Rising up from the fierce sea of the Great Southern Ocean in Port Campbell National Park is one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations – the 12 Apostles of the Great Ocean Road.
Every year, millions of visitors drive along the iconic coastline and find themselves confronted by this stunning landmark. Here’s how you too can be wowed by its rugged beauty.
What are the 12 Apostles?
Millions of years ago, the 12 Apostles would simply have been part of the mainland of Australia. However, millennia of years of strong tidal activity have eroded the shoreline. They were once caves, and then arches, but now time and the sea has left these limestone rock formations standing tall yet perilous off the coast.
It’s a testament to the brutality of the Australian climate that only seven of the limestone stacks still stand today, with one having collapsed spectacularly in 2005.
Some of the most often asked questions about the 12 Apostles are: how many of the 12 Apostles are left, and when will the 12 Apostles collapse?
For now, seven beautiful rock formations can still be seen from the national park’s viewing platform – but it’s hard to predict how long these 7 Apostles will remain in their current state.
As a result, the 12 Apostles are something to add to the top of your bucket list soon – lest you miss the opportunity altogether!
Where are the 12 Apostles?
You will find the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road of the southern state of Victoria. It’s one of Australia’s most famous road trips, thanks to its stunning beauty and ease of access from bustling Melbourne.
The 12 Apostles map above shows two different routes. While the quickest way to the 12 Apostles will take you a few kilometers inland, it’s well worth taking the slightly longer coastal route. The road winds along the Shipwreck Coast and Cape Otway (in Great Otway National Park), taking in amazing views. The limestone stacks are protected by the 12 Apostles Marine National Park.
From Melbourne, you’ll head to Torquay and then through a succession of other sleepy seaside towns and villages including Lorne and Apollo Bay, before arriving at the 12 Apostles Visitor Information Centre.
In total, the Apostles coastal drive takes around four and a half hours from central Melbourne by car and is just under 186 miles (300 kilometers) long. As a result, it is manageable in a long day (with an early start!), however, exploring it idly over a couple is a real treat.
In this post you have all of your answers about traveling to the 12 Apostles answered, where to stay, the best 12 Apostles tours to book from Melbourne, as well as learn about the other spectacular rock formations, gorges, and wetlands nearby.
What to expect at the 12 Apostles
Like many places of great natural beauty, photographs barely do the 12 Apostles justice. Although you may have seen some beautiful snapshots, nothing compares to standing on the coast, sea winds blowing, and taking in the entire panorama.
At first glance, the 12 Apostles stand proudly as large rock formations scattered out to sea – a very impressive sight. However, as you stare for longer, you begin to notice all of the intricate details.
You may see how the sea has worn away at the base of many of the apostles, or, start to notice the many hues of the water that envelops them.
For this reason, I recommend leaving about forty-five minutes to an hour to visit the 12 Apostles and really enjoy them – perhaps even longer if you want to photograph them. You can also spend some time reading the interpretative signs and popping by the visitor’s centre for a souvenir.
Try and visit at dusk or dawn to see the many changing colors of the limestone stacks. It is also spectacular at night, if it is a clear night with the stars shining brightly.
The Drowned Apostles
In 2016 five Apostles were discovered under the water, close to the Apostles you can see above the waves. It is the only place in the world where limestone stacks have been found underwater and they have been dubbed the “drowned Apostles.”
The drowned Apostles are 6 kilometers offshore and are 50 meters below the surface. These new Apostles are only five meters high (unlike the 12 Apostles which are 45 meters high). There is also an old sea-cliff near the drowned Apostles which has protected the rock stacks. Scientists say that at the end of the last Ice Age, the sea level rose so quickly, it covered these five Apostles quickly. There wasn’t time for them to become eroded. Maybe one day it will be possible to see ALL the Apostles!
For an Extra Special Memory: Get a View from Above
For a truly memorable and spectacular experience of the 12 Apostles, take to the air. From the luxury and excitement of a helicopter, you’ll be treated to a bird’s eye view of the stunning coastal landscape.
