swimmers and surfers all year round.

Lorne is also a popular fishing destination, especially on Lorne Pier. The pier is also a good place to come in winter to try and spot passing whales.

Lorne beach on the Great Ocean Road
Lorne Beach and Louttit Bay

The steep roads behind Lorne lead to Teddy’s Lookouta breathtaking viewpoint that towers over the winding Great Ocean Road and the surrounding valleys.

Around Teddy’s Lookout are a number of walking trails through the eucalyptus forest, where you might be able to spot koalas and wallabies.

From Teddy’s Lookout it’s a 15 minute drive to Erskine Falls. Hidden deep within an incredibly beautiful dense green forest, a steep path of 260 steps leads down to the base of the towering waterfall. 

View of the Great Ocean Road from Teddy's Lookout in Lorne
Erskine Falls near Lorne

The view from Teddy’s Lookout and Erskine Falls

Lorne is a great place for foodies. Stop in at Lorne Pier Seafood for some of the freshest and most delicious seafood you’re likely to find along the Great Ocean Road, as well as a wonderful seaside view.

The laid back Bottle of Milk is perfect for a healthy breakfast or a burger for lunch, and don’t miss cozy Pizza Pizza on the edge of town just beside the Erskine River.

Where to Stay in Lorne

With much to see in the surrounding area, as well as a host of shops, cafes and restaurants, Lorne is an ideal place to base yourself for a day or two whilst exploring the surrounding area. 

You can search for accommodation in and around Lorne on Booking.com here. Here are a few of our suggestions for places to stay in Lorne:

Budget

The Sandridge Motel

We stayed at the Sandridge Motel. Located right in the heart of town, the Sandridge Motel is perfect for those looking for an extremely comfortable and affordable place to stay.

All rooms come with a private bathrooms and balconies, and for a few extra dollars, many rooms also have wonderful views of the beach and ocean.

Next Level

Lorne Hotel

The 3-star Lorne Hotel is perched above the top end of the town, overlooking the sea and right next door to the beach, and many of Lorne’s seafront shops, cafes and restaurants. 

Rooms are beautifully decorated, and the hotel also has a bar with an outdoor terrace, a restaurant and a bistro all on site.

Top of the Range

Mantra Lorne

For a little slice of luxury, check in to the Mantra. Located right on Lorne beach in the centre of town, the Mantra offers a choice of traditional rooms, studio suites or self contained apartments. 

With wonderful views of the sea the Mantra also features an on site restaurant, an indoor swimming pool, tennis courts and a gym.

See the Koalas of Kennett River

The tiny town of Kennett River has become a staple of almost every Great Ocean Road itinerary. Kennett River is synonymous with koala bears and is one of the best places in Australia to spot koalas in their natural habitat.

Kennett River’s prime koala-spotting area is Grey River Road, just off the Great Ocean Road.

Koala’s can often be found dozing in the tall eucalyptus trees just past the entrance of the road, along with large groups of screeching cockatoos and gorgeous crimson rosellas.

A koala bear at Kennett River
Koala bear climbs a tree on Grey River Road at Kennett River

Koala bears at Kennett River

The koalas can be difficult to spot. They are solitary animals and are often perched in the highest parts of the tree, well camouflaged amongst the branches and leaves. It’s often worth driving further along the Grey River Road deeper into the beautiful eucalyptus forest where you’re likely to get a much better chance of spotting a koala or two.

Early morning and late afternoon are said to be the best times to go looking for koalas, when there’s more chance that they’ll be awake and slightly more active than usual.

Enjoy the Pretty Town of Apollo Bay

Fronted by a long narrow beach that stretches for as far as the eye can see, Apollo Bay is another popular seaside town.

There is much to explore nearby, especially away from the coast,  in the steep green hills above Apollo Bay and in the Great Otway National Park.

Similar to Lorne, Apollo Bay sweeps around a long seafront with a main street filled with bakeries, cafes, restaurants and bars.

Stock up on pasties, pies and French vanilla slices from Bakery Scallop Pies before heading off for a day in Great Otway’s forests. The enormous Great Ocean Road Brewhouse has a great selection of local craft beers and wines and an impressive food menu.

