What’s on your “Australia bucket list”?
Many people might include snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, seeing a koala or a kangaroo, and learning to surf in Sydney.
While all of these experiences are indeed awesome, no Australia bucket list should be complete without driving the Great Ocean Road – one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives – along the south-eastern coastline of this undeniably beautiful country.
The Great Ocean Road begins in the town of Torquay, about 60 miles southwest of Melbourne , and follows B100 west about 150 miles/243 km to the small town of Allansford. Along the drive are sandy beaches, lush forests, and historical and geological sites.
Here are just a few of my favorite stops.
Bells Beach and Point Addis
So I was ecstatic when I woke up in my apartment rental in Australia’s Yarra Valley, picked up my iPhone, swiped over to the weather screen and saw sunshine and high temperatures for the start of this beautiful road trip.
“Our Great Ocean Road trip has officially begun!” I comically shouted at my friend Vanessa in the passenger seat as we drove into the small town of Torquay.
I filled up the gas tank and bought a couple cold beverages (to survive this heat – 95 Fahrenheit/35 celsius), and we drove toward our first stop: Point Addis Marine National Park, known for its wide sandy beaches and crumbling limestone and sandstone cliffs.
I could have literally spent 4-5 hours exploring all the different beaches and coastal walks around Point Addis National Park! As we walked around the different viewpoints at Bells Beach and Point Addis, Vanessa oohed and ahhed at the coastal views.
“Just you wait …” I thought, because I knew this was only just the beginning.
Aireys Inlet and Memorial Arch
Aireys Inlet is definitely one of my favorite stops on the Great Ocean Road. I just love all the various shades of blue and turquoise found in these waters, and the array of rock formations in white and orange that seem to glow in the sun.
The inlet’s Split Point Lighthouse, built in 1891, is open to the public for tours. The lighthouse is perched on a cliff more than 200 feet above sea level and provides stunning views of the entire coastline.
Vanessa and I were getting a bit hungry, so we only did some brief explorations here — but it truly is a gorgeous area. I saw some people down on the beaches doing a bit of swimming, and realized we’d need to hop in the ocean ourselves very soon!
Lunch in Lorne, then Teddy’s Lookout
Out of all the towns along the Great Ocean Road, I found Lorne to be the most charming and picturesque.
Lorne Beach is absolutely massive, and the town has many restaurants, cafes and shops right off the main highway. It’s kind of hard to explain — but it just has a really nice and relaxing vibe. It’s the type of place I would move to with my family for a few months of the summer.
We were recommended to eat at the popular and scenic “Lorne Pier Seafood Restaurant” for lunch, but Vanessa unfortunately has strict dietary restrictions — so we checked out the funky Chopstix Noodle Bar instead. I loved the restaurant vibes. There’s long wooden tables, cool artwork on the walls, and had a fantastic playlist of songs booming from the restaurant speakers.
We made one final stop in Lorne at the marvelous Teddy’s Lookout. All I can say about this view is that it’s absolutely phenomenal. It’s here where you can really appreciate the “sheer epicness” of this famous coastal highway and the jaw-dropping colors found in the water. The sun was shining bright, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I found myself thinking, “Damn, it feels good to be back in Australia”.
Lorne to Apollo Bay Coastal Paradise
This is without a doubt my favorite 50km stretch of road in the entire world!
It’s really similar to California’s popular “Pacific Coast Highway”, but I think it’s definitely better. Every turn brings you around to another gorgeous beach, viewpoint, or cute little town. There’s so many nice little places to stop for a quick bite to eat, delicious cup of coffee, a cheeky dip in the ocean.
While these roads are annoyingly windy at times – they are truly remarkable!
Driving along this specific part of the Great Ocean Road is what makes this a top “Australia Bucket List” experience!
Did you think the Great Ocean Road stays along the coastline for the entire 243 kilometers? Well, if you did — you’d be WRONG! After reaching the mid-way point of Apollo Bay, the highway veers inland and you begin an incredible adventure through the Great Otway National Park.
Massive and lush green trees line the sides of the road, and as we turned one corner we noticed three cars pulled over with its passengers outside staring up towards the trees.
I turned down the music (we were so loudly bumping and passionately singing along to), and asked Vanessa if she saw anything, and if we should circle back to investigate. She said she had no idea, but we should definitely check it out.
I’m so glad we did — because there were WILDLY ADORABLE KOALAS just hanging out in the trees! I whipped out my zoom lens, and got some pictures of these amazing animals. I don’t think it’s all too common to see koalas in their natural habitat, so I was pretty stoked about to see them.
