Plan an Epic Great Ocean Road Holiday

Planning a Great Ocean Road Holiday? Good choice, the Great Ocean Road Drive is undoubtedly one of Australia’s best road trips. It’s a bucket list destination for most Aussies, and one we have ticked off twice, so today we want to share what we learnt on our visits to help you put together your dream itinerary – whether you have a day or a week.

We will cover choosing the best time to visit, whether you should drive or book a tour, how long you should allow to see the main sights and best towns to stay in along the way. So grab a coffee and let’s go over everything you need to start planning your own Great Ocean Road holiday.

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When is the best time to visit the Great Ocean Road?

The first step to planning your dream road trip along the Great Ocean Road is to decide when to visit. The good news is that overall the climate of the Great Ocean Road is fairly mild, so you can have a perfect holiday any time of year.

If you have flexibility, however, you’ll want to choose carefully to get the best possible experience!

Summer (December to February)

For the quintessential road trip vibes, visit the Great Ocean Road in the summer. Think sun-soaked beaches and blissfully warm days punctuated by sea breezes. Summer is a great time to visit the Great Ocean Road, however, there are a couple of considerations.

  • Australian summers can be hot and humid, and the Great Ocean Road is no exception. Expect daytime temperatures to surpass 35 degrees Celsius regularly.
  • Summer is also the busiest time of the year for travelling in Australia and while the road is rarely completely clogged with visitors – be prepared for crowds at the main sights such as the 12 Apostles.

This is not the best time for setting off on the Great Ocean Road walk, or for travelling without accommodation bookings.

Spring/Autumn (Sept to Nov/March to May)

The “shoulder seasons” of spring and autumn would be my pick for the perfect time to drive the Great Ocean Road.

Things you should know if you are considering visiting at this time:

  • Close to the beginning or end of summer, can see very hot temperatures (March, in particular, is prone to late heatwaves), but at the other end close to winter, it can get chilly.
  • Rain is not unheard of near winter, however, it rarely stays around for long enough to scuttle your travel plans.

In spring and autumn weather the keywords is layers. As the day warms up, you will find yourself peeling off jackets and jumpers. You’ll probably want to keep a rain jacket or umbrella in the car if traveling during the cooler parts of autumn and spring.

Winter (June to August)

While Australia is known as the ‘sunburnt country’, the barometer drops substantially in the colder months.

This is especially true of the areas in the southern half of the country, including the Great Ocean Road. That said, as long as you don’t mind rugging up – winter is still a great time to come.

Consider:

  • Fewer people to navigate, during the coldest months, you can expect popular stops to be much quieter.
  • Cheaper accommodation and tours, as it’s considered the off-season.
  • While the temperature gets as low as around 10 degrees Celsius during the day, long periods of rainfall are still uncommon and sunny days are not unusual.

Winter is arguably the best time to spot whales along the Great Ocean Road!

How long is the Great Ocean Road & how long does it take to drive?

One of the major considerations when planning a trip down the Great Ocean Road is how much time you need to allow.

The winding coastal path takes you past some of the country’s most stunning natural sights, while cute seaside towns are also charming and most definitely worthy of exploring. The challenge is working out what you can see in the time you have.

The Great Ocean Road itself is 243 kilometers (151 miles) long, making it technically possible to drive it in a day.

Great Ocean Road Sign
Great Ocean Road Sign

Many visitors even choose to do it as a day trip from nearby Melbourne, perhaps heading on towards Adelaide or turning back on themselves. If that is all the time you have, then do it!

I think to travel to the Great Ocean Road comfortably from Melbourne you need at least two days and one night. Even better is three days and two nights, which will allow you a little more time to stop and enjoy the views.

If you’re not on a rushed schedule, then you could push it out even further to spend up to a week meandering through the picturesque towns and lookouts, spending a couple of nights in one location.

Self Drive or Take a Tour, what is the best way to see the GOR?

After you’ve chosen when you plan to travel to the Great Ocean Road aka the GOR, the next decision is how you’re going to do it. The big choice here is between the do-it-yourself self-guided route or joining an organised tour.

Should you self-drive the Great Ocean Road?

Many visitors to the Great Ocean Road choose to drive themselves. The self-drive option gives you flexibility over every aspect of your tour, from the time you spend to the stops along the way.

Great Ocean Road
Great Ocean Road is one of the most popular road trips in the county

One reason driving the Great Ocean Road is so popular is that the road conditions are relatively good. It’s perfectly suitable for a regular car, so no need to spend extra for a four-wheel drive or SUV.

A downside of self-driving is that the driver may miss some sights as they navigate the twists and turns of the road. However, as there are many places where you can pull over and enjoy the view, it’s not a tremendous problem.

Much of the road is only one lane in each direction, so it’s important to be patient and comfortable driving on the left.

Why Great Ocean Road tours can be a good idea

Joining a guided tour can be ideal for some visitors. While it means sacrificing some of the flexibility (unless you opt for a private tour), there are many benefits of organised tours.

