Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary (1/2)
The Great Ocean Road, near to Melbourne City, is one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives. The route starts from the surf capital Torquay to the famous 12 Apostles, and ends at historic fishing village Port Fairy. You can do a day trip to the 12 Apostles, which I don’t recommend, or a road trip with 1 to 2 nights in the small towns, which I highly recommend. The is because the latter gives you more time to explore what Great Ocean Road has to offer. Read on for our Great Ocean Road Self Drive Itinerary.
We rented our car in Melbourne and drove to Werribee Park & Mansion and Geelong before we reached the Great Ocean Road (“GOR”). Then we stopped at Mait’s rest between Apollo Bay and Lavers Hill. By the time we reached Princetown to stay for the night, most of the shops were closed. Usually people stay at Apollo Bay for the first night. But we wanted to try glamping and hence ended up in Princetown.
After a night at Pebble Point (Glamping), we drove on to visit the famous 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge/Arch. We then checked into our Airbnb at Warrnambool and visited Tower Hill Nature Reserve to ‘hunt’ for koalas, emu and kangaroos. We ended the night with the “Shipwrecked” sound and light show at Flagstaff Hill Museum.
The next morning we drove around Port Fairy before heading up to Halls Gap.
2.5 days were not enough for our route. We missed a lot of our planned stops because we didn’t have sufficient time to explore. So if you have 3D2N to spare, I suggest you travel from Melbourne and stay at Apollo Bay and Port Campbell, visiting the towns and attractions en-route.
If you are time pressed and can only stay for 1 night, I would suggest you stay at Apollo Bay and visit the 12 Apostles the next day before returning to Melbourne.
Stop 1: Werribee Park & Mansion
On the way from Melbourne to GOR, there are a few attractions that are accessible from the freeway. You will first come across Royal Australian Air Force Museum (Point Cook), then historic Werribee Park & Mansion, and at Lara Town, Serendip Sanctuary (birdlife and wetlands). We only had time for one, so we chose Werribee Mansion.
The Mansion in Werribee Park, Werribee Mansion, is completed in 1877 by the Chirnside family, wealthy sheep farmers. The 60-room Italianate Mansion is Victoria’s largest and most elaborate private residence. Even after extensive restoration, many of Chirnside family’s items, including clothing and furniture remain on display. You can pay to tour the mansion and look at the items. However, we didn’t do that but went around the park snapping pictures.
The mansion was once purchased by the Roman Catholic Bishops of Australia for development as a seminary, a training college for priests. And during its time, it added several wings, two of which have been converted into The Mansion Hotel and Spa, offering 5 star accommodation.
Werribee Mansion is also surrounded by 10 hectares of formal gardens, which features a geometric garden design best seen from the mansion’s balcony. And within walking distance is the Victoria State Rose Garden. Interestingly, you can see an outline of a rose as you look for the garden on google map.
Also part of the Werribee Park is the Open Range Zoo where animals from Africa, Asia, North America and Australia roam in open grasslands. If you need a break from all the walking, there’s a café with coffee, tea and refreshments.
Only entry to Werribee Park Formal Garden is free.
Werribee Mansion is located 30 minutes west of Melbourne.
Reach the road ‘Main Dr’ and drive in.
Main Dr, Werribee South VIC 3030, Australia
A Rare Sight
When we reached Werribee Park, we were slightly amused to see antique cars streaming in and thought nothing much of it. But when we returned to our car, we saw rows and rows of antique cars parked alongside one another. The sight really took our breath away!
We were among the onlookers who couldn’t stop gawking and taking photos of the cars. Such a chance was hard to come by, especially in Singapore. Lamborghinis don’t count, oldies have a different kind of charm.
In a distance, we spotted a group of old folks toasting, eating and chatting.
Ah… a gathering of the car owners on a Sunday.
Stop 2: Geelong
After Werribee Park, we drove to Geelong, Victoria’s second-largest city. We went there solely to see its famous colourful Baywalk Bollards. There are over 100 bollards around the Waterfront, from Limeburner’s Point to Rippleside Park.
♫ ♪ SPOT THE BOLLARDS – WATERFRONT ♫ ♪
Following the Bollard Trail with 48 sites, it will take an estimated 2 hours to walk one way. Some of the bollards are characters who played a part in Geelong’s history. If you don’t have time, ask for directions towards Cunningham Pier, there’s a higher concentration of bollards around that area.
Old, industrial spaces are being transformed into eateries and creative hubs. Little Creatures have also converted an old mill into their East Coast headquarters to brew beer. As a result of a revamp, Geelong is now a lively area filled with restaurants, craft breweries, wineries and cafés.
If you have time in Geelong, you can visit the National Wool Museum which is housed in a century-old bluestone Woolstore. It documents Australia’s wool industry from fleece to completed garments.
