The Great Ocean Road is not really different from other Australian roads, highways and freeways – with one distinctive feature: it is highly spectacular and you don’t want to drive fast (yes, Australians are not the big inventors of fast driving and real highways – as an Austrian or even a German, driving can become annoying pretty fast) because there are so many spectacular points of interest so you always feel like stopping and taking a picture.
It took us 2 days to road-trip and explore the Great Ocean Road. We were not really lucky with the weather, so we often had to wait until it stopped raining until we could continue our tour. Still, we recommend planning 2 days for the entire road as there are really many viewpoints, cute towns and points of interest to explore. We did the tour the other way around – instead of driving from Torquay to Bay of Islands (Peterborough), we started in Port Fairy and drove until Torquay. The reason was that it was raining so bad when we wanted to start the Great Ocean Road that we decided to drive to the end (about 4 hours) and start the tour the next day. We can just recommend the tour this way, as the most stunning viewpoint – the Twelve Apostles – are the last viewpoint along the stunning steep coast – it gets better with every viewpoint – the other way around, the 1st viewpoint (Twelve Apostles) is the most spectacular.
Stop 1: Port Fairy
Technically, Port Fairy does not belong to the Great Ocean Road. It is 75 kilometers (47 miles) away from the beginning of the Great Ocean Road but, in our opinion, totally worth a visit. The historic fishing village was even elected to the world’s most liveable town with under 20,000 inhabitants in the past. Every year in March, the town hosts the Port Fairy Folk Festival which attracts not only people from the Port Fairy and the neighbouring towns, people come from all over the country to enjoy the 4-day music festival.
Only a few steps via a footbridge from Port Fairy, you can reach Griffith Island. We did the 1-hour walk around the island (anti-clockwise) and really enjoyed it. Soon after we entered the path, we reached the beach. The water of the ocean is crystal-clear and forms a little river between the mainland and the island. The water is so blue that you just want to jump in – we spotted a wallaby that could not resist the temptation and just did it. One of the highlights of the island is the lighthouse – one of the most photogenic lighthouses we found in Australia. We continued our walk and met another wallaby that crossed the path right in front of us. Walking back to the carpark in Port Fairy, we passed another beach and many fishers that were obviously trying to catch some lunch. We loved Griffith Island and can definitely recommend visiting it.
Stop 2: Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve
On our way to Bay of Islands – which is the beginning of the Great Ocean Road (or better, the end if you do it in the common direction), we passed the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. It is an extinct volcanic crater (now filled with water) that is nowadays a wildlife habitat and a wetland area. The park features 4 short and easy walks that enable you to explore the park by yourself. There are also guided bush walks available. We did the Tower Hill Summit, which is a short walk (1.5 kilometers return) that leads to a viewpoint where you have a good view down to the wetland area and lake. The park also has a nice and pretty large picnic area – so, it is the perfect place for a short break while exploring the Great Ocean Road and its surroundings.
Stop 3: Bay of Islands
The 3rd stop on our tour and the 1st stop on the Great Ocean Road was the Bay of Islands viewpoint. Basically, the viewpoints along the road until the Twelve Apostles are pretty much alike – you park your car, walk a few meters and get to enjoy a stunning view. Bay of Islands was, still, one of the most impressive ones as it reflects the massiveness of the cliffs and the wonderful colors of the fragile limestone coast.
Stop 4: Bay of Martyrs
Impressed by Bay of Islands, we continued to Bay of Martyrs. From the viewpoint, you get to enjoy the wonderful view on the shoreline that is dominated by high limestone bluffs. There are several beaches accommodated in the bay – however, swimming is not possible because of strong currents and stony cliffs.
Stop 5: The Grotto
The next stop is “The Grotto” and it is different than Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs. Instead of watching the cliffs from the top, you walk down to the viewpoint via some stairs. The Grotto is a whole in the rock that was created naturally by erosion over millions of years. Nowadays, it looks like an arch, however, the stone is very fragile so it might break down in future.
Stop 6: London Bridge
London Bridge is not exactly a bridge – it is an arch and a collapsed bridge. In 1990, the bridge that connected the arch with the mainland, collapsed (there were even 2 people on the other side, who had to be rescued) and what is left is only the arch but nothing connecting it to the mainland – so crossing over is not possible anymore.
Stop 7: The Arch
The Arch was naturally formed through erosion by waves crushing against the rock formation forming a hole in the middle. It is very picturesque and if you imagine how many years it takes that the hole is formed by nature, this place is even more stunning and unbelievable.
The most Delicious Detour: Timboon Fine Ice Cream
Just because Bianca is easy to target with facebook ads (she loves everything that is fun, sweet, crazy, high and retro) and it was Tom’s birthday, we visited Timboon Fine Ice Cream. We would have never visited it if Bianca had not seen the facebook ad because it is not exactly on the Great Ocean Road and pretty much a hidden gem (not among locals but we couldn’t find it in any guide book – so tourists do usually not make their way there).
