The Great Ocean Road (GOR) is a 243km stretch of winding coastal drive along Victoria’s southeastern coast, between the beautiful Torquay and Warrnambool. Because of the spectacular coastal views along the Great Ocean Road, a GOR road trip has become one of the most popular Australian road trips.
Since Torquay is relatively close to Melbourne, a trip to the Great Ocean Road is typically on the bucket list of most visitors to Melbourne.
Great Ocean Road is better visited as a 3-day road trip from Melbourne, so you can fully appreciate the beauty of the GOR drive without rushing through each attraction. However, you can also visit the Great Ocean Road on a day trip from Melbourne.
Although a great deal of driving is involved on a Great Ocean Road day trip, you can still visit most of Great Ocean Road’s popular landmarks on a day trip, providing you have a compact and practical itinerary.
To help you navigate, I have put together a day trip itinerary for visiting the Great Ocean Road. Information on estimated driving time, time to spend for each attraction, and useful tips are also provided for your convenience. Hope you can find this itinerary useful.
The Ultimate Great Ocean Road Day Trip Itinerary
Since the drive along the Great Ocean Road takes almost 4 hours to complete, to make the most out of your Great Ocean Road day trip, you will need to start the trip early & plan your stops well.
For the best weather and longer daylight hours, you may also wish to plan your GOR day trip during the daylight-saving months. If you can only visit the Great Ocean Road during those colder months, you may need to skip certain attractions from this itinerary to may it more practical.
Bells Beach is located in Torquay, at the eastern end of the Great Ocean Road. It is about a 1.5-hour drive from Melbourne.
Bells Beach is internationally renowned for its legendary surf breaks & is the host to the annual Rip Curl Pro event – the longest-running pro surfing competition.
Although you won’t have the chance to enjoy a surf along Bells Beach on this GOR day trip, make sure you take a break at Bells Beach to appreciate this stunning beach and the wild ocean swells along the coast.
Public toilets are also available near Bells Beach carpark, which can come in handy after your long drive from Melbourne.
Split Point Lighthouse
After Bells Beach, we will drive another 25 minutes along the GOR to visit the picturesque Split Point Lighthouse in Aireys Inlet. Along this drive, you would have also sighted this stunning ivory white lighthouse from afar.
Just beneath Split Point Lighthouse, you can also find a few lookout platforms offering a spectacular view of the ‘shipwreck coast’. With the beautiful lighthouse in the background, the coastline at Aireys Inlet looks even more remarkable.
Tours of the lighthouse are available on weekends and school holidays. During the lighthouse tour, you will have the opportunity to climb to the top of Split Point Lighthouse for an unparalleled panoramic view of Aireys Inlet.
A cafe can also be found next to the Split Point Lighthouse if you wish to grab a coffee and a quick bite before continuing with the day.
Apollo Bay is a charming fishing village nestled at the foothills of the Great Otway National Park & about mid-way along the Great Ocean Road. It offers a beautiful stretch of sandy beach, which is great for swimming and surfing.
Apollo Bay is also famous for its amazing seafood & makes the perfect spot for a lunch break along your Great Ocean Road drive. Make sure you check out the famous scallop pies from Apollo Bay Bakery and/or the freshly cooked Southern Rock Lobsters from Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-Op when driving by Apollo Bay.
If time allows, you may wish to also check out Marriner’s Lookout for a wonderful bird’s eye view of Apollo Bay and beyond. Alternatively, a visit to Maits Rest Rainforest Walk in the Great Otway National Park is great for getting a glimpse into the diverse landscape of the Great Otway National Park.
Gibson Steps is a set of 86 narrow steps carved on a 70-metre tall vertical cliff. It offers access from the clifftop to the pristine Gibson Steps Beach.
From the clifftop viewing platform, visitors can obtain a magnificent view of the rugged coastline along the GOR. However, I highly suggest a visit to the beachfront where possible.
From Gibson Steps Beach, you will have a better insight into how steep & grand this limestone cliff is. Make sure you also take your shoes off & have a feel of the soft white sand along this pristine beach.
In my opinion, the area between Gibson Steps and the Bay of Islands is the highlight of the Great Ocean Road drive. Make sure you plan enough time to cover this section of the Great Ocean Road. If needed, you may wish to head to the Gibson Steps directly from Melbourne via the inland drive to save some driving time (skip Bells Beach, Aireys Inlet, and Apollo Bay).
