The most awe-inspiring, stunning drive in Australia, a strong statement but the Great Ocean Road is worth every ounce of recognition. On the coastline of South West Australia in the state of Victoria lies The Great Ocean Road, one of the most popular tourist destinations for all travellers. Known for its unique rock formations that line the coast, sleepy seaside towns and breathtaking views out into the unknown. The Great Ocean Road is one place that should be on everyone’s bucket list. The best way to explore it is by taking a Great Ocean Road self-drive. Grab your mates, loved ones and tackle the road solo, it doesn’t matter how you do it, it just matters that you go.
We took on the Great Ocean Road in April 2019 which is Autumn in Australia and it was the perfect time of year to do so. The sun was still shining over the coast and the tourists were very few and far between. It made the experience so much more enjoyable and really gave us a taste of what local life is like on the Great Ocean Road. We completed our Great Ocean Road self-drive in just two days but that’s not to say you can’t spend longer exploring this vast stretch of coastline. In this guide, I’m going into all the details so you know exactly how to spend 2 days on the road. And better yet, all the spots to stop off during your Great Ocean Road self-drive!
If you’re looking for a shorter quick guide to all the Great Ocean Road highlights then check out my earlier post here! I share with you all of my favourite attractions on the Great Ocean Road in a whistle-stop tour, kind of post. But if you’re ready for a comprehensive guide then keep reading to find out where you need to eat, sleep and play on the Great Ocean Road.
Why Self Drive?
Of course, doing a Great Ocean Road self-drive isn’t the only way to see it but I do believe it’s the best way. By driving yourself it means you can go at your own pace. I love tour groups but sometimes they can feel a little rushed. With so many amazing places to see on the Great Ocean Road, you’re going to want to take your time. This Australian coastline is packed with tourist attractions, gorgeous coastal villages filled with boutique gift stores and sublime coffee shops. Take the town of Port Campbell, I had no idea how beautiful this town was going to be and once we arrived we found ourselves staying for hours. Because we drove ourselves it meant there was no rush and we had the flexibility to stay a little longer in the places that we wanted to explore more of.
Car or Campervan?
If you’ve decided to go ahead and tackle the Great Ocean Road self-drive then you’re probably wondering about how to go about it. By this I mean, should you just hire a car, camper van or even a motor home? Well, it depends how long you’re on the road for. The Great Ocean isn’t that long in coming in at 230 km. If this is the only driving you’re going to be doing on this trip a car will suffice. There are plenty of places to stay on the Great Ocean Road from motels, hotels and campsite cabins.
If you’re incorporating the Great Ocean Road into a bigger road trip, most people do, then a camper van or motor home will definitely be the better option and probably the most cost-effective too. When we drove the Great Ocean Road we were driving from The Grampians all the way up to Brisbane by camper van. Camper vans are perfect for 0-4 travellers. They’re easy to drive, have plenty of space to sleep in and all the essentials you need for your road trip.
Hiring a Camper Van for your Great Ocean Road Self-Drive
Australia is the camper van capital. The size of the country means travelling by camper van is extremely popular so it won’t be too difficult to find one. We’ve tackled two road trips in Australia this year, hiring a camper van on both occasions. You’ll find hundreds of comparison websites which can be a little overwhelming. For both our road trips we booked via the travel company Ratpack Travel, you can check out their website here. Sammy was super helpful when booking our trips always finding the best deal for us to hire a camper van. When we chatted to other people on the road we found out that we were, in fact, paying the least amount of money our camper van. Always a huge bonus right?
The camper we’ve hired on both occasions were from Camperman Australia. I cannot recommend this company more, with a low deposit of $500 and prices that start at just $70 a day for the vans they are great value for money. These vans are perfect for backpackers, they come with all the essentials, crockery, bedding etc plenty of storage space and have always been mechanically sound during our trips. If you want any more information on either of these companies then make sure you check out their websites as linked above. Or you can always email me at [email protected] for more details on my experience.
Best Time of Year for a Great Ocean Road Self-Drive Road Trip
Like everything in life, this will be up for debate. We visited the Great Ocean Road in April which made it Autumn down under. In my opinion, this is the best time to visit the Great Ocean Road. The flocks of tourists have vanished, the towns are much quieter, there is simply no traffic on the roads. Not to mention the weather is still pretty good. The weather on the Great Ocean Road can be hit and miss, a little like Melbourne, the city with 4 seasons in a day! Except for hot summers and cooler winters. The busiest tourist season is, of course, summertime between December – February. Winter will be the quietest between June – September.
