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1-Day Great Ocean Road Itinerary with 10 Amazing Stops 

1-Day Great Ocean Road Itinerary with 10 Amazing Stops 

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Taking a day trip down the Great Ocean Road? Well, we recently made this drive from Melbourne and have put together the best route including the top 10 places to stop.

With tons to see and lots of ground to cover, we’ve narrowed it down to the very best sights on this iconic route. You can easily do this drive in a day from Melbourne and we’ve included how much time you need at each stop to help you plan the day.

Our itinerary hits the main attractions along with some lesser-known stops to help make this a road trip to remember! So buckle up as we get into the best 1-day itinerary down the Great Ocean Road. 

Overview of Our 1-Day Great Ocean Road Itinerary

Bailey smiles at the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road
The Twelve Apostles
Daniel walks through Maits Rest on the Great Ocean Road
Maits Rest is such a cool place!
  • Time Needed: 12 Hours 
  • Highlights: Great Ocean Road Memorial Archway, Teddy’s Lookout, Kennett River, Maits Rest Rainforest Walk, Gibson Steps, Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge 
  • Distance traveled: 500 kilometers/310 miles
  • Recommended departure: 7 am

First off, our itinerary plans on you leaving from Melbourne with the first stop about an hour from the city.

This is a day with a lot of driving, but luckily, it’s one of the most scenic drives in the world! From stunning ocean viewpoints of the Twelve Apostles to walking through the lush rainforests of Maits Rest, this itinerary includes some of the best stops along the Great Ocean Road.

For each of the stops below, you’ll get a rundown of the need-to-know information, history, and tips as well as our recommended time to spend at each. We even throw in our favorite lunch spots and where to snag a delicious cup of coffee on the beach to start your day!

If you need wheels for this trip, we always use Discover Cars to rent a car in Melbourne. It’s a search engine for rental cars and it’s saved us a ton of money over the years. Or if you’d prefer to leave the driving to someone else, check out our picks for Great Ocean Road tours from Melbourne that cover many of the stops on this list!

10 Best Stops on the Great Ocean Road

1. Torquay 

Torquay beach on the Great Ocean Road
Torquay Beach is a great spot to walk and have some coffee!
A cup of coffee from Salty Dog Cafe in Torquay
Coffee time! Photo Credit: Salty Dog Cafe
  • Time needed: 30 minutes 
  • Rating: 3/5
  • Highlights: The Salty Dog Cafe, Torquay Beach 

In my experience, the first stop of a day trip sets the tone and should be taken very seriously. Just kidding, we’re here to have fun! Although I do think the first stop is important.

Torquay is about 1-1.5 hours from Melbourne and a great first place to pull over. While you won’t be spending enough time here to grab a surfboard and hit the waves, it’s worth noting that the surf culture here is strong. Chances are that even if it isn’t high season you’ll see someone out on the water!

If you’re like me, then getting up early means you have an excuse to drink good coffee. So if a latte (or whatever your drink of choice is) with an ocean view sounds nice, look no further than The Salty Dog Cafe. Everything here is fantastic and available for takeaway so if you’re feeling peckish, it’s the perfect spot to grab a light breakfast in addition to a cup of joe. 

We really enjoyed grabbing our coffee and walking down to Torquay Beach for a morning stroll, but they have patio seating with ocean views if that’s more your vibe. They don’t have much parking available, so I recommend using the free public parking at Fishermans Beach and then taking a quick 3-minute walk to the cafe. 

2. Bells Beach 

Bailey at Bells Beach on the Great Ocean Road
Some of the best surfers in the world come here
Bells Beach on the Great Ocean Road
Perfect weather for the beach
  • Time needed: 20 minutes 
  • Rating: 3/5
  • Highlights: Bells Beach Lookout, Bells Beach

Now that you’re good and caffeinated, it’s time for a short drive to Bells Beach. Coming from Torquay, it’s only about a 15-minute drive to reach the car park for Bells Beach Lookout. I love Bells Beach because it has classic Aussie beach views and accessible (and free!) parking. 

