Recognised as one of the world s most scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road follows the stunning coastline of Victoria s south-west. Stretching from Torquay, just south of Geelong, to Allansford, east of Warrnambool, the road winds along cliff tops beside breathtaking headlands, down onto the edge of beaches, across river estuaries and through rainforests, offering ever-changing panoramic views of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean.
Beyond Cape Otway (historic lighthouse; Platypus Tours at Lake Elizabeth; Glow Worms at Melba Gully; horseriding, mountain biking and bushwalking in Cape Otway NP.) are the famous scenic coastal features of Port Campbell National Park (The 12 Apostles; Loch Ard Gorge; Natural Bridge; London Arch; The Grotto; Bay of Islands etc.); the fishing village of Port Campbell; hamlet of Kennett River (view koalas in the wild); City of Warrnambool (maritime museum; whale watching platform at Logans Beach).
Location: south-east coast of Victoria between Torquay and Warrnambool
Length: 242 km. Minimum duration (one way): 1 day in each direction
Suggested return journey: Warrnambool to Melbourne via Camperdown and Colac, or proceed to Adelaide via Limestone Coast
What You Will See: Most travellers on the Great Ocean Road begin their journey in Melbourne, exiting the city via the West Gate Bridge and Princes Highway. On the way you pass Werribee (historic mansion; open range zoo), Geelong (colonial city on Corio Bay), the Bellarine Peninsula and the historic villages of Queenscliff (wild dolphin viewing); Portarlington; Barwon Heads; historic forts and lighthouses; tourist steam railway; wine region; one of Australia’s best golf courses (Barwon Heads); the Surf Coast (surf beaches of Torquay, Anglesea, Jan Juc, Bells Beach; skydiving; snorkelling; scuba diving; ocean fishing).
Beyond Cape Otway: (historic lighthouse; Platypus Tours at Lake Elizabeth; Glow Worms at Melba Gully; horseriding, mountain biking and bushwalking in Cape Otway NP.); the famous scenic coastal features of Port Campbell National Park (The 12 Apostles; Loch Ard Gorge; Natural Bridge; London Arch; The Grotto; Bay of Islands etc.); the fishing village of Port Campbell; hamlet of Kennett River (view koalas in the wild); City of Warrnambool (maritime museum; whale watching platform at Logans Beach).
The ever changing landscape: as the cliffs and islands of the Shipwreck Coast consist of relatively fragile sandstone, they are constantly being eroded by the wind and waves which have pounded the coast for centuries. The Twelve Apostles, the most well known feature on this coastal strip, is a point in case. Though it is doubtful there were actually twelve stacks standing when the feature was named in the 19th century, there are certainly not that many standing now. The last one to fall collapsed on 8th July 2005. Three witnesses saw the 45-metre structure shudder, then implode on itself before collapsing into the water. A sister stack, part of the Three Sisters close to the Twelve Apostles, collapsed in September 2009.
Island Arch is now called Island Stack after the central arch collapsed overnight on 11th June 2009. London Arch was once called London Bridge, back when visitors were able to walk (and at one stage drive) across the eastern span that once connected it to the mainland. The span collapsed on 15th January 1990, leaving two tourists stranded on the outer part until they were rescued by a helicopter. No one was injured in the event.
Aireys Inlet to Cape Otway
Between Aireys Inlet and Cape Otway are the seaside towns of Lorne and Opollo Bay; surf beaches; ocean fishing spots; rocky headlands ideal for beachcombing; inland national parks with rainforests, bushwalking tracks, waterfalls and wildlife.
Teddy’s Lookout: a walkway takes you to a viewing platform where you have breath taking, sweeping, coastal views of the surf breaking into the mouth of the Saint George River. On the lower platform, the view change to mountainous peaks and the Saint George River winding through fern covered valleys and gorges. A truly worthwhile spot for scenic views not far from Lorne.
