The Perfect 3 Day Great Ocean Road Trip Itinerary
When in Australia you simply can’t miss The Great Ocean Road. Leaving from Melbourne, this is one of the best coastal drives in the world, famous for the magnificent Twelve Apostles and its constantly changing coast line and famous surf beaches. You can drive the 243km of Australia’s Great Ocean Road trip in a day and speed back to Melbourne but there is so much more to the Great Ocean Road than just the 12 apostles so it’s better to plan your Great Ocean Road trip itinerary to allow a few days ( 3 is ideal) so you can take your time, stopping often to really soak up all the sights and enjoy the surprises along the way.
You can do the Great Ocean Road trip as a quick day tour from Melbourne but you’re not going to get the full effect of one of the greatest coastal drives in the world by sitting in a tour bus! So don’t be tempted to rush it and try to tick off the Great Ocean Road in 1 day – if you have more time I highly recommend hiring a car or campervan and spending a few days soaking up the scenery and discovering all the other secrets the route holds along the way.
To help you get the most out of this amazing experience I wanted to put together this Great Ocean Road trip Itinerary to show you all highlights and lesser known secrets the road holds along the way.
Quick Tips for Planning your Great Ocean Road Trip
Best time to travel the Great Ocean Road
It’s possible to take a Great Ocean Road trip anytime but I found the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter (June – August) surprisingly cold and it was quite cold sleeping in a campervan. Summer can be boiling hot but Spring and Autumn are perfect.
How long does it take to travel The Great Ocean Road?
Many people don’t realise just how huge Australia is. The distance between Cairns and Melbourne on the popular East Coast Australia coastal route is over 3,500km which is about 40 hours of solid driving time.
The Great Ocean Road is 243 kilometres (151 miles) long.
It is possible to rush through ticking off the highlights of the Great Ocean Road in 1 day but I would recommend a minimum of 3 days to enable you to take the time to do this beautiful route justice and to enjoy the views, wildlife and nature and discover those off the beaten track surprises.
The absolute best way to drive the Great Ocean Road is with the freedom of your own set of wheels with a motorbike or car, or even better, a campervan.
Hiring a Campervan in Australia
But the absolute best way to travel Australia is undoubtedly with the freedom of your own wheels so you can explore and stop whenever you like – its also often cheaper to drive yourself.
It’s up to you if you hire a car or campervan – a campervan has the added benefit of being your accommodation as well and you can also cook in the camper so you can save you a lot of money on hotels and eating out as well as having the fun of campervanning.
To find the best campervan hire deals I always use Motorhome Republic. As they are the largest campervan and motorhome rental site in the world they can get the best deals and save you money. It’s the best site I’ve found as it compares prices from all the leading campervan rental companies so you can make sure you’re getting the best price. You can read real reviews and it saves time too as you only have to check one website instead of trawling through all the different rental companies. If you’re flexible with dates and route then also check out how you can rent a campervan for only $1 per day by scoring a relocation deal.
If you plan on traveling Australia for longer (perhaps on a working holiday visa) then buying a campervan offers the ultimate freedom and flexibility and can be a really cost effective way to explore Oz if you can sell it at the end of your trip.
Be aware that, contrary to popular belief you can’t just camp up and sleep anywhere. I used the Camps Australia Wide book to find free and low cost campsites all around Australia. There are also many affordable backpacker hostels, some of which will let you park up for the night and use the facilities for a small fee. I also used the Lonely Planet Australia Travel Guide – its packed with loads of useful maps, tips, info and things to do. See more tips for traveling Australia by campervan here.
Where to go: The Perfect 3 Day Great Ocean Road Trip Itinerary
The Perfect Great Ocean Road Trip Itinerary Day 1. Melbourne – to Apollo Bay.
3 hours driving 187 km/116 miles
Most people start their Great Ocean Road Trip from the cool and cultured city of Melbourne. From there drive about an hour to Torquay, a town famous for surfing, its the home of the Australian National Surfing Museum, Surf City Plaza and Bells Beach which hosts many surf competitions. Torquay is also the official start to the Great Ocean Road, after that the road continues to Anglesea which is also worth a look. It’s a good place to learn how to surf, have fun on the river and spot kangaroos on the golf course!