Bells Beach Lookout offers great views of the beach and if you’re visiting from March to August, I’m going to guess you’ll see a surfer or two out on the waves. Fun fact, this beach is home to the Rip Curl Pro surf competition, the longest-running surf competition in the world! As a surfer myself, I have to say that this beach has some incredible waves and is a great place to watch locals practice.

If you fancy another stroll through the sand, some stairs lead down from the lookout, but mind your step as it can be slippery! If you’d like to take a walk without going on the beach, some nice footpaths lead out from the car park. It’s common to spot wildlife here as well, so keep your eyes peeled for various birds and even the adorable echidna! 

3. Great Ocean Road Memorial Archway 

Daniel and Bailey pointing at a sign signiling the start of the great ocean road australia
At the start of the Great Ocean Road!
  • Time needed: 10 minutes 
  • Rating: 3/5
  • Highlights: Great Ocean Road Memorial Archway

Here we are, the moment you’ve been waiting for, the official beginning of the Great Ocean Road! Only a 30-minute drive from Bells Beach, the Memorial Arch Carpark will be a quick stop, but an important one.

Most people don’t know this, but the Great Ocean Road is actually one massive World War I memorial. Completed in 1932, the 243-kilometer (151-mile) road took 13 years to finish and was done entirely by 3,000 servicemen. The Australian government knew the returning veterans would need work and set aside money for the project to serve as both a memorial and tourist attraction. Pretty neat!

Along the road and to the side of the car park is a great place to get a selfie with the sign or just of the sign itself. You will also find two plaques at the end of the car park near the arch commemorating the engineer of the Great Ocean Road and the servicemen who fought in the war.

Parking is free but limited, so if there aren’t any spaces for your vehicle, there are some large pullouts on the side of the road nearby.

4. Teddy’s Lookout 

Teddy's Lookout on the Great Ocean Road
What a view!
  • Time needed: 15 minutes
  • Rating: 5/5
  • Highlights: Two viewing platforms

I know, I know, this is like the third lookout I’ve mentioned (and it’s not the last), but they’re just so dang pretty! And Teddy’s Lookout in particular has sweeping views of the coastline and Great Ocean Road that I absolutely love. It’s an underrated stop and one locals (and myself) adore so I had to include it.

There are actually two platforms here and both are fantastic. The upper platform gives you stunning views of the ocean, while the lower is only a 3-minute walk away. On the lower platform, you can spot the St George River snake into the valleys of the mountains behind it. If you enjoy birdwatching, this is a great spot to see kookaburras, willie wagtails, magpies, and more.

Unlike other viewpoints along the Great Ocean Road, Teddy’s Lookout is much higher than the rest so you can see farther. I’m partial to the upper lookout myself, but both are worth checking out especially since they’re so close. Since it’s so high up, it can get windy and cold, so I’d bring a jacket even on a summer day. 

If you need to top up your vehicle on fuel, this gas station is a good place to do it. Otherwise, your next opportunity will be when you reach Apollo Bay, which is still 45 kilometers (28 miles) away.

Related Read: If you decide not to drive, check out our review of the best bus tour of the Great Ocean Road for a tour we’ve done and highly recommend.

5. Kennett River 

A koala in a tree at Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road
Koala in a tree!
The Kafe Koala at Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road
This is where you park for the nature walks
  • Time needed: 45 minutes 
  • Rating: 4/5
  • Highlights: Nature walks, seeing wild animals

So far we’ve seen tons of beautiful scenery, but I think a good day trip in Australia isn’t complete without some wildlife! Just 30 minutes down the road from Teddy’s Lookout is Kennett River. Stop here to take a walk and hopefully see all sorts of iconic Australian animals like koalas and wallabies!