Or if you are an outdoor person, Eastern Beach Reserve is located on the waterfront with picnic facilities, playgrounds and a shark proof sea bath. The place is surrounded by historical Art deco style boardwalk and scattered with Baywalk Bollards. Simply sit by the waterfront and enjoy breathtaking views of Port Phillip Bay.
Missed Stops: Great Ocean Road
Listed in this section are some stops we missed because we were rushing to reach Princetown before dark. But this is for your reference. :)
Geelong to Queenscliff & Point Lonsdale
As you drive out from the port city of Geelong to Torquay, you can detour to Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale.
Queenscliff is near to Point Lonsdale on the Bellarine Peninsula. This well-known seaside resort has a 19th century feel because of its stately historical buildings and fishermen cottages. It is also home to Australia’s largest preserved military fort. Check out the various museums, such as Queenscliffe Historical Museum and Maritime Museum. Also, look out for the magnificent Vue Grand Hotel, built in 1881, at Queenscliff’s commercial center. It’s a center characterized by century-old buildings and shop fronts.
You can also visit Queenscliff’s White Lighthouse, Black Lighthouse (made from unpainted black stone), and Queenscliff Harbour. At the habour, a passenger ferry and car service operates to Sorrento. Often, one can find dolphins swimming with the ferry.
Point Lonsdale has an iconic lighthouse overlooking the narrow entrance to Port Phillip Bay. This stretch of water, known as the “Rip”, is considered one of the most treacherous passages to any bay in the world. It is also the only seaborne approach to Melbourne. Lighthouse tours by Queenscliffe Maritime Museum is on every Sunday from 9:30am to 1:00pm.
Other than the lighthouse, the beach is popular for rockpooling and surfing while a shopping and cafe strip is right opposite the beach. Drop by and enjoy the breathtaking view of Port Phillip Bay from the “Rip” lookout!
It’s then about 45 minutes drive from Point Lonsdale to Torquay, the official start of the Great Ocean Road. Torquay is also the surfing capital of Australia where many iconic surf brands, Rip Curl and Quicksilver, were ‘born’. Hence, shop for these brands at Torquay’s shopping precinct. And of course, surf or learn to surf here! Otherwise, grab the chance to see the world’s best surfers compete at the Bells Beach Rip Curl Pro during Easter period. Yeap, near to the town of Torquay is the renowned surf beach, Bells Beach. If you are interested to find out more about the surfing history in the region, visit Surf World Museum.
Anglesea and Aireys Inlet
From Torquay, continue on through the townships of Anglesea and Aireys Inlet to Lorne.
At Anglesea, head to the main beach and boardwalk to swim, surf or canoe. Let the children paddle in protected waters at nearby Point Roadknight beach or play in the adventure playground at Coogorah Park. You can also play golf at Anglesea Golf Club, home to about 300 kangaroos. And if you are there on a Sunday, check out the morning market with its interesting array of stalls.
There also a few trails to walk or bike in at Anglesea. The Mosaic Walk for art lovers is a 2.5 km stroll through Anglesea to look at six mosaic art pieces, and artists working at workshops and galleries. Or for nature lovers, there is a 44 km Surf Coast Walk beside Anglesea River, or the new Surf Coast Century course (a 100 km running trail along wild beaches, towering cliff and remote wilderness). For cyclists, bring your mountain bike to the four cross track at Anglesea Bike Park.
Subsequently, 10 minutes away from Anglesea is Aireys Inlet. The primary landmark in town is the Split Point Lighthouse which was built in 1891. Walking tracks near the lighthouse offer scenic views over along the coast. There are tours up the lighthouse too. Just behind Aireys Inlet, you can find the Angahook Forest which forms part of the Angahook-Lorne State park.
Driving on to Lorne, you’ll discover a coastal town with white beaches and a buzzing arts community. Attend the Lorne Sculpture Biennale in March or visit Qdos Arts to check out changing exhibits and its outdoor sculpture park. You can also shop at Lorne’s main shopping strip, drink a cup of latte at a sidewalk cafe, or dine on freshly caught seafood in a local restaurant.
While for nature lovers, Erskine Falls cascading into a beautiful fern gully is only 15 minutes car ride from town. Additionally, coming from Melbourne, you might want to try the Surf Coast Walk that ends at Lorne. The route stretches 66 kilometres from Torquay, Anglesea, Aireys Inlet to Lorne.
Lorne to Apollo Bay
On our way to Apollo Bay, you will pass by the Kennett River. If you want to see koalas in their natural habitat, be sure to go for the Kennett River Koala Walk. Stroll along the Grey River Road through Koala popular gum forest and into the dense Otway Rainforest. Also, spot beautiful birds such as King parrots, Crimson rosellas and famous Kookaburra.
Apollo Bay is midway along the GOR and near to the 12 Apostles, hence it’s a popular pit stop for lunch, or a night stopover. If we had stopped at Apollo Bay, we would have stayed at Apollo Bay YHA (looks like an awesome hostel! We had a great stay at Halls Gap YHA). But we decided to venture a bit further from Apollo Bay to Princetown’s Pebble Point (Glamping).