It was after this I found myself really wishing I had a couple extra days in the country, so I could explore this region a bit more in depth. There’s tons of epic hikes, waterfalls, and camping options. It’s nature’s playground, and I could easily see myself spending some extra time here.
The Gibson Steps
Melbourne (and the entire state of Victoria) are infamous for unpredictable weather, and it’s common knowledge that you can experience all “four seasons in one day”.
Well when Vanessa and I were busy taking photos of koalas, singing along to popular Jonas Blue songs, and driving through the lush rainforest — the weather decided an unfortunate turn.
We arrived at the first major stop of the Port Cambell National Park, the Gibson Steps, and it was extremely cloudy and sprinkling a bit. The day was almost over though, and I wasn’t going to let a little rain stop me from me some photography fun.
After marveling and photographing these massive rocks protruding from the ocean, Vanessa and I made our way to Port Cambell, grabbed some dinner, and checked into our lovely little apartment we rented for the night.
“Wow. What a perfect day,” I thought as I climbed into bed, and got some much needed rest for Day 2 on the Great Ocean Road!
Day 2: Sunrise fail at the 12 Apostles
Now I’m not a morning person … plain and simple.
But I’ve heard watching the sunrise at the 12 Apostles can be completely astonishing, and this trip was all about taking some epic photos! If you fly direct with Qantas from Los Angeles to Melbourne, you might as well wake up for sunrise and get that perfect photo! So I arose from my bed at 5 a.m., got ready, drove 15 minutes to the 12 Apostles, and walked 5-10 minutes out to the viewing platform.
Sadly … there was no sunrise. It just went from dark grey to light grey. Ehhh, I can’t win them all. I once again looked at my phone for the weather report, and my soul was crushed when I saw it was meant to rain the majority of the day.
I drove back to the apartment to get a few more hours of sleep, but before I definitely said one or two prayers to the “travel gods” to look down upon with me with a smile.
The 12 Apostles: A view of biblical proportions
Before I had ever heard of the Great Ocean Road … I had seen pictures of the 12 Apostles. They are truly magnificent to see in person, and so much bigger than they appear in photos!
While I may not have had the most ideal weather, I was still having a blast walking around the different viewing areas, and taking some shots of this stunning coastline and collection of limestone stacks.
Loch Ard Gorge(ous)
“YES! The sun’s coming out! The “travel gods” have heard our prayers!” I jokingly told Vanessa as we were driving the short distance between the 12 Apostles, and the next stop — the Loch Ard Gorge.
Once again … pictures simply can’t do this place justice! When you’re standing on the edge, you’ll be in awe of the sheer size of these cliffs, and the beauty of the narrow opening that leads out to the ocean. It’s incredibly beautiful, and I could have easily stayed on that beach all day! The water was a bit too cold for swimming, but I was tempted!
Around the Loch Ard Gorge there were also several different walking trails to different view points of the Port Cambell National Park. These views are seriously next level — and left me and Vanessa completely speechless.
(The first time I was here, it was storming like crazy. It’s completely different when it’s bright and sunny, because it really makes the colors of the water and cliffs much more vibrant!)
The rest of the way
With limited time left on the clock (before beginning the long drive back to Melbourne), Vanessa and I kind of rushed through the remaining few stops on the Great Ocean Road. These were all really beautiful, but I must admit were just a little underwhelming after exploring the Gibson Steps, 12 Apostles, and the Loch Ard Gorge.
With that being said — The Grotto, the London Arch (which used be the London Bridge but the connecting piece collapsed, the Bay of Islands, and the Bay of of Martyrs were all worth the stop. What I really appreciate about Australia is that they put up informational signs everywhere! It’s so fantastic as a tourist, because you can really learn a lot while marveling at this incredible landscapes!
All great road trips must end
With only one overnight stop, I like to think we absolutely crushed this little road-trip! We saw so much in these two days, ate at some really fantastic restaurants, and got (mostly) lucky with weather in Victoria! If you (or anyone you know) are planning a trip down to Australia in the near future, then you 100 percent need to add this to your itinerary!
Qantas has daily nonstop flights to Melbourne from Los Angeles, and will soon offer direct flights from San Francisco on their new Dreamliners!
I drove the three hours straight back Melbourne, and arrived just in time to make an appearance at the Qantas & Visit California Inaugural Dreamliner Flight Cocktail Party! This was a super fun cocktail soiree to celebrate the new Qantas Dreamliner flight between Melbourne and Los Angeles, and I think it’s amazing that I got to attend (as well as fly back on an inaugural flight)!
I’ve never paid too much attention to the type of plane when I book airline tickets, but now that I’ve experienced the new Qantas 787-9 Dreamliner — I know how big of a difference it can make!
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Follow Dave Anderson’s adventures at Jones Around the World.