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There are pull in sections along the Great Ocean Road
  • If you are a solo traveler or you lack confidence driving in Australia, then a Great Ocean Road tour is a great way to take all the hassles out of the road trip.
  • You can simply sit back, relax and enjoy the stupendous views – and perhaps meet some fellow travelers as well.
  • Most tours also include a lot of information about the history and geology of the area. So, if you’d like a more in-depth look at the Great Ocean Road, then a tour is a fantastic option.

If you decide a guided tour is best for you, our guide to choosing the best Great Ocean Road tours will help make sure you pick a good tour.

Great Ocean Road planning guide – Build your itinerary

The Great Ocean Road is littered with amazing sights, including striking coastal views, adorable Aussie animals, and charming and historic maritime towns.

So what are the must-see sites? Which towns make good overnight stops? What is the best time of day to see the 12 Apostles? Let’s go find out…

The 12 Apostles

The most famous sight along the Great Ocean Road is the 12 Apostles. In fact, for some visitors – the 12 Apostles is the Great Ocean Road, and it’s certainly a highlight for almost everyone.

12 apostles sunrise
Twelve Apostles at sunrise, amazing natural landscape of Great Ocean Road, Australia.

However, in a display of nature’s power, they were slowly worn down until they were islands surrounded by water. To this day, the limestone stacks continue to change, as they are worn away even further.

Millennia ago, the 12 Apostles would all have been part of the mainland.

Although there are no longer twelve pillars, this sight is one of the Great Ocean Road’s most impressive views. If time allows, try to see the 12 Apostles in the late afternoon and in early morning light. Both are very memorable sites.

Loch Ard Gorge

Not far from the 12 Apostles, you’ll find the Loch Ard Gorge, another of the most popular places to stop along the Great Ocean Road. Not only is this place absolutely beautiful, but it also has a fascinating story behind it.

razorback at Loch Ard GOR
Razorback at Loch Ard GOR

At Loch Ard Gorge, you’ll find a beautiful sandy beach that fringes a calm horseshoe-shaped bay. The main reason for the tranquillity is that rocky cliffs surround the bay, with only a small entry point in the middle.

When you see Loch Ard Gorge, it is easy to understand how it was historically treacherous for seafarers. In particular, the area claimed the ship called The Loch Ard, with over 50 passengers going down with the vessel. Only two survived, two young people named Tom and Eva. They are the namesakes for two of the large rocks that can be seen off in the distance.

London Arch

Once known as the London Bridge, thanks to its unique shape, they renamed this rock formation the London Arch when its middle section collapsed.

London Arch Great Ocean Road
London Arch Great Ocean Road near 12 Apostles

Not only did this change the famous tourist attraction forever, but it was also quite a shock to the two tourists standing nearby at the time!

Luckily, a police helicopter rescued the stranded tourists, and London Bridge was rebranded as the London Arch. Today, it remains one of the most popular places along the Great Ocean Road, with an amazing viewpoint over the ‘arch’ as well as the sea and coast.

The Grotto

Another of the top places to see along the Great Ocean Road is The Grotto.

The Grotto - Great Ocean Road
The Grotto – Great Ocean Road

This unique natural feature is one of the most striking features of the beautiful southern coastline. The Grotto was formed by a sinkhole, which saw part of the rocky coastline collapse in on itself.

Here, deep blue water pools and creates a natural infinity pool that overlooks the ocean. What remains of the rocky cliff creates a window-like natural frame, adding to the overall beauty and appeal of this spot.

The Grotto’s beauty and proximity to the 12 Apostles mean it is one of the most popular stops along the Great Ocean Road. However, it is well worth joining the crowds to be dazzled by its beauty. Photographers, in particular, are sure to love the natural framing and ever-changing atmosphere of this special place.

Surfing at Bell’s Beach

If you know anything about surfing, then chances are you’ve heard of Bell’s Beach. It’s considered one of the world’s great surf beaches, attracting everyone from enthusiastic amateurs to world-class pros every year.

Surfer-at-Bells-Beach-Torquay-Australia
A surfer enjoying at Bells Beach, Torquay on Great Ocean Road

Even if you’re not planning to ride the waves yourself, it’s well worth dropping in to admire Bell’s Beach. Not only is it a beautiful spot, but you might be lucky enough to watch some of the world’s best surfers in action.

If you’d like to try surfing yourself, this 2-hour surfing lesson, complete with a wetsuit, surfboard, and sunscreen is a wonderful way to start your Great Ocean Road trip in Torquay.

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National Surfing Museum Credit: Tourism Australia

Considering the love Bell’s Beach receives from surfers all over the world, it’s no surprise there are other surfing-related attractions in the area. You might like to visit the National Surfing Museum, or even pick up some beachwear from world-famous brands Ripcurl and Quiksilver, which both started locally.

