If you haven’t heard of the Great Ocean Road, where have you been?! It’s made a name for itself as the most picturesque route on the south-eastern coast of Australia. And the name does not lie.
If you have already made the journey, you’ll know what I mean. You’ll also know that it’s not necessarily a one-off trip. The Great Ocean Road has such a plethora of hidden gems, you can explore time and time again without ever getting bored.
For those of you considering the route, or indeed, those planning on revisiting – welcome to your comprehensive guide of the Great Ocean Road, including must-see stops and spectacular camping grounds.
LENGTH OF TIME NEEDED
Ideally, schedule two days for your Great Ocean Road journey. The first day should involve stopping off at various viewpoints and beaches along the way. You can then dedicate day two to exploring those world-famous sites. That being said, you could squeeze the trip into just one day if you really had to.
BEST WAY TO TRAVEL
The best way to experience the Great Ocean Road is via campervan, hands down. With a camper, you have the freedom and flexibility to take as much – or as little – time as you want. A camper also enables you to stop off at the viewpoints along the way, to take whichever detour you fancy, and to explore the areas fewer travellers have the opportunity to. The more obscure, the better.
The second best way to travel is (unsurprisingly) by car. You have all of the benefits detailed above. The downside? You’ll either need to stop off at a hotel of sorts, bring a tent with you, or try and fit the experience into just one day. None of which are ideal, but I’ll elaborate on this a little further down.
The third option is to join a tour group. Rest assured that this is by no means a bad option. In fact, if it happens to be your only option, you are absolutely better off going for it than missing out together!
So why is this listed as the least attractive of the three? Tour groups can be somewhat restrictive. You aren’t able to visit all of the rural, tranquil, off-the-beaten-track spots that I’m about to delve into. You also aren’t able to take the time that you might like, take any sort of detour, or visit outside of peak tourist hours.
Despite the above, a tour group will give you the opportunity to experience some of the Great Ocean Road’s highlights, enabling you to see the most popular and famous attractions.
WHERE TO START ON THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Making your way onto the Great Ocean Road is relatively easy, even for those of us who aren’t great navigators. Your start point will be Melbourne – it’s around an hour and a half to drive from the city centre.
As you head for the highway, you’ll notice signs to the Great Ocean Road giving you clear directions. It’s straightforward, but it does take a while to get to the main attractions. The hour and a half timing above will get you from the city to the famous Great Ocean Road sign. This is just the beginning!
WHERE TO CAMP
If you are looking for some quality time with the Mother Nature – which you most likely are if you’ve opted for this route – head off the main road towards Bimbi Park. The track is long and winding, sheltered by a great canopy of trees.
I urge you to take your time as you drive along this track, as nestled amidst the canopy of trees are wild koalas. It’s hard to spot them, but once you see that first little furball, you’ll notice how many are tucked up in those branches. It is such a precious sight.
Bimbi Park is one of the cheapest campsites I stayed in whilst in Australia, but it’s also one that I remember most fondly. I’d describe it as refined simplicity. There is an indoor kitchen area with all the facilities you need, plus well-kept bathrooms.
One of the most important things to note if you do stay here is that the showers are $1 per minute so be warned, ladies! This is because their water supply is so limited, but hey, you’re camping so it’s not all that shocking.
There are luscious fields, horses and of course the aforementioned koalas at Bimbi Park, but remember it’s a very simple campsite. If you’re after luxury, check into a nearby hotel. However, if you’re happy to watch the sunset surrounded by Australian wildlife, sipping your evening beverage of choice in a peaceful setting – it doesn’t get better than this.
WHAT TO PACK IF YOU ARE CAMPING
If you do opt for Bimbi, I highly recommend bringing the below with you. You won’t regret it!
- Food: We didn’t see a single supermarket along the way plus dining spots can be tricky to find in the evenings, given their limited opening hours. You’re much better off stocking up in Melbourne at one of the cost-friendly superstores before you embark on this rural route.
