I’ve read a lot about Australia’s Great Ocean Road and where to stop, what to see, and even where to get coffee. Most of what I read, however, included a bus and letting someone else do the driving. I can see the advantages of taking a tour bus. But the thought of a big bus trip is enough to make me break out in hives. I was determined to rent a car and drive it myself. Driving on the left for the first time definitely presented some challenges, usually involving the windshield wipers, but with my trusty GPS I managed just fine.
How did I really know where to stop and what to see? Well, the Great Ocean Road is widely publicized and written about, but the best advice came from my friend in Lilydale, a suburb of Melbourne. I spend a couple of nights with her and we mapped out a plan. She told me about a stop that isn’t mentioned in any of the things I read. If you love birds, you won’t want to miss this stop.
My plan was to drive as far as Port Campbell, spend the night there, all in one day, and then drive back to Melbourne and stay at Philip Island the next night. Also because my friend recommended it. More about that later. This was all the time I had. I recommend spending at least another day on the Great Ocean Road and going further than Port Campbell if time allows.
The Great Ocean Road is beautiful all along the way, by the sea, in the rainforest and through the small towns that dot the coast. Anyone driving can pull off at any number of pullouts along the way for shots of great views, sheep, and even rainbows if you’re lucky. What I’ve listed here are the major stops along the way and what you can expect at each one.
Great Ocean Road Must-Sees
Bells Beach – There are two pullouts for Bells Beach, maybe even more, but if you’re coming from Melbourne and actually want to surf here, pull into the first parking area. You’ll have a great view from here too, but the second pullout will give you an amazing view of the surfers through your zoom lens or binoculars. At the second pullout you can also take a bit of a walk on a path through the brush and down to the cliffs. From the cliffs, the views are truly spectacular.
Town of Anglesea – Surfing is popular here and if you already need some time out of the car, this might be a good place for a walk around Point Addis Marine National Park. This beautiful beach has very little traffic and great scenery. Coogoorah Park Nature Reserve is also an easy, beautiful walk especially if the kiddos are with you.
Kennett River – About halfway between Lorne and and Apollo Bay, just past Wye River, is a pullout for Kennett River and the Kafe Koala. The cafe serves up a great cup of coffee, but the real reason to stop here is birds. And Koalas. My friend in Melbourne told me about Kennett River. There’s an RV park here with a small parking area behind it, but I parked at the cafe. No bathroom at the cafe, btw. I walked across the parking lot to a gravel road, to find about 30 cockatoos, a handful of beautiful and friendly lorakeets, a koala up in a tree. The birds will eat out of your hand. And don’t neglect the ducks. They like treats too. At the cafe, there are five kookaburra that hang out, and they’ll even let you pet them if you ask nicely. Petting wildlife shouldn’t become a habit, but these five kookaburra are regulars here and quite used to tourists.
Town of Apollo Bay – Blessed with beautiful beaches and rolling green hills, this quaint village is famous for its seafood. This makes it the perfect place to stop for a late lunch. Take a walk to the Cape Otway to see the lighthouse. If you’re looking to splurge, you can take a helicopter ride to see the amazing views from above.
Maits Rest Rainforest Walk – Shortly after Apollo Bay, the road goes inland through a stunning rainforest. Maits Rest Rainforest Walk takes you along the floor of the forest. It’s another great break from the car that won’t take a lot of time. If you have a close-up lens and a love of flora, now is the time to use it.
After driving for what seems a long time with no views of the ocean, the road turns back towards the sea after Princetown. Here the biggest attraction along the entire Ocean Road awaits.
12 Apostles – You’re probably familiar with this famous natural wonder of Australia. The 12 Apostles consists of several limestone formations that jut out of the sea near the shoreline. It’s a dramatic sight, and I was fortunate enough to see it at both sunset and sunrise. If you only have time to see it once, make it at sunrise. There were only three of us there for a long time. Also be sure to climb Gibson’s steps and nearby Loch Ard for more stunning views.
Town of Port Campbell – Here’s another great place to have some good food and drink with a view. Port Campbell also has many accommodation options, including a fantastic hostel and in winter, there are great deals on hotels. Tourists have their choice of great breakfast places and coffee. I got up before sunrise and drove back to 12 Apostles to see the sunrise. Afterwards, I came back to Port Campbell to check out and enjoy breakfast.