One of the highlights during our month in Australia was driving the Great Ocean Road. This long expanse of a highway runs from Torquay to almost Warnambool and allows you to see so many gorgeous sites along its oceanside route. Traveling the length of its 151 miles, there are the 12 Apostles, multiple national parks, lakes, waterfalls, the volcanic plains, and so many beaches that it would be hard to count.
In fact, there are so many sites, that I just can’t name them all. But I have compiled a list of what I think are the best stops along Great Ocean Road, should you be planning a trip to Australia. It’s a must-do activity and one that I can highly recommend.
What Is the Great Ocean Road?
The name says it all…. The Great Ocean Road is a highway that skirts the ocean on the southeastern side of Australia. It offers a wealth of activities, from hiking to relaxing on the beach, exploring villages and lighthouses, and festivals galore. There’s world-class surfing, lush rainforests, idyllic camping spots and some great seafood to be had along the route.
The Best Stops Along Great Ocean Road
I have to say that with so many options of activities along Great Ocean Road, it really was difficult just picking a few during our trip. But these are the 7 that we had a chance to take advantage of, along with a great restaurant recommendation and even a hidden beach that we found that you will likely have all to yourself!
So, let’s get take a look at the best stops along Australia’s Great Ocean Road.
Bells Beach is a renowned surfing beach located along the Great Ocean Road in Surf Coast Shire, not far from Victoria. It is the site of the annual Bells Easter Classic, aka Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. If you’re lucky enough to be here during this holiday and the weather conditions are right, it is an exciting sight to see.
Any other time of the year it is a surfing haven, surrounded by high cliffs. You can choose to watch these daredevils take on the large swells from atop the cliff or venture down the steps and pick a spot on the sandy beach and enjoy a picnic at the same time.
Split Point Lighthouse
The Split Point Lighthouse was originally built in the 1890s as a response to the many shipwrecks that were occurring on this part of Australia’s coastline. While it was originally operated by a full-time lighthouse keeper, since 1919 it has operated unmanned, emitting its 1,000-watt beacon every 20 seconds.
The Split Point Lighthouse is aptly nicknamed the White Queen, as she rises majestically out of the rocky cliff, making for some great photos against a clear blue sky. If you make it here, we recommend that you take the time to go on a guided tour. They are available daily, operated on the hour every hour between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. You’ll be taken up 132 stairs—all original—to the top of lighthouse, which measures in at 111 feet tall. You can walk the balcony and take in the mighty ocean, seeing passing ships on a clear day.
The 12 Apostles is an iconic landmark in Australia, a natural phenomenon that lies along the rugged coastline at the western end of the Great Ocean Road, not far from Victoria. These rocky monoliths rise out of the Southern Ocean, up to 150 feet in height. In times gone by, they were actually part of the coastline cliffs, but erosion from waves and the wind set them apart and they now lie in the ocean.
The name originates from the fact that there were 12 of these limestone towers visible along a stretch of the road, but time and Mother Nature has taken its toll, and there are now only 8. Eventually, they will become nonexistent, but given the landscape and the neighboring cliffs, it’s not hard to imagine that more will form, although may not in our lifetime.
There are several lookouts where you can witness their majesty, and I recommend that you visit two or three to really get a good sense of them and to get the best angles for photographs. Alternately, you can take a helicopter tour, if you want to see them from on high.
The only ones that you can see up close and personal are Gog and Magog, which lie along Apostles Beach. You’ll have a hike down to the beach but it’s worth it.
The Gibson Steps are located within the 12 Apostles area. In fact, the 86 steps that were carved into the cliff by High Gibson, an early settler, lead you down to the beach that fronts Gog and Magog, two of the Apostles.
To reach the steps and this lovely expanse of beach, you can either park in the Gibson Steps parking lot or take the path from the Visitor Center, which winds underneath Great Ocean Road to the viewing platform and top of the steps.
Note: During high tide, much of the beach can be inaccessible, so time your visit accordingly.
Loch and Gorge
Loch and Gorge, a geologic marvel is located within the Port Campbell National Park in Victoria, and just a stone’s throw from the 12 Apostles and Gibson Steps. The gorge has been carved out of the cliffs, leaving a narrow inlet of the ocean to the small beach.
