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Stretching along Victoria’s south-eastern coast, the Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations. And it’s no wonder why – with its dramatic coastline, beautiful beaches and an array of outdoor activities, this is one trip that belongs on everyone’s bucket list! It was certainly on ours.
If you’re planning a trip to drive along Victoria’s stunning coastline and take your time doing so, we’ve put together a 4-day Great Ocean Road itinerary packed with all the best things to see and do.
From where to stop and what attractions to visit, read on for our top tips on making the most of your time on this breathtaking stretch of coastline.
The best way to experience it is to self-drive yourself, taking your time to enjoy the scenery and get out and enjoy the hidden gems just beyond the road.
You can hire a rental car from Melbourne if you aren’t already visiting in your own car. We did this since flying to Melbourne gave us more time to spend in Victoria rather than taking those extra couple of days at either end to drive down from Queensland.
Another fun option is to hire a campervan, such as a Jucy van, and take your accommodation with you!
Of course, there are plenty of fantastic day tours that take you to the main attractions along Australia’s Great Ocean Road if you only have one day, such as Port Campbell National Park to see the famous 12 Apostles, but what about all the other stuff you miss?
How Long Is The Great Ocean Road?
The Great Ocean Road stretches 243 kilometres along the south-eastern coastline of Victoria.
Can You Drive The Great Ocean Road In One Day?
Yes, you can drive the Great Ocean Road in one day but it doesn’t give you a lot of time to enjoy it.
This long drive does not give you a lot of time to stop at the different sites, aside from a few quick viewing platforms along the way and possibly a quick dash down Gibsons Steps. It usually means taking the inland route back to Melbourne too, which is much quicker.
Where Does The Great Ocean Road Start And Finish?
The Great Ocean road stretches between Torquay and Allansford. Although, many will argue that it stretches beyond this point.
I would go so far as to say it stretches right to the end of the Victoria-South Australia border, into my hometown of Portland, Victoria! The Visit Great Ocean Road website refers to this full stretch of coastline as “Greatopia“, comparing it to an Etopia-like paradise. Love that!
Either way, to really appreciate this drive in all its glory, you do want to spend more than a single day doing it!
4-Day Itinerary For Great Ocean Road – Self Drive
We always wanted to take our time doing the road trip, especially doing the Great Ocean Road with kids!
We actually booked this trip for the first time back in January 2021, and well… we all know what happened around then! We tried again for December 2021. Cancelled again (and switched our plans to Western Australia instead). Thankfully, 3rd time lucky – we finally got there!
There are things we did on our itinerary that might not be of interest to you. There may also be places you want to stop that we didn’t get the chance to visit, but having an itinerary like this makes it much easier to plan your own itinerary.
RECOMMENDED READING: Plan the ultimate trip to Australia with our Australia Travel Guide!
Let’s get to the fun stuff!
Day 1: Melbourne to Torquay (101KM – 1h 17m)
We actually started our day early from the Yarra Valley, which added an extra 45 or so minutes to our route, after spending two days there, but for most people, your starting point will likely be Melbourne.
We made our way from the Yarra Valley to Torquay, the starting point for our Great Ocean Road drive along Victoria’s coastline.
Arriving in Torquay around mid-morning, we headed first to Torquay Foreshore Play Park so the kids could stretch their legs and have some fun on the playground. It’s the little things.
We took a walk down to Fisherman’s Beach before heading to Torquay Esplanade to Pholklore for lunch. This is a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant that is highly rated and very busy. The food was delicious!
Afterwards, we took the stairs down to Bells Beach and spent an hour enjoying this beautiful stretch of coastline. It’s a little wild, so we weren’t there to swim but it was great to watch the surfers out in those wild waters! It was also a perfect place to launch the drone for a fly.
Bells Beach is the most famous surf beach in Australia, home to the annual Rip Curl Pro Surfing competition which would bring huge crowds into town during the Easter weekend each year.
Then we headed to our first accommodation for the trip, Bells Beach Cottages, around a 15-minute drive from town. It was a cute old cottage with llamas roaming the yard, some older play equipment for the kids and an indoor swimming pool (the chlorine was strong but the kids had fun).
Thankfully we planned ahead and grabbed some groceries for a BBQ for dinner as nothing was open nearby on a Monday and we would have needed to head back into the centre of Torquay.
