Great Ocean Road Holiday – A Comprehensive Planning Guide

Great Ocean Road Holiday – A Comprehensive Planning Guide

The Great Ocean Drive is undoubtedly one of Australia’s best road trips. The winding coastal path takes you past some of the country’s most stunning natural sights, while cute seaside towns are also charming and most definitely worthy of exploring.

It’s no wonder that the Great Ocean Road is one of the most popular “must-see” places in Australia. To help you put together your dream itinerary – whether you have a day or a week – here’s a comprehensive Great Ocean Road planning guide.

But if you’d like my Great Ocean Road Itineraries, see my Great Ocean Road Itinerary post.
To decide where to stay on your Great Ocean Road holiday, see my Ultimate Guide to Great Ocean Road Holidays Accommodation post here.

Great Ocean Road Holiday: When to visit the Great Ocean Road?

The first step to planning your dream road trip along the Great Ocean Road is to decide what time to visit. The good news is that overall the climate of the Great Ocean Road is fairly mild, so you can visit any time of year.

If you have flexibility, however, you’ll want to choose carefully to get the best possible experience!

Summer (December – February)

For the quintessential road trip vibes, you might want to visit the Great Ocean Road in summer.

Think sun-soaked beaches and blissfully warm days punctuated by a sea breeze – sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? Summer is a great time to visit the Great Ocean Road, however, there are a couple of considerations.

Firstly, Australian summers can be very hot and humid, and the Great Ocean Road is no exception. Although summer temperatures appear on average, to be quite mild, they are averages.

It is much safer to expect daytime temperatures to regularly surpass 35 degrees Celsius – so it can be uncomfortable if you’re planning to do some walking and hiking during your road trip. It’s also the busiest time of the year for tourism in Australia and therefore the Great Ocean Road.

Overall, the road is rarely completely clogged with visitors – but do be prepared for crowds at the main sights such as the 12 Apostles.

Spring/Autumn (September to November/March to May)

The “shoulder seasons” of spring and autumn can be great times to visit the Great Ocean Road. If you visit close to the beginning or end of summer, temperatures can still be very hot (March, in particular, is prone to late heatwaves), but at the other end close to winter, it can start to get quite chilly.

Rain is not unheard of near winter, however, it rarely stays around for long enough to scuttle your travel plans. Plus, sites like the 12 Apostles can look beautiful when the moody Great Ocean Road weather rolls in.

However, you’ll probably want to keep a rain jacket or umbrella in the car if traveling during the cooler parts of autumn and spring.

Winter (June to August)

While Australia is generally known as the ‘sunburnt country’ the barometer does drop quite substantially in the colder months.

This is especially true of the areas in the southern half of the country, including the Great Ocean Road. That said, as long as you don’t mind rugging up a little – winter is still a great time to visit.

During the coldest months, you can expect popular stops such as the 12 Apostles to be much quieter. You may also score some bargains on accommodation and tours, as it’s considered the off-season. While the weather does get as low as around 10 degrees Celsius during the day, long periods of rainfall are still uncommon while sunny days are not unusual. Winter is also arguably the best time to spot whales along the Great Ocean Road!

How long is the Great Ocean Road and how long does it take to drive?

great ocean road sign
Great Ocean Road Sign

One of the major considerations when planning a trip down the Great Ocean Road is how long you need.

This is also important in planning your accommodation. The Great Ocean Road itself is 151 miles in length (243 kilometers), meaning it is technically possible to drive it in a day.

Many visitors even choose to do it as a day trip from nearby Melbourne, perhaps heading on towards Adelaide or turning back on themselves.

In my view, to do the Great Ocean Road comfortably from Melbourne you need at least two days and one night. Even better is three days and two nights, which will allow you a little more time to stop and enjoy the views.

If you’re lucky enough to have ample time then you could push it out even further to spend up to a week meandering through the picturesque towns and lookouts, spending a couple of nights in one location. Over this last summer, I spent a week in Apollo Bay and it was a fantastic base for main attractions along the Road.

So, it depends how long you have – but I’d suggest 2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 nights for most visitors (See my 2 Day and 3 Day Great Ocean Road Itineraries here).

Great Ocean Road planning guide: How to travel the Great Ocean Road?

After you’ve chosen when you plan to travel the Great Ocean Road, the next big decision is how you’re going to do it. The big choice here is between the do-it-yourself self-guided route, and joining a tour.


Great Ocean Road melbourne holiday planning guide
Great Ocean Road

Many visitors to the Great Ocean Road choose to drive themselves. The self-drive option gives you flexibility over every aspect of your tour, from the length of time to the stops along the way and also your budget.

One of the reasons why self-driving the Great Ocean Road is so popular is that the road conditions are very good. The road is wide and well-maintained, meaning even small cars can pass easily.

You don’t need any special vehicle to drive the Great Ocean Road, meaning car hire can be quite accessible. One downside of self-driving is that the driver may miss some of the sights along the way as they navigate the road.

However, as there are many places where you can pull over and enjoy the view, it’s not a huge problem. Overall, self-driving is a great option for traveling the Great Ocean Road as long as you are patient and feel comfortable driving on the left.