The easiest place we’ve found to park is Kafe Koala which is also a good spot to grab some snacks, to use the restroom, or wherever else you might need. If you haven’t had Tim Tams, they are my favorite Aussie snack when I’m craving something sweet and you have to try them!

As far as nature walks go, you have two options, the Kennett River Nature Walk or the Bailey and Dan (that’s us!) Nature Walk. Okay, so we don’t really have a nature walk named after us, but when we visited we had a lot of luck spotting animals when we walked down Grey River Road just south of Kafe Koala. This is more like a gravel path but still has great scenery, is less busy, and there were tons of koalas.

The cafe in Kafe Koala Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road
Kafe Koala has some yummy treats!

The other option is the Kennett River Nature Walk which is a short 2.4 kilometer (1.5 mile) out-and-back hike north of Kafe Koala and follows part of the Kennett River. It’s an easy trail with some fun info boards about animals, and great scenery. We enjoyed this short hike, although it is more busy, especially on the weekends. Families with younger kids would probably do better on this trail than the previous one.

You aren’t more likely to see animals on one walk or the other since it really just depends on the day and where the animals happen to be. If you’re quick, you might be able to complete the Kennett River Nature Walk in 45 minutes and if you take Grey River Road, I’d just turn back after 20 minutes. You could spend longer on both, but we have more great places to see!

6. Apollo Bay 

Daniel eats pizza in Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road
The pizza at George’s Restaurant was great!
Pizza in Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road
Yummy!
  • Time needed: 60 minutes 
  • Rating: 2/5
  • Highlights: Great lunch spots, Apollo Bay Garden and Beach

Apollo Bay is a 30-minute drive from Kennett River and serves as a great place to stop for lunch. It’s also another convenient place to refuel your vehicle if you haven’t done so already and I recommend you top up just to be safe. 

There are tons of food options here depending on what you’re in the mood for. I’ll tell you some of our favorites, but you really can’t go wrong anywhere!

If you’re unfamiliar with the iconic Aussie Pie, Apollo Bay Bakery dishes up some insanely good ones and offers meat, seafood, vegetarian, and vegan options. And since we’re on the ocean it would make sense there’d be good seafood, right? Yup! Apollo Bay Seafood Cafe is a favorite for locals and travelers alike and their fish and chips are out of this world!

Most recently we ate at George’s Restaurant because we heard they had good pizza and wow, they did not disappoint! They have a huge menu that includes sandwiches, burgers, seafood, and salads so there’s something here for everybody. 

You can have a sit-down experience at any of these places, but if the weather is nice I have another suggestion. Apollo Bay Garden and Beach is a wonderful spot for a picnic so if you call ahead to a restaurant and place your order to-go you can eat outside instead! 

There are some nice benches here, but keep an eye out for seagulls as they get a little too friendly sometimes when food is involved. There’s also conveniently a public toilet in the park to wash up at before moving on. Apollo Bay is also the last major town we will be in until heading back so if you need fuel, get it now!

7. Maits Rest Rainforest Walk 

Bailey in a fallen tree at Maits Rainforest Walk on the Great Ocean Road
Look at the size of this tree!
Bailey at Maits Rest Rainforest Walk on the Great Ocean Road
This walk is so much fun
  • Time needed: 30 minutes 
  • Rating: 5/5
  • Highlights: Well-maintained 800-meter (.5 mile) rainforest walk 

I know dinosaurs went extinct a long time ago, but when we first walked through Maits Rest Rainforest Walk, I thought I was going to see a couple in person! Only 20 minutes away from Apollo Bay, this short trek will transport you to another world.

What I love about this walk is how much you get to see in a short amount of time. It’s not technical and while I recommend good shoes or boots, it can be done in any sort of attire. There is some slight incline and decline at a few points but nothing too difficult. Most of the path is paved or boardwalk, so even if it’s raining you will have stable footing.