Hovering over the amazing coastline, you’ll take in a completely different angle of the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, and other surrounding features, and get a feel for the vastness of the natural environment. If you’re visiting in winter, you may just get a lucky glimpse of Blue Whales taking residence in the Southern Ocean for the breeding season.
12 Apostles helicopter tours are available from several reputable local aviation services and are usually available year-round from the 12 Apostles Visitor Centre. It’s best to book them in advance so as to ensure your spot.
Other Things to Do Around the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road
Although the 12 Apostles are the most famous attraction in the area, they are far from the only one.
It seems such a waste of a long journey and a missed opportunity to see visitors turn around and get straight back in their cars after visiting the 12 Apostles – there’s still much more to see and it really is very close by.
Here are some of the attractions not to miss.
Walk Gibson Steps
Time to feel the burn and get those thighs working! The steps present 100 meters of footholds carved into the cliff face by local settler Hugh Gibson which are still trekkable today, but mostly in good weather.
The walk down Gibson Steps affords alternative views of the two nearest giant limestone stacks, locally known as Gog and Magog. There’s also access to a long stretch of beach below to both the east and west.
This is a wild and beautiful piece of the Australian coastline, but the sea is also perilous here. Signs on the beach warn of sharks (and they are not small or harmless here) as well as dangerous rips and surf.
Visitors frequently ask how were the 12 Apostles formed? It’s easy to answer this question from down on the beach! It is not always possible to walk on the beach if there are high tides and rough surf but it extends your visit to the 12 Apostles and is how you can experience the Great Southern Ocean and the rugged beauty of the Australian coastline.
From down on the sand you suddenly understand why this coastline is called the Shipwreck Coast and the reason for so many lighthouses showing ships the dangerous rocks and shoals.
Discover Loch Ard Gorge
A few minute’s drive beyond the often-blustery viewing platform of the 12 Apostles is the beautiful bay of Loch Ard Gorge. The area boasts a swathe of yellow sand, bordered by high-reaching and imposing rock faces.
This calm inlet is a great spot for a dip when the weather is right – or just enjoy the feeling of the sand between your toes all year-round.
The name of this area is drawn from an ill-fated clipper ship, the Loch Ard, which was wrecked in the late 1800s. Two passengers, Eva Carmichael and Tom Peace managed to swim ashore as the only survivors from the vessel.
To do so, they would have passed through a narrow gap underneath a rock formation. It was once a natural, rocky bridge – today, it is just a pair of eroded peaks affectionately nicknamed Tom and Eva.
As you can see, this spot is not just scenic but also one steeped in fascinating history. To learn more, there are a series of self-guided tours around the immediate area. These include a trek that follows the shipwreck story of Loch Ard, as well as a 1.9 miles long (3km) walk past Muttonbird Island, Thunder Cave, and Broken Head.
This is an unforgettable experience. It is easy to do and one of the most beautiful days out you can have in Australia, wildly different from the placid beaches and coastal scape of the north of the country.
Capture London Arch (formerly London Bridge)
The London Arch is another testament to the harsh tidal forces around the Great Ocean Road. Originally, this was known as the London Bridge as it connected a small rock formation to the mainland – in a similar shape to the famous British version.
Unfortunately, the bridge crashed spectacularly into the sea back in 1990. This divided not only the mainland from the resulting island, but also two tourists who happened to be on the newly isolated segment of land when the collapse occurred. Fortunately, they were rescued by helicopter and all ended well – and is surely an experience they talk about to this day.
The 12 Apostles were also arches like London Bridge as they were being weathered away. Once a high coastal cliff, the winds, and waves caused erosion of the cliff into a series of Arches. As the top of the Arches further eroded over time, eventually, only the limestone stacks of the 12 Apostles remained.
London Bridge can be viewed from a few angles thanks to two viewing platforms each with a range of perspectives. For this reason, it makes a popular spot for visitors and photographers throughout the day.