Next you’ll reach Airey’s Inlet, home to the 1891 Split Point Lighthouse and many nice walking trails. You’ll also want to stop and take a photo before you pass under the famous Memorial Arch and sculpture that commemorates the returned WWI soldiers who, from 1919 – 1932, built Australia’s Great Ocean Road using only hand picks, shovels and crowbars in what must have then been a very challenging environment. A photo with the famous arch must be part of your Great Ocean Road trip itinerary.
Next, take your time and enjoy the drive and soak up the magnificent coastal views as the road hugs the coast line and rises above the sea to give some of the most spectacular views of the Great Ocean Road as you drive the 30 kms towards the beach town of Lorne. The roads around here pass through rolling countryside and diary farms, snake over valleys, rugged windswept beaches and over limestone cliffs eroded into fascinating shapes by the crashing waves.
Lorne is a beautiful seaside town which makes a perfect lunch break. There are nice walks and waterfalls nearby or you can just chill with a picnic, BBQ or fish and chips on the beach. There is also a new purpose built permanent exhibition telling the construction story of the Great Ocean Road in Lorne.
About 20 minutes after leaving Lorne make a stop at Kennett River, and follow the ‘Koala Walk’ a great place to spot Koalas. When you get back on the road take it slowly again as you head towards Apollo Bay, the views from the cliffs are spectacular along this stretch and there’s also wild beaches so you’ll probably want to stop at the lookouts to take some photos and explore or take a walk on the beach.
You can spend the night at Apollo Bay You can also take a tour of the oldest surviving lighthouse in Australia, don’t miss climbing up to the top for the views.
Where to stay in Apollo Bay
Apollo Bay makes a great base for the night. There are plenty of campsites, hotels, stops and restaurants. Marengo Holiday Park has cabins and powered and unpowered pitches and plenty of facilities just outside Apollo Bay in a lovely beach front location.
If you don’t want to camp check out Apollo Bay Eco YHA – its affordable and in a fantastic location and is great not just for backpackers but they also have private double rooms and family rooms and plenty of communal facilities including 2 kitchens. If you’d rather stay in a hotel check out the Sandpiper Motel or for modern, spacious, beach front apartments check out The Apollo
We found a free campsite near the Aire river and Cape Otway in the Camps Australia Wide book. It’s picturesque (and free!) but has very limited facilities.
Great Ocean Road Trip Itinerary Day 2: Apollo Bay to Port Fairy
189 km/117 miles, about 3 hours
After leaving Apollo Bay follow the Great Ocean Road for about an hour, turn off to the Cape Otway light station and visit Otway National Park where you’ll be able to enjoy the rainforest in a unique way with the Otway Fly Tree Top Adventures! You can enjoy the lush rainforest greenery strolling along the treetop canopy walkway, which is the tallest and longest in the world, or if you want more action try the exciting zip line tour.
After wards get ready for one of the highlights of the Great Ocean Road – the famous 12 Apostles! The coastline leading to Port Campbell and the 12 Apostles is simply spectacular coastline so make sure you have your camera ready!
The most famous and iconic site of the Great Ocean Road, and one of the most famous sights of all of Australia, is the 12 apostles. These magnificent rocky stacks of limestone cliffs that rise up out of the ocean are constantly being eroded and carved up by the ferocious, crashing waves, so much so that there aren’t actually 12 apostles and possibly never even were! In fact, one 70 meter high rock stack did collapse in July 2005 and the double arched London Bridge fell down in 1990. It’s exhilarating standing on these windy cliffs seeing centuries of history and geography in action, slowly but surely changing the shape of the coast line forever.
From the viewing platform I counted 7, from a boat or helicopter you can see more, but whichever you look you can see the incredible forces of nature in action as the waves lick hungrily around the soft rocks, undercutting and teasing them away from the mainland until they stand, precariously wobbling alone amongst the turquoise sea, only to be eroded even more until they eventually crumble and completely collapse!