Beyond Marengo the Great Ocean Road passes through the Barham and Aire River Valleys, rising and descending through the tall trees that make up the regrown forest of the Great Otway National Park. Many of the mountain ash gums are only thirty years old but already they tower above the road rising pencil straight a hundred feet. The monsters that were targeted by the early loggers were enormous with girths of 60-70 feet and rising well over 100 metres but trees of this dimension are long gone in the logging fest that took place in the early pioneering days. Now protected, these forests are managed and are replenishing themselves. In the cool temperate rainforest at Maits Rest there is a protected 300 year old Myrtle Beech tree, glow worms can be found here at night.
Cape Otway: 30kms west of Apollo Bay, Cape Otway is at the southern tip of Victoria’s western coast where the Southern Ocean collides with Bass Strait. Encompassed by the Great Otway National Park, the ever-changing landscape sees rainforests and streams tumble to the coast, where they meet rugged rocky cliffs dotted with pockets of sandy beaches. You can take a tour of the Cape Otway Lightstation and discover its fascinating history while enjoying breathtaking views of Bass Strait.
Some of Australia’s best rainforest scenery can be found in the Otway Ranges. Many walkways in Great Otway National Park have been created to give access to the tall trees, ancient plant life and lush ferns. You can walk among giant tree ferns at Maits Rest or experience the full beauty of the rainforest on the Otway Fly Tree Top Walk. There are many waterfalls in the national park’s narrow valleys, ranging from the impressive Triplet Falls to secluded falls over fern-fringed pools. Spot native wildlife such as glow worms at Melba Gully, the elusive platypus at Lake Elizabeth or koalas at nearby Kennett River.
To really get away from it all, stay overnight in the historic lighthouse keepers’ cottages or just relax over a great coffee and homemade scones in the cafe. Visit the Cape Otway Centre for Conservation for the opportunity to observe wildlife accompanied by qualified tour guides. See native animal and birds such as koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, parrots, cockatoos, galahs and kookaburras in their natural habitat.
Beyond Cape Otway
The Great Ocean Road passes through the Barham and Aire River Valleys, rising and descending through the tall trees that make up the regrown forest of the Great Otway National Park. Many of the mountain ash gums are only thirty years old but already they tower above the road rising pencil straight a hundred feet. The monsters that were targeted by the early loggers were enormous with girths of 60-70 feet and rising well over 100 metres but trees of this dimension are long gone in the logging fest that took place in the early pioneering days. Now protected, these forests are managed and are replenishing themselves.
Beyond Glenaire and Johanna the road climbs the Otway Range to Lavers Hill, a small township that sits on a crossroads at the highest ridge on the Otway Ranges at just under 500 metres. Close by is Melba Gully, a stretch of forest that has been in private hands and therefore protected from the ravages of de-forestation. This patch of rainforest is home to many dinosaur finds and is also noted for its glow worms.
Yuulong is the gateway to Melanesia Beach and Moonlight Head, two of the most spectacular beaches on the coastline of the Great Ocean Walk. It has magnificent homes that have stunning views of the Great Southern Ocean and the rugged coastline that the area is best known for. Fishing, diving, snorkelling and rock pool rambling are all possible. There is every chance if you find a beach you will have it to yourself! It is generally considered to be the most spectacular part of the Great Ocean walk. There are some stunningly beautiful seascapes to behold that are rarely seen awaiting anyone willing to spend some time exploring the coast. The tantalisingly named Knowledge, Pride, Milaneesia tracks, Hilders Access and the Old Coach Road (which leads to Johanna Beach) give access to these visual gems.
Gables Lookout: one of the hidden treasures of the Great Ocean Road, the Gables Lookout perches above some of the tallest coastal cliffs in Australia. Accessed from Wattle Hill, the trail from the car park snakes through a dense copse of sheoak to the lookout. Panoramas east and west along the coast are offered when you emerge from the shelter of the forest.
The Shipwreck Coast
The south west coast of Victoria on the Great Ocean Road between Cape Otway and the town of Warrnambool is one of the most rugged and scenic stretches of coastline in Australia. Feared by sailors of old, many of whom lost their lives and their ships on its rocky shores, it is today a magnet for tourists and sightseers. The cliffs, bluffs, islands and beaches that we see today are the result of a retreating sandstone coastline under constant attack from the sea. Each year the cliff faces are being eroded at the rate of around two centimetres a year. Over the years, harder layers and columns of rock have resisted the erosion process, which have led to the stunning features found along this stretch of coastline.