For fish and chips, you won’t beat the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-Op on Breakwater Road. More than just a chippy, the Fisherman’s Co-Op serves up a huge variety of incredible seafood, including southern rock lobster, all caught in the local waters by their own boats.

Apollo Bay, a key stop on any Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary
The view of Apollo Bay from the Marriner's Lookout
The most sensational view over Apollo Bay can be found just a short drive from the centre of town at Marriner’s Lookout. Sat high above the town, there are spectacular 180 degree widescreen views of Apollo Bay and the Southern Ocean.

Where to Stay in Apollo Bay

With a number of local restaurants and bars, as well as supermarkets and shops full of the essentials, Apollo Bay is a perfect place to spend a few nights whilst on a Great Ocean Road trip. 

You can search for a wide range of accommodation in Apollo Bay here but here are a few places that we recommend:

Budget

Marengo Holiday Park

We stayed at Marengo Holiday Park, right on the sea and just a few minutes’ drive from the centre of Apollo Bay.

The cabins are spacious, clean and comfortable and come with spectacular views of the sunrise and sunset over the ocean. From the beach just next to the park you can spot sea lions lounging on the nearby rocks.

Next Level

Apollo Bay Waterfront Motor Inn

Close to the centre of town and facing the sea, the Apollo Bay Waterfront Motor Inn will tick a lot of boxes for many people looking for somewhere to stay in Apollo Bay.

There’s a choice of comfortable rooms or self-contained apartments with garden or ocean views, whilst the town’s cafes, shops, and restaurants are all within walking distance.

Top of the Range

Captains at the Bay

Check in at Captains at the Bay for a heavenly stay in Apollo Bay. This upscale boutique B&B offers a range of spacious rooms and suites with mountain, sea or garden views.

Comfy beds and a fantastic continental breakfast are amongst the Captain’s highlights, and all just a short walk to the beach and the centre of town.

Wander Through the Californian Redwood Forest

Nestled deep amongst the Otway Ranges, about an hour’s drive north from Apollo Bay, is the unexpected and extraordinary sight of a forest of majestic Californian redwood trees

One of the Great Ocean Road’s hidden gems, the forest was planted on the banks of the Aire River in the 1930s. The enchanting Californian redwood trees now stand around 60 metres high.

The Californian redwood forest near Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road
Californian redwood trees in the Great Otway National Park

The forest is utterly unique and a hugely atmospheric place to explore. Sunlight streams through the gaps between the towering redwoods, whilst the Aire River trickles slowly nearby. 

Bring a picnic before venturing further into the Ranges to the beautiful Hopetoun and Beauchamp waterfalls nearby.

Walk (At Least Some of) the Great Ocean Walk

After Apollo Bay the Great Ocean Road comes away from the coastline, cutting inland through the magnificent Great Otway National Park. However the wild and spectacular ocean can still be seen from the Great Ocean Walk.

A dream for hikers and lovers of the great outdoors, the Great Ocean Walk begins in Apollo Bay and stretches over 240 kilometres all the way to the Twelve Apostles in Port Campbell National Park.

The route clings to the coastline’s clifftops, allowing access to some of the most remote and lesser visited areas around the Great Ocean Road.

The view from The Gables lookout on the Great Ocean Walk
The view from The Gables lookout on the Great Ocean Walk

Along the way the walking trails take in countless beaches and bays, as well as passing through forests and heathlands and some of the region’s most breathtaking ocean views.

There’s plenty of wildlife to see too. As well as the whales in winter, keep an eye out for groups of seals, particularly on the rocks near Marengo. 

Kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas can also be seen at various points on the Great Ocean Walk’s trails. At dusk you might spot the colony of penguins that live close to the Twelve Apostles.

Shelly Beach in Cape Otway
Shelly Beach on the Great Ocean Walk in the Great Otway National Park

Split into sections, the entire Great Ocean Walk can be attempted over several days. There are various campsites along the route for those looking to pitch a tent, as well as a number of excellent B&Bs and holiday cottages.

If you don’t fancy walking the whole route, there are several smaller sections of the Great Ocean Walk. The Shelly Beach Circuit is a fantastic trek through the lush green forest to the beautifully secluded Shelley Beach. 

