The Great Ocean Road is one of the top trips to take when you’re in Australia and it’s easy to see why. Miles upon miles of beautiful coastline stretches down from Melbourne all the way to Adelaide, though most people pick the most popular stretch of road to take. You can pick and choose how much you want to do which is great. Some people cram a massive drive into one day but I would recommend taking a few days to do it as there’s so much to see.
We chose to do the three-day route which is a perfect time length for the trip. You still see lots but you’re not cramming in everything too tightly. Of course, you could spend anything up to two or three weeks on the coast, but there are only so many beaches you can see in a row and still appreciate the beauty of them. Our plan was to leave Melbourne and stay in Apollo Bay on the first night then spend the second night in Port Fairy with lots of sight-seeing in between of course.
The Great Ocean Road – Day One
Off we set bright and early on the first day. There’s still a fair bit of driving along the way to Apollo Bay but we took quite a few breaks. Our first stop was at the little surf town of Torquay – apparently one of the best places to surf. I don’t surf so I can’t authenticate this, but people who do told me so I believe them. Torquay is beautiful and it actually feels so Australian. Which sounds weird, but when you live in the big cities you get used to the metropolitan lifestyle and the majority of the people you meet and hang out with are Irish, English, Welsh, Kiwi, American, German – generally all nationalities except the Aussies! Of course this happens because most backpackers are out here on their own and have to band together to create a pseudo-family in lieu of the ones left at home.
So that’s why I really liked Torquay; it felt like we were really in Australia and was very Home And Away-eque with a small, local feel to it and even a café on the beach. And of course the sun was shining. We went in March which is a great time to do it because it’s hitting the end of the summer so it’s not too hot but it’s not cold either.
We drove on to Apollo Bay which was the destination for the first night. The scenery is stunning and the road winds its way down south hugging the coast so you’re never short on beautiful landscapes to admire on the way. Apollo Bay is one of the main spots to stop at and one of the bigger towns on the route. We arrived on a Saturday night so thought the town would be heaving but it’s actually pretty small and more of a stopover for families. Nonetheless we had dinner, parked the car and set out to find a local bar.
At this point it might be good to interject with a note on accommodation. We as backpackers were pretty skint and had limited funds for the trip so came up with the bright idea of sleeping in the car. We thought it was a great idea as we wouldn’t have to pay for accommodation however as soon as we got onto the Great Ocean Road there were loads of signs saying that it’s illegal to sleep overnight in cars!
Obviously a lot of other people have had the same idea as us. At that point it was too late to change but a word of caution to anyone thinking about it, it does add a little element of stress to the trip. Especially as we managed to park one hundred yards down the road from the police station on our first night! It’s actually quite hard to balance the need to park the sleeping wagon in a part of town that’s safe and also unlikely to be noticed by the authorities.
Anyway, back to the night out. We found a bar next to a hotel that played some cheesy but oh-so-good nineties classics. We really lucked out as we ran into some friendly locals who were staying in their parents’ house and kindly offered us couches to sleep on for the night – success! They were also able to give us lots of tips for the next part of the trip.
The Great Ocean Road – Day Two
The next day we had breakfast and set off. Day two was the big sight-seeing day as it included Cape Otway and the 12 Apostles which is the most famous part of the route.
First off- definitely go to Cape Otway! It’s a detour off the main route but well worth it. As you drive down the road keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of koalas. Or more accurately keep your eyes peeled for the group of tourists who are standing and pointing at them. It’s amazing to see them in the wild and as they don’t move very fast, or at all really. You can take as many pictures you can until you have the perfect Instagram-worthy one. The koalas are so cute and you can get really close to them so I’d definitely recommend doing it. This is where the research really paid off as we probably wouldn’t have gone down this way if we hadn’t heard of the possibility of seeing koalas. Also at the end of the road is a cool lighthouse. You can go inside and right to the top of it and get a great view of the coast.
We continued on to the 12 Apostles – a misleading name if ever there was one. The name relates to the standing stacks of rock in the ocean that were cut off from the mainland. But there’s only around five there now. The best place to view them is from the little beach to the left of them. You can access it by walking down the steps beside the cliff. It’s worth going to the official viewpoint as well to take some photos. And there’s a handy shop selling ice creams down the road so you have snacks sorted too.
After this we went to see the Bay of Islands which the locals in Apollo Bay told us about. They said that it was even better than the 12 Apostles and I have to agree with them. The best time to go is at sunset as the whole bay looks like it’s going up in fire. You can sit on the beach and watch the sun go down. Another great picnic spot amongst the thousands on the route.
Our destination for the second night was Port Fairy which is an absolutely gorgeous seaside town. We arrived in the middle of a festival so there was a great buzz around the place. Unfortunately it all closed up around 12, so worth getting there early.
That night we did end up sleeping in the car. But we picked a nice spot in a little car park at the edge of the town so it all worked out. The next day we visited some cafes and boutique shops and checked out the surf (and surfers) on the beach. It’s a great town for a little wander.
The Great Ocean Road – Day Three
For the last day we decided to go back through the Grampian National Park even though in hindsight I think it was a little over ambitious of us. There’s only so much sight-seeing you can take in over a few days. The Grampians are very different landscape-wise to the Great Ocean Road which was a nice change. We got out and did a walk to a waterfall at Halls Gap. We were rewarded with a viewing of wallabies grazing in the wild which was awesome.
It was an epic trip overall and definitely something I’d recommend to everyone to do if they can. The scenery is gorgeous, there are loads to do on the way and seeing some local animals in the wild really sealed the deal. It’s called ‘Great’ for a very good reason!
Author: Zoë Bradley
Updated on the 17/11/19. Initially published on the 20/09/18.