Highlights of a Great Ocean Road Day Trip

As you research your trip to Melbourne, Victoria one of the things that will keep popping up to do will be a Great Ocean Road tour.  As you continue with your research you will learn that this coastal road is located several hours from the CBD and that there are so many options on how you can explore the region, thereby becoming quite confused as to which is the best way to explore the region.

I felt this way too when I was planning our trip.  In the end, I made the decision to see the Great Ocean Road attractions on a day tour.  This decision was born out of concerns for safety and time constraints.

Continue reading to learn whether we think a one day tour is worth it, what the itinerary includes and what it doesn’t; so you can make an informed decision for your trip.

In this Article Learn About a Great Ocean Road One Day Tour

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Options for Touring the Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road (GOR) is approximately a two to three-hour drive from Melbourne CBD and runs along the scenic rugged coastline for 243 kilometres.  Thereby making it a huge day trip.

So with that in mind, there are two sensible options for exploring the region.

  1. Take a weekender/2-3 day road trip
  2. Book a day tour

There are plenty of companies that run day tours from Melbourne along the GOR and return that evening.  Some do the traditional tour starting in the east at the Memorial Arch Bay and making their way towards the 12 Apostles and others do the “reverse tour” and start west at the main highlights and spend the remainder of the day exploring other attractions to Apollo Bay and the memorial before heading back to Melbourne to arrive early evening.

Essentially a day tour starts at 7:30am and finishes at about 8:45pm in Melbourne – it’s a long day not to mention the 10000 steps you will do exploring the sites.  This is why we book the Reverse Tour*, this tour starts at the main attractions, then late in the afternoon is spent meandering more sedate locations.

Our Great Ocean Road Itinerary

Many of these day tours are taken in smaller tour buses that seat about 24 people.  The seats are narrow, firm and there is not a huge amount of legroom.  All the tours advise that there is no room for luggage and this is true; our day bag just squeezes in under my legs. 

Halfway to the GOR, most tours stop for morning tea, we stop at the town of Winchelsea for a light morning tea of instant tea, coffee or Milo and biscuits at the Barwon River Playground which also has picnic tables and toilets.

people gathered at table in park
Morning tea stop

As we continue towards the 12 Apostles our driver/guide explains the history of the Great Ocean Road.  The road was opened in 1932 and built by returning WW1 soldiers as a means for offering employment for them whilst also providing a memorial for those who lives were lost fighting in WW1.

12 Apostles

After three hours on the road, we finally reach the 12 Apostles Visitors Centre.  Our bus parks in the large car park across the road from the ocean.  We are advised to return after 40 minutes and use the underpass and timber walkways.

The view is impressive, but we are not the only ones here.  The reverse tours market themselves as “beat the crowds” but there are still plenty of other tour buses and cars (though of course, I don’t have a comparison to tourist numbers later in the day).  However, everybody is considerate taking turns to get the best views and photo opportunities.

limestone rock pillars along steep cliff coastline
12 Apostles

Before getting back on the bus ensure you take a toilet stop and if your tour does not include lunch buy some NOW!  This is the only kiosk until late in the afternoon.

Gibson Steps

We didn’t go down Gibson Steps as there was insufficient time.  There is where you get the advantage of spending a few days in the region.  There are so many lookouts and places to explore – if you’ve only got one day there is no time to see it all.

Helicopter Flight

For an additional cost of $145 each, you can take a helicopter flight over the 12 Apostles.  Whilst we didn’t do this another couple on our tour did and they said the view was spectacular.  If you want to do the helicopter tour either include it in your initial booking or make sure you tell the driver before leaving Melbourne so he can book you a seat – there is no time for a last-minute change of heart at the 12 Apostles.

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Location Info:

  • Visitors centre
  • Toilets available
  • Kiosk available
  • Souvenirs available

Top Trip Tip: If you are on a day tour there is insufficient time to do and see all three attractions.  Pick which one is most important to you.

Loch Ard Gorge, Razorback and Island Archway

This PDF shows the location of all these lookouts and walking trails.

On the way to our next stop, our guide tells the story of the 1878 Loch Ard shipwreck that crashed into nearby Mutton Bird Island where all but two teenagers perished.  The teenagers survived by being washed up into the gorge and sheltering in a cave.

Our tour includes a lunch of cold cuts and salad roll with fresh fruit and a nut snack pack.  It is here that these are distributed, our driver advises that we can eat later back on the bus if we like.  We pop our lunch into our day packs and head off to explore the three walking trails. In the time allotted you really have to push yourself to get through all the trails – but well worth it.

Razorback

With most of our tour group heading down to the gorge we start with the Razorback in hopes of getting the lookout to ourselves – we succeed with only a few stragglers from another tour making their way back. The long pillar is unique from others with its striated ochre, grey and beige colours.  As we loop around the walkway we see Island Archway where the crashing waves have worn away at a softer part of the limestone pillar.

striated colours along the limestone rock pillars
Razerback

Loch Ard Gorge

Then it’s down the rickety wooden steps into Loch Ard Gorge.  At the far end of the soft white sandy beach gorge is the over-hanging shelter that the teenagers huddled under.  If the weather had of been warmer this is also an opportunity to wade through the calm blue waters that are protected by the sheer cliff narrow inlet.