As one of the few remaining cool temperate rainforests in Great Otway National Park, this area is renowned for its biodiversity and there are few places like it on mainland Australia. Some of the trees here are HUGE and up to 300 years old! It’s rare, but you can sometimes spot koalas, swamp wallabies, grey kangaroos, and ring-tailed possums along the trail.

When we visited, we stopped for some pictures and to just marvel at everything around us and it still only took us about 30 minutes to complete. This makes it an easy-to-fit-in experience on the Great Ocean Road and something I think everyone will enjoy! 

8. Gibson Steps 

Bailey looks at the Gibson Steps on the Great Ocean Road
Taking in the views at Gibson Steps
  • Time needed: 20 minutes 
  • Rating: 4/5
  • Highlights: One of the few places to see limestone cliffs from the beach

The Gibson Steps are more than just a staircase leading down to the ocean. Well, that’s exactly what they are, but there’s some really cool history behind them!

It is believed the steps were originally carved out by the Kirrae Whurrong people hundreds of years ago to access the beach. It wasn’t until 1878 that the name Gibson Steps was widely used when a local man, Hugh Gibson, became famous for helping the survivors of a nearby shipwreck. He owned the land at the top of the steps and helped rescue the only two survivors. You’ll actually see the sight of that shipwreck later!

To this day, it’s still a popular fishing spot and an amazing place to access the beach and see the towering limestone cliffs that make up the dramatic coastline. Most lookouts on the Great Ocean Road are from the top of the cliffs, but I love this one because it gets you up close! 

The Gibson Steps on the Great Ocean Road
You can walk on the beach here!

This is an incredibly popular stop and while the parking lot is large, there’s still the chance for it to be full. If this is the case, I recommend heading to the next stop first and then coming back to Gibson Steps on your way back towards Melbourne.

Or if you don’t mind a little bit of a trek, you can also park at the visitor center just down the road (parking is free at both locations) and walk roughly 1 km (.6 mi) to access the staircase.

As for the steps themselves, they have a handrail, but can still be very slippery so be extra careful on your way down. If you aren’t interested in taking the steps down or have limited mobility, there is a wonderful viewing platform at the top of the stairs that offers panoramic views of the area. 

Related Read: For more bucket list experiences, check out our list of the 5 tours that made us fall in love with Melbourne!

9. Twelve Apostles 

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road
The Twelve Apostles are stunning
  • Time needed: 45 minutes 
  • Rating: 5/5
  • Highlights: Views of the Twelve Apostles, Visitor Center

Just a 3-minute drive further down the road is perhaps the most famous stop on all of the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles. I have to admit, after exploring a good deal of Australia, this has to be one of the most stunning views in the entire country.

If you’re like me and trying to count 12, there’s only 8 limestone stacks left here. They are constantly eroding and there were actually only 9 to begin with, but the name Twelve Apostles had a nice ring to it I guess!

The first step to seeing this natural wonder is to make your way to the visitor center. Here you will find free parking and a building with some fun information about the formation and history of the coastline. It’s worth a quick look to learn some fun facts, but I wouldn’t spend too long here because the main attraction is just across the road!

A limestone formation at the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road
No wonder people come from all over the world to see this!

The Twelve Apostles Viewpoint is actually a series of boardwalks that go along the cliffs and offer incredible views of the limestone formations that dot the horizon. The only downside to visiting is the crowds that persist through most of the day. While there are a couple of lookouts that offer an iconic photo of the Twelve Apostles, we enjoyed walking to the less busy areas for quieter views instead. 

If you’re a person with mobility issues, you’ll be happy to know that this whole area is flat and easy to walk or use a wheelchair. There are also a few benches along the paths.

Interestingly enough, all of the limestone rocks that make up the apostles used to be connected to the mainland. However, years of harsh waves against the soft stone have caused inevitable erosion and all of the land bridges have collapsed. When the famous London Bridge formation collapsed in 1990 it left two tourists stranded on it – luckily they were okay! 