If you’re doing the Great Ocean Road over a day or so, you might like to try viewing London Bridge in the morning or early evening for a more private experience and an awesome shot of the sunrise and sunset.
Walk the Princetown Wetlands
You’ve been beachside, now head inland and walk above the wetlands of neighboring Princetown Wildlife Reserve.
The winding Princetown Wetlands Boardwalk connects the township with nature and provides an up-close opportunity to take in the local flora and fauna of the undisturbed area.
It is great for birdwatching and kangaroo-spotting and is sure to delight visitors both young and old. Best of all – it’s free, making it one of the best affordable activities near the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road.
To get there, start from the viewing platform on Post Office Road. The entire walk is well sign-posted and is about 0/4 miles (600 meters) in total, taking around half an hour.
Eat with a Local
After all that exploring, chances are that you’ll have worked up an appetite! Luckily, the area around the 12 Apostles is becoming quite the Ocean Road regional foodie hotspot, with lots of great cafes and restaurants to enjoy.
The closest town to the 12 Apostles is Port Campbell (don’t forget to visit the Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre and the Port Campbell National Park). It has several charming restaurants and cafes. Although they may look humble, they serve up fabulous food – often with particularly delicious seafood.
Some popular hotspots include Waves Café & Restaurant and Forage on the Foreshore, both of which do excellent seafood. Another foodie favorite The Fat Cow Food Co is located a short drive inland at Timboon, while you can also make yourself a DIY cheese platter picnic from the delicious offerings at the Timboon Cheesery.
It sounds like a pretty good way to end your amazing trip to the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, right?
Tips for Visiting the 12 Apostles
- Many visitors wonder when the best time is to visit the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road. Luckily, they have their appeal all year round – even in the depths of winter, temperatures are fairly mild during the day but the views are dramatic and spectacular. That said, if you want to swim in the nearby beaches, then the summer months are your best bet but even the weather is sometimes variable. I spent a shivering week in Apollo Bay in January and wore jeans and a sweater the whole time. The following week the temperature climbed back to 89F (32C)!
- The viewing platform is at its busiest between about 1:30pm and 4:30pm daily, and especially in summer. This is the time that tour buses from Melbourne arrive en masse. If you’d like to see the coast without the crowds, then I recommend trying to aim for early in the morning, or around sunset.
- The 12 Apostles viewing platform is accessible for people who use wheelchairs. The pathway under the Great Ocean Road is sealed, and then there is a second accessible entrance to the viewing platform about 80 meters after the first one. For more information, there is a comprehensive accessibility guide here.
How to Get to the 12 Apostles
There are two main options for reaching the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road – self-drive, or on a tour.
Self-driving to the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is perhaps Australia’s most famous road trip because it is such a wonderful drive. Cruising along the well-maintained road and stopping in at the various sights along the way is an absolute delight. Sometimes you dip inland, other times you drive along the clifftops but much of the time you are right beside the ocean.
The quality of the road is excellent however it is still important to exercise care while driving. It’s easy to be distracted by the beauty – but do keep your eyes on the road (and the car to the left)!
It’s hard to miss the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road. Just keep your eyes out for the stream of cars, caravans, campervans, and buses all pulling off of the road and into a large car park.
If driving from Melbourne, you’ll know that you are drawing close when you drive through Princetown. From here, it’s about ten kilometers (6.2 miles) to the turn off for the Twelve Apostles Visitor Facility, which will be on your right.
The car park is free and quite large. Even still, it does tend to get full – so I’d suggest trying to arrive relatively early in the morning before the big tour buses pull in. You’ll also get the added bonus of seeing the 12 Apostles when they’re less crowded. Alternatively, stay close by and watch the sunset over the Apostles.
From the car park, it’s just a short and very well-posted through a tunnel under the road and over to the viewing platform. As you walk towards it, expect to feel a real sense of excitement as the majestic coastline becomes clear in front of your eyes.
Taking a Tour to the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road
A great option for visiting the Twelve Apostles is to get a guided tour.