You can witness this marvel from one of the several viewing areas or take many, many steps to the small beach at the bottom of the gorge, which we did. Looking up at the sheer cliffs with their weathered geologic levels is a sight to behold. And it was a nice chance to dip our toes in the water at the same time! Also available are three self-guided walks, all of which have interpretive signs to highlight the gorge’s history and geology.
If you do go to the sandy beach of Loch ard Gorge walk to the right side of the beach to find a cave. See pictures below! You can walk over the rocks and into the cave, you will get a little wet so make sure to bring shoes you can get wet and shorts.
Kennet River Koala Walk
You might not think that anywhere along the Great Ocean Road would be the best place to witness koalas in the wild in Australia, but we’re here to tell you that it is possible. The Kennet River Koala Walk, not far from Point Hawdon in Victoria, is host to a forest of gum trees and the wild koalas that live in them. And not just a few koalas either, there are hundreds of koala colonies here, with more than 1,000 of the cuddly marsupials lazing in and among the branches.
Take your time and walk along the Grey River Road and keep your eyes trained on the trees, where the trunk meets branches, to get a sight of what will surely be a sleeping koala. (Apparently, they sleep 18 hours a day!)
You do have the option to drive up the dirt road which is what we did. If it looks like you’re going to wrong way, you’re going to right way. (See a picture of the road below). Drive very slowly because the Koala’s are hard to spot!
Bonus: The Kennet River Koala Walk is also home to a large flock of King Parrots. You can buy birdseed at the café, but beware…they have a sixth sense and will descend upon you in no time!
Great Otway National Park
While there are multiple national parks along Great Ocean Road, our research took us to Great Otway National Park. Within its, 40 square miles are beaches, waterfalls, rainforest, and mountains, very similar to parts of Hawaii.
And just as there are a million things to see here, there are another million to do. There are campgrounds (approximately 20!) and picnic areas, you can take a hike through the rainforest (Maits Rest), hike to one of the many waterfalls (or get 3 in at once with Triplet Falls), hang out on the pristine beaches, or visit the Cape Otway Lightstation. For the more rugged among you, there is the 27-mile Surf Coast Walk or 37 miles of tracks for mountain biking.
You will not be bored at Great Otway National Park!
Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant
Located in Apollo Bay, we had a wonderful meal at Chris’s Beacon Point. With an obvious emphasis on seafood—from the ocean you can see from the dining room full-length windows—we were lucky enough to be able to dine at this wonderful restaurant along the Great Ocean Road.
This is considered to be fine dining, it’s a little pricey and reservations are highly recommended. If memory serves me we paid a little over $250 for two entrees, an appetizer, and a bottle of wine.
This hidden gem is located where the Aire River meets the ocean. It’s a small spit of land that requires a bit of a hike, but if you are as fortunate as we were, you will be the only living souls on the beach. To get to Glenaire Beach, take the 1.25-mile path from the Aire River campground, which will lead you on its sandy shores.
If you surf and don’t mind toting your board in, Glenaire is said to be pretty good with some strong riptides. Swimming can be a bit hazardous, but the lagoon offers an excellent alternative.
If You’re Up for an Adventure: Great Ocean Walk
While we did not have the time for this grand adventure, someday we would love to do the Great Ocean Walk. This 64-mile trail traverses clifftops and beaches and passes through multiple national parks and gum tree forests. You can stop and see most of the sites we mentioned above along the way. The trail itself goes from Apollo Bay to the 12 Apostles, with walk-in campsites available every 6-9 miles.
There are tours that do guided tours of the Great Ocean Walk, some of which will transport your camping equipment between stops, lightening the load a bit. Or, should you just want to do part of the walk on your own, there are services which will drop you at your chosen Point A and pick you up at your chosen Point B. Doesn’t get much easier than that!
Make sure to check out Australia visitors guide, they offer a ton of resources on this road trip!
P.S. If you’re planning on going to Sydney make sure to save a weekend to explore Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach Australia! This beach town has everything, from great restaurants, surfing, ocean pools and great shopping. Don’t skip