Great Ocean Road, Australia

One of the more attractive, waterside sections of the GOR near Lorne in Victoria, south Australia.

One of the more attractive, waterside sections of the Great Ocean Road near Lorne in Victoria, south Australia. Photo by Diliff.

What is the Great Ocean Road?

Actually ‘Great Ocean Road’ is a bit of a misnomer as in fact GOR doesn’t spend a great deal of time beside the ocean, nor is it great, as in big or sensational, though it is pretty nice from time to time. But it’s an excellent piece of marketing!

The Great Ocean Road stretches from Torquay – one of Melbourne‘s little suburban seaside resorts – 200kms (125mls) west to Portland, though some drivers turn off a little earlier at Warrnambool, heading back to Melbourne via the Grampian Highlands and Ballarat, while others continue on to Adelaide, though the distance there is considerable and views en route few.

The GOR was designed by the Victoria state government to be one of the world’s greatest driving experiences and is certainly a successful marketing exercise though many would argue that GOR doesn’t make it into the world’s top roads, not compared to, for example, the USA’s Route 12 through the Grand Circle Canyon area, the Pacific Coast Highway, South Africa‘s Garden Route, Scotland‘s Highlands or a dozen other classic routes around the world.

Twelve Apostles,Great Ocean Road, Australia

The Twelve Apostles, or to be more precise, The Eight Remaining Apostles, after various collapses over the last few years. Photo by Richard Mikalsen.

The problem is mainly that the road doesn’t actually spend that much time cruising attractively beside the ocean and even the famous Twelve Apostles sea stacks are barely visible without a walk (not that there’s anything wrong with a good leg stretch after hours at the wheel).

The Twelve Apostles viewing platforms and walkways will be busy with tourists and may be less stunning than expected unless you take time to walk down to the beach and see the stacks from sea level.

Fundamentally, to enjoy The Great Ocean Road you need to plan interesting diversions on the way, park and walk, park and surf, park and poke a koala (kidding! ) whatever. Just don’t expect the road itself to provide endless entertainment, it ain’t going to happen that way.

Sights along the Great Ocean Road

kangaroos on a golf course tee, Great Ocean Road, Australia

Anglesea Golf Course on the GOR, complete with loafing caddies, one of the better sights we encountered. More Australian Animals

One of the more surprising aspects of driving the Great Ocean Road is the amount of wildlife that is visible if you keep your eyes open. Kangaroos on this golf course are well known, but wallabies standing dumbly beside the road chewing the cud, koalas hanging like fat furry fruit in roadside eucalypts (with intellects about equal to a ripe apricot), parrots, cockatoos and many other birds are a pleasant distraction from the substantial distances this drive requires.

A hire car or a tour bus is probably the best way to travel this road as some parts are lengthy, hilly, and/or dull, making biking, for example, butt-grinding work, while public transport does not provide buses running the whole route and changes can be big time wasters.

Personal transport also allows the visitor more freedom to stop and take the necessary pictures as well as get in a bit of surfing, hill-walking, forest trekking, whale watching (in season) or animal tracking.

koala meets tourist up a tree, Australia wildlife

A koala digesting his lunch a couple of metres above the Great Ocean Road. This one is particularly thick as he’s not even sitting in a Eucalyptus tree, his food source.

A few Koala facts

Koalas are the only critter with a brain that does not fit snugly into its skull.

Since Koalas are more or less predator-free up a gum tree and eucalyptus leaves are highly toxic, nature decided to focus on digestion at the expense of intelligence, shrinking the brain down to a walnut surrounded by jelly and giving them slow reactions and a dozy ‘thousand-yard stare’ in the process.

Koalas can be seen in the trees beside the road between Lorne and Apollo Bay, and Great Otway National Park provides some great hikes, treetop walkways and animal viewing.

Parakeets on the Great Ocean Road, australia

Parakeets looking for a feed from a guest house above the GOR.

The Great Ocean Walk is also available to dedicated hikers, running from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles and taking about a week for the whole length, though just walking smaller sections is also an option. There are camp sites en route. Also on offer are the Surf Coast Walk and Great South West Walk.

Cycling the Great Ocean Road

Apollo Bay, a relaxed little seaside town on the GOR, seen from Mariners Lookout. Photo by Marcus Wong.

We can’t recommend the whole 277 kms for amateurs because it’s too long, too hard and frankly not consistently interesting, but there are many regional rides that will give you the opportunity to stretch your legs. For example:

Bellarine Rail Trail at 32. 5 kilometres stretches from Geelong to Queenscliff and rides beside wineries, cafés, superb beaches and brilliant scenery.

Forests and Flowers Ride, 48 kilometres, starts in the streets of Anglesea before heading for Mount Ingoldsby and Angahook-Lorne State Park which in the spring is a mass of wildflowers.

Riding the Otways, 50 kilometres, is a forest loop and ridge ride along the banks of King Creek.

Warrnambool Promenade for a lively human trip beside joggers, skaters and walkers on the scenic Foreshore Promenade along the coast to the Southern Right Whale Nursery.

Geelong, 33 kilometres, starts along Geelong waterfront then moves onto the shores of Corio Bay, the Barwon River, Buckley Falls, through the tranquil Eastern Gardens and back to the waterfront.

Decent beaches along the Great Ocean Road

Apollo Bay's beach in the summer, Great Ocean Road, Australia

And while you’re passing by might as well have a dip in the sea at Apollo Bay’s beach, or one of the other sandy stretches along the GOR. Photo by Alex Proimos.

The early section of GOR offers some spectacularly good surf beaches, including perhaps Australia’s best waves at Bell’s Beach, near Torquay.
Other beaches on the route include: Torquay’s lovely, protected Norfolk Beach; Anglesea Beach, a broad strand suited to both swimmers and surfers near the Anglesea River; Point Roadknight beach is a shallow, protected crescent of sand perfect for children; Lorne is another long and family-friendly stretch fringed with lawns, trees and picnic facilities; and Wye River is a fine sandy beach with a forest backdrop.

Another active, water-based option along the GOR is paddling, whether in a canoe (generally along rivers inland) or sea kayaking around coastal bays and through occasional choppy waters for more of an adrenalin rush.

Some of the better canoeing experiences can be found along the scenic Glenelg River near Nelson, where bush meets gorge and campsites are plentiful.
Lake Colac is a particularly good water sports centre in south-west Victoria offering a full range of boating, boarding options. Lake Bullen Merri and Lake Gnotuk are both popular for tranquil, beautiful canoe trips.

Kayaks can be hired from operators in Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay, with options and advice to suit all levels of experience, including guided tours for the less knowledgeable but active thrill seekers.

Otway Fly Tree Top Walk

Otway Fly Tree Top Walk, Great Ocean Road, Australia

Less than 3 hours away from Melbourne via the Princes Highway, Otway Treetop Adventures offers two main experiences, the Treetop Walk is a 1 hour, 2 km long rainforest walk including a 600m long, treetop walkway that takes tourists through the trees.
The Zipline Eco-Tour is a 2. 5 hour, guided experience including training, with 8 cloud stations, 6 flights and 2 suspension bridges

Some other sports available along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road are rock climbing, skydiving, paintballing, horse riding, fishing, golf, as well as hiking and of course camping.