The Ultimate Guide to Seeing the Best of The Great Ocean Road on a Day Trip from Melbourne

Australia’s Great Ocean Road is home to heart-stoppingly gorgeous coastlines, thundering waterfalls, and lush rainforests. A long stretch of southern coastline, the Great Ocean Road begins about an hour outside of Melbourne and continues through the bottom of the state.

Perhaps the best part of the Great Ocean Road (GOR)? It’s completely feasible to visit in only one day from Melbourne. If you have more time, you’d benefit from slower explorations- there’s so much to see, and you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere to stay in one of the tiny towns along GOR. Road tripping your way around the whole of Oz?

GOR would make a beautiful multi-day exploration en route from SA to Victoria, or vice versa. During our time in Melbourne, we’d debated spending a night along the road for the best chance of catching spectacular sunrises and sunsets. In an ideal world, we’d watch the sun sink below the horizon at the 12 Apostles, and then drive back to Kennett River to spend the morning with cute koalas. While a day trip offered the convenience of only committing a single day, it also meant we’d have to sacrifice some of the things we hoped to see. For instance- the koalas at Kennett River are most active in the morning and late afternoon, but with Kennett River located about midway along the drive to the 12 Apostles, it’s near-impossible to time your visit for either of those slots if you’re only spending a day on GOR.

In the end, we decided we loved our Melbourne Airbnb too much- so lovely and too comfy to spend a night at a hostel, especially since, in the middle of winter, we may not even stand a chance of seeing a sunrise or sunset. And sure enough, on the day we drove GOR, we had beautiful weather until late afternoon when we hit 12 Apostles and it started to rain. Needless to say, we were thrilled to be at our last stop of the day with plans to drive back to Melbourne inland for a cosy night in, with Harry Potter, pizza and Tim-Tam slams on the agenda.

How to Drive GOR

When we arrived in Melbourne, we rented a car at the airport for a week- planning a few other half-day and full day excursions. We rented from a budget shop, and had no issues with our car- although, it was pretty basic. For a full week rental, we paid ~£80 all-up, which saved us loads on day trips. Although we paid for parking a handful of times, it was never much, and our Airbnb in Seddon offered plentiful, free street parking. By means of direct tour comparison, most GOR tours run £100+ per person. Same goes for the Yarra Valley, another day trip we took from Melbourne. It takes about 4.5 hours to drive from Melbourne to the 12 Apostles, but plan for longer if you’re making stops (which you will). In total, I’d estimate, it took us ~7 hours to drive one way along the coast, and only 2.5 to drive back to Melbourne, inland. A long day? Sure. But, the coastal drive is easy (say nothing for how stunning the views are), and coming back inland on highway saves tons of drive time. We left early morning, stopping at St. Ali in Melbourne for coffee before hitting the road. If memory serves correct, we stopped in Torquay (the first town along GOR, if you’re coming from Melbourne) for breakfast around ~8:30/9 am. We reached the 12 Apostles early afternoon (likely 2 pm), and left the area by ~3:30/4 pm to head back to Seddon for dinner. If you’ve got someone to share the drive with, the day will fly by. Having a car allowed much greater flexibility to pull over for vistas, take our time on short hikes and coastal walks, and to simply just stop and gawk at the view.

The GOR in One Day: Must Stops

If you have more than one day to see the Great Ocean Road, take your time. We had an incredible day, but remarked how easy it would be to spend an additional few days leisurely exploring this part of Australia.

Our favourite bits:

  • Torquay: A surfer’s paradise outside of Melbourne, your journey begins here
    • Once we arrived in GOR, we stopped here for a flat white top up and early brunch at Moby’s, a local institution
  • Lorne Beach: One of the best beaches along GOR, a great place to stop and stretch your legs for a coastal stroll
  • Logan Beach: Great platform for whale watching (your best chances of seeing whales are June – September)
  • Kennett River: The best chance of spotting koalas on the GOR. To up your chances of seeing them awake and alert, visit early morning or late afternoon. We made it here near mid-day, and while the koalas were snoozing, it was amazing spotting so many of them in the trees flanking the path
    • When we were in Kennett River, there were dozens of colourful birds hanging around the entrance to the eucalyptus tree lined path. Unfortunately loads of tourists were buying birdseed to feed the birds- please don’t participate in this activity. Like the koalas high up in the trees, the birds are also wild animals and feeding them makes it harder for them to survive on their own
  • The 12 Apostles: These stunning formations were created from constant erosion of the limestone cliffs on the mainland, beginning 10-20 million years ago. Currently, there are only 8 Apostles, the rest have been lost to erosion. The path at the top of the cliffs is well maintained, and takes about 30 minutes to walk, so it’s a nice way to break up your drive and ogle absolutely insane coastal views
  • Gibson Steps: At the 12 Apostles, these steps provide pathway down onto the beach so you can stand near these incredible formations. Take note, the steps are only open when the wind isn’t too strong
  • The Grotto: Like London Arch, the Grotto is a quick walk and photo stop- also known as, chance to gawk at nature
  • London Arch: A beautiful rock formation and short walk
  • Port Campbell: Like Lorne or Torquay, Port Campbell would be a good town to stop in for a night if you’re taking your time driving GOR. Or, a good place to have lunch or dinner, pending your arrival time

Not listed above are all the one-off vistas we pulled over for over the course of the day. Our rule was simple: If the scenery was beautiful (usually was), and we saw a pull-off or photo point, we’d stop for a few minutes to check out the view, and let ourselves feel grateful for the whole adventure of it all.

Additional stops we didn’t have time for, but friends who have driven GOR recommended:

  • Hopkins Falls: Offbeat waterfall, found along a large, open stretch of land, surrounded by rolling green hills
  • Angelsea Golf Course: The course and surrounding streets are a great place to see kangaroos in the wild, especially in the morning or late afternoon
  • Erskine Falls: The most popular falls along GOR, it’s a steep hike down, but worth it to see the falls plunging into the Erskine River

Key Things to Know for Driving GOR

  • Traffic: We drove GOR in winter, which meant we didn’t encounter a ton of traffic. In warmer months, if you’re planning to do GOR in only one day, I’d start as early as you can. Even in winter, there were dozens of tour vans and buses along the road
  • Route: It’s best to drive GOR one way along the coast, and then come back inland if you’re trying to see all of it in one day. Inland is much quicker- literally, half the time
  • Where to Eat: In the small towns along GOR, expect cafes and restaurants to have limited hours. Many only serve at meal times, so bring snacks or plan accordingly. We’d hoped to eat before starting the drive back inland, but couldn’t find anywhere that was open. Instead, we stopped at a McDonald’s for a snack to tide us over until we got back to Melbourne
  • Cell Service: Parts of GOR, as well as the initial stretch leading you back inland will not have cell service. Keep directions pulled up and make sure you’re aware of key turns or stops before you lose connection
  • Fuel: We fueled up shortly before we hit Torquay at one of the last stations on the highway, and again when we went back inland and started our drive back to Melbourne. There are fuel stations in some of the smaller towns, but we didn’t use more than a half tank along the GOR, and felt comfortable waiting for better prices along the highway

Have you ever driven GOR? Is it on your list of things to experience one day?  Enjoyed this post? Pin it.

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