The Great Ocean Road is one of the most well-known and iconic attractions in Australia. Over 3 million tourists visit this famous part of Victoria’s coastline every year and it’s not hard to see why. From the dramatic rock formations of the Twelve Apostles, to the vivid blue ocean and amazing views, visiting the Great Ocean Road is definitely a bucket list trip.
However, not everyone has the time, the money or the means to visit the Great Ocean Road and to spend several days driving along the coast, especially when accommodation isn’t cheap. But a lot of people don’t realise that it is possible to see those iconic Ocean Road sights on a day trip. With a bit of planning, it’s possible to do a Great Ocean Road day trip from Melbourne, with your own self-drive itinerary.
How far is the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne?
The Great Ocean Road is 243km long and starts from Torquay in the east and stretches to Allansford in the west.
The well-known locations such as the Twelve Apostles, Gibsons Steps and London Bridge are located close to Port Campbell which is around 3 hours drive from Melbourne, via the M1.
If you want to drive the Great Ocean Road from start to finish, then you can reach Torquay just 1.5 hours from Melbourne.
To learn the trick for fitting all the sights into a day trip, and avoiding the bigger crowds, skip to the itinerary below.
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Self-driving vs. organised day tour - which is better?
This is entirely up to you and the means you have to travel with.
If you have your own car or the means to hire one, I really recommend it as you can travel at your own pace and you have the freedom to stop where you like and see some of the lesser-visited stops along the Great Ocean Road that the organised day tours don’t stop at.
However, the organised Ocean Road day tours from Melbourne are very convenient and easy if you don’t have your own means of transport and are wanting to see the main sights. There are tours leaving Melbourne daily and you can find a great selection of options here.
I particularly recommend the Great Ocean Road day trip from Melbourne: Reverse Tour.
And the Great Ocean Road day trip from Melbourne: sunset tour .
I've compared my favourite Melbourne to Great Ocean Road budget tours here.
How to do a Great Ocean Road day trip from Melbourne?
The key to a Great Ocean Road day trip from Melbourne is to do it in reverse. If you were to drive from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles via the Great Ocean Road, it would take close to 5 hours. Whereas if you drive from Melbourne directly to the Twelve Apostles via the inland route, it takes just 2hrs 45 minutes.
The inland route is much faster as you’re on main highways, whereas the Ocean Road is windy and single lane for around 180km from Torquay in the east to the Twelve Apostles in the west.
The main sights on the Great Ocean Road are all near Port Campbell, so you will take the inland route to here and you can see the Twelve Apostles, London Bridge, the Grotto, Loch Ard Gorge, Gibsons Steps, all within a 12 minute drive of Port Campbell!
By doing the Great Ocean Road in reverse, you will also see a lot of the main sights first without crowds, before the coach tours arrive as the coach tours are usually driving the road from east to west, rather than west to east as you’ll be doing it.
Then once you’ve seen the main sights, you can take a leisurely drive east along the Great Ocean Road, enjoying the scenic coastal route, stopping at the beautiful coastal towns along the way and by the time you reach Torquay, you’ll only be 1.5 hours away from Melbourne to get home.
Great Ocean Road day trip from Melbourne: a self-drive itinerary
So now you know the secret to seeing the Great Ocean Road and maximising your time there, this is the self-drive itinerary I followed to see all the main sights on my Great Ocean Road Trip from Melbourne.
Leave Melbourne early
To maximise your time on the Great Ocean Road and see the famous spots before tour groups arrive, you’ll need to leave early to allow time for the 2hr 45minute drive.
I left at 7am and arrived at 9.45am approximately.
Start at The Grotto on the Great Ocean Road
This landmark is the furthest point on your Great Ocean Road day trip and is just 5 minutes west of Port Campbell. It is marked on Google Maps so you’ll be able to find it easily and the car park is signposted on the main road too.
The Grotto is definitely an underrated stop on the Great Ocean Road, it’s just the start of the beautiful rock formations and coastal wooden staircases that you’ll see on this trip.
The Grotto is a carved stone archway which at low tide has a rock pool in it. You can see the ocean through the archway and admire the coastal views too.
The viewing platform is around 700m from the car park. You can view the archway cave from the top of the cliff which is wheelchair accessible, but to go down to the Grotto cave level there are several sets of wooden steps.
See this post for more detailed information about The Grotto - Great Ocean Road.
London Bridge Great Ocean Road
This stop is just a 2 minute drive from the Grotto car park and also has its own dedicated car park which is just a short walk to the viewing platform.
This stop is one of my favourites, mostly because I’ve rarely seen any photos of the London Bridge rock formation but it was stunning with incredible blue sea, beautiful crashing waves on the beach below, and if you’re lucky, you can see the colony of penguins down there!
You can also take the walkway down either side to a lower viewing platform closer to the beach.