10. Loch Ard Gorge 

The Loch Ard Gorge on the Great Ocean Road
Loch Ard Gorge is so pretty!
  • Time needed: 45 minutes 
  • Rating: 5/5
  • Highlights: Walking trails along the coast, multiple lookouts, less busy

While most people claim that the Twelve Apostles is the highlight of the Great Ocean Road, I think many people (us included!) actually enjoy Loch Ard Gorge even more. With lots of great lookouts and plenty of walking paths, I loved how much quieter this area was compared to the Twelve Apostles.

Only a 5-minute drive down the road, there’s plenty of parking at the Loch Ard Gorge car park. If you have mobility issues or are traveling with little ones in a stroller, there are plenty of great lookouts close to the car park and the paths are flat and well-maintained.

Loch Ard is an interesting name don’t you think? It was actually the name of a ship that crashed into the rock reef of nearby Mutton Bird Island in 1878 and only two teenagers, Tom and Eva, survived. The story gained worldwide press after people found out that Tom rescued Eva from the water and since then the gorge has been renamed in remembrance of them and the ship.  

loch ard sign on the great ocean road tour by the ocean australia
A sign talking about the two survivors of the Loch Ard shipwreck Tom and Eva

If you remember earlier I mentioned you would see the site of a famous shipwreck, that’s Mutton Bird Island! And our very own Hugh Gibson of the Gibson Steps is the one who brought Tom and Eva back to good health. 

There is a lot to see here and depending on how much you want to walk, you can get farther away from crowds for better views. I personally recommend starting at the Mutton Bird Island lookout and working your way back. This lookout is an 850-meter (.5-mile) walk from the car park and gives you views of the beautiful sandstone island and surrounding ocean. We found that since it’s farther away from the car park, fewer people went here especially those on tours.

After that, it’s really up to you and how much you want to see compared to how long you want to stay in one place and take in the views. The Loch Ard Viewpoint tends to be crowded but has incredible views of the beach below. Or if you’re okay with a 1.3-kilometer (.8-mile) walk. we are enjoyed The Razorback Lookout which has some amazing views and is less visited.

Spend as long as you like here before making the drive back to Melbourne. Just keep in mind it is 2.5-3 hours back to Melbourne without stops, so if you don’t want to drive in the dark, make sure to leave well before sunset.

And if you’re still in research mode, our complete guide on the Great Ocean Road should answer all your questions!

Things to do in Melbourne

Bailey and Daniel cheers their wine on the spirit of melbourne dinner cruise with tthe city in the background
Cheers!
The Royal Arcade in Melbourne Australia
The Royal Arcade in Melbourne

Since our 1-day itinerary for the Great Ocean Road starts and ends in Melbourne, make sure to leave time to explore the city. You can check out our full list of the best things to do in Melbourne or our top recommendations below!

  • Cruise down the River – The Spirit of Melbourne Dinner Cruise isn’t just one of the best cruises in Australia, but one of our all-time favorites. It’s an all-inclusive experience with stunning sunset and nighttime views of Melbourne, unlimited drinks, and a four-course gourmet meal. Seriously, what’s not to love?
  • Wander the Arcades – Melbourne is also home to tons of pretty arcades (covered walkways), and my favorites to explore are the Block Arcade and the Royal Arcade. You can see the most famous arcades and visit the best chocolate shops and dessert cafes (with plenty of samples!) on this Arcades Dessert Walking Tour. Our guide was amazing and my sweet tooth was so happy!
  • Explore the Melbourne Gardens – The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne are another great way to escape the city, without leaving city limits. This huge garden is home to over 8,500 species of plants and has been around for over 170 years. It’s simply gorgeous, and spending a few hours strolling through the gardens makes for a lovely afternoon. There are often special events going on, so check the website here before you go!
  • Explore St Kilda – This cute beach town is just 15 minutes from downtown Melbourne, and is a great place to grab a coffee and take in those ocean views! St Kilda is famous for its coffee scene, there are many to choose from – but our favorite is Galleon Cafe. If you’re visiting on the weekend, check out Esplanade Market for some unique souvenirs or Luna Park, super fun for families!
  • Day trip to Phillip Island – Phillip Island is another one of our favorite day trips from Melbourne because you can see the world’s largest Little Penguin Colony! Famous for their “Penguin Parade” taking a day trip here allows you to see hundreds of Little Penguins waddling back to their burrows. We took this organized tour, which also included stops at the Brighton Boxes and the Moonlit Sanctuary, where we got to hand-fed wallabies and koalas!

