Australia’s Great Ocean Road, running for 243 km between Melbourne and Adelaide, ranks as one of the most famous road trips in the world and is a firm feature on most travellers bucket lists. It was one of the highlights of my time in Australia, from watching koalas shimmy down trees in the wild to those dramatic cliffs and rolling waves that are so iconic along this stretch of coast.
If you’re strapped for time then you can join a day excursion from Melbourne or self-drive a one or two night return trip, but you may miss out on truly making the most of what the Great Ocean Road and beyond has to offer! Less than 300 km may sound like a pretty quick drive by Aussie standards but the roads are often winding and slow and you’re going to want to stop practically every 5 minutes to take photos and soak up the view so this is definitely not a journey to rush.
We spent 4 nights in a little camper van starting in Melbourne and ending in Adelaide via the Great Ocean Road, Mount Gambier and the Barossa Valley. Below you’ll find my itinerary as well as some absolute must sees along the way!
To camp or not to camp?
Although hiring something sporty and soft-topped definitely has sex appeal, I love the versatility and spontaneity that a camper van affords. There are plenty of campsites along the Great Ocean Road and even in the high season it’s usually easy enough to get a spot. If four walls is more your thing, there are lots of cute seaside towns with hotels, guest houses or Airbnb’s, you may just have to plan your trip out and book ahead beforehand thus relinquishing that delicious road trip spontaneity.
For this particular trip I hired a Jucy El Cheapo. It’s a converted Toyota Previa and essentially a people carrier with a bed in the back and a little kitchen in the boot. If you’re after something a bit more spacious I can recommend the Britz Actionpod or the Travellers Autobarn Hi-top if you fancy the luxury of standing up!
Whatever you’re after, get in touch with RatPack Travel who take the leg work out of finding a great van and will beat any direct quote in Australia or New Zealand by at least 10%! They’re great guys working hard to change the – let’s face it, outdated and often extortionate – landscape of the travel industry. You’ll also get informal, friendly support via WhatsApp whilst you’re on the road in case you do run into any issues or need any recommendations! It’s a no brainer and having tasked Sammy with booking my van for New Zealand for me, I’d never hire one any other way.
You can get the ball rolling on a camper comparison by WhatsApp-ing Sammy on +61 450381801 (told you they’re ultra cool and super modern.) Let them know I sent you their way with ‘BETH10’ and you’ll get 10% off an already discounted rate too!
(Transparency statement: this is not an affiliate link/code. I booked and paid for my van for New Zealand via Sammy at Ratpack and am always here to share the love when there’s a great deal to be had.)
Day 1: Melbourne to Apollo Bay
Driving time: about 3 hours 30 without stops but set off early and allow a full day!
Torquay is a surfer town about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne and roughly marks the beginning of the Great Ocean Road. Famous brands such as Rip Curl and Quicksilver found their muse here. I didn’t spend too long in Torquay because I was keen to get out of the towns and onto that sweeping ocean side stretch, but you could easily grab a picnic and head on down to the pine tree lined beach and take things slow!
Tip: Drive up Ocean Boulevard and park at the Bird Rock lookout; the view from the clifftop is spectacular.
Less than 5 km on from Torquay is the world famous Bell’s Beach, where the annual Rip Curl surf championships are held. Reached by those iconic wooden steps, it’s a great place to soak up the ocean air, watch the surfers and snap a few pictures!
Memorial Arch (The Great Ocean Road sign!)
Stop off for an insta-worthy picture at the iconic Great Ocean Road Sign and read up a little on the history of the area.
Tip: Regular day trips from Melbourne often means bus loads of selfie stick wielding tourists pile off at the key photo spots. This is pretty hard to avoid but if you get there early or wait a little while you should find plenty of space to take some snaps of your own! Just don’t go in the road.
Lorne is a pretty seaside town with lots going on, especially during the summer months (it books up fast!) Plenty of Melburnians head to Lorne to escape the city; it’s a quaint destination in itself and if you’ve got plenty of time you could even spend a few nights here. If you’re following a shorter (3 or 4 night) itinerary and sunrise at the famous Twelve Apostles is on your agenda then I’d suggest driving on.
Kennett River Koala Walk
Hike or drive up Grey River Road and look out for koalas in the gum trees! At first they can be hard to spot but once you know what you’re looking for – those adorable fluffy little bums perched high up in the branches – you should see plenty. If you’re lucky like we were then you might even see one clambering down from his perch to say hello.
Tip: most people park and walk up but you absolutely can drive, which is what we opted to do. I’m really pleased because we’d driven much farther than I’d have walked when we spotted them!
Koala spotting peak time is around dusk when they climb down from the trees.