We do highly recommend the little detour from Port Campbell (after The Arch). It is about 15 kilometers one way to reach the ice creamery but it is totally worth the extra time and money. They have many different flavours – their signature being the Whisky Cream and Liquorice – from classic to special (banana, chocolate, … to honeycomb and passionfruit meringue) and the ice is just absolutely delicious. It is a little family-run business, the place itself is really neat and we really enjoyed our time there. One scoop is about 4 AUD – so it is really the Australian average. The only cheaper ice cream we found in Australia was at Maccas (McDonalds) and even there the Sunday with Chocolate Sauce was 3.5 AUD (even a Magnum or any other packed ice cream in the supermarket costs about 3-4 AUD).
Stop 8: Loch Ard Gorge
Until 2009, you could admire the Island Archway (a 25-meter high stone arch) when visiting the gorge. Unfortunately, it collapsed back then, leaving the gorge and two rock pillars. Loch Ard Gorge is also part of the shipwreck coast (Port Fairy to Cape Otway) as more than 600 ships wrecked along the rocky coast.
The Highlight: The Twelve Apostles
Definitely the most famous, most visited and most beautiful place along the Great Ocean Road. In order to take the perfect picture, we arrived there before sunset. The place was packed with other tourists that had already picked their personal perfect picture spot everywhere around the Twelve Apostles. We went to the very end of the path, where you basically get the best view as you can see all “11” stone formations.
Stop 10: Kennett River
You should visit Kennett River if you want to see koalas in the great outdoors. They are to be found in the trees up Grey River Road. However, be prepared for the fact that they might have taken a comfortable seat way up in the treetops and you will only be able to admire their grey, furry butts. And only if you are lucky enough to either spot them yourself (which is really hard) or you discover a group of people totally excited staring up into the treetops (which is, most of the time, an indicator there is something spectacular). Before heading up the hill to spot koalas, we stopped down at the road (right where the campsite is) because we saw some cute, colorful birds which were obviously looking for some human company. If you have some food with you (bread crumbs, corn, …), they will love you and sit on you picking the food out of your hand. They also sat down on our heads, which was a nice massage but still, not so much of an enjoyment.
Stop 11: Erskine Falls – Wye River
We stopped at Erskine Falls – about 10 kilometers drive from Wye River as a little break on our way to Bells Beach. You can look at the waterfall from the top or walk down to the pool via some steps. It is definitely not the most wonderful and impressing waterfall in the world but it is a nice stop on the way to Bells Beach. There is also a nice picnic area close by, so it is also easy to combine it with a picnic break. A few walking treks also start at the carpark of the waterfall, so if you want to pimp your fitness, it is also a good place to go.
Stop 12: Bells Beach
Bells Beach is the most famous and iconic beach along the Great Ocean Road. It is truly the best beach – not for sunbathing or swimming thought – for watching surfers. If we had learnt surfing from just watching surfers for hours, we would be really good surfers by now. At Bells Beach we again observed so many surfers and this led to our personal conclusions about the surfing culture in Australia:
Everybody surfs – from the age of 10 to the age of 60, we saw each age class surfing – it is really cool to see that surfing is a sport for everybody and the Aussies just all love it very much
They always surf – no matter what the weather is like, they surf. When we visited Bells Beach, it started to rain heavily, everybody was just running to the car, trying not get wet. The surfers stayed in the water as if nothing had happened (of course, they were already wet but still, it got cold but they still surfed)
They all have this certain surfer style – tattoos, long hair (mostly blond), tanned skin … this is what the average surfer looks like. We saw so many surfers (enough to have a representative sample size) and they all had this style (Bianca is in heaven, she is totally in love with Kurt Cobain and thinks they all look a little bit like Kurt Cobain).
The last Stop: Torquay
Torquay is a good place for shopping the surfer style. You will find all well-known beach-style/surfer brands there: Billabong, Roxy, Quiksilver and many more. Prices are not really the cheapest (we found way better deals in US outlets) but if you are really in need of something, you will love the broad offering in Torquay.
Our Travel Hacks for Great Ocean Road:
- Plan 2 Days – you could do it also in a day but it is a lot of driving and if you rush through you don’t really get to enjoy the wonderful places so much
- Drive from Bay of Islands – Torquay not vice versa as then the Twelve Apostels is your last stop – this way it gets better and better, the other way the most impressive stop is the first stop
- Make sure you visit the Timboon Fine Ice Cream – just a little detour from Port Campbell
Our Overnight Stay
Princetown Recreation Reserve and Camping
We spent the night close to the Twelve Apostles – as this was the place we visited for sunset. In our Spaceship Travel App, we found the Princetown Recreateion Reserve and Camping – a large but nice campsite that also reflected our budget. We paid 35 AUD for the night – the campsite is well-equipped with a little kitchen area and the showers were really clean. We can really recommend this campsite for a stay along the Great Ocean Road.