Loch Ard Gorge

Island Archway

We are running out of time, so it’s a bit of a fast walk to get to the end of the lookout to view Island Archway and the gorge inlet. 

arch under limestone pillar in the ocean
Island Archway

There are several more lookouts and trails at this location including Mutton Bird Lookout and Thunder Cave.  Again we are on the day tour and there is only so much you can see in one day, but if you have more time there are more lookouts and trails to explore.

Location Info:

  • Car park
  • No toilets
  • No kiosk

Top Trip Tip: If you are on a tour that provides lunch, don’t stop to eat here as there is insufficient time to gobble your food down and walk all the trails

Otway National Park – Melba Gully Rainforest Walk

The entire Otway National park is dotted with walking trails, waterfalls and a lighthouse to lay your eyes on.  If you’ve got the time you could spend hours in this very lush region.

tall trees and large fern trees below
Melba Gully Rainforest

We get about 45mins to stroll the Melba Gully Rainforest Trail.  With a light shower of rain having just fallen it feels as though we have stepped into a magical dark green kingdom of oversized ferns, giant eucalyptus trees, and big blackwood and beech trees.  The dirt path is slippery as we make our way towards Anne’s Cascade, passed giant fallen tree roots and loop back to the car park whilst ensuring we don’t tread on the rare Otway Black Snail.

Location Info:

  • Car park
  • Toilet available
  • No kiosk

Top Trip Tip: Sensible walking shoes are a must for these wet slippery paths

Kennet River

I live in Western Australia and something I never knew was that Koalas are only native to the east coast of Australia – hence why I have never seen one in the wild until today. 

Just to let you know this is not a tourist park but a just side street off the main road.  There are local people who live on this street as well as native animals.  Be respectful, don’t litter, and stay quiet to enjoy the surroundings.

As we exit the bus are driver offers a tip, “I’ll tell you how to spot koalas in the trees, go to where everyone else is looking up.” 

Sure enough, that works.  Which is great because the grey koalas do camouflage themselves quite well in the gum trees.  You can see from my photo.  If you want a good photo you’ll need a better lens than your phone.

Koala in gum tree
Koala at Kennet River

Along the dirt road, there are also plenty of colourful native parrots, they will land on your arms or head – you just need to stay still and calm.

parrots on persons head
Parrots at Kennet River

Location Info:

  • Car park
  • Toilets
  • Kiosk

Top Trip Tip: Don’t bother buying birdseed, the birds will come to you anyway.

Apollo Bay

We are back along the coastal road and the scenery is stunning, not to mention the homes dotted up the bush escarpments.  Apollo Bay is the first major town we have reached all afternoon.  If you are on the normal directional tour this is where you would stop for lunch.  For us, it is afternoon tea.

waves washing in at the beach of Apollo Bay, Victoria
Apollo Bay

We wander the town’s ocean street frontage with its large green park.  What a shame the weather is not better today to frolic in the water.  But we do enjoy a lovely doughnut and coffee in the bakery and then meander through ocean shop fronts.

Location Info:

  • Street parking
  • Restaurants
  • Toilets
  • Shopping

Top Trip Tip: This is the last stop for food

Memorial Arch

This final stop is all about getting that Instagram moment standing in front of the carved wooden sign that spans the Great Ocean Road.

statue of workers along side wooden arch of road
Memorial Arch

Location Info:

  • Car park
  • No toilets
  • No kiosk

Top Trip Tip: Take turns taking photos and help out your fellow tour members by taking photos of them in front of the sign

Top Trip Tips: Planning Your Visit to the Great Ocean Road

Location

To start exploring the Great Ocean Road it is approximately a two to three-hour drive from Melbourne, depending on which end you start or finish.  Its total length is 243km spanning between the towns of Torquay and Allansford with plenty to see and do in between. 

Check out this Interactive Map for attraction locations.

Map of the Otway National park and Great Ocean Road

What to Take with You

When planning your day trip to the Great Ocean Road include in your daypack:

  • Water
  • Snacks (possibly lunch)
  • Camera – fully charged
    • If you are using your phone don’t waste power on the internet during the drive
    • I almost went through my Samsung 9 battery just taking photos throughout the day
  • Money (entrance fees are included in the tours)
    • You’ll need money for snacks and lunch
  • Jacket
  • Towel (I really like these sand-free lightweight compact beach towels)

More Information

Overall I was really impressed with this small-group day tour, it was a bit of a shame that we didn’t have time to explore all of the Great Ocean Road attractions.  But we did only have one day available to visit the region and I firmly believe if that is all you have, a tour is the best and safest way to see the sights.

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Sally-Ann
Hi, I'm a Perth born and bred travel tips blogger/writer with 20+ years experience in airlines, hospitality and tourism. I love sharing my travel lessons learned to help you plan for your travel dream with my travel tips for trips. Please follow along to receive all my travel planning tips, packing lists and destination inspirations.
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