Let me start by saying that the Great Ocean Road should not be done in one day. It is gorgeous and multifaceted and deserves much more time than one day if you want to experience it fully. You could spend a week travelling the Great Ocean Road and still not have done everything. There are opportunities for hiking wonderful trails, swimming at amazing beaches, visiting breathtaking view points and touring interesting features like lighthouses and museums. Not to mention overnighting in quaint towns and dining at the local restaurants. Having said that, if you only have a day, it’s totally still worth doing.
The main highlight of the Great Ocean Road is the 12 Apostles and London Arch. To drive along the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to London Arch would take about 4.5 hours (300kms) and the return via the more direct inland route (A1) takes about 3 hours (250kms). So that’s a total of 7.5 hours of driving. If you leave Melbourne at about 8am and are happy to arrive back in Melbourne at about 8pm, that leaves you roughly 4 hours for stopping and enjoying what the Great Ocean Road has to offer.
Driving for that long may sound arduous but remember that the drive itself is part of the experience. It’s not just ocean the whole way. Some of the time you will have majestic ocean views but you also pass through the beautiful Great Otway National Park, you will drive through gorgeous little towns and you’ll stop often so the drive ends up being very pleasant. But please be careful on the drive home though. It’s a long day and that 3 hour drive back is quite boring and you’ll probably be quite tired. Grab a coffee from the visitors centre before you set off.
My logistics were slightly different. I was landing at Avalon airport from Sydney and because Avalon airport is about an hour away from Melbourne in the direction of the Great Ocean Road, I hired a car at the airport and headed off from there. I only left the airport at about 11am so I had about an hour or two less for sightseeing.
When you research the Great Ocean Road you will find that there are a million worthwhile stops along the way. But with limited time you need to choose carefully.
For more information visit www.visitgreatoceanroad.org.au
Split Point Lighthouse
Surfers or people that are connecting to surfing in any way will probably want to visit Torquay, home to the world famous brands such as Rip Curl, Quicksilver, Billabong, Reef, etc. I’m not to worried about surfing so my first stop was Split Point Lighthouse, about 1.5hrs from Melbourne.
I enjoy visiting lighthouses. If you can access the top of the lighthouse, the views are amazing, but they also often reveal much of the history of the area and they are great to photograph! If you have more time and you’re not on a tight budget (like I was) then you will probably want to do the tour for $12 (about R125) which allows you to go up to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy the amazing views. I didn’t have the time or the money so I just walked around the area and took some photos at the viewing areas. It’s a gorgeous lighthouse and the views are stunning, so I was happy I stopped.
Find out more information at the Split Point Lighthouse website.
My next stop was my favourite, Lorne. As you come out of the town you will find the Lorne Pier. Don’t miss the turn on the left opposite the Grand Pacific Hotel, which you will not miss because it looks like it was transplanted from the southern states of America. The Lorne Pier is awesome. It was a boiling hot day and all I wanted to do was swim, but finding my costume, changing and then driving wet was just too much of a mission. If the weather is hot, I would recommend you pack what you need to swim at a few spots. Those swims will be highlights. I spent some time relaxing on the pier, enjoying the views and watching people enjoying themselves. The pier is very photogenic too.
Find out more at the Lorne website.
Unfortunately time did not allow me to stop in Apollo Bay but I think that fish & chips at the Apollo Bay Fishermans Co-Op would be the perfect quick lunch with a view. The Co-Op is situated in the harbour with views over the harbour and looking back along the coastline.
Cape Otway Lightstation
I skipped stopping in Apollo Bay for lunch because I wanted to visit the Cape Otway Lightstation, but it was a mistake. It sounded like something really worth visiting but I should have done more research. Unless you pay the $20 (just over R200 then) entry you can’t access or see anything. And to get value for your $20 you need to spend a good amount of time there. Time was something I did not have, especially as you have to drive about 20 minutes out of the way to get there. So I wasted 45 minutes to basically drive to the front door of the Cape Otway Lightstation visitors centre. I couldn’t even see the lighthouse from there!
If you are interested, you can find out more at the Cape Otway Lightstation website.
The Twelve Apostles are absolutely stunning, it’s definitely worth the drive to see them. Sadly, as much as I wanted to stand there for ages and just soak up the magnificence of the Twelve Apostles, I could not stay for long. There were 2 reasons I didn’t hang around. One was the flies. So many flies landing all over me, and having flies land on my face is my absolute worst. So my advice is to cover up as much as possible and wrap a scarf or something around your head to cover your face. The other reason I didn’t stick around is not something you can really do anything about, there were a million people there. The place was really crowded. You have to wait for a gap to open at the view point so that you can take some photos. It’s quite frustrating. I was there until about 4pm, maybe it’s less busy later on. The kiosk closes at 5pm but you can access the view points any time. There is no charge to access the view points. If you have a little time I would recommend doing the walk down to the beach. From there you get a different perspective on the rock formations. They are closer and eye-level so they look even more impressive.
I was glad the kiosk was still open when I was ready to leave. I bought some water and a coffee to keep me alert for the drive back.
Learn more at the Twelve Apostles website.
London Arch (formerly London Bridge)
I didn’t make it to London Arch. I wanted to but I was really running out of time and couldn’t afford the extra 20 minute drive plus the viewing time. But I highly recommend you try and fit it in. It’s not as impressive as the Twelve Apostles but it’s also less busy so you can enjoy it at your own pace. If you have extra time available, you can drive another 5 minutes further and visit The Grotto, another impressive geological formation.
And that was it. After viewing the Twelve Apostles and taking some great photos, I jumped in my car and drove back to Melbourne. It took just under 3 hours to get back and it was an easy drive on a good road which was mostly straight. I’m so glad I did one day on the Great Ocean Road. Most people told me I was being silly trying to do it in one day but as I’ve shown, it can be done and because the drive was such a pleasure, it was a fantastic day. I did it alone and I’m sure it would be even more fun with company. I would have enjoyed some company on the drive home, that’s for sure!
See more pics from my Great Ocean Road trip here.
For those of you that think it all sounds like too much of a mission or prefer not to hire a car, or you’re travelling along, I found this 1 day Great Ocean Road tour option for $96 (about R1,000) per person. It starts earlier and ends later so they can fit more in. Considering it includes lunch, it’s not a bad deal.