How Much Does it Cost to Road Trip the Great Ocean Road?
The Great Ocean Road isn’t just magical but most attractions during your Great Ocean Road self-drive will be free! This scenic drive is all about enjoying what mother nature has created. The sea cliffs and rock formations that line the coast are the main attractions. All of which are completely free to visit! Bring some cash to explore the seaside towns and perhaps enjoy some local food! Throughout this guide, I’ll be highlighting all of our costs as we drove the Great Ocean Road.
Great Ocean Road Self-Drive 2 Day Itinerary
This itinerary will be starting at the most Westerly end of The Great Ocean Road. We choose to drive to the far end so we could come back along the road but it doesn’t matter which way round you drive The Great Ocean Road, it also depends where you’re coming from too!
Great Ocean Road Self-Drive Day One
Start the Great Ocean Road self drive in Peterborough and be sure to visit, The Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs. Unfortunately, we missed out these two places. We’d been driving from Melbourne for about three hours and I’ll be honest when we saw the sign for ‘The Arch’ we got all excited. So our Great Ocean Road self-drive actually started at ‘The Arch’ (which isn’t a bad place to start even if you do go back on yourself a little).
These unique rock formations are one of the reasons that the Great Ocean Road is so popular. Mother Nature really has been busy on the coastline over the years and created some magnificent natural landmarks. The rock that lines this stretch of the Victorian coastline is limestone, a crumbly rock boasting vibrant yellows and oranges. You’ll find various shapes that have been created by the waves over the years including, the 12 Apostles which I guarantee you’ve heard of.
Stop off at The Grotto, London Bridge and The Arch
On this first stretch of road, you’ll find all these formations quite close together. You can drive between them all in just a couple of minutes. All of the attractions on the Great Ocean Road have free parking so no need to worry about that. The Grotto was my favourite creation of the gang. Boasting energy that is peaceful and charming, The Grotto is a cave come bridge. Below it, a sinkhole which allows the water to pool. When the sun is dazzling through the window the water glistens reflecting that gorgeous water. I could’ve sat by The Grotto all the day a book in hand just feeling close to nature.
There are various viewing platforms to see The Grotto, a short walk from the car park you’ll find the first lookout showing a perfect view from above. To get to the foot of The Grotto you need to be fully mobile and able to negotiate stairs. It’s not far, a mere 200 metres but all stairs.
London Bridge is next!
Can you guess why it’s called London Bridge? Well, if you didn’t guess, this bridge was formed and named after London Bridge because of how it got there. As the waves cut up the sea cliffs causing great big lumps of the land to come crashing into the ocean eventually, the piece of rock that was holding up this part of the coastline fell away. What’s left is something resembling a bridge as photographed below! When London Bridge was formed two tourists actually got stranded on the estranged rock! Luckily, a helicopter flew in to get them to safety. I think that would have been pretty crazy, but what a story to tell the grandkids?
Another picturesque making of the ocean, the Arch is accessible by everyone via a short path with a slight hill, no stairs. Stand back as you watch the water crash in, out and around the rock. If you get a clear day at The Arch then you’ll be able to see the 12 Apostles dazzling in the background.
This seaside town will have butterflies in your tummy. It’s tranquil, peaceful and utterly beautiful. This tiny town is strung together by cafes, restaurants, boutique gift shops and beachfront villas. As you follow the road into the town go right around to the beach and park literally metres away from the ocean. The sounds of the ocean here are is just so calming. Port Campbell is a bay so no crashing waves just peaceful dancing water. It’s clear aqua blue colour will have you swapping into your swimmers instantly.
Before you head down into town, as you drive back from The Arch watch out for a sign ‘Scenic Lookout’ on your right, make sure you pull in to enjoy Ariel views of Port Campbell beneath you.
Where to Eat in Port Campbell
The choice of lunch spots Port Campbell are limitless. For such a small town it’s got a fair share of cafes, restaurants and fish and chippies! We spent over ten minutes hopping from door to door taking in all the menus. In the end, we decided on Forage on the Foreshore, a sublime beachside cafe. You can check out their menu on their website here but there are options for everyone. All of the produce is sourced locally so it gives you a chance, as a tourist to give back to the local community, which I love! The food was to die for and they even have craft beer on sale too (much to Dave’s delight)! My eyes were on the cakes which equally were just as good as the mains! I opted for a club sandwich, which I would highly recommend. Portions were perfect and price very reasonable too.