When visiting Gibson Steps, you will need to plan for at least 30 minutes if you wish to head down to Gibson Steps Beach.
12 Apostles is the most well-known landmark along the Great Ocean Road. The viewing platform for the 12 Apostles is only a short drive from Gibson Steps & offers a captivating view of this rugged coastline and an impressive cluster of limestone stacks, the 12 Apostles.
Although named the 12 Apostles, there have only ever been 8 limestone stacks at this site. Because of continuous erosion, one of the 8 stacks have eventually fallen into rubbles in 2005, leaving only 7 apostles remaining.
The sight of the 12 Apostles was certainly remarkable, but I was underwhelmed to some degree. Since the 12 Apostles is the postcard child of the Great Ocean Road, I was expecting a more extraordinary view in comparison to other spots along the GOR.
However, since the 12 Apostles is one of the most iconic landmarks along the GOR, I think you are still better off visiting it. You may end up finding this spot more impressive than I did.
12 Apostles also offers one of the best visitor centres/amenities along the Great Ocean Road. Here, you can find a huge visitor car park, well-equipped public toilets, and a kiosk for visitors to grab something to eat and drink from.
Loch Ard Gorge
Loch Ard Gorge is only a 5-minute drive down the road from the 12 Apostles. It is named after the most famous shipwreck along this wild coast, the Loch Ard, which crashed into nearby Muttonbird Island in 1878 and perished 52 lives.
The coastline along Loch Ard Gorge is formed by tall vertical cliffs and dotted with various limestone stacks. There are various walking tracks around Loch Ard Gorge for visitors to admire the incredible Loch Ard Gorge, Island Archway (Tom & Eva), The Razorback, and Muttonbird Island. However, during this day trip, you will likely not have time to visit them all.
My suggestion is to park at Loch Ard Gorge Carpark to visit Loch Ard Gorge, Loch Ard Wreck Lookout, The Island Archway Lookout, and The Razorback Lookout. These lookouts offer the best views around Loch Ard Gorge, with the least amount of walk involved. It should take around 1 hour to complete all these walks, depending on fitness level.
If you can manage to spare more time around this area, you may wish to also check out Thunder Cave and Muttonbird Lookout during your visit. However, these do require more time to be visited.
Another thing to note is that there is no toilets or kiosk at Loch Ard Gorge. Therefore, make sure you take the most out of your visit to the 12 Apostles before heading off to Loch Ard Gorge.
London Bridge (London Arch)
London Bridge, aka London Arch, is a natural archway along the Great Ocean Road near Port Campbell. It used to be a double-arch limestone stack before the arch closer to the shoreline collapsed in 1990. Nowadays, the London Bridge has become an offshore rock stack, which is no longer accessible by visitors.
However, the views from London Bridge Lookout are simply spectacular. Make sure you take a stop to admire the wild coastline and incredible rock formations at London Bridge when driving by.
The Grotto is one of my favourite spots along the Great Ocean Road. It is a beautiful cave formation & a great spot for admiring nature’s work of art through a limestone archway and a rock pool.
The Grotto is a picturesque sinkhole cave near Port Campbell. From the bottom of the sinkhole, visitors can obtain a surreal view of the wild ocean beyond a tranquil rock pool, with a beautiful reflection of the rocky limestone archway. The serenity The Grotto offers makes it feel like a scene from a fairytale.
Access to The Grotto’s upper lookout platform is via a relative flat walkway from the carpark. From the upper viewing platform, you can capture a spectacular view of the Grotto & the surrounding rugged coastline. From the upper lookout platform, there is a set of wooden staircases to the bottom of The Grotto for visitors to appreciate this magnificent view up close.
|Estimated Driving Time
|Melbourne to Bells Beach
|1 hour 25 mins
|Bells Beach to Split Point Lighthouse
|Split Point Lighthouse to Apollo Bay
|1 hour 15 mins
|Apollo Bay to Gibson Steps
|1 hour 15 mins
|Gibson Steps to 12 Apostles
|12 Apostles to Loch Ard Gorge
|Loch Ard Gorge to London Bridge
|London Bridge to The Grotto
|The Grotto to Melbourne (inland drive)
|Attractions to Visit on a Great Ocean Road Day Trip
|Suggested Time to Spend
|Split Point Lighthouse & Aireys Inlet
|30 mins to 1 hour
|15 to 30 mins
|Loch Ard Gorge
|10 to 15 mins
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is only a further 10-minute drive west of The Grotto along the Great Ocean Road. Unless you have skipped the first 3 stops (Bells Beach, Aireys Inlet & Apollo Bay) from this day trip itinerary, you are likely not going to have adequate time for visiting the Bay of Islands.