Wreck Beach is accessed from the lookout via a path and nearly 400 steps down the cliff face to the Southern Ocean at Moonlight Head via Yuulong. Those who make it are rewarded with spectacular views and the sound of the ocean crashing on the rocks. There are two easily accessed ship wrecks on wreck beach – the Marie Gabrielle and the Fiji. An iron anchor and part of the capstan from the French barque Marie Gabrielle anchors, wrecked in 1869, are located near Moonlight Head.
Location: 20.5km east of Princetown. Turn off the Great Ocean Road 16km east of Princetown (signed Moonlight head).
Port Campbell National Park
Port Campbell National Park features an array of sheer cliffs overlooking offshore islets, rock stacks, gorges, arches, and blow-holes for which the Great Ocean Road is famous. As part of the Shipwreck Coast, it hosts several tourist attractions; including The Twelve Apostles, the London Arch (formerly London Bridge), Loch Ard Gorge, the Gibson Steps, and The Grotto. As the cliffs and islands of the Shipwreck Coast consist of relatively fragile sandstone, they are constantly being eroded by the wind and waves which have pounded the coast for centuries.
When the sea is very calm there is excellent wreck and reef diving off Port Campbell National Park. Diving opportunities are also available in local Marine National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries. Be aware, however, that many beaches are exposed to unseen dangers such as ocean currents, rips and reefs. Parks Victoria recommend swimming only on beaches patrolled by lifesavers.
Various diving charters are available, mainly out of Port Campbell, including open water and advanced dives, by local boat charters operators like Port Campbell Boat Charters. Shipwrecks range in depths from 6 to 24 metres. The shallower wrecks allow plenty of bottom time and are also excellent for snorkeling. The endless number of diveable reefs, gutters and bommies, all with magnificent colours, sponges, gorgonian fans and abundant marine life such as crayfish, make a Shipwreck Coast dive a memorable experience.
Gibson Steps beach
Gibson Steps: this stairway’s 86 steps provide one of the few access points to a beach along this cliff-dominated section of coast. The beach is backed by a 20 to 30 m high, sheer limestone cliff. Next to the cliff-top car park, steps were cut by an early fisherman into the soft limestone to provide access to Gibson’s Beach. The two limestone stacks towards the western end of the beach – Gog and Magog – are also visible from the southernmost 12 Apostles viewing platform. Tide and ocean condition permitting, walks are possible to the east and west of the steps.
The Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles: The most photographed coastal feature in Australia, the Twelve Apostles is a string of sandstone stacks which have managed to survive the pounding of the Southern Ocean. The formation was originally known as The Sow and Pigs (or Piglets), Mutton Bird Island being the Sow, and shown thus on a map used by C.J. La Trobe during his March 1864 journey to Cape Otway. Many believe they were re-named in the 1950s (though in reality there are not twelve of them), however there are several “biblical” names hereabouts (Bay of Martyrs, Crown of Thorns Rock, The Grotto) shown on earlier maps so the name may well be much older.
Loch Ard Gorge: offshore stacks, blowholes and the indescribable beauty of formations like the Razorback and island arch make this precinct the one with the lot. The Gorge is named after the iron clipper Loch Ard which hit the cliffs just in front of the gorge in June 1878. There is a map of the whole precinct viewable from the main car park. Visitors should allow 2 – 3 hours and be aware that there are 3 separate car parks. An array of artifacts from the Loch Ard and other local wrecks are on display at the Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre 12 km west of the site. Visitors arriving from the west can also pick up Port Campbell National Park and Loch Ard trail maps from the centre.
Two small caves are located in Loch Ard Gorge, The caves served as shelter for the only survivors – Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce – and are named Carmichael Cave and Tom Pearce’s Cave. Today there is a geological trail explaining the background of the cave, a blowhole and other interesting features. Location: 8km west of Port Campbell. The Tom and Eva Lookout, above thev gorge, is dedicated to their memory.
