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Great Ocean Road

Photo by Sue Gough Henly

Great Ocean Road Itineraries

Great Ocean Road in 3 Days

One of the world's great drives

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Victoria is home to the GREAT Ocean Road, one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives that spans 243 km of Victoria’s stunning coastline southwest of Melbourne.  With spectacular cliffs and surf beaches, rainforests and undulating farm country, historic ports and beach towns, it is one of Australia’s National Landscapes and was added to the Australian National Heritage list in 2011.

Sadly, all too often visitors rush the journey in order to get to the 12 Apostles. If the truth be known, there were really only ever 9 Apostles, and in 2005 one of them collapsed, leaving just 8 Apostles (somehow the 8 Apostles doesn’t have quite the same ring).  But however many Apostles there are, “the 12 Apostles” has been a magnificent marketing success story. It’s certainly a more appealing name than “the Sow and Piglets”, which is what the site was called until 1922.

Whatever they should be called, the 12 Apostles are just one of many remarkable attractions along the Great Ocean Road.  Take your time, don’t rush, relax at the beach, maybe try a surfing lesson, meander into the hinterland to commune with the big trees, look for koalas and platypus, and discover some tasty gourmet treats.  If you do this, you’ll be so dumbfounded by the many and varied offerings along this way-better-than-ok road, you may never want to leave.


Start with these Great Ocean Road Itineraries

Great Ocean Road in 3 Days … Driving the southern edge of the Australian continent


There is some confusion about where the Great Ocean Road starts and ends, but these days most people consider the Surf Coast town of Torquay and Port Campbell, the closest town to the 12 Apostles to be the road’s bookends.

From Anglesea the Great Ocean Road follows long stretches of ocean beach to Ocean View where it then weaves around jagged cliffs past the pretty beach town of Lorne as far as Apollo Bay offering sensational views of the Southern Ocean, which one day can seem as calm as a mill pond and the next a furious froth of crashing waves.

Outside Apollo Bay the road winds inland through the great rainforests of the Great Otway National Park before meandering along rolling farmland until it reaches the limestone stack formations of the 12 Apostles along the aptly named Shipwreck Coast.

If you decide to take a dip in the ocean, please remember to always swim between the red and yellow flags which define safe and supervised swimming areas.

 


When To Go

The best time to explore the Great Ocean Road is during the warmer months between October and April, in other words to avoid the winter. That said, the summer season, especially the month of January, can be especially crowded with local holidaying families. Late Spring (November) and early Autumn (March) can be especially pleasant with warm weather and few other people around.

Since the Great Ocean Road is on the southern tip of the Australian mainland, it can be subject to cold, rainy and windy conditions coming from the Southern Ocean at any time of year. It always important to pack for any type of weather, even if it is the middle of summer.

How Much Time To Spend

You should plan to spend a minimum of three days to drive the Great Ocean Road, however you will be justly rewarded if you spend one or two weeks exploring all its many delights, including the Great Ocean Walk. Many Victorians have summer houses along the Great Ocean Road and come many times a year to savour what the region has to offer.

High and Low Season

High season for the Great Ocean Road is December and January, which is during the summer school holidays, as well as the Easter four-day weekend, which unofficially denotes the end of the summer season.

Low season is during the winter months of June, July and August.

Weather and Climate

The road may span over only 243 kilometres, but the Great Ocean Road climate has an extreme and versatile range. Depending on whether you are meandering along the coast, venturing into the wetlands, or exploring the Otways, you will experience a vast range of temperature, humidity, and rainfall. And since the road meanders along the southern rim of the Australian mainland, if the wind is blowing in from the Antarctic it can be cold. Alternatively, If the wind is blowing from the North, the weather can be quite warm.

In the wetlands, you will find many small, shallow lakes and marshes, which contribute greatly to the eco-system of the Great Ocean Road as a whole. The temperatures here can be quite high in summer, especially in comparison to the coastal areas. This is because the wetlands are enclosed by numerous hills, and are therefore sheltered from the cooling coastal sea breeze. The high humidity in this area contributes to its being an ideal reproduction spot for many varieties of indigenous fauna and flora.

When exploring the coastal areas, such as Apollo Bay, you will experience much colder and windier conditions, because of the cliffs being so exposed. This area is also much dryer, bordering on arid, in comparison to other areas along the Ocean Road, and you will find little lush plant life here.

When visiting the rainforest areas around Cape Otway, you will find that the weather is usually very wet; showers are quick to appear and then disappear again, leaving the land constantly moist. Within the thick canopy of tree tops, the moisture hovers, leaving the forest in a constant state of humidity. Plants thrive in this luscious environment, and where there are plants, there are animals.

Winter days on the Great Ocean Road are still warm enough to travel, as long as visitors are appropriately dressed and carry wet-weather gear. Evenings are chillier, but never slip below freezing. Summers may get quite hot, but are still bearable, often thanks to the soothing coastal breeze which reaches most of the sections.

Events and Holidays

National Holidays include:

 

January 1: New Year’s Day

January 26: Australia Day

March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday

April 25: Anzac Day

December 25: Christmas Day

December 26: Boxing Day

 

On national public holidays, banks, post offices and liquor outlets may be closed or open for limited hours. There are also additional holidays in each state or territory. 