Alternatively, try the challenging but unforgettable walk to Wreck Beach at low tide. Here you can see the anchors of the Marie Gabrielle and Fiji shipwrecks still entrenched into the beach.

Visit Cape Otway Lighthouse

Standing over the southernmost tip of Great Otway National Park is the magnificent Cape Otway lighthouse. Cape Otway marks one end of the infamous Shipwreck Coast. In just over 100 years more than 600 ships sank between here and the town Port Fairy 125 kilometres to the east. 

Lighthouses were (and remain) a vital lifeline for sailors navigating the region’s unruly ocean waters. Dating from 1848, Great Otway lighthouse is now open to the public, along with the lighthouse keeper’s cottages.

Cape Otway lightstation on the Great Ocean Road
Lighthouse keeper's cottage at Cape Otway lightstation

Cape Otway lightstation and the former lighthouse keeper’s cottage

A narrow staircase leads to the lighthouse’s lantern and balcony, from which there are breathtaking views of the ocean and the surrounding clifftops.

In the lighthouse keeper’s cottage are displays that document the history of the lighthouse, and also the telegraph system that was once based here which connected Tasmania with mainland Australia.

Also hidden near the lighthouse is a radar bunker built by the US Army to protect the Australian coastline from invasion during the Second World War.

When turning off the Great Ocean Road, keep an eye out for koala bears high up in the tall eucalyptus trees along Lighthouse Road. The beautiful road cuts through a spectacular and constantly changing rural landscape before reaching Cape Otway lighthouse.

Port Cambell National Park

When the Great Ocean Road eventually rejoins the ocean it does so in spectacular style.

As soon as the road reconnects with the coastline it reaches Port Campbell National Park, the collective name given to the stunning set of golden limestone cliffs, islets, gorges and arches sprinkled along Victoria’s south coast.

The Gibson Steps

Gibson Beach, a must see on any Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary
Gog and Magog oppopsite Gibson Beach

The first sight to see within Port Campbell National Park are the Gibson Steps. 86 steps carved into the cliffside lead down to Gibson Beach. Both the steps and the beach are named after Hugh Gibson, an early settler who first cut the steps into the cliffs in the late 19th century.

Gibson Beach is dwarfed by the crumbling golden orange cliff face that towers above it. Adrift out at sea are two islets, known locally as Gog and Magog. 

The Twelve Apostles

Possibly the most famous of the natural landmarks along the Great Ocean Road are the group of sea stacks called the Twelve Apostles.

The name is something of a misnomer; due to erosion only seven islets are still standing, and there were only ever eight to begin with. The eighth dramatically collapsed into the sea in 2005.

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road
The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles remain a formidable sight, a jagged row of golden islands that illustrates the power of the ocean and the fragility of the crumbly limestone cliffs.

Over centuries the fierce ocean waves have lashed away at the cliffside until the seven remaining islets eventually became completely separated from the mainland.

A short walk from the car park leads underneath the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles’ viewing platforms.

The best of these views is from the furthest viewpoint on top of the headland called Castle Rock. For the ultimate view, book a helicopter tour over the Twelve Apostles and the rest of the Port Campbell National Park.

Loch Ard Gorge

Just a few kilometres away is the equally stunning Loch Ard Gorge. Loch Ard Gorge is an especially spectacular and dramatic stretch of the Port Campbell National Park.

A particularly craggy section of this jagged coastline, the gorge is named after the ship that ran aground here after colliding with nearby Mutton Bird Island in 1878.

Loch Ard gorge on the Great Ocean Road
Loch Ard Gorge

The Loch Ard had travelled from Gravesend in England bound for Melbourne. After 13 weeks at sea, and with the destination almost in sight, the Loch Ard encountered several days of bad weather and thick fog. 

The ship hit Mutton Bird Island and sank in less than 15 minutes. Only two of the 54 passengers and crew on board survived

A path and set of steps lead down to the cloud soft sandy beach at Loch Ard gorge. The beach is dwarfed by the yellowy-orange chalky cliffs that almost meet at the narrow entrance to the gorge. 

Don’t miss the two short walking trails to the viewpoints overlooking the impressive rock stacks nearby.