Since we had to change our itinerary a little last minute, I only booked all our accommodation for this trip 4 weeks out. I got lucky since everything had mostly booked out really early being the school holidays here in Australia.
A great tip is to book really early if you are planning to do the road trip during the summer holidays! Even 6 months out was a struggle with so many people being eager to resume travelling.
Day 2: Torquay To Apollo Bay (94KM – 1h 38m)
Day two was a big one so we left Torquay early morning, stopping first for a quick look at Urquhart Bluff South Beach, then onwards to Aireys Inlet.
Aireys Inlet is a beautiful spot and a must-stop on the Great Ocean Road if you grew up in the 90s like we did! It is home to Split Point Lighthouse – the exact lighthouse that Aussie tv show Round The Twist was filmed in!
It can be a great viewpoint for dolphins and southern right whales (depending on the time of year)!
Although our littlest person decided that there were far too many stairs for her so we skipped the tour and settled for the walking track overlooking Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary and a walk down to the beach instead… which also had stairs! Kid logic!
There are some really great views here though!
Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch
Just down the road from Aireys Inlet, you will reach the iconic Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch. Many people mistake this for being the official starting point of the Great Ocean Road.
The current arch is not the original, but it does still hold the original sign. There is a small car park to the side that allows you to get some great photos safely, without holding up traffic. It also shares the story that the arch was built in memory ofAustralian troops who lost their lives in the first world war.
Our next stop was Lorne. This is one of the busiest tourist destinations along the Great Ocean Road and one of the bigger towns you will pass through making Lorne a popular place for an overnight stay. Here you will find loads of accommodation, restaurants and activities.
We headed out of the town centre and up to Teddy’s Lookout which is easily one of the best lookouts along the trip! Incredible views and just a short walk from the parking lot!
Then we got active and headed to Erskine Falls. This is well worth making time for! Erskine Falls plunges 30 metres into the lush rainforest gully of the Erskine River.
It’s around a 9km drive outside of the centre of Lorne and there are 240 stairs down to the lower lookout but it is well worth it! The walk is suitable for kids, even if you need to take a couple of breaks. If you’re not up for the stairs, there is an upper lookout that is just a short walk from the car park area.
Feeling extra energetic? There are a few longer walking tracks if you have a full day to explore this area!
We then headed to Lorne Hotel for a well-deserved lunch break. They were quick and the food was good. A little expensive, however, the views of the beach are great and the prices aren’t unexpected.
Lorne also has a fantastic foreshore playground that the kids loved. Once again, we gave them a chance to have a little fun before jumping back into the car.
Our final stop of the day was Apollo Bay. We checked into our budget accommodation, Apollo Bay Eco YHA, which was modern and clean. The only thing is hostels mean shared bathrooms, but for one night, it was all we needed.
We headed to the Apollo Bay Distillery for pizza and a gin tasting, followed by a play down at the playground and a quick stop for a beer for Simon at the Apollo Bay Brewhouse.
Being the January school holidays, there was also the annual carnival in town (something you will see in a few towns along the Great Ocean Road during January). We didn’t go on any rides but enjoyed watching other terrified people on them.
It was an early night for us after that. A huge day!
Day 3: Apollo Bay To Port Campbell (97KM – 1h 27m)
Day 3 we started with a walk up a hill to Mariners Lookout. This private walking track is open to the public each day and gives you some epic views over Apollo Bay. It’s a bit of an incline but not too steep. Apparently, this is a magical place to spend sunset!
The next section of our day took us through some of the Great Otway National Park. This is the one part of the trip where we could have done with more time. An extra day perhaps… or had we been able to book accommodation in the places we wanted, we might have been able to get a little further on our first day.
We did not take the detour to Great Otway Lighthouse or to see the giant Californian redwoods, but we would have loved to! The drive through Otway National Park is still pretty spectacular though!
Instead, we headed to Port Campbell National Park, knowing there were a lot of things to do in Port Campbell that we did not want to miss!
Our first stop in Port Campbell was Gibsons Steps. The 86 steps take you down to the beach below for a chance to feel completely dwarfed by the 60-metre-high sea cliffs surrounding you.