In the State of Victoria (where the Great Ocean Road is located), other public holidays include Labour Day, on the second Monday in March; the Queen’s Birthday on the second Monday in June; and Melbourne Cup Day on the first Tuesday in November.

Festivals along the Great Ocean Road:

Aireys Inlet

The Aireys Inlet Open Mike Festival happens in mid March.

Apollo Bay

The two-day Apollo Bay Music Festival in April features national and international performers in jazz, blues, roots, classical, pop/rock, and country.

The Great Ocean Road Marathon is centered around Apollo Bay in May.

Bells Beach

Bells Beach is the location of the longest running surfing competition in the world. Its world-famous breaks of Bells Beach and Winki Pop are the venue for the Rip Curl Pro, one of the most sought after titles on the World Championship Tour, held every Easter.

It has always been a meeting of the tribe for surfers from all over Australia and the world. Offering a casual festival atmosphere, there’s lots of music and art as well as great surfing. The local indigenous clan, the Wathaurong, gives official welcome.

Lorne

The four-day New Year’s Falls Music and Arts Festival, focusing on blues and roots music, takes place behind Lorne.

The 1.2 km Pier to Pub swim (described in the Guinness Book of Records as “the largest organised ocean swim in the world”) takes place in early January.

The 8 km Mountain to Surf Run also takes place in early January.

The Lorne Sculpture Festival is a three-week contemporary sculpture installation in October and November to entertain, amuse and inspire the thousands of people who drive Australia’s Great Ocean Road.

Port Fairy

The Port Fairy Folk Festival is the largest festival in Australia and takes place during the Victorian Labour Day weekend in March.

The nearby Koroit Irish Festival is in April.

Queenscliff

The rollicking Queenscliff Music Festival takes place on the last weekend in November every year.

Time Zone

To check the local time on the Great Ocean Road, click here.

 

Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When it’s noon in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.

 

All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer. At 2AM on the first Sunday in October clocks are advanced one hour. On the first Sunday in April at 2AM, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.

 

What To Pack and Wear

You can expect four seasons in one day anywhere along the Great Ocean Road at any time of the year. Therefore, be sure and bring clothes for all weather contingencies. Bring layers, a warm coat and rain gear and don’t forget to pack your swimsuit, a hat, towel, and wet shoes if you want to explore the rock pools. Sunscreen is, of course, a must.

And be sure and bring your camera or iPhone with lots of room to store all the photos you will be taking.

What it Costs

You can enjoy the Great Ocean Road on any budget.

Accommodation ranges from terrific camping facilities to luxury houses and condominiums. There are loads of affordable take-away restaurants and farm stands to the finest of fine dining restaurants.

Best of all, so much of the experience is free…from sublime days at the beach to exquisite road-side ocean vistas and walks in the wilderness.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $AU.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $70 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $201-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $301 for a double

Eat
$ => Up to $20 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $21-35 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $36 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $21-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $51 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to Australia and is currently under scrutiny by state governments where it operates.  It currently operates in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong in Victoria, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to Australia goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical —Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers including the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Australian dollars come in $1 and $ coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes.  Each is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart. Other coins are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. The $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.

Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1 or 2 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.78), a relic from the days before 1-cent and 2-cent pieces were phased out.  In these cases, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents, so 52 cents rounds down to 50 cents, and 78 cents rounds up to 80 cents.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

ATMs

If you get money from an ATM, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, Australian banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash out” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.

Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Australia.  Visa and MasterCard are universally accepted in Australia; American Express and Diners Club are less commonly accepted, so it pays to check first. Always carry some cash, because some traders won’t take cards for purchases under $10 or $15.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.

Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in Australia. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest A$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers.

Other Costs

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

The best way to explore the Great Ocean Road is by car so you can follow you own whims and go where you want. All the major car rental agencies have depots at Melbourne airport and in the city centre.

Background

The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s must-do experiences. It is a key entry on the country’s National Heritage list not only for its stupendous coastal panoramas but also because it was created as a monument to all those who died in World War I. In fact, it is the world’s largest war memorial and was an historic public works project employing more than 3,000 World War I veterans who carved this engineering marvel with picks and shovels.

History

The Great Ocean Road was built between 1919 and 1932 by 3,000 returned World War I soldiers and is widely regarded as the world’s largest war memorial, dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Great War. It was back-breaking work: construction was done by hand using explosives, picks and shovels, and horse-drawn carts. Before its construction, Victoria’s rugged southwest coast was accessible only by sea or rough bush track.

The road’s visionary promoter, Geelong mayor Howard Hitchcock, saw great tourism potential for the region, proclaiming it better for its ocean, mountain, river and fern gully scenery than the Riviera in France. Sadly, he died just before it was completed but ‘the father of the road’ is recognised in a memorial at Mount Defiance near Lorne.

The road was officially opened in November 1932 and at the time, The Age newspaper stated, “In the face of almost insurmountable odds, the Great Ocean Road has materialised from a dream or ‘wild-cat scheme’, as many dubbed it, into concrete reality.”

In its original state, the road was considered a formidable drive; fitting only a single vehicle comfortably at a time. Today it is still just one lane in each direction with an 80 kph speed limit. There are many road signs reminding international tourists to drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Etiquette

Don’t forget to always drive on the left-hand side of the road and be careful going round the many blind corners. Oh, and please pull over when you want to look to look at the views. It’s too dangerous on this very curvy road to take your eyes off the bitumen!

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