Take plenty of time to explore here and don’t miss heading down the Gibson Steps that are cut into the side of the cliffs and walking along the soft sandy beach to appreciate the 12 apostles from the ground level as the sheer limestone cliffs and rock stacks tower over you.
The 12 apostles are just the jewel in the crown of the delights of the Great Ocean Road, there are many more interesting rock formations to discover all along the appropriately named ‘Shipwreck Coast’ of the Port Campbell National Park including the Arch, the stripy coloured Razorback, Loch Ard Gorge and the legend of the shipwreck and the serene Grotto, and, just beyond Port Campbell, the hauntingly beautiful Bay of Islands.
If you want to splash out on a really unforgettable experience and see the landscape in all its glory take to the skies with a helicopter tour!
After enjoying the 12 apostles, continue west along the Great Ocean Road to Warrnambool where you can explore the city’s history as a maritime capital – visit Flagstaff Hill Martime Village which brings the history of the Shipwreck Coast to life. If you visit in Winter, don’t miss the viewing platforms at Logans Beach where you might be able to see the awe inspiring sight of whales and their calves passing by and anytime of the year you can meet penguins on Middle Island.
After Warrnambool its a short (15 min) drive towards Port Fairy for the Tower Hill State Game Reserve. Visit the Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre to learn about the reserve’s Aboriginal and geological history and explore the walking tracks that cross the hills and lake filled craters of this extinct volcano and look out for wildlife like kangaroos, koalas, emus and waterbirds. Nearby Port Fairy is the best place to stop for dinner and to stay for the night.
Where to stay in Port Fairy
Gumtree Caravan Park is a nice, spacious and friendly park 4 kms east from Port Fairy with camping, powered sites, cabins and a well equipped camp kitchen and amenities. There is a backpacker hostel Port Fairy YHA . The Victoria Apartments make a good mid range pick or for the perfect way to finish off your Great Ocean Road Trip check out Oscars Waterfront Boutique Hotel , a lovely waterfront property with plenty of character and a warm welcome or try the Drift House Apartments, which are just 5 mins from the beach, have an outdoor pool and even won the ‘Best Luxury Accommodation’ in the Victorian Tourism Awards 2014.
Great Ocean Road Trip Itinerary Day 3: Port Fairy to Melbourne
Spend the last morning of your epic Great Ocean Road Trip exploring cute historic fishing village of Port Fairy. History lovers might want to take a walking trail to wander along the river, see the historic buildings like the old whalers cottages and grand public buildings or nature lovers will enjoy Port Fairy’s beaches and taking a cruise out to the seal colony by Lady Julia Percy Island.
The Great Ocean Road Trip ends here but you could add a few more days on to the trip and carry on driving and take the Great Southern Touring Route north which visits the stunning Grampians mountain range and the historic goldfields on your way back to Melbourne. You could also carry on driving all the way to Adelaide and then up through the Red Center to Uluru – but thats another post!!
To head back to Melbourne you could go back along the Great Ocean Road and enjoy it all over again or foodies will enjoy taking the shorter inland route where you can visit some of the regions top restaurants, wineries and craft breweries en route back to Melbourne.
The inland route, via Colac, is about 140 kms. After about an hour’s drive stop at Camperdown to enjoy 360-degree views from Mt Leura and Mt Sugarloaf. Then continue to Colac where you can quench your thirst at the Otway Estate and the Forrest Brewing Company craft breweries, enjoy a gourmet meal at Brae, near Birregurra or Gladioli, near Inverleigh, before driving the last hour back to Melbourne.
Australia’s Great Ocean Road Trip is so much more than the 12 apostles, what really makes one of the world’s best road trips is the diversity of the landscape and stunning scenery and all the little surprises along the way. Take your time and enjoy the ride.
Did you like my Great Ocean Road Trip Itinerary? Anything else or any more hidden gems you would add?
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