The total cost of the meal: $20 AUD PP or approx 12 GBP
After eating, go next door to Spence Australia. I love looking in bespoke independent shops when I’m away, or at home for that matter. And Spence will have you wanting to buy everything! The owner designs a lot of the work herself and you buy all sorts from souvenirs to knick-knacks for the home. Check out the website and Instagram account here.
Total spent at Spence: $5 AUD 2.50 GBP
Onto Loch Ard Gorge
A Favourite amongst the tourists is The Loch Ard Gorge. With its unique history, impressive scenery and golden beach it’s easy to see why. First, walk around 500 metres to the furthermost lookout point and look back on the beach. The view from above is stunning. As you head down to the beach watch your step as the stairs are quite uneven. Once you’ve got your toes between that sand you won’t want to leave!
The Loch Ard Gorge is famous all over Australia and England. The story goes a little like this. Back in 1878 a cargo ship named The Loch had just made the three-month journey down under from England. Carrying over 300 passengers the ship pulled up near the shore and held a dazzling party. To arrive in Australia safe and sound the passengers and crew drank, partied and definitely didn’t see what was coming. A little while later the boat had got into shallow waters and started running aground, sinking. The ocean claimed the lives of all on board, except two, Tom and Eva. Sadly, Eva didn’t make it to shore as easily as Tom and had to be revived by Tom himself. Tom later became a known hero in Australia England for saving Eva under such circumstances. We enjoy the Loch Ard Gorge today remembering this story and those we lost their lives.
Top Tip: The ocean may look inviting here but there are signs around asking tourists not to swim in the Loch Ard Gorge due to extremely strong currents.
The 12 Apostles
The 12 Apostles are probably the most famous landmark on the Great Ocean Road and it will be busy no matter what time of year you go. We were almost the only people at every stop, except the 12 Apostles. It made me wonder if people literally just come down to the Great Ocean Road just to see the Apostles. They are the main highlight but it seems crazy to me to not explore all of the Great Ocean Road!
The 12 Apostles are definitely catered for tourism. You’ll find toilets, a gift shop and a much larger car park here. There are plenty of things to do at the 12 Apostles too. You can simply walk down to the lookout point or explore a little further on one of the longer walks.
Literally, a couple of metres on from the 12 Apostles are the Gibson Steps. These steps lead down to the beach where some of the 12 Apostles sit. If you time it right you can head down the steps and get up close to these magnificent rock formations. Low tide is the best time to get down the steps which wind down the cliff edge. The beach is inaccessible when the tide is in and the steps slowly disappear. Make sure you’re careful because you don’t want to get stuck on the beach!
The Great Ocean Road Self Drive – Where to Stay
As you explore the far end of The Great Ocean Road it’ll be knocking on for sunset pretty soon. I’d recommend staying in either Apollo Bay or Kennett River. Kennett River is a little further on The Great Ocean Road than Apollo Bay. As we only drove through Apollo Bay I can’t say much about it. We did, however, stay in Kennett River so I can definitely recommend and tell you more about that below!
Kennett River Holiday Park
Kennett River is a tiny seaside village on The Great Ocean Road and is well known for its surf and wildlife. If you want to see some koalas on your Great Ocean Road self-drive then this is your place! Surrounded by eucalyptus Kennett River attracts koalas from far and wide. The holiday park is a great place to stay to enjoy these Aussie natives!
The holiday park doesn’t have any koalas that they keep but they do come into the site! As we woke up the following day we were greeted by a huge koala playing in the tree just across from our campsite (it was bloody fantastic!). We also spotted at least another four the night before too. Adjacent to the campsite you’ll find a dirt track where you can spot Koalas, the road runs for around 700 km so hopefully, you’ll definitely see at least one!
The holiday park itself has everything you need. Offering cabins, unpowered and powered sites. For a powered site, we paid $40 (April 2019). The campsite is equipped with toilets and showers which are clean and tidy, BBQ facilities, camp kitchens and free WIFI. Another bonus is that you are only a short stroll away from the beach and on a clear day will get an awe-inspiring sunset! Take a look at the Kennett River Holiday Park website here!
