We list the best Great Ocean Road attractions you must see, should see and could see along the way
The Great Ocean Road in Australia is one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives and one of Lonely Planet’s Epic Drives of the World. Stretching for 243km along the southeastern coast of Australia, the road showcases some of the country’s most dramatic coastal scenery.
The Great Ocean Road runs between the Victorian towns of Torquay and Allansford and was built between 1919 and 1932 by soldiers returning from World War I. It is dedicated to soldiers killed during the war and as such is the world’s largest war memorial.
Day trippers can dash in and out of the area from Melbourne but, in a perfect world, visitors would spend several days exploring the beachside villages, clifftop vistas and wildlife parks.
We spent a leisurely three days and two nights driving the entire stretch, stopping regularly to explore the best Great Ocean Road attractions. We list the top sights that you must see, should see and could see along the way, all plotted conveniently on a Google map below.
If you’re short on time, make sure you stop at these must-see Great Ocean Road attractions.
Bay of Islands
Depending on your direction, your first taste of the Great Ocean Road’s dramatic limestone coastline will likely be at one of the two viewing platforms at the Bay of Islands. The outstanding ocean views of coastal cliffs, jagged rock stacks and craggy shoreline are a sign of things to come on Australia’s most popular road trip.
London Bridge (also known as London Arch) was once a double-spanning natural viaduct connected to the mainland which visitors could walk along. In 1990, however, the span nearest to the shoreline unexpectedly collapsed, leaving two visitors stranded on the outer span and requiring rescue by helicopter.
Not to be mistaken with London Bridge, the Arch (also confusingly referred to as London Arch) is less eye catching but still dramatic in its own right. The Arch is at its best when the surf is strong and the large waves mount its inner platform, rush over the rocks and spew out the other side.
Loch Ard Gorge
On the other side of Port Campbell is Loch Ard Gorge, a small network of trails and viewing platforms along a twisted coastline with a fascinating history of shipwrecks and tragedy. Keep an eye out for the Razorback and Island Archway rock formations in particular. There is a map of the area at the main car park near the trails (or download one here) to help you navigate the viewpoints.
The 12 Apostles are the most iconic of all Great Ocean Road attractions. Located near Port Campbell and within the Port Campbell National Park, the giant limestone stacks tower 45m (148ft) above the tempestuous ocean below. Behind the eight remaining stacks (the others are said to have collapsed) are lines of imposing 70m (230ft) high cliffs.
The Gog and Magog offshore stacks at Gibson Steps are not considered part of the nearby 12 Apostles, but are arguably just as striking. Gog and Magog are the local names given to the two stacks that can be seen from the viewing platform and beach at the bottom of the steps – a great opportunity to dip your toes in the Southern Ocean.
If you have a bit more time, include these should-see Great Ocean Road attractions in your itinerary.
Bay of Martyrs
The 2.5km Bay of Martyrs, its lower cliffs, calmer seas and numerous reefs and sea stacks offer the best swimming opportunities along this stretch of coastline. Looking beyond the beautiful views, the name references the shameful events of nearby Massacre Bay where European settlers herded local Kirrae-Wurrong Aboriginal people off the cliffs to horrific deaths.
The Grotto is another dramatic spot along the Great Ocean Road. Spray from waves below can cast a fine mist over those on the viewing deck. On a sunny day, expect rainbows! The calm and clear water in the cave casts reflections in contrast to the constantly moving ocean directly behind it.
Split Point Lighthouse
If you ever watched Round the Twist in your youth then you really should stop off at Split Point Lighthouse at Aireys Inlet. If you didn’t watch the children’s TV show then stop by for the gorgeous views across the quaint coastal hamlet and enjoy some delicious sponge cake at Willow’s Tea House. Kia claims it’s the best she’s tasted.
Torquay + Bells Beach
The internationally acclaimed surfing spot at Bells Beach is worth a brief stop on your way into town. If you’re lucky you’ll see the world’s best surfers carving up the waves at the Rip Curl Pro Surfing Competition, although chances are you’ll see more tourists than surfers. Torquay, the last stop on the Great Ocean Road, is a vibrant seaside resort town with a blend of cafes, gelaterias and restaurants – a great place to end your trip.
If you have time to spare, then these Great Ocean Road attractions are worth checking out.
Port Cambell + Scenic lookout
You will likely drive through Port Campbell and if you’re not stopping for long then pause at the scenic lookout on the hill to the west of the town. It’s a great spot for a panoramic view of the natural harbour, beach and township.
Great Otway National Park and Lighthouse
Built in 1848, the Cape Otway Lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia and the southernmost point on the Great Ocean Road. It’s an interesting diversion but we preferred our visits to Split Point Lighthouse and Cape du Couedic in Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island. Considering the inflated entrance price here, we weren’t convinced it was worth the trip.
The neat little resort town of Lorne is a good point to pause for lunch or to stay the night en route. We arrived late afternoon and enjoyed delicious gourmet burgers at the Bottle Milk Cafe and an idyllic sunset stroll around the picturesque waters of Loutit Bay.
The koalas are the real draw at Kennett River. Located halfway between Lorne and Apollo Bay, Kennett River is home to a large koala population. The best and easiest way to spot the delightful marsupials is to take a stroll through the Grey River Reserve and Picnic Area.
Midway along the Great Ocean Road, the tranquil seaside village of Apollo Bay is positioned among the idyllic lower slopes of the Otway ranges. Sadly, it doesn’t have a great beach compared to others along the coast. The market on Saturday is popular with visitors as are water sports and gentle strolls in the surrounding countryside.
Great Ocean Road attractions map
Great Ocean Road attractions: the essentials
What: Exploring the Great Ocean Road attractions on the south coast of Australia.
Where: The Great Ocean Road attractions are evenly distributed along Victoria’s coastline, so you’re never driving for long. We drove the road in three sections and therefore stayed at three different places along the way. We started at the Comfort Inn Country Plaza Halls Gap in the Grampians which was clean and comfortable – and walking distance to the Spirit of Punjab, a decent Indian restaurant!
At Port Campbell National Park, we stayed at 12 Apostles Motel & Country Retreat, a basic and rather tired collection of rooms 3km from the 12 Apostles Visitor Centre. We suggest booking a different hotel in Port Campbell (anything with a score above eight is a safe bet). Nico’s in town is a charming Italian restaurant that’s worth a stop.
We spent our last night at Lorne Coachman Inn in Lorne which offered comfortable lodgings a short walk from the centre of town. Lorne itself is a lovely spot and worth a look if you have the time. The Bottle of Milk cafe has delicious shakes and burgers, and a sunset walk on the beach is a gorgeous way to end the day.
When: The Great Ocean Road is enjoyable at any time of the year. The summer months (Dec-Feb) have the best weather, but attractions can be busy and prices hiked up. The winter months (Jun-Aug) include whale migration season and offer an escape from the heat and the hordes.
How: We recommend hiring a 4×4 from Hertz Australia. Our Toyota Rav4 provided a super-comfortable way of seeing the best Great Ocean Road attractions. We appreciated the freedom of setting our own itinerary – and changing it when we wanted to! As well as their latest offers, Hertz Together provides a range of travel guides, articles and destination ideas.
We drove the Great Ocean Road from Port Fairy to Torquay, contrary to the more popular direction. The first part of the drive was excellent as we hugged the coast, but in the latter part we were looking across traffic and had to cross over for viewing points which on winding roads wasn’t always easy. As such, we recommend driving in the Torquay to Port Fairy direction.
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Lonely Planet Australia is a comprehensive guide to the country, ideal for those who want to both explore the top sights and take the road less travelled.