The Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia is one of those bucket list road trips that capture our fascination. Having driven it twice now, once as part of a tour and once as a self driven road trip, I definitely believe the self driven tour is superior. It gives you much more flexibility in your Great Ocean Road itinerary. Because preferences can vary, time required is different for everyone, but a 2-3 day self drive of the Great Ocean Road is optimal for the best itinerary.
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- 1 How to Self Drive the Great Ocean Road
- 2 Day 1 of the Great Ocean Road Itinerary
- 3 Day 2 of Self Drive Great Ocean Road Itinerary
- 4 Day 3 of the Great Ocean Road Itinerary
How to Self Drive the Great Ocean Road
Rent a car from Melbourne or wherever you are coming from. You can quite easily rent a car from Booking now, which has always been my favorite website for hotels.
Don’t forget to drive on the left! Also, the driver sits on the right side of the car. I can’t tell you how many times we went to get into the wrong sides of the car. Also something to note…your blinkers and windshield wipers are opposite. We were dying laughing every time our wipers went crazy through turns and lane changes.
Australia has a TON of roundabouts so if you’re used to driving on the right, this will probably confuse you a bit. We literally said out loud every time we approached one: “Yield to the right, stay to the left.” Self driving the Great Ocean road is really not difficult. But watch for kangaroos, dead or alive. Poor things are common roadkill and they hop out unexpectedly. Be particularly cautious at dusk and nighttime.
Google Offline Maps are a lifesaver anytime I travel internationally. Download maps for all areas you’ll be traveling on your Great Ocean Road itinerary. That way, when you don’t have service or don’t want to use data, you can still use your road maps.
Day 1 of the Great Ocean Road Itinerary
Head out from Melbourne bright and early and make a stop at Bell’s Beach. This massive beach is famous for surfing competitions. There are two spots with a wooden walkway with steps down to the massive beach.
This adorable little town has cute restaurants, a wonderful waterfront to walk, and a great vibe. If you have more time than two days, I suggest spending some extra time here. We actually spent 3-4 days just in Lorne for our friends’ wedding, so we got ample time to explore.
We stayed at the Cumberland Lorne Resort and absolutely LOVED it. For the price, you get an entire 1 bedroom apartment with a kitchen plus access to the main pool, jacuzzi, and sauna. It’s right in the center of town and incredibly convenient. We had originally booked another hotel, but after seeing our friends’ apartment at the Cumberland, we immediately switched.
We actually started our self drive of the Great Ocean Road from Lorne instead of Melbourne, since we’d been staying there. I definitely suggest this if you have the time to spend a night in Lorne. Otherwise, get a very early start from Melbourne in the morning.
Stop at Erskine Falls only if you have ample time, like a Great Ocean Road 3 day itinerary. It’s not a far drive from Lorne, maybe 15 minutes, then around 10 minutes to climb down a long set of steps and follow a pathway through lush forrest. Just remember you have to climb back up!
If you read about stops along the Great Ocean Road, you’ll probably see Kennett River mentioned as a stop for spotting wild koalas. Roughly half an hour after departing from Lorne, you’ll barely notice the little town with the Koala Cafe alongside the road.
This is a popular area for spotting koalas in the wild because of the large eucalyptus forest. You can simply turn down Grey River Road and drive a little bit, looking up into the trees for the cuddly little creatures curled up where the branches attach to the trunk. Once you spot one, it’s easier to spot more. Some people park and walk up the road a ways.
Keep in mind that this is a small community where people live. Minimize your impact on the environment and the day to day life of these people. Unfortunately they have to deal with tour busses and hoards of people stopping here everyday. We stopped just long enough to see a couple koalas in the trees then moved on.
A bit of a detour, we kind of questioned whether it had been a mistake to add this to our day since the drive seemed to go on longer than anticipated.
From Apollo Bay, or the highway where the turn off for Skenes Creek Road is, the drive is around 50 minutes each way. The turn is shortly before you get to Apollo Bay. Other than the mud (don’t wear white pants like me), I felt like this lovely trail and stunning waterfall was totally worth the journey and added time to our road trip.
There are two ways you can get back to the coast from Hopetoun Falls. You can either back track to Apollo Bay and Cape Otway which is the better option if you have time or you can drive inland and skip Cape Otway and Apollo Bay.
This beachside community is perfect for grabbing lunch if you haven’t already, and their specialty is seafood. I’m actually in favor of Lorne over Apollo Bay, but this is a pretty popular spot to stop or even stay the night if you have time. It would be a good place to base yourself for exploring the area. Consider Captains at the Bay for a luxury B & B experience or Apollo Bay Waterfront Inn for something more budget friendly.
Otway Fly Tree Top Walk
If you are in the area of Hopetoun Falls and have the time, Otway Fly Treetop Adventures offer visitors a rainforest canopy walk or bird’s eye view of the rainforest below via zip line. The total treetop walk takes about 1 hour and the zip line experience takes 2.5 hours. Read reviews HERE or visit Otway Fly Treetop Adventure’s website for hours and complete details about pricing. If you decide to spend part of your day here, this will take up a big chunk of your itinerary for the day. Staying near Apollo Bay would be advised and perhaps visiting the Tree Top Adventures the next morning.