Enjoy the fresh seafood and local produce at Apollo Bay where a small fishing fleet still operates from the harbour. Be sure to check out the market on the foreshore every Saturday morning. Furthermore, water sports are aplenty at Apollo Bay–surf, fish, swim, dive and boat. This coastal town is also an excellent base for exploring the waterfalls, rainforests and fireflies in the Otway National Park.
Stop 3: Mait’s Rest
Apollo Bay to Lavers Hill
Apollo Bay to Maits Rest
As mentioned, Apollo Bay is a good base to explore the Otway National Park. Just 15 minutes drive from Apollo Bay towards Lavers Hill, and you can take the self-guided Maits Rest Rainforest Trail. The 800m circular boardwalk from the car park and through the rainforest is an easy walk. Here, you get to see beautiful ferns and giant rainforest trees up to 300 years old. So big is one tree at the entrance that we managed to hide in its tree hole. Also note that the last entry to tree top walk is 4pm.
We finished the trail in less than 30 minutes and there was nothing spectacular. We also didn’t spot any wildlife that were inhabiting the place, which includes koalas, ring-tailed possums and grey kangaroos. You probably might want to skip this stop for other places.
Apllo Bay/Maits Rest to Cape Otway
Other places we missed but you should consider are Cape Otway and Melba Gully.
As you drive on from Maits Rest/Apollo Bay to Lavers Hill, make a detour from the main road and drive for 9 minutes to reach the southernmost point of GOR region, the Cape Otway. Tour mainland Australia’s oldest lighthouse, Cape Otway Lightstation for A$19.50 (adults) and enjoy the breathtaking coastal scenery.
Cape Otway to Lavers Hill to Otway Fly Zip Tour
Thereafter, head back to the main road and travel on to Lavers Hill. Near to Lavers Hill, you can detour to go for Otway Fly Zip Line tour. Enjoy 2.5 hours of adrenaline fun zipping from one tree platform to another, suspended up to 30m above forest floor. Ticket price includes another 1 hour rainforest walk on the longest and tallest walkway in the world that comes with a cantilever.
www.otwayfly.com.au | email@example.com
(Note: When I visited other pages, McAfee flagged the website for phishing activities)
Apollo Bay to Lavers Hill
Lavers Hill is situated on the inland section of GOR, between Port Campbell and Apollo Bay. Consequently, this place makes a good pit stop for a break. Eat some homemade pies or coffee, or to pump petrol.
Lavers Hill to Melba Gully
After taking a break in the town of Lavers Hill, travel towards Princetown and you will pass by Melba Gully, also known as the Jewel of the Otways. Take the 45 minutes Madsen’s Track Nature Walk that starts from the picnic area and through the rainforest of dense tree canopy and an understorey of low ferns and mosses. At night, you will see a colony of glow worms along the walking track, twinkling in the dark forest.
Stop 4: Princetown
We wanted to stay near the 12 Apostles so that we could enjoy the attraction at dawn or dusk when there are only a few other visitors. Also at these times, penguins can sometimes be seen along the shoreline. Thus, we skipped the visit to Philip Island at Melbourne!
According to visit12apostles.com.au, “The best guide is to be at the 12 Apostles and London Bridge viewing platforms by sunset. Penguins generally appear between 10 and 15 minutes after sunset with their mass exit usually occurring 20 and 25 minutes later as twilight fades to dark. Much communication occurs as the penguins return from the sea including the odd territorial dispute.”
For the purpose of penguin watching, the local visitor centre allows visitors to borrow binoculars overnight. However, it was raining when we reached Princetown, and the locals at a restaurant told us that the penguins wouldn’t be out on a rainy night or even the next morning. Boohoo.
photo taken at our dinner place at Princetown
Anyway, for the purpose of Penguin watching and to avoid crowd, there are two options: both Port Campbell and Princetown are near to the 12 Apostles. Other than Apollo Bay, Port Campbell is the place people usually choose to spend the night. This makes sense because Port Campbell is bigger than Princetown and there are more food options. But we chose Princetown in the end mainly because we wanted to try Glamping at Pebble Point. Moreover, we didn’t want to rush through our day to get to Port Campbell before dark.
Princetown is very small and thus we only found a few shops at Old Post office Road. There were the post office, Princetown General Store and Cafe and The 12 Apostles Inn. The 12 Apostles Inn had a typical country pub feel, and the food served was average. So try to settle your dinner elsewhere. We ate at the 12 Apostles Inn because it was near to our accommodation and we were uncomfortable driving in the dark to venture far.
Even though we didn’t have a fantastic dinner, it was still worth it to be at Princetown to experience Glamping in the wilderness. We love the luxurious bed and the view we woke up to:
All in all, it’s a great Day 1 driving from Melbourne to Princetown. Next up is our experience at the 12 Apostles, Warrnambol, Port Fairy and Halls Gap! :)