The main benefit of a tour is that you don’t need to worry about any of the driving or logistics. Although the Great Ocean Road is very safe to drive on, it’s a shame for the driver to miss out on the views while concentrating on the road instead. With a guided tour, you’ll be free to soak up the beauty while you make your way to the 12 Apostles.
Another benefit of organized guided tours is that they usually present information about the history and geology of the area. This can be really interesting and add in some extra depth to your experience of visiting the 12 Apostles.
You’ll find lots of great organized tours, from luxury private ones (some with a magical helicopter ride) to more budget-friendly trips. The best selection of these is below. It is always worth checking, however, that they do take in some of the Great Ocean Road rather than stick to the less scenic inland roads.
Best One-Day Private Tour
This one-day luxury tour picks you up from your Melbourne hotel at 8 a.m. and takes 12 hours. It travels through several of the towns and villages on the Great Ocean Road and stops for lunch in Apollo Bay. The tour then visits the 12 Apostles followed by Loch Ard Gorge. It returns to Melbourne via Port Campbell.
- Travelers staying in Melbourne and wanting to have a high quality, private Great Ocean Road day tour to visit the 12 Apostles
- Travelers short on time and wanting to experience a little of Australia’s southern coastline including the bucket-list destination of the 12 Apostles.
- Travelers wanting to be guided through this beautiful part of Australia (and picked up and returned to their hotel) rather than driving themselves.
- Private transport and guide
- Complimentary water
- Pickup and return to your hotel
- Multiple stops along the Great Ocean Road for photo opportunities
- Morning tea
- A spectacular seaside lunch in Apollo Bay
Best One-Day Small Group Tour
This one-day small group tour picks you up from the Melbourne Immigration Museum (Market Street) in central Melbourne. It is a 14-hour tour that travels in a mini-bus for up to 24 people. It travels through several of the towns and villages on the Great Ocean Road and as far as Loch Ard Gorge. There is time spent walking upon the gorgeous beaches along the way. Finally, the tour visits the 12 Apostles before returning to Melbourne.
- Travelers staying in Melbourne and wanting to have a mid-range and well-priced full-day small group tour to visit the 12 Apostles
- Travelers short on time and wanting to experience a little of Australia’s southern coastline including the bucket-list destination of the 12 Apostles.
- Travelers wanting to be guided through this beautiful part of Australia rather than driving themselves.
- All park entrance fees
- Transport in an air-conditioned 24-seater bus
- Iconic lighthouse visit
- Friendly & informative tour guide
- Free Wi-Fi
- Snacks and drinks
Best Ocean Road Sunset Tour of the 12 Apostles
One plus about this full-day mid-range tour to visit the 12 Apostles is that in order to arrive for sunset, you don’t need to leave Melbourne early in the morning! (And you miss the traffic!) There is six pick-up points in central Melbourne, including the Crown Promenade. The tour uses a mini-bus for up to 24 people. It travels through several of the towns and villages on the Great Ocean Road and as far as Loch Ard Gorge. Finally, the tour visits the 12 Apostles in time for sunset, before returning to Melbourne.
- Travelers staying in Melbourne and wanting to have a mid-range and well-priced full-day small group tour to visit the 12 Apostles at sunset
- Travelers short on time and wanting to experience a little of Australia’s southern coastline including the bucket-list destination of the 12 Apostles at sunset.
- Travelers wanting to be guided through this beautiful part of Australia and see the 12 Apostles at sunset, rather than driving themselves.
- Pick-up and drop off from selected hotels
- All entrance fees
- Live commentary
- Free Wi-Fi
- Translation app in 16 languages (links provided after the booking)
- Food and drinks
Best Two-Day Tour From Melbourne of the 12 Apostles
I love this tour because you are able to see three major national parks along Australia’s southern coastline and discover for yourself why Melbourne is such a great part of the world to call home. The first day of the tour takes you to visit the 12 Apostles. The tour stops overnight in Torquay before a ferry across Port Phillip Bay the next morning to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula. Then its on to Phillip Island where you watch the parade of penguins across the beach at sunset before returning to Melbourne.