Tom and Eva lookout next to Loch Ard gorge on the Great Ocean Road
The Razorback near Loch Ard gorge on the Great Ocean Road
Until 2009 the two islets immediately to the south of Loch Ard Gorge were a single island, connected with an impressive archway between the two columns. When the roof of the arch collapsed, two new islets where formed, and they were renamed Tom and Eva, in honour of the Loch Ard’s two sole survivors. A short walk further reaches the lookout to the Razorback, a tall, thin, jagged slither of rock that resembles a razor blade.

The London Arch

The Great Ocean Road’s big hitters keep coming just past the small town of Port Campbell with the London Arch.

The London Arch was previously known as London Bridge. A double arch once stood here, connected to the mainland. The two arches resembled the famous London Bridge that crosses the River Thames.

In 1990 the first arch collapsed – leaving two terrified tourists stranded on the one remaining arch – and in an instant London Bridge became London Arch.

Now neatly sliced away from the adjacent cliffs, the London Arch is a symbol of the fragility of the limestone rocks. It’s anticipated that this arch will also collapse one day, which will create two new islets along the Great Ocean Road.

London Arch, a highlight of any Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary
The Grotto on the Great Ocean Road

The London Arch and the Grotto on the Great Ocean Road

The Grotto

Almost a stone’s throw from the London Arch is the Grotto, a small sinkhole just off the Great Ocean Road. A row of steps leads to the Grotto at the bottom of a cliff face, where a near perfect semi-circular arch neatly frames the crashing Southern Ocean behind it.

The Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands

Continuing past the town of Peterborough are the Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands. These are perhaps the wildest and most desolate parts of this astonishing coastline.

The Bay of Islands is particularly dramatic, the tougher and rougher older brother of the Twelve Apostles.

Bay of Islands on the Great Ocean Road
The Bay of Islands

There are walking tracks with a number of breathtaking viewpoints over both bays. Several beaches and alcoves dot the dramatic shoreline, too. The beautiful beach at Crofts Bay is a glorious place to stroll on a sunny day.

Where to Stay Near the Shipwreck Coast

You can also search for accommodation in Port Campbell here. The most popular place to stay along the Shipwreck Coast is the small town of Port Campbell, in between Loch Ard Gorge and the London Arch. 

Here are a few of our recommendations for places to stay in Port Campbell:

Budget

Port Campbell Motor Inn

The Port Campbell Motor Inn is a great place to stay for those looking for a good night’s sleep at an affordable price.

Alongside good sized rooms that come with a balcony are an outdoor barbeque area and a small pool. Plus the Port Campbell Motor Inn is just a few minutes’ walk to the shops and cafes in the centre of town.

Next Level

Port Campbell Parkview Motel & Apartments

Just a few doors down the road is Port Campbell Parkview Motel & Apartments, another comfortable motel well placed close to all of the amenities of Port Campbell.

Good sized rooms and super comfortable beds will guarantee a great night’s sleep if you decide to stop off for the night along the Great Ocean Road.

Top of the Range

Southern Ocean Villas

If you’re looking for a heavenly home in Port Campbell book into a villa at Southern Ocean Villas, just off the Great Ocean Road.

With beautifully chic interiors, fully fitted kitchens, garden views and a whole host of mod cons, Southern Ocean Villas is a the perfect place to stay along the Shipwreck Coast.

Driving Beyond the Great Ocean Road

After the Bay of Islands the Great Ocean Road once again veers inland, swapping the wild crashing coastline for a flat and well tendered agricultural landscape.

The Great Ocean Road officially runs for another 35 kilometres before ending at the dairy town of Allansford. If you’re partial to cheese, you’ll love Allansford’s main attraction, Cheese World.

If you have the time, it’s well worth extending your Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary to take in some of the highlights that await a little further on. The coastline becomes even more rugged and ragged, and there’s plenty more to explore.

If you’re looking to go further, consider adding the following to your Great Ocean Road self drive itinerary.

Look for Whales in Warrnambool

The first stop after the Great Ocean Road is the heritage city of Warrnambool.

If you’re keen to discover more about the fascinating history of the Shipwreck Coast then a visit to the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum is a must.

The bulk of the museum is the recreation of a 19th century Australian port town. Along a fairly convincing old-world cobbled high street are a number of shops, a school, and a church that portrays life in a busy Australian port in the late 1800s. A lighthouse sits on a hill overlooking the town. 