Great Ocean Road Self-Drive – Day One Budget
Most of the attractions on the Great Ocean Road mentioned above are completely free. We did spend money on petrol and food which I’ve listed below.
Lunch – Forage on the Foreshore $60 for x 3 people
Petrol – Full Tank fill up on day one $65 (Toyota Hiace Camper)
Great Ocean Road Self-Drive – Day Two
The beautiful seaside town of Lorne! One of the few places on The Great Ocean Road I could see myself living in. Although with the average property in Lorne being a million dollars I think I might be waiting a little while longer! Lorne is a beautiful town that is sleepy in the winter and bustling with holidayers in the summer months! With a gorgeous beachfront that has an excellent surf, beautiful shops and cafes you won’t be stuck for something to do! Arrive in Lorne in the morning and head for a coffee and a cake!
Where to go for Coffee?
Moons Espresso is an awesome little coffee shop in Lorne that you have to visit! Voted Lorne’s second best coffee shop on Trip Advisor. With good prices for great coffee, it’s worth a visit. We enjoyed a gorgeous pastry too, I mean c’ mon it would be rude not too right? You can check out their website here or Instagram here.
Budget for Coffee and a party approx $10 PP
Love chasing waterfalls? Then make sure you don’t miss out on a trip to Erskine Falls on your Great Ocean Road self-drive. Located 10 minutes into the hills of Lorne you’ll be lead away from the ocean and into the rainforest. Erskine Falls is a gorgeous waterfall surrounded by rainforest. The car park is free and the waterfall accessible from a lookout above or you can head down the stairs to the foot of the waterfall. I recommend doing both if you can. Make sure you’ve got plenty of water for if it’s hot as there are quite a few stairs to climb up and down.
The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch
The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch is located just outside of Lorne before Anglesea, Aireys and Torquay. This memorial arch was first built In 1939 as a sign of remembrance for those who lost their lives in World War 1. The sign which is made from wood has been rebuilt over time due to damage. The government were planning on taking it down altogether but the locals fought back against the idea. Pull over into the car park for a photograph of the arch and to pay your respects. Hopefully, the arch sticks around for many years to come.
Aireys Inlet Great Ocean Road Lighthouse
Down the road from Lorne sits the small town of Aireys Inlet. You don’t need to carve out too much time here but I would recommend heading up to the lighthouse, you won’t be able to miss it as you drive by. Either park up at the bottom and walk up the hill about 700 metres or you drive a little further to cut short the walk. The views of the ocean are wonderful from the lighthouse too.
Our final stop on the Great Ocean Road self-drive is Torquay! Because it was Autumn when we arrived in Torquay and a little rainy, it was a bit like a ghost town! There weren’t many people around but the beach is stunning. I could imagine how busy and lovely the beach would look on a sunny day so hopefully, you’ll get luckier than us! The coastline stretches for miles so park up the van or car and walk along the beach front soaking in some of that southern hemisphere sunshine! The Esplanade is lined with bars and cafes where you can pop in and have a drink! We sat by the beach indulging in a homemade cheese sandwich to keep costs down!
If you need to grab anything for your journey to wherever your heading next then Torquay has plenty of options. You’ll find Coles, Woolworths, Priceline, Coffee Shops, Priceline etc to pick up all of the essentials you may need on the road! You can fill up your vehicle as well if need be.
Great Ocean Road Self-Drive Day Two Budget
Kennett River Holiday Park x 1 night powered stay $40
Coffee at Moons Espresso $30 x 3 PP
Total Budget for 2 Days on the Great Ocean Road
So the total budget for our 2-day Great Ocean Road self-drive came to $195 everything included for 3 people, that’s including the mentioned meals out, drinks, petrol and accommodation! If you are on a mega tight budget then you can easily spend nothing! Cook at your accommodation and don’t buy anything, pretty simple really! I feel like so many of us have an illusion that you need to be a millionaire to travel, you really don’t. All you need is planning and discipline 🙂
I hope this post has inspired you to want to travel the Great Ocean Road in Australia or at least made you think about it. If you enjoyed this post then please share it with your friends because they might like it too! Don’t forget to leave a comment to continue the conversation or just let me know what you think about the post!
Thanks for reading,
Happy and Healthy Travels,