Great Ocean Road drive
Great Ocean Road – Aerial View

Equally, joining a guided tour can be ideal for some visitors.

While joining a tour generally means sacrificing some of the flexibility (unless you opt for a private tour), there are many benefits. If you are a solo traveler or you lack confidence driving in Australia, then a Great Ocean Road tour is a great way to take all of the hassles out of the road trip.

You also won’t need to worry about planning all the smaller logistics, as that will all be handled by an expert. You can simply sit back, relax and enjoy the stupendous views – and perhaps meet some fellow travelers as well.

Most tours also include a lot of information about the history and geology of the area. So, if you’d like a more in-depth look at the Great Ocean Road, or would prefer not to drive yourself, then a tour is a fantastic option.

My 12 Apostles post lists the best tours from Melbourne to see the main attractions of the Great Ocean Road. The best perfectly-reviewed tour that allows you to see almost all the main attractions on the Great Ocean Road is here.

The 12-hour tour departing from Melbourne takes in the 12 Apostles, Gibson Steps, and the beach below, Cape Otway National Park, Kennett’s River Koala Walk, and Bell’s Beach at Torquay.

Great Ocean Road planning guide:

Main Attractions

The more than 250 kilometers of the Great Ocean Road are littered with amazing sights along its length. This includes striking coastal views, adorable Aussie animals, and charming and historic maritime towns as well.

Here are the top sights you just can’t miss along the Great Ocean Road:

The 12 Apostles

12 apostles great ocean road australia
12 Apostles Great Ocean Road Australia

The most famous sight along the Great Ocean Road is the 12 Apostles.

In fact, for some visitors – the 12 Apostles is the Great Ocean Road, and it’s certainly a highlight for almost everyone. A millennia ago, the 12 Apostles would all have been part of the mainland.

However, in a display of nature’s power, they were slowly worn down until they were islands surrounded by water. To this day, the limestone stacks continue to change as they are worn away even further.

Although there are not twelve pillars, the sight is one of the Great Ocean Road’s most impressive views. You certainly can’t miss the chance to see the iconic panorama and spend some time enjoying the beautiful details of the landscape.

For a comprehensive guide to visiting the 12 Apostles, see my 12 Apostles post here.

Loch Ard Gorge

Loch Ard Gorge on great ocean road holiday
Loch Ard Gorge on Great Ocean Road

Not far from the 12 Apostles you’ll find the Loch Ard Gorge, another of the most popular places to stop along the Great Ocean Road. Not only is this place absolutely beautiful, but it also has a fascinating story behind it.

At Loch Ard Gorge, you’ll find a beautiful sandy beach that fringes a calm horseshoe-shaped bay. The main reason for the tranquillity is that the bay is surrounded by rocky cliffs, with only a small entry point in the middle.

When you see Loch Ard Gorge, it is easy to understand how it was historically treacherous for seafarers. In particular, the area claimed the ship called The Loch Ard, with over 50 passengers going down with the vessel. Only two survived, two young people named Tom and Eva. They are the namesakes for two of the large rocks that can be seen off in the distance.

London Arch

The Arch on Great Ocean Road near 12 Apostles
The Arch on Great Ocean Road near 12 Apostles

Once known as the London Bridge thanks to its unique shape, this rock formation was renamed the London Arch when its middle section collapsed.

Not only did this change the famous tourist attraction forever, but it was also quite a shock to the two tourists standing nearby at the time!

Luckily, a police helicopter rescued the stranded tourists, and the London Bridge was rebranded as the London Arch. Today, it remains one of the most popular places along the Great Ocean Road, with an amazing viewpoint over the ‘arch’ as well as the sea and coast.

The Grotto

The Grotto - Great Ocean Road holiday planning guide
The Grotto – Great Ocean Road

Yet another of the top places to see along the Great Ocean Road is The Grotto.

This unique natural feature is one of the most striking features of the beautiful southern coastline. The Grotto was formed by a sinkhole, which saw part of the rocky coastline collapse in on itself.

Here, deep blue water pools and creates a natural infinity pool that overlooks the ocean. What remains of the rocky cliff creates a window-like natural frame, adding to the overall beauty and appeal of this spot.

The Grotto’s beauty and proximity to the 12 Apostles mean it is one of the most popular stops along the Great Ocean Road. However, it is well worth joining the crowds to be dazzled by its beauty. Photographers, in particular, are sure to love the natural framing and ever-changing atmosphere of this special place.

Surfing at Bell’s Beach

Surfer at bells beach, torquay on great ocean rd
Surfer at Bells Beach, Torquay on Great Ocean Road

If you know anything about surfing, then chances are you’ve heard of Bell’s Beach. It’s considered one of the world’s great surf beaches, attracting everyone from enthusiastic amateurs to world-class pros every year.

Even if you’re not planning to ride the waves yourself, it’s well worth dropping in to admire Bell’s Beach. Not only is it a beautiful spot, but you might be lucky enough to watch some of the world’s best surfers in action.