Depending on weather conditions and tides, Gibsons Steps aren’t always open due to safety reasons. We had no idea about this but luckily it was absolutely perfect when we arrived. And still quite early so we missed the big crowds that come with the tour buses arriving from Melbourne.
This is your chance to get up close to some of the limestone rock formations this area is so well known for.
The two you will see here are Gog and Magog, which aren’t part of the 12 Apostles, yet very similar and equally spectacular. One of our favourite spots from the whole trip!
Although, as inviting as it is, it’s not the place for a swim. It is much wilder than it seems!
You can also walk from Gibson Steps to the Twelve Apostles car park if feeling more energetic. We didn’t realise this was an option and drove to our next stop. The walk is around 1km one way.
That leads us to quite possibly the most famous landmark on the Great Ocean Road and the most popular stop – the Twelve Apostles.
While only around 6 of the limestone rock stacks still remain, thanks to years of wild waters from the Southern Ocean wearing away at them, they are still a very beautiful sight to see.
You cannot access the beach area around the Twelve Apostles but the viewing platform gives you some great views. If you get lucky, you might spot little penguins in the beach area below.
Loch Ard Gorge
Our other favourite Great Ocean Road stop for the trip was Loch Ard Gorge.
This is a beautiful location with a well-known history of the ill-fated Loch Ard Shipwreck, which crashed into Mutton Bird Island in 1878, leaving just two survivors, who managed to make it to the safety of the beach within Loch Ard gorge.
You can view the gorge from above, but we highly recommend you head down the stairs to the beach.
This is another spot that gets very popular, but it still feels special to be there amongst those enormous limestone platforms. If you angle your photos right, you can make it look like you’re the only people there… HA!
While swimming isn’t advised, due to the strong currents and rips, you will see many people doing so although mostly they stick to the shallows. We settled for taking off our shoes and paddling in the shallows for a while. This made the kids happy after walking up and down so many stairs so far for the day.
Back in Port Campbell, we were starving so we headed to Sow & Piglets Brewery for pizzas, a beer-tasting paddle for Simon and some board games for the kids. They have a heap of games there to play, which makes it a really family-friendly spot.
After lunch, we checked into Eastern Reef Cottages, our accommodation for the night. This was slightly out of town but again, last minute so we were happy to have found something in Port Campbell. The cottages are older but fine for a shorter stay.
Then it was down to the Port Campbell foreshore for a beach swim. The water was far too cold for me but Simon and the kids had fun. This is a lifeguard-patrolled beach.
If you’re visiting Port Campbell with young kids, the little streams of water running between Port Campbell beach and Campbell’s Creek are perfect for wading in. The creek is also much warmer for swimming, which is where we ended up. It’s a great spot for fishing too, further up the creek.
Cooled down and refreshed, we were ready to explore some more, heading to the famous London Bridge (or London Arch as it more resembles now) – the rock formation, named due to its former bridge-like appearance.
Back in 1909, the section of rock connecting to the mainland suddenly collapsed with 2 people left stranded at the far end. Thankfully, no one was hurt but it did mean no more walking across the ‘bridge’.
While it is no longer a bridge in appearance, it’s still an impressive sight to behold and definitely worth seeing from the different viewing platforms.
There is no beach access here, but keep your eyes peeled for potential penguin spotting below. We didn’t see any but their footprints on the sand were adorable!
For our last stop of the day, we took a short drive from London Bridge, up the road to The Grotto. This is another beautiful rock formation that is well worth making time for. Especially in the late afternoon sunlight, which makes for beautiful photos.
There’s a staircase down to the grotto which is an easy climb.
And look what we spotted along the walking track on the way to the grotto! The cutest little echidna. If you want to see native Australian animals in the wild, the Great Ocean Road is the place you need to go!
We finished our day with an ice cream from Port Campbell Ice Creamery – the sister store of nearby Timboon Ice Creamery. Yes, that was our dinner! We were exhausted by this point.
Day 4: Port Campbell To Portland (159km – 1h 55m)
The next morning we had our final section of the Great Ocean Road to drive as we headed to our final destination for this section of our trip.
Bay Of Islands Coastal Park
First up, we stopped to see the Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands Coastal Park. While not quite as impressive as the 12 Apostles, still some really lovely limestone rock formations and cliff scenery.