Loch Ard Gorge, Tom and Eva Lookout, The Razorback
These three attractions all share the same car park area which is why I’ve grouped them together and all are a short walk from the car park. All are signposted well.
Start with the Loch Ard Gorge lookout and beach area. There is a viewing platform at the top, looking over the beach and gorge below. This spot does get busy to enjoy the quieter beach during the morning, from 11am it gets extremely busy!
The steps down to the beach are steep and not accessible for those with mobility issues or prams and wheelchairs. The beach is enclosed so the water is pretty safe and the waves are not too big.
Note: because of the rocks, the shadows get extremely harsh though the middle of the day. If you’re a photographer, I would recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset, or visiting on a cloudy day.
Next, head to Tom and Eva Lookout which is on the same track on the way to The Razorback. The path is flat and you can overlook this famous location from the wooden viewing platform.
Tip: hold on to your hats if it’s windy!
Click here for more information about Tom and Eva Lookout on the Great Ocean Road and the history of the name.
There is also another path from the car park which leads to the Island Arch lookout. This is another beautiful lookout and allows you to see further past the rocky head to see the archway further along the coast. But the lookout area is small so it gets quite busy if there’s a lot of people. But the path there is completely flat and accessible.
There is also another lookout called Mutton Bird Lookout which is accessible from this car park. Unfortunately it was closed when I visited so I can’t comment on the views or the accessibility. I believe it has views looking parallel along the coastline.
The Twelve Apostles Lookout
Another 5 minutes east from Loch Ard Gorge is the famous 12 Apostles area and lookout.
This location will undoubtedly be the busiest. The visitors centre and car park is large and located on the opposite side of the road, you pass through a walkway under the road to get to the main viewing area, around 500m. This is also wheelchair accessible.
The path curves around to get to the viewing platform for the view looking directly down the coast and to see the spectacular Twelve Apostle stacks.
Sadly there are only 8 stacks at the Twelve Apostles, the rest have fallen into the sea over the years due to erosion. The last stack fell most recently in 2009. But this makes them so less spectacular to see
NOTE: If you’re a photographer hoping to photograph this area, I would also suggest visiting here first for being here at sunrise as it’s so busy during the day and at sunset with the daily sunset tours.
Also, don’t miss out reading information and history about the area in the Visitors Centre.
This is the last of the attractions in the Twelve Apostles area close to Port Campbell on the Great Ocean Road and it’s just two minutes along the road from the Twelve Apostles area and Visitors Centre.
Gibson Steps absolutely stunned me. Being at beach level and so close to one of the stacks really made me realise the size of the stacks and how incredible these rock formations and this coastline are!
The beach is only accessible by a narrow set of steps, which can get busy in peak times. I was fortunate to be the only person on the beach during the middle of the day with this beautiful golden light!
The waves are a lot bigger and more powerful here so hold on to small children!
When the tide is out, you can walk closer to the stacks and also walk around the corner to see more of the coast. Just beware of tide times if you intend to do this!
Now you’ve covered the main sights on your Great Ocean Road day trip from Melbourne, you can enjoy a leisurely drive back along the Great Ocean Road and towards Melbourne.
Of course you can stop anywhere you like, I really enjoyed the changing road and landscape, especially as we drove through the Great Otway National Park with the lush rain forest type bush, waterfalls and winding roads.
The drive from Gibson Steps to Apollo Bay is around 1.5 hours.
Apollo Bay is a small town idyllically located on the coast and the views are stunning. There are some beautiful beaches and rock pools at low tide by Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary just outside the town.
Apollo Bay is also a great place to stay overnight if you are planning to do some hiking, see more sights or perhaps visit the waterfalls and redwoods in the Great Otway National Park.
Lorne is my favourite town on the Great Ocean Road and another great option if you’re looking to extend your stay and stay overnight in the area.
Lorne is another 1 hour further drive from Apollo Bay.
If you’ve done this Great Ocean Road day trip in winter then you’re probably running out of daylight at this stage (we were!). If you’re travelling when the days are longer, then Lorne has a few great stops to add to your trip.
Teddy’s Lookout (also great for sunset)
Erskine Falls (14 minutes from Lorne)
Henderson Falls (13 minutes form Lorne)
Memorial Arch at Eastern View
If you’re looking for the famous archway entrance to the Great Ocean Road, this is just outside of Lorne at Eastern View.
There is a pull-in off the road for you to stop and take photos. Of course, you’ve done this trip in reverse so that’s why you’re seeing the archway at the end of your trip!
From Lorne, you’re just a 2 hour drive back to Melbourne via the Ocean Road, Torquay and the Princes Freeway.
I hope this self-drive itinerary for the Great Ocean Road helps you plan your day trip from Melbourne. If you use this trick, please let me know!
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