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum in Warnambool
Loch Ard peacock at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum

The village at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and the salvaged Loch Ard peacock

Before the village, a fascinating exhibition details the history of the many ships that ultimately succumbed to the ocean along the Shipwreck Coast.

The museum recounts the stories of many of the ship’s doomed passengers and crew. 

The highlight of the museum’s collection are the many items salvaged from the wreck of the Loch Ard, especially the beautiful Minton peacock statue which somehow survived relatively unscathed.

Logans Beach whale viewing platform at Warrnambool
Whale watching at Logans Beach

If you’re travelling in winter, don’t pass Warrnambool without stopping by the whale watching platform at Logans Beach.

Whales are regularly spotted along this stretch of coastline between June and October each year, and Logans Beach is one of the prime whale watching sites. 

A huge viewing platform stands over the ocean at Logans Beach, and whales can often be seen here as close as 100 metres from the shore.

Meet Koalas and Kangaroos at Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve

Twenty minutes outside of Warrnambool is Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. Set inside the remnants of a volcanic eruption, the reserve features a number of easy walks through wetlands and bush. 

Tower Hill is a great place to close to a variety of wildlife, particularly kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and emus.

A koala bear at Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve
Up close with a koala bear at Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve

Tower Hill is also rich in Aboriginal history. Indigenous guides lead daily bushwalks through the reserve that detail the Aboriginal history and their strong cultural connection with the area.

Port Fairy - the World's Most Liveable Town

In 2012 Port Fairy was declared the world’s most liveable community of towns with a population under 20,000, and it is incredibly easy to see why. 

A welcoming seaside town, Port Fairy’s charming streets are lined with beautiful historic pubs, gorgeous old bungalows and white picket fences. Fifty of the town’s buildings are protected by the National Trust.

Port Fairy lighthouse on Griffiths Island
Port Fairy marina

Port Fairy lighthouse and marina

On the Moyne River sits the town’s beautiful harbour, right next to Griffiths Island, where a couple of lovely walking trails lead to Port Fairy lighthouse.

Port Fairy’s small but lively town centre has a growing collection of boutique shops and a number of fantastic restaurants and cafes, making Port Fairy a wonderful place to eat.

Particularly worthy of attention is the excellent Blakes, who dish up sensational seafood and Irish-inspired dishes, and the ultra-chic Coffin Sally for the best pizzas and cocktails in town.

For glorious fish and chips head to East Beach Fish and Chips on Griffiths Street.

Don’t leave Port Fairy without calling in to Time and Tide, a wonderfully colourful contemporary cafe situated on the outskirts of town that’s sat right on the ocean. Stop in for a healthy breakfast, a hearty lunch or heavenly high tea whilst attempting to draw yourself away from the breathtaking views of the sea.

Portland

Similar to Warrnambool, Portland is another heritage city famous as a great lookout spot for whales in the winter months. There’s a dedicated whale viewing point above Portland’s harbour at the end of Wade Street.

On the waterfront below is the Portland Maritime Discovery Centre, an excellent small museum that documents the beginnings of Portland as a whaling town, along with other aspects of Portland’s maritime history. 

The highlight of the exhibition is the 14 foot-long sperm whale skeleton. There’s also an excellent cafe on site too.

If you’re hungry, be sure to call in to Deegan Seafood on Percy Street. Don’t be fooled by the unassuming exterior. Deegan’s fish is caught daily on their own boats and is some of the most delicious fish and chips you’re ever likely to find. It’s so good that it even gets a mention in the Lonely Planet Guide for Victoria.

Look for Whales at Cape Nelson

Cape Nelson lighthouse
Cape Nelson
A ten minute drive from Portland leads straight to Cape Nelson and another beautiful white lighthouse teetering over the ocean. Still operating today, Cape Nelson lighthouse has long provided safe passage for ships passing by in the treacherous waters below.

Yet there’s more to Cape Nelson than the lighthouse. Framing this stretch of dramatic coastline is Cape Nelson State Park, a thick green fuzz of bushland filled with wallabies.

There are a couple of fascinating walks around the clifftops either side of the lighthouse, part of the much larger Great South West Walk, a 250 kilometre loop which starts and ends in Portland.