Mutton Bird Island: : Located beyond the mouth of Loch Ard Gorge, key-shaped Mutton Bird Island typifies the scenic beauty of Victoria’s Shipwreck Coast. It was onto this island that the Loch Ard sailed to its doom on 1st June 1878. Like all the islands on this coast, Mutton Bird Island is a nesting place for the Silver gull. With its silver-grey wings, red beak and legs, it is the most common Australian seabird. A section of the island has been worn away by the pounding surf and a natural bridge has formed.
The Razorback: Once named as part of the Twelve Apostles when they were known as the Sow and Pigs, along with Island Arch, Castle Rock, Pudding Basin Rock. Mutton Bird island was the ‘sow’.
Island Arch before collapsing
Island Arch: The Island Arch was one of a number of dramatic natural bridges here. A large section of the iconic rock formation succumbed to the elements and crumbled into the sea in 2009. As its name suggests, the impressive rock formation resembled an archway rising 25 metres from the sea. All that remains following the collapse are the two rocks that previously supported the arch.
The Blowhole: This is Australia’s biggest blowhole, habing been carved by centuries of wave erosion out of the sandstone cliffs. Like the equally famous Tasman Peninsula blowhole, the Port Campbell blowhole is located a considerable distance from the cliff face from which its long tunnel eminates. The blowhole itself is in a large crater which has a viewing platform above it.
The Baker’s Oven
The Baker’s Oven: Besides the Blowhole, The Grotto, The Island Arch and The Arch, there are numerous arches scattered up and down the coast that are often neglected by visitors as their are not as dramtic as their more well known neighbours. The Baker’s Oven stands adjacent to Broken Head and the Sherbrook River mouth. White-foamed waves break through the ‘oven’ and cascade down to sea level again.
The Grotto and The Natural Arch: These two natural arches are among the many scenic features on the Great Ocean Road as it makes its way through Port Campbell National Park. The Arch is located just before London Bridge, heading west from Port Campbell, towards Peterborough. The Arch survives the pounding of the waves around it because it sits on a ledge above the waterline. One of the best ways to see this natural phenomenon is by helicopter. Its a fantastic experience and puts everything into perspective.
The Arch is often spectacular in the afternoon when the formations to the east are bathed in a warm golden light. The walkway descending down to the platform offers an unusual perspective back towards the 12 Apostles. The more famous stacks can be viewed standing boldly against the cliff line they were carved from. The Arch perches precariously on a harder rock platform. In large swells its formation becomes more evident as waves mount the platform, thick heavy tomes gliding sleekly through the opening and cascading out the other side.
The Grotto: Many a visitor holds a special memory of their visit to the Grotto. Spray from waves can cast a fine mist over the low viewing area; sunshine does the rest filling the air with rainbow delights. The still, clear water in the open cave casts reflections in contrast to the dynamic moving water of the ocean directly behind it. The Grotto is a geological formation created when sinkholes in limestone cliffs met with a receding cliff line. The still water of the Grotto is often in stark contrast to the boiling waters of the Southern Ocean beyond. Access to an upper viewing platform is on crushed rock and wooden boardwalk 400m from the car park. Location: 6km west of Port Campbell.
London Arch: This dramatic natural bridge was once part of a string of arches named London Bridge. In the late 1980s the Australian Conservation Society commissioned a group of engineers to study the stability of the bridge. After intensive research, the engineers declared that the bridge would remain intact for several decades to come. Approximately sixteen weeks later, on 10th January 1990, the main arch of the bridge collapsed. At the time, a man and woman were on the far end and were thus trapped. The couple had been out in the elements for several hours before a helicopter finally rescued them. When the couple was brought to shore they absolutely refused to be interviewed or have their pictures taken. One reporter was very persistent and would not leave the two people alone. He asked them if they were married and the man answered, “Yes, but not to each other.” The reporter finally understood why they would not give an interview. The arch has two viewing platforms to take in the sweeping vistas.
