7 things I learned driving the Great Ocean Road

There's more to it than the 12 Apostles (but they're still pretty great).
12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road © Daniel Walker
By James Shackell

I recently made the move from Melbourne down to Geelong. Mostly to escape the rising price of smashed avocado in Melbourne, but also to be closer to the surf coast.

For those that reckon anything west of Melbourne’s CBD is like that shadowy place in the Lion King where Simba isn’t allowed to go, do yourself a favour: buy two packs of Doritos, hop in the car and spend a Sunday driving the Great Ocean Road (GOR). Twenty minutes on the coastal track between Fairhaven and Lorne and you’ll forget the Mornington Peninsula even exists.

1. Anglesea makes the ultimate pit stop

Anglesea, Great Ocean Road © Phillip N. Young

I’ve got a soft spot for Anglesea. It’s a classic surf coast town: one main strip of shops and a bunch of 1970s holiday houses nestled on a little estuary that flows to the sea. But it also makes a killer early morning pit stop.

If you’re after something jumbo-sized and a bit ridiculous, head to JUMs and order their signature chips and gravy. People travel from Mongolia for this stuff (probably). If your stomach isn’t ready for a gravy-based brunch, pop-in to the bakery next to the Commonwealth ATMs. They do the best beef and mushroom pie on the coast.

2. Use the slow car turnouts

Driving, Great Ocean Road © Larry W. Lo

You’ll notice there are two types of drivers on the GOR. The first want to soak up some rugged Aussie scenery and arrive at the other end alive, the rest think they’re starring in 'Mad Max Fury Road'.

If you see some clown tailgating you around the corners near 13th Beach, don’t be a hero: pull into the slow car turnouts (there’s one every five minutes or so) and let them pass. It’s far too nice a drive to rush. Leave that stuff to the rev heads.

3. Save stomach space for Lorne

Lorne cops a lot of flack for being too touristy, and it’s true: if you arrive in the height of summer (especially during Falls Festival) you’d probably do better to keep on driving. Car parks are like unicorn sightings: very rare. But come in winter, or on a cheeky midweek break, and it’s actually quite lovely.

You can tuck into a burger at The Bottle of Milk in peace, and stock up on vanilla slice from the bakery around the corner. A stroll along the foreshore is a great way to stretch the car legs too, or you can drive a little further along the coast and walk Lorne Pier. You’ll get a great view back along the main beach.

4. Make a detour to Erskine Falls

Erskine Falls, Great Ocean Road © Karen Clarke Ng

If plunging cliffs and windswept bluffs are getting a bit same-same, hang a right at the roundabout as you enter Lorne proper and drive 15 minutes up into the hills. That’s where you’ll find Erskine Falls. Some people say Triplet Falls is the best waterfall in the region (you’ll find it further down the coast, deep in the Otway Ranges), but I like Erskine.

There’s a carpark above the falls, and it only takes a brisk 5-10 minute walk to reach the bottom. Take a few photos, stretch the legs and fill your lungs with the kind of air entrepreneurial hipsters could bottle and sell in organic cafes.

5. Apollo Bay might be the most beautiful spot on the whole coast

Apollo Bay, Great Ocean Road © Jorg Stormer

A controversial call, but I’m standing by it. The first leg of the Great Ocean Road is sort of classic, primal Australia: sandstone cliffs falling into a surf-wracked sea, dense eucalypt forests and winding switchback bends. By the time you pass Wongarra though, the forests fade away, the road straightens out and you’re left with rolling green hills, grazing sheep and isolated farms straight out of the Vicar of Dibley.

If you’re lucky enough to see Apollo Bay and Skenes Creek at sunset, you’ll know what I’m talking about. A great spot for an overnight stay. Check out Point of View if you want to impress your significant other.

6. The 12 Apostles are further than you think

12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road © Stuart Beattie

We’ve all done it: bitten off more than we can chew on a road trip and regretted it. Just keep in mind that, yes, the 12 Apostles are pretty freaking amazing, especially if you manage to see them at sunrise or sunset, but they are a long, long way from Melbourne.

I haven’t busted out Google Maps, but I’m pretty sure it would be quicker to drive to Brisbane. If you want to see them in a day and get all the way back home, head out early. It’ll take you a good 5+ hours via the coast. Going inland is quicker, but then you miss the GOR. Tricky.

7. Drive home through the Otways


Otways, Great Ocean Roadq © Aldo Van Zeeland

As fun as it is snaking along the Great Ocean Road with the window down like a boss, you probably wouldn’t want to do it twice in one day. It’s a long drive, and all those switchbacks can take their toll. Luckily Mother Nature has provided a solution in the form of The Otways, one of Victoria’s prettiest forests.

Do yourself a favour when it’s time to turn for home and head inland from Marengo and up into the hills. The Otways are a lovely drive, and it makes a nice change from all that photogenic coastal stuff. There’s even the old Otway Fly if you’re after some slightly kitsch tree-top walking.

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