Let’s be honest, Apollo Bay is Lorne’s shabby mate. It is, however, a fair bit closer to the Twelve Apostles making it a good spot to spend a night if you’re planning to get up early and drive the final hour or so in the small hours. Alternatively have a look on WikiCamps Australia for somewhere to stay even closer to the iconic landmark!
Day 2: Apollo Bay to Port Fairy
Twelve Apostles at sunrise
We left Apollo Bay just before 5am to reach the Twelve Apostles in time to catch the most beautiful sunrise. This is without a doubt the most famous spot on the Great Ocean Road. Check the time as it will depend on the season and wrap up warm, even in the summer months as the iconic limestone stacks are about a 10 minute walk from the car park and it’s still nippy that early in the day.
I’m so glad we bothered to set that morning alarm because to this day it was one of my favourite moments in Australia!
The closest cafe open early if you fancy brekky or a hot drink after is just down the road in Port Campbell, though the quality wasn’t great and the price high, so bring your own food or cook up in your camper if you can!
Head west a few hundred yards and climb down Gibson Steps for a different view of the limestone cliffs. Early in the morning the far reaching, soft sandy beach was the perfect place to take a stroll and enjoy the tranquility before the crowds arrive and listen to the crashing waves.
Loch Ard Gorge
Named after the ship that wrecked near the gorge in 1878, Loch Ard Gorge is the perfect place to sit with a book when the wind is low, or simply enjoy the view and snap a few photos! It looks like a tempting place to swim but be careful because the currents are strong and when the wind is up the waves are rough.
A short walk from the carpark and down the steps, you’ll find this famous – and rather magnificent – sink hole. At low tide you’ll enjoy pretty spectacular views of the ocean beyond a small pool. It gets quite busy but it’s worth the stop!
You’ll also find plenty of other limestone marvels to enjoy along the stretch including the London Bridge Arch and Bay of Islands. Having enjoyed the above, we were ready to move on to our next stop, Port Fairy, but you could easily spend a whole day hopping from gorgeous look out to gorgeous look out!
Port Fairy is a beautiful little town that feels frozen in time. Plenty of buildings are National Trust classified 1800’s architecture, there’s lots of history to explore and walks to enjoy as well as all the local seafood you can manage! Spend the night here.
Day 3: Port Fairy to Robe
Griffiths Island, Port Fairy
Start your day with a wander around Griffiths Island, home to colonies of shearwater birds (aka mutton birds) and – if you’re lucky – wallabies! There’s a beautiful lighthouse on the eastern tip and with plenty of scrub land and beach to wander along it’s a great way to enjoy the fresh morning air before hitting the road. You’ll be saying goodbye to the Great Ocean Road but hello to some of the delights of South Australia!
Mount Gambier Blue Lake
About a two hour drive across the state line into South Australia, you’ll reach Mount Gambier. There are lots of spectacular sights around here but one of the most impressive has to be ‘Blue Lake’. The large crater lake is located in a dormant volcanic maar and between early November and late March each year the deep blue-grey water turns a shocking colour of vibrant turquoise.
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Mount Gambier Umpherston Sinkhole (sunken garden)
Unfortunately I didn’t realise this was here until a few weeks later, but thought I’d include it anyway because the sunken gardens look like a must see! Once a cave, the sinkhole was naturally created when the chamber’s roof collapsed and later turned into stunning botanic gardens with sculptures. Apparently around dusk hundreds of possums come out to feed and explore!
Robe is a seaside town in SA and a great place to chill out, soak up some sunshine and enjoy the breathtakingly azure blue water. Depending on what you’re after, there are several campsites and restaurants here, or venture towards nearby Kingston where you’ll find ocean side spots to park up for the night. S’mores, a few beers and gorgeous evening sun made this one of my favourite nights on the road!
Day 4: Robe to Barossa Valley
Drive time: 4 hours so set off early!
Make the most of all the region has to offer and explore the Barossa Valley en route to Adelaide. Although it’s a little harder to truly enjoy the wine country when you’re driving, you can still pop into a cellar door or two for a complimentary tasting and pick up a bottle to enjoy later!
Murray Street Vineyards
We spent a lovely few hours in the sunshine at Murray Street Vineyards where they offer a free tasting and also sell delicious sharing platters of local produce to enjoy. It’s a great spot for lunch and the staff are really knowledgable; you can take home a nice bottle for less than $20 too and I didn’t feel pressured to buy.
Where to stay?
This bit is important! There are not that many campsites around the Barossa Valley so you do need to decide in advance where you’re going to stay. Remember in the summer months just how scorching hot this region can get; we spent a rather disastrous night on a farmyard in the outback, melting in the back of our van. It’s the only time when I’ve found spontaneity has come back to bite me!
Alternatively, you could either call it a day and make your way to Adelaide in time to drop your rental off that afternoon, or if wine isn’t your thing then perhaps skip Barossa entirely. It takes about an hour to reach the city from Barossa Valley.