Maits Rainforest Trail
Not far from Apollo Bay is a short 15 minute detour to Maits Rainforest Trail. You can walk the 800 meter wood boardwalk loop through a lush rain forest in the Otway National Park in about 30 minutes. Some of the trees in this protected area are 300 years old and you’ll get a glimpse of what the ancient rainforest looked like.
Day 2 of Self Drive Great Ocean Road Itinerary
Your Great Ocean Road Itinerary could vary greatly depending on if you start in Melbourne or Lorne, and whether you decide to stop and stay the night midway through the trip. We made all these stops between Lorne and Port Campbell all in one day, but if you’re starting in Melbourne, a night somewhere like Lorne or Apollo Bay would be nice.
Cape Otway Lighthouse
This lighthouse is at the southernmost tip of this area of Australia and has an interesting landscape to drive through and explore. We didn’t do much but drive to the lighthouse and make a couple stops along the way to see the beach and drive down random roads. There are some neat forests along the way and really only takes about 15 minutes each way from the main highway. If you only have 2 days for your great ocean road itinerary, I wouldn’t fault you for skipping the lighthouse at all.
The first stop along the highlights of the self drive of the Great Ocean Road Itinerary! This spot is the best access to the beach. It is very near to the famous 12 Apostles, but you cannot go down to the beach at the 12 Apostles. So Gibson Steps is very close and has similar rock formations sticking out of the water. As the name suggests, there will be numerous steps to climb down and back up again.
The most well known view along the Great Ocean Road, and possibly the highlight of your self drive itinerary, is the 12 Apostles (only 7 rock stacks remain and there really were ever only 8). Parking is plentiful in a lot across the road, and signs are well marked telling you where to go.
You may be shocked by the crowds, so be forewarned. If you’ve been envisioning a peaceful sunset and having it to yourself, think again. And you cannot go down to the beach and frolic in the waves amongst the rock stacks. The good news is, the sunset and sunrise are both beautiful and the view from the viewing deck will still provide good pictures despite the fact that you’ll be elbow to elbow with people.
Loch Ard Gorge
I really love the beach here. You walk down some stairs into this lovely cove of warm toned sand and rock walls and it feels very cozy. On a sunny day, the water is such a beautiful turquoise color and you shouldn’t miss it. If you walk a short ways from Loch Arch Gorge, there are pathways with different views, including the Razorback, which is a thin rock island. From Loch Ard Gorge, the little town of Port Campbell is less than a 10 minutes drive.
London Arch used to be known as London Bridge until it collapsed in 1990. Different viewing platforms at different elevations give varied views and pictures of the arch. The London Arch is actually just about a 10 minutes drive past Port Campbell, which is a great place to spend the night and grab a meal!
This overlooked site is just 5 more minutes past the London Arch and is kind of a unique arched window to the sea. This spot on the Great Ocean Road self driving itinerary is most impressive at sunset or sunrise when you can get colors reflecting off the water. There is also the added effect of mist and puffs of sea foam floating around.
Port Campbell is a tiny little town of like 500 people. But it has some adorable places to stay, good restaurants, and is the perfect place to rest your head after a long day of exploring. It is also the most convenient place to stay if you’re hoping to photograph the top sights of the Great Ocean Road at sunset or sunrise. Most places to stay are vacation rentals, not hotels.
Where to Stay in Port Campbell, Victoria
For an affordable hostel option right in town, go with Port Campbell Hostel. It even has an attached brewery – win win!
For an adorable private cottage just out of town with great views and good value, consider Daysy Hill Country Cottages.
A more traditional hotel right on the main street in town, Port O’ Call Motel has great reviews and looks very nice for a reasonable price!
For a more modern and luxurious cottage with views, Anchor’s has some of the best reviews in all of Port Campbell.
Where to Eat in Port Campbell
My favorite (of like 5) restaurants is Forage on the Foreshore. It’s great for any meal as well as coffee. They don’t open until 9, so we went to the 12 Apostles for sunrise photos and then came back for breakfast when they opened.
Grassroots Deli Cafe is also a yummy spot for a variety of quick bites or delicious dishes.
Day 3 of the Great Ocean Road Itinerary
Head back to the Twelve Apostles to witness sunrise! Or whatever place you want to photograph and see again.
I will give you one useful tip. Use the Google Earth app. We used this to find unmarked gravel roads leading to spectacular cliff edges with beautiful views of rock formations where we were the only ones there. Examples include a spot called “The Bakers Oven” and “Sparks Gully Lookout.” Just wow! We got some of the most incredible drone shots here with no one around. Read BEST TRAVEL DRONES.
On the third day of our Great Ocean Road 3 day itinerary, we considered driving north to the Grampians, which would’ve added an extra couple hours to the drive. I visited the Grampians National Park on my first visit to Australia and really enjoyed the hikes and waterfalls.
Instead, we opted to head back to Melbourne via the inland route. The Grampians would make a great extension to the road trip if one had the time.
I really hope you enjoyed this 2-3 day self drive itinerary of the Great Ocean Road, Australia. My goal is to provide you with the must see stops along the Great Ocean Road and some additional optional sites depending on your time frame. Thanks for reading and happy road tripping!
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