The other great thing about stopping here is there are always fewer crowds, even during the peak season.
At this point of our trip, our girls announced that we were obsessed with rocks and that most of our trip was to look at more rocks. They secretly loved all the giant rocks!
Marking the official end of the Great Ocean Road, we did make a stop in Allansford spontaneously, to Cheese World Great Ocean Road. How could we resist cheese?
It actually turned out to be a really cool stop too. Not only do they have their own produced cheeses, but you can also get other cheeses, drinks and local artisan goods in their store, or dine at the cafe. They have cheese tastings available too.
Then take the time to visit the Cheese World Museum. This free museum has artifacts from the farming and dairy industry and a lot of other cool antiques and historic items.
We had a bit of fun educating the kids on how we learnt to type on typewriters and our phones used to be connected to the wall. Yeah, they feel pretty lucky they weren’t born in the 80s!
A little further along the road, we reached Warrnambool. There is a fantastic recreation area with multiple playgrounds that appears quite new, plus you can hire paddle boats and motorboats to cruise around Lake Pertobe. This whole area is great!
We also headed up to Tower Hill. This nature reserve is within an extinct volcano crater, and you can drive around the road within the crater. Not every day you drive through what was once a volcano!
There are lakes and walking tracks within Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. But the best part is the wildlife!
We stopped to use the bathrooms near the former information centre and saw koalas in the eucalyptus trees. Then we saw an emu in its natural habitat, alongside the road at another point. The first wild emu we had ever seen… although not our last on this trip! So cool!
It’s almost a rite of passage to stop at Port Fairy for fish and chips so that’s what we did. Unfortunately, The Wharf fish and chips store was closed due to staff issues and only their fine dining restaurant was open so we went to East Beach Fish and Chips instead. It was still good but maybe not the best in town.
We stopped by Port Fairy beach too which was super busy being such a hot day!
Our final stop was my hometown of Portland, Victoria, which I had not visited for more than 10 years! We stopped for a play at the new playground area along the foreshore, which the kids loved! There are two playgrounds close by, a skatepark and picnic tables.
Then it was time to catch up with the extended family for a few days, thus ending our official Great Ocean Road itinerary!
At this point, you may choose to spend a night in Warrnambool, Portland or even over the South Australia border in South Australia, before taking the inland route back to Melbourne.
Great Ocean Road Trip Tips
If you plan to create your own Great Ocean Road itinerary, here are some tips to consider to help you make it an incredible road trip. Especially if you are doing your road trip with kids as we did:
Book really early if travelling during peak travel season (summer and Australian school holidays).
For fewer crowds, consider doing your Great Ocean Road drive during the winter months.
If road-tripping with kids, be mindful of their limits. Some of the Great Ocean Road attractions are a little more of an effort to get to and little legs can only handle so much. Schedule in time for play and rest too.
Bring plenty of snacks and drinks with you as some of the smaller seaside towns don’t have as much available as far as restaurants or supermarkets go. And many do not open on Monday or Tuesday, especially during the off-season.
Be realistic with your time. If you only have 2 days, there are some things you won’t have time to see!
Accommodation along the Great Ocean Road can be found in many places, from camping grounds to resorts, Airbnbs, youth hostels and bed and breakfasts.
There are a few options for all budgets, but if you are visiting in the summer school holidays, expect to pay a lot and for things to book out very early!
Some of the most popular places to stay require a minimum 3-night stay during these peak travel times, which doesn’t suit if you are doing a short 4-day road trip like ours. The accommodation we were able to get certainly did play a part in creating our self-drive 4-day Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Accommodation – We use Booking.com or Agoda to book most of our hotel accommodation when we travel.
Travel insurance – Protect yourself and your belongings with Hey Mondo.
Tours & attractions – Our preferred attraction and tour booking sites are Get Your Guide and Viator. Booking ahead will mean you don’t miss out on popular tours!
We had a great time exploring the Great Ocean Road and all of its natural attractions. We stopped at some amazing places along the way, with each place offering something unique that made our trip even more special. From seeing wildlife like wild koalas and emus to visiting museums and playgrounds with our kids, we were able to make memories that will last a lifetime.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to start planning your own itinerary for the Great Ocean Road!
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