Bell’s Beach is located at Torquay, the first major stop along the Great Ocean Road and before the other major towns and villages of Lorne, Apollo Bay, and Port Campbell.

Great Otway National Park

The Great Otway National Park is many attractions all in one – you could easily spend several days (or more) exploring its many charms.

hopetoun falls and a tree fern near the great ocean road in victoria, australia
Hopetoun Falls in the Great Otway Park

Visiting the national park certainly adds even more diversity and natural beauty to your Great Ocean Road trip. The park covers over 100,000 hectares of land, with the most prominent town nearby being the charming and bustling Lorne.

Within the national park, you’ll find a network of amazing trails that will take you through some of Victoria’s most beautiful landscapes.

Split Point Lighthouse along the Great Ocean Road in Australia
Split Point Lighthouse along the Great Ocean Road in Australia

Cape Otway is a special place for its indigenous owners and evidence of over 40,000 years of continuous habitation and guardianship can be seen in the aboriginal middens within the national park.

The Great Otway National Park also has several beautiful waterfalls including the unmissable Erskine Falls.

Erskine Falls Near the Great Ocean Road Victoria
Erskine Falls waterfall in the Otways National Park along the Great Ocean Road, Australia

There’s also the magical Melba Gully, which looks like a fairy glen come to life – complete with magical glow worms.

If you’re looking for something a little more adrenaline-inducing, then you might like to try whizzing along the zip line at the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures.

Charming towns of Port Fairy and Portland

There is so much natural beauty along the Great Ocean Road that you’d be forgiven for forgetting to enjoy its human-built wonders, too.

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Amazing view from the Port Fairy on Great Ocean Road

With many adorable little towns spotted along the Great Ocean Road, it’s well worth making a few stops. While most are humble, they certainly deliver with many farmer’s markets, art galleries, seafood restaurants, and more.

They were once maritime and whaling centers with beautiful and historic stone cottages. So, be sure to leave some time in your itinerary to explore them!

There are many lovely stops, however, some particular favorites include the perfectly pint-sized charmer of Port Fairy. For something a little more bustling, Lorne is a brilliant choice with its spas and restaurants.

Whale Watching

It doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s always a tremendous thrill of spotting whales in the wild.

Whale watching on great ocean road
Great Ocean Road is the best place to see whales

The best place to see whales along the Great Ocean Road depends on the time of year.

Here are a few handy hotspots to note:

  • Warrnambool – June to October (Southern Right Whales)
  • Portland – June to August (Southern Right Whales)
  • Portland – November to May (Blue Whales)

Kennett River Koala Walk

Australia has many unique and adorable native animals, but koalas have a special place in most people’s hearts.

kennett river koala walk on great ocean road
Kennett River Koala Walk on Great Ocean Road

Both locals and international visitors alike love the chance to spot koalas in their natural habitat. Luckily, it’s easy to do so along the Great Ocean Road! The area has a large koala population, which means it’s one of the best places to see wild koalas in Victoria.

For your best shot of finding these cute little guys, you’d best head to the Kennett River Koala Walk on Grey River Road in Kennett River.

Look up at the Eucalyptus trees, and you’re almost guaranteed to spot sleepy koalas. Be sure to look closely, as they can be hidden by the branches! In this area, you can also spot lots of colourful parrots in the wild – so this is a must if you’re a nature lover!

Cheese World

There are several fabulous foodie hotspots in the Great Ocean Road region, however, one of the best-loved is Cheese World! After all, who doesn’t love a good cheese platter? Cheese World is in Allansford, close to the eastern end of the Great Ocean Road.

Cheese World is an increasingly popular Great Ocean Road attraction and the perfect place to start or finish your trip (over a delicious cheese platter!)

Experiences on the Great Ocean Road

The most common add-ons for a Great Ocean Road trip involved the water. Either being in it or over it!

Best places to stay overnight on the Great Ocean Road

If you have decided to stay the night or perhaps longer and explore more of this magnificent area, then I suggest you choose a base from these towns which offer a good range of accommodation choices and the best facilities.

With Great Ocean Road accommodation, there is no end of choice with plenty of holiday rentals, hotels and other luxury accommodation options.

Lorne

For the perfect beach house, a great location is Lorne which also has plenty of great restaurants and cafes. The beach is calm and popular for family holidays. If you are visiting over three days, this makes a great base for your first night.

Apollo Bay

For a camping holiday, continue a little further to Johanna Beach, which is popular with surfers and fishing enthusiasts. If you are only staying two nights, this is a good first stop.

It’s also a good stop for making an early start on a detour to Great Otway National Park on your way to the 12 Apostles.

Princetown

If you don’t plan on stopping in any of the towns along the way, then stay near Princetown, so you are close to the rock formations for sunrise and sunset.

Great Ocean Road holiday Map

While the official road length is just under 250km if you drive into all the stops and lookouts, it’s closer to 280km. Google puts it at almost 5 hours.

Map Great Ocean Road

Further Resources

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