- Firewood: Even in the height of Australian summertime, the temperature really drops at night in some parts. The Great Ocean Road is one of those parts. Firewood is available to buy once you’re on the road, but it is double the price – get it in the city and your bank balance will be eternally grateful. Bimbi Park has special campfire troughs which you can use for free, provided you bring your own supplies.
- Blankets: As per my previous point, it gets a little nippy. A blanket or two will keep you cosy around that campfire and throughout the night.
- Dry shampoo: With shower prices rivalling gold dust, I strongly suggest washing your hair beforehand. Conditioner? Don’t even think about it!
- Portable chargers: Whilst there are powered campsites, they aren’t as picturesque as the non-powered sites. For the best of both worlds, make sure your cameras and phones have enough juice for a couple of days on the road.
I stopped at so many of the sites along the Great Ocean Road, all of which are postcard-pretty. The ones detailed below are those that you simply can’t miss out on. They’re even in order so you can easily map out your route.
- Memorial Arch at Eastern View. Also known as the Great Ocean Road Sign: The Great Ocean Road officially opened in the 1930s honouring the servicemen of WW1. Nowadays, this remarkable sign indicates the start of your Great Ocean Road adventure. It’s all winding roads and boundless natural beauty from this point onwards.
- Great Otway National Park: Stop off at the various viewpoints and take in the world-famous rugged landscape before you. Make your way over to Cape Otway and just enjoy the drive, not having a rigid plan is the best part.
- Twelve Apostles: The most famous of all the Great Ocean Road attractions; it gets really busy here so try to avoid the tour group hours if you are self-driving. The Twelve Apostles comprise of limestone formations sculpted by the natural elements and standing at a staggering 50 metres high. You may notice that there aren’t actually 12 of these beauties… Nature giveth and nature taketh away.
- The Grotto: A further 20-minute drive from the Twelve Apostles. This charming stop is not as well-known and was recommended by the helpful locals at Bimbi Park. It’s essentially a sinkhole with an ocean backdrop, but the crystal clear waters within its naturally formed pool are well worth taking a look at.
- Bay of Islands: Another 10 minutes in the car and you’ll reach more astounding geological formations. Marvel at the sheer cliffs and breathtaking ocean views.
WHERE TO EAT ALONG THE ROUTE
To give you an idea, Apollo Bay is 2.5 hours from Melbourne whereas Lorne sits much closer to your start point. Port Campbell is approximately 3 hours drive from Melbourne. It’s also around 1.5 hours away from Bimbi Park and 10 minutes from the Twelve Apostles, making it the perfect lunch spot for day two of travelling.
Quaint cafes can be found in any of these towns, however, the opening hours can differ seasonally so do check on these beforehand if your heart is set on a particular place.
- Bring your bug spray! It’s so cool in the evenings, you likely won’t need it then. However, there are so many gnats/sandflies flitting around the sites once the sun rises, you’ll need a spritz or two throughout the day.
- Download Maps.me. This app was introduced to me by friends living in Melbourne and is 100% the most useful app you can download as a tourist in Australia. As per the name, it’s a map app. The secret is, you can use it offline, anywhere in Australia. Yep. Even those unnamed, rural tracks. It’s totally free, but you must ensure that you have downloaded the area you will be visiting beforehand. This is the only part you will need a wi-fi connection for. Once it’s downloaded, you are good to go. Goodbye, roaming charges… hello, road trip!
So there you have it, folks, everything you need to know about this truly wonderful route. If there’s one thing I took away from this adventure, it would be the vivid sense of freedom. Freedom to stop off whenever and wherever. I guarantee that wherever you go and whatever you do, you’ll find the natural beauty incomparable.
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to take a trip on the Great Ocean Road, Australia. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Our Top Places To Stay Along The Great Ocean Road in Australia:
- The Boomerangs at Johanna
- Apollo Bay Waterfront Motor Inn
- Port O’ Call Motel
- Find the best price on hotels in Melbourne, Australia
- Sign up to AirBnB and receive US $35 off your first booking
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