Both the Sea Cliff Nature Walk and the Cape Nelson Lighthouse Loop walk flit between perilous cliff-edge trails with stunning ocean views and the state park’s tranquil heaths and bushlands.

The Norman Wade Scenic Drive

It’s well worth taking a detour from Cape Nelson along the Norman Wade Scenic Drive, firstly for the view of Yellow Rock

A short walk along a boardwalk leads to a wonderful vista of the glowing rocks that stands over a small beach below. The huge rolling waves make the beach a popular destination for surfers.

Yellow Rock near Cape Nelson in Victoria, Australia
The Enchanted Forest near Cape Nelson

A short distance away a walking track and a lot of steps lead to the Enchanted Forest, a spectacular section of the Great South West Walk.

Sandwiched by towering cliffs and the crashing ocean waves, the dream-like trail is framed by a long, thick, magical canopy of tangled silver-trunked Moonah trees.

Cape Bridgewater

Beyond Cape Nelson is the surreal landscape of Cape Bridgewater. Looking like the setting for a science fiction film, orange limestone rocks and blue crashing waves sit beneath 29 enormous swooshing wind generators of Cape Bridgewater wind farm. 

Just next to the car park is the Bridgewater Blowholes lookout over the Southern Ocean, whilst just a short walk away is the bizarre moon-like surface of the Petrified forest.

The petrified forest in Cape Bridgewater, Victoria, Australia
Cape Bridgewater's petrified forest

The petrified forest is a bewildering sight. Tubes of shattered orange limestone cluster together on the edge of the cliffs, forming what looks like an ancient entombed forest. 

Despite it’s name and tree-like appearance, the petrified forest is actually formed by several centuries of rainfall that has slowly eroded the limestone into a group of pipes that now resemble mummified hollow tree trunks.

A long and perilous cliff-top walk past the petrified forests leads to a seal colony. There’s a shorter but more arduous walk to the colony from just past the small town of Bridgewater.

For an easier route to see the seals, consider joining a 45 minute boat tour to the colony with Seals by Sea Tours. If you’re hungry, pop in to the excellent Bridgewater Bay Cafe for delicious food served with a glorious view of Bridgewater beach.

A group of kangaroos near Cape Bridgewater, Victoria, Australia
A pack of curious kangaroos at Cape Bridgewater

Where to Stay Beyond the Great Ocean Road

If you’re continuing your road trip along Victoria’s coast once you reach the end of the Great Ocean Road then there are plenty of places to stay overnight.

Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland are the largest towns beyond the Great Ocean Road and each have a wide variety of options.

Here are a few recommendations for places to stay if you’re going beyond the Shipwreck Coast:

Warrnambool

Logans Beach House and Apartments

A stone’s throw from Warrnambool’s whale watching platform, Logans Beach House and Apartments are a delightful place to stay for the night.

The spacious and comfortable rooms all come with balconies and barbecues for outdoor dining, all just a five minute walk from Logans Beach.

Port Fairy

Cherry Plum Cottages

We spent a couple of nights at the fantastic Cherry Plum Cottages just outside Port Fairy.

Surrounded by the green fields of the neighbouring alpaca farm, the two beautifully renovated old cottages are a delightfully cosy home from home, with comfy beds, a small kitchen and a continental breakfast provided.

Cape Nelson

Cape Nelson Lighthouse

If you really want to get away from it all, stay the night at Cape Nelson Lighthouse.

Sat beneath the historic lighthouse on the very edge of the cape, the former lighthouse keeper’s cottages are surrounded by miles of rugged coastline and crashing ocean waves. Renovated and kitted out to a very high standard, the cottages enjoy incredible views of sunrise and sunset.

How to Get to the Great Ocean Road

Melbourne Airport is most likely the starting point for many visitors taking on a Great Ocean Road self-drive tour. The start of the Great Ocean Road at the seaside town of Torquay is just over 100 kilometres from Melbourne, which is around an hour and a half’s drive from Melbourne Airport.

 If you need to book flights click here to search for the best deals on flights to Melbourne.

If you’re heading back to see more of Melbourne after your Great Ocean Road trip, then check out this five day Melbourne itinerary.

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