Where to Stay in Melbourne

The Langham Melbourne room
Photo credit: The Langham Melbourne

If you’re planning to spend some time in Melbourne, let us help you find a great place to stay. There’s something to fit every budget, so check out our top picks from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels. Here’s what you need to know!

The Langham Melbourne – $$$

For an elegant stay – think marble staircases, fountains, and chandeliers – The Langham Melbourne is the perfect place. The hotel is in the middle of Melbourne overlooking the Yarra River. You’ll get beautiful city views from the hotel’s restaurant and from the indoor pool. It’s also within walking distance of a number of top attractions.

Rooms here start at $300 – $400 AUD per night. Check availability and reserve a room here.

Grand Hotel Melbourne – $$

Stay in the Melbourne Central Business District at this historic hotel that has plenty of character. The studios and apartments at the Grand Hotel Melbourne give you more space than a typical hotel and even include a kitchen. You can also take advantage of the heated indoor pool and the fitness center with a sauna. Plus, it’s just a few minutes’ walk to Crown Casino, Southbank, Docklands, and more.

A studio starts at around $200 AUD per night and can be reserved through Booking.com here.

Space Hotel – $

You don’t have to sacrifice style for money at this hostel. The Space Hotel is a modern hostel with lots of extra guest amenities like a gym, a hot tub, and even a mini-theater. You can head to the rooftop terrace to relax and enjoy the views. The hostel is conveniently located in the Central Business District and is not far from the Queen Victoria Market and Chinatown.

Accommodation options include both private rooms and shared dorm rooms. A bed in a dorm starts at $55 AUD per night and private rooms begin at $100 AUD. Reserve a spot in advance with Booking.com or HostelWorld.com.

Renting a Car in Australia

Driving through the outback in a rental car in Australia
Outback Australia!

With many must-see destinations in Australia outside city limits, one of the best ways to get around is in a rental car.

Australia is a huge country and traveling between cities or getting to some of the most scenic spots requires driving. While public transit is sometimes an option, it often adds a lot of time and planning. Plus, we love the freedom of a rental car to stop wherever we want and not have to stick to a set schedule.

Car rental in Australia is super affordable, especially if you choose a smaller vehicle. We use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine that compares multiple car rental companies for you – saving you from visiting each website individually.

If you plan to be based in a main city like Sydney, Melbourne, or Perth and do a few day trips while returning your car to the same location, we’ve booked rentals for as cheap as $25 AUD a day! Full coverage insurance can be added for around an extra $12 AUD a day too. The price will vary depending on the time of year, type of car, and if you’re able to pick up and drop off at the same location.

Discover Cars also offers handy filters so you can search for cars that offer features like child seats, GPS, or let you have an additional driver. There are also free cancellation options if your trip changes. Read our honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

Check out the selection and book your car rental online here!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie at Bells Beach on the Great Ocean Road
Thanks for reading!

There you have it, a 1-day itinerary to explore the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne. This drive is one of our favorites in the whole world, so I’m excited for you to experience it too. Hopefully, this guide has given you an idea of the best route and stops along the way.

Whether you’re planning a getaway to Melbourne or beyond, our Australia blogs are here to help! From step-by-step itineraries to the best experiences and restaurants, consider us your Aussie tour guides.

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The Best Phillip Island Tour from Melbourne – My Honest Review!

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