If you’d like to try surfing yourself, this 2-hour surfing lesson, complete with a wetsuit, surfboard, and sunscreen is a wonderful way to start your Great Ocean Road trip to Torquay. Considering the love Bell’s Beach receives from surfers all over the world, it’s no surprise there are other surfing-related attractions in the area. You might like to visit the National Surfing Museum, or even pick up some beachwear from world-famous brands Ripcurl and Quiksilver, which both started locally.

Belle’s beach is located at Torquay, the first major stop along the Great Ocean Road and before the other major towns and villages of Lorne, Apollo Bay, and Port Campbell.

Great Otway National Park

Cape Otway lighthouse on great ocean road holiday
Cape Otway Lighthouse on Great Ocean Road

The Great Otway National Park is many different attractions all in one – you could easily spend several days (or more) exploring its many charms.

Visiting the national park certainly adds even more diversity and natural beauty to your Great Ocean Road trip. The Great Otway National Park covers over 100,000 hectares of land, with the most prominent town nearby being the charming and bustling Lorne.

Within the national park, you’ll find a network of amazing trails that will take you through some of Victoria’s most beautiful landscapes. Cape Otway is a special place for its indigenous owners and evidence of over 40,000 years of continuous habitation and guardianship can be seen in the aboriginal middens within the National Park.

The Great Otway National Park also has several beautiful waterfalls including the unmissable Erskine Falls. There’s also the magical Melba Gully, which looks like a fairy glen come to life – complete with magical glow worms.

If you’re looking for something a little more adrenaline-inducing, then you might like to try whizzing along the zip line at the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures.

Charming towns of Port Fairy and Portland

where to stay on the great ocean road -Port Fairy
Port Fairy

There is so much natural beauty along the Great Ocean Road that you’d be forgiven for forgetting to enjoy its human-built wonders, too.

With numerous adorable little towns spotted along the Great Ocean Road, it’s well worth making a few stops. While most of the towns along the Great Ocean Road are humble in size, they certainly deliver with many farmer’s markets, art galleries, seafood restaurants, and more.

They were once maritime and whaling centers with beautiful and historic stone cottages. So, be sure to leave some time in your itinerary to explore them!

There are many lovely stops, however, some particular favorites include the perfectly pint-sized charmer of Port Fairy. Portland is a bit further past Allansford, but equally beautiful. Both feature historic charm as well as modern boutiques and restaurants. For something a little more bustling, Lorne is a great choice with its spas and restaurants.

Whale Watching

Whale watching on great ocean road holiday
Whale watching on Great Ocean Road

It doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s always a huge thrill of spotting whales in the wild.

These amazing, giant creatures are so fascinating as they frolic in the sea – and the Great Ocean Road route is one of the best places in Australia to spot them! Unfortunately, whales aren’t spotted along the Great Ocean Road all year. However, the many different species present mean for much of the year you’ve got a good chance of seeing them.

It’s such a thrill to spy the huge tails of a blue whale or watch a group of them playing together. The best place to see whales along the Great Ocean Road depends on the time of year.

Here are a few handy hotspots:

  • Warrnambool – June to October (Southern Right Whales)
  • Portland – June to August (Southern Right Whales)
  • Portland – November to May (Blue Whales)

Kennett River Koala Walk

kennett river koala walk on great ocean road
Kennett River Koala Walk on Great Ocean Road

Australia has many unique and adorable native animals, but koalas have a special place in most people’s hearts.

Both locals and international visitors alike love the chance to spot koalas in their natural habitat. Luckily, it’s easy to do so along the Great Ocean Road! The area around the Great Ocean Road has a large koala population, which means it’s one of the best places to see wild koalas in Victoria.

For your best shot of finding these cute little guys, you’d best head to the Kennett River Koala Walk. For the best chance of spotting them, you can take a walk down Grey River Road in Kennett River.

Look up at the Eucalyptus trees, and you’re almost guaranteed to spot dozens of sleepy koalas. Be sure to look closely, as they can be hidden by the branches! In this area, you can also spot lots of colourful parrots in the wild – so this is a must if you’re a nature lover!


cheeseworld on great ocean road
Cheeseworld on Great Ocean

There are several fabulous foodie hotspots along the Great Ocean Road, however, one of the best-loved is Cheeseworld!

After all, who doesn’t love a good cheese platter? Cheeseworld is located in Allansford, not far from the eastern end of the Great Ocean Road.

At Cheeseworld, you’ll find a shop selling dozens of varieties of delicious cheese as well as other gifts and memorabilia. There’s also a restaurant where you can try some hearty food including, of course, plenty of cheese. The Plowman’s platter is particularly tasty.

Cheeseworld is an increasingly popular Great Ocean Road attraction and the perfect place to start or finish your trip (over a delicious cheese platter!)

Map of Great Ocean Road Map of Attractions

Further Resources

4 thoughts on “Great Ocean Road Holiday – A Comprehensive Planning Guide”

    • It’s a not-yet well known stop but becoming better know each year because it makes a natural end to the GOR trip!

    • It’s a shame to come such a long way and only see the rock formations on the great ocean road and I love the Southern Right Wales!

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