London Bridge before the collapse of a span
London Arch is one of two points in the National Park where visitors can observe little penguins returning to shore. The population of 80 – 100 birds is significantly smaller than at the 12 Apostles but the viewing platforms are closer to the birds. Location: 7km west of Port Campbell.
Diving The Shipwreck Coast
Bay of Islands Coastal Park
The Bay of Islands Coastal Park extends westwards for 32 km from the Peterborough golf course to Lake Gillear, 8 km east of Warrnambool. Just to the west of the golf course is Wild Dog Cove which has a secluded little beach with rock pools and safe paddling for family groups. There is a small carpark with steps leading down to the beach. A dirt walking track extends westwards past Halladale Point to the Bay of Martyrs although the quality of the track is better at the Bay of Martyrs end.
Bay of Martyrs: The shipwreck coast was the site of violent clashes between Aboriginal people and the European newcomers in the 1840s. The names Massacre Bay and Bay of Martyrs in Bay of Islands Coastal Park west of Port Campbell are witness to some of these events. Aboriginal people resisted European occupation for some years until overwhelmed by the settlers numbers, weapons and diseases.
At the site itself, you can start a picturesque, self-guided walk that takes you along the breath-taking cliff tops all the way to Point Halladale, where you can discover the shipwreck of the Falls of Halladale which dates back to the early 1900s. There is also ample opportunity for beach walks at the Bay of Martyrs. The lush sands and glistening waters provide the perfect backdrop to a leisurely stroll, or even a picnic on the beach in the shelter of the cliffs. The bay is particularly beautiful at sunset when the islands and Massacre Point are backlit by the sun.
Massacre Bay: According to stories that have spanned generations, Europeans killed a large group of Karrae-Wurrong Aboriginal men here. They did so by running them off the cliffs, whilst the women and children were supposedly killed in a swamp that is close by. However, there are many contradicting stories and, more importantly, no written evidence of what happened. All that is known is that the population of Aboriginal people dropped from a few thousand to almost none. Some theories believe this was caused by mass migration, but local folklore supports the massacre story.
Childers Cove, Sandy Cove and Murnanes Bay: offer wonderful seascapes and an impression of relative isolation even in peak times. Visitors allowing extra time will be duly rewarded for taking the time to follow signs off the Ocean Road at Nirranda South and at Nullawarre if approaching from Warrnambool and the west. Location: 19km west of Peterborough, turn off Great Ocean Road at Nirranda South.
Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum, Warrnambool
The City of Warrnambool, a major regional commercial centre for the western district, marks the “end of the road” for Great Ocean Road travellers. The coast around Warrnambool is a popular spot for viewing migrating Southern Right Whales. Between June and September, whales often swim within a hundred metres of the shore and can be viewed from a viewing platform at Logan’s Beach, where the females come to calve.
For travellers who continue following the coast towards the South Australian border, beyond Warrnambool and the Great Ocean Road are Port Fairy (historic fishing village; boutique, antique, art and craft shops); Lady Percy Island; the city of Portland (Victoria’s oldest settlement); Cape Bridgewater (photo right – scenic coastline; fairy penguin rookeries and seal colonies); Tower Hill State Game Reserve; Lower Glenelg NP (Princess Margaret Rose Cave). Over the South Australian border are the towns of Mt. Gambier (crater lakes; picturesque sink holes), Port Macdonnell (coastal scenery), Penola (Coonawarra wine region), Millicent and Robe. Adelaide is a half day’s drive away.
Returning from Warrnambool to Melbourne via the Princes Highway follows an inland route that takes in the towns of Terang, Camperdown (lakes; volcano craters), Colac, Winchelsea and Geelong. If you have the time and wish to include other parts of western Victoria in your journey, head north from Warrnambool to Ararat, which makes a good base from which to explore the surrounding region.
Close to Ararat is Grampians National Park; the Pyrenees wine region; the village of Great Western (historic wine cellars) on the way to Stawell. Return to Melbourne via Beaufort, the historic mining city of Ballarat and Baccus Marsh. Allow a minimum of 4 days for the round trip.