The Great Ocean Road, along the coast south of Melbourne, between Torquay and Allensford, is one of the world’s epic road trips. It’s well worth renting a car and devoting a long weekend to the slow wind along the coast. Pack a picnic, your camera and good walking shoes. Plan to stop lots and explore the natural wonders as well as the idyllic little towns dotted along the coast.
This tiny town of 1300 people is home to the Split Point lighthouse. This is a great first stop to make, climb up to the top of the lighthouse for spectacular views of the coast. Walk the beach down below for imposing views of the cliffs and the lighthouse. The architecture of the homes along the cliff next to the lighthouse is well worth a look. If you’re ready for a cup of tea, there’s a perfect little cafe with blue checkered tablecloths and flowers filled window boxes in the shadow of the light; you can’t miss it.
2. Apollo Bay
The town has conveniently filled the park on the waterfront with picnic tables and beautiful carved wooden sculptures, which make for a picturesque lunch spot if you’ve packed your own. If not, there are a myriad of ocean front dining options tucked in between quaint shops and galleries along the winding coastal road.
3. Great Otway National Park
The Great Ocean Road winds through Great Otway National Park. There are wonderful walks and hikes to be had in the park, as well as places to camp overnight. There are opportunities to see wildlife (we saw wild koalas!) and enjoy the best of what Victoria has to offer in terms of outdoor adventure! Don’t miss Blanket Bay
4. 12 Apostles
Of course there aren’t 12, and they’re rock formations, not apostles, but they’re one of the major stops on the Great Ocean Road. The view from the top of the cliff is spectacular, but if that’s not enough, you can hire a ride in a helicopter and get an airborne ocean view of the cliffs, the 12 Apostles and the coastal road. There’s a heli-pad right at the car park for the 12 Apostles, but there are other companies further down the road that might give you a better deal than the one poised to trap the most tourists! It pays to ask around!
5. Watch the surfers & walk a beach
The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s great drives, it’s true, but it would be a shame to make the drive without stopping long enough to take a walk. For the hardcore walker, the Great Ocean Walk spans 100 km over a recommended four days of hiking. For the recreational walker, there are numerous spots to pull off and hike the long stretches of beautiful beach. Some of Australia’s best surf beaches are along this stretch of coast and even in winter there will be hardy souls in thick wetsuits riding the big curls these beaches are internationally known for.
Warrnambool, while not strictly on the Great Ocean Road is worth continuing on down the coast towards Adelaide to visit. Like so many costal towns Warrnambool’s center is a patchwork of shops filled with local curiosities and art. The long narrow park that runs along the water is the perfect place for families to relax and let the kids play for a while. The big draw to Warrnambool in winter is the presence of Southern Right Whales. Well marked on the map, the “Whale Nursery” bay is the perfect place to spend a few hours watching mother and calf pairs lounging in the blue water shockingly close to shore. They come here to raise their calves in the safety of the bay, free from concern of shark or orca attacks on their young. If you visit between July and September, do not miss this opportunity to see numerous whales in close proximity. It’s not unusual to see six, or eight, or even ten whales at one time in the bay, right from shore. There aren’t too many places in the world that can say that!