Each to their own, I personally would choose to visit the Bay of Islands over the attractions between Torquay and Apollo Bay. However, you may choose differently. If you have decided to visit the Bay of Islands, make sure you take the inland drive from Melbourne to Gibson Steps directly to save some driving time.
Bay of Islands is a 32km stretch of coastal reserve between Peterborough and Warrnambool. It offers a pristine coastline with endless rock stacks dotted along the coast. It is a great place to appreciate the impressive rock formations and the breathtaking Southern Ocean along the Great Ocean Road.
There are multiple viewing platforms and access points to the Bay of Islands. Among them, I found the area between the Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Island Beach to be the most gorgeous and easily accessible section of the Bay of Islands.
There is a lot to see and discover around the Bay of Islands. If you are planning to visit the Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Island Beach, you will need to plan at least 60 minutes to explore this spot.
Alternatives to a Self-Drive Day Trip to the Great Ocean Road
Guided Bus Tour
Although a self-drive road trip provides more flexibility, it can also be extremely tiring, especially if you are planning to cover all the important Great Ocean Road landmarks in one day. In addition, the drive along the Great Ocean Road can be very winding, which may not be suited to drivers unfamiliar with the road.
Hence, a guided bus tour can come in handy for many visitors to the Great Ocean Road. The tour guides can also provide you with better insights into each landmark.
Viator is a reliable platform and offers a great selection of guided Great Ocean Road tours. These tours range from guided GOR day trips to multi-day trips & from budget-friendly group tours to private guided tours. There is definitely something for everyone to choose from.
Multi-Day Road Trip
Another alternative to a Great Ocean Road day trip is to split it up & make it a 2-day trip or even a 3-day trip.
By doing so, you get to explore a lot more landmarks along the Great Ocean Road. You will also have more time to spare at each attraction. By splitting the driving time over 2 to 3 days, you will feel less fatigued as well.
Where to Stay along the Great Ocean Road
There are various coastal towns along the Great Ocean Road. It can be a difficult task to choose the ideal location for an overnight stay along the Great Ocean Road. From my experience:
- For a 2-Day Road Trip to the Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay or Port Campbell make the perfect location for an overnight stay.
- For a 3-Day Road Trip to the Great Ocean Road, you may wish to stay at Apollo Bay for your first night & Warrnambool for your second night.
I have stayed overnight at all 3 of the locations here. Among the places I have stayed in, I can highly recommend Beachcomber Motel & Apartments at Apollo Bay. It was a neat little motel, with friendly staff & a very reasonable price tag (AUD 89 per night when I visited in May 2022). It is a place that I will stay in again on future visits.
Tips on Visiting the Great Ocean Road on a Day Trip
- Get up early & leave Melbourne by 7 am to allow adequate time for exploring the Great Ocean Road.
- Visit during the daylight saving months to allow more daylight hours for exploring the Great Ocean Road.
- Check sunset times when planning your Great Ocean Road day trip to avoid driving in the dark.
- Avoid driving in the dark on country roads. Wildlife, such as kangaroos, tend to be more active from dusk to dawn. Encounters with wildlife on the road can be fatal to both the wildlife and the passengers.
- Plan your trip ahead of time & try not to do random stops along the drive. When you first started this road trip, you will be very tempted to stop at many of the amazing spots along the drive. However, there are a lot more wonderful landmarks around the Port Campbell area, which you will likely miss out on if you don’t stick to your schedule.
- Top up your tank before embarking on your Great Ocean Road road trip. There are many petrol stations along the Great Ocean Road. However, to minimise the hassles of looking for a petrol station, filling up the tank before the road trip can be a great idea.
- For driving safety, travel with at least one companion to share the driving task if possible.