- Travelers staying in Melbourne and wanting to have a mid-range and well-priced tour to visit the 12 Apostles at sunset as well as fitting in sightseeing to another major tourist destination in Victoria
- Travelers short on time and wanting to experience a little of Australia’s southern coastline including the bucket-list destination of the 12 Apostles and koalas and penguins
- Travelers wanting to be guided through this beautiful part of Australia and see the 12 Apostles and Port Phillip Island, rather than driving themselves.
- Meals as per itinerary
- All National Park entry fees
- Wildlife Park and Penguin Parade entry fee
- Searoad Ferry pass to Port Phillip Bay
- 1-night accommodation
- Highly experienced driver/ guide
- Informative tour commentary
- Audio translation into 10 languages
- Koala Encounter and photo
- Additional meals and drinks
- Personal expenses
Best One-Day Road and Helicopter Tour of the 12 Apostles from Melbourne
These luxury tours stop at the best parts of the Great Ocean Road on its way to Lord Ard Gorge where it stops for 40 minutes. There is then a 40 minute stop at the 12 Apostles. After you have spent time at the 12 Apostles, you board a private helicopter for a 75-minute flight that follows the coastline back to Melbourne, landing on the Yarra River in central Melbourne!
- Travelers staying in Melbourne and wanting to see the 12 Apostles and the Great Ocean Road via private vehicle and from the air.
- Travelers short on time and wanting to experience a little of Australia’s southern coastline including the bucket-list destination of the 12 Apostles in style and comfort.
- Travelers wanting to see the best of the Great Ocean Road on quality and well-reviewed luxury tour.
- Luxurious Mercedes Benz or Audi touring vehicles (Wi-Fi and power recharge enabled)
- Private 75-minute helicopter flight (Twelve Apostles – Melbourne)
- Gourmet lunch with beverages (Alcoholic & Non-Alcoholic beverages)
- Professional local driver-guide Transfer (Melbourne helipad to Hotel)
- National Park fees Bottled
- Water & Travel Snacks
Where to Stay to Visit the 12 Apostles
The closest town to use as your base for Exploring the 12 Apostles on this stretch of the Great Ocean Road is the town of Port Campbell. Below I list the best accommodation in the luxury, mid and budget ranges. As you can see from the activities below, there is more than enough to see and do in just this tiny stretch of the Great Ocean Road centering around a visit to the 12 Apostles to warrant spending at least a night here. Exploring the volcanic lakes and plains around Port Campbell would keep you busy for at least another couple of days!
Alkina Lodge – the stand out luxury nature lodge that keeps winning tourism and hotel awards. There are only three private luxury lodges. It’s a 20-minute drive to the 12 Apostles.
Anchors Port Campbell is also a secluded 4-star retreat of three villas, 8 miles (13 km) from The 12 Apostles.
Anchors Beach House is a single, contemporary residence perfect for a family. A walk to the Port Campbell foreshore.
Southern Ocean Villas – wonderful modern villas with lovely decks, air conditioning and located close to shops and restaurants in Port Campbell.
Portside Motel is the best budget choice with great reviews, large rooms with private balconies and air-conditioning.
Further Links and Information
- 12 Apostles address: Twelve Apostles Visitor Facility, Great Ocean Road and Booringa Road, Princetown, Victoria, 3269
- More detailed information on how to book transport, airfares, accommodation and travel insurance is available on my Travel Resources page
- Get Your Guide 12 Apostles activities and tours are here
- For other great things to do outside of Melbourne, see my blog post on wonderful walk and hikes to the east of Melbourne in the Dandenong Mountains and Yarra Ranges here
- For 5 great reasons to visit the village of Gembrook in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, see my blog post here
- And for another wonderful destination when you are planning travel to Australia see my blog post about Canberra’s hidden sculpture garden here
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