Luxury Escapes Guide to the Great Ocean Road

Hugging the southwest coast of Victoria is one of the world’s most sought-after coastal drives, stretching from Torquay to Allansford.

The start of this world-famous route is just an hour and a half from Melbourne, making it an appealing and accessible weekend escape for city dwellers. A short distance yet a world away from the urban metropolis of Victoria’s capital, what unfurls along the route is a unique and raw brand of beauty; a collision of dramatic rock formations, sandy coves, verdant forest and cresting waves as far as the eye can see.

The history of this stretch of road becomes especially poignant as you gaze out across the seemingly endless ocean. This heritage-listed drive is, in fact, the world’s largest war memorial, constructed by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 as a tribute to those who lost their lives during World War I.

Today, the scenic route has become the beloved site of many a family holiday, surf trip and weekend away. Its enduring popularity is thanks not only to its awe-inspiring scenery, but an alluring combination of attractions that appeal to every type of traveller, whether gourmand, surfer, wine connoisseur, spa devotee or nature lover.

Charming seaside towns are dotted like jewels along the route, providing welcome pit stops for dining, shopping and beach-lounging. Along its fringe are numerous vineyards and national parks, teeming with native wildlife, from koalas lazing amid the eucalyptus canopies to brightly coloured cockatoos flashing their feathers.

As the neighbour of Australia’s gourmet capital, it’s only natural that Melbourne’s culinary prowess overspills onto the Great Ocean Road, where restaurants and cellar doors make best use of the farming region’s glorious produce.

Please note that due to current restrictions some operators may be temporarily closed. Check their websites for the most up-to-date information

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Things to see and do

Go surfing on Bells Beach

The Great Ocean Road is a magnet for surfers, whose colourful vans trail the coast like lines of ants in search of the most tantalising world-class crests. Fun fact: Torquay is the birthplace of world-renowned surf brands Quiksilver and Rip Curl. Bells Beach is by far the most famous surf spot along the route and has been home to the international Rip Curl Pro event for almost 60 years thanks to its huge swells. Not at pro level yet? Dip your toe in the water with lessons amid some of the less intimidating waves further along the coast.

Taste the region’s finest on a gourmet trail

The farmland and wineries of the Shipwreck Coast produce bountiful fare, dotted around the region like truffles waiting to be unearthed. Follow the 12 Apostles Food Artisans ‘trail map’ to hunt down the most delicious bites. We commend allowing at least five hours to explore this 88km trail, where you can sample everything from freshly grown strawberries and olives to delicate chocolates and beloved Timboon ice cream. Be sure to stop at Sow & Piglets Breweries around lunchtime, when you can sample their range of craft beers with a side of pizza.

Go whale watching on Logans Beach

There’s something truly awe-inspiring about watching the gentle giants of the sea soaring through the waves – modern life seems to melt away as you observe them migrating towards the Australian shore from the sub-Antarctic. A specially built viewing platform among the sand dunes of Logans Beach in Warrnambool is the optimum whale-spotting position, where every year, between June and September, spectators gather for a precious glimpse of female southern right whales moving in to calve.

Get Instagram shots of Port Fairy Lighthouse

The coastal town of Port Fairy, a short distance from the end of the route but well worth a visit. It sounds as charming as it is, and it has a picturesque lighthouse to boot – a remnant of the town’s past days as a trading port. Grab some gorgeous shots of this Victorian-era landmark, best captured at sunset as the sky is daubed with burnt orange and lilac and the waters of the ocean stippled with gold. Built in 1859, this tiny lighthouse was once only reachable by boat: you can almost imagine yourself back in time with the oil lamp-light flickering, beckoning boats to shore.

Bathe in hot springs in Warrnambool

A bonus of holidaying in regional Victoria are the hot springs you’ll discover dotted around, where tepid waters are rich with minerals. Head to the Sanctuary at Deep Blue to work your way through a series of 15 open-air bathing pools and caves of geothermal waters. Your senses will be nurtured at every turn, with basalt stones to bask on, trickling water, a reflection pool for – well, doing just that – and aromatic mist dancing on the air. It’s like the perfect warm hug for tired bushwalkers.

Go strawberry picking at Surf Coast Strawberry Fields

Can you name a more wholesome activity for a family holiday than strawberry picking? Little ones will love being tasked with plucking the plumpest, juiciest berries from this 90-acre, family-run farm, which opens its doors seasonally from November to April. Experience the true paddock-to-plate philosophy of the Great Ocean Road as you feast on your finds throughout the remainder of your road trip. And pssst, don’t tell the kids – the farm also offers delicious, creamy ice cream made with the very strawberries found onsite.

Zipline through the Otway Ranges

The Great Ocean Road experience is all about the great outdoors – and what better way to drink it in than on a zipline speeding above it all? Just 20 minutes from the start of the Great Ocean Road is Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, where you can soar through the leafy treetops 30 metres above the forest floor. Ziplining tickets also include access to the 600-metre Treetop Walk, a more sedate yet equally beautiful way to take in the scenery.

See the 12 Apostles (and its lesser-known counterparts)

The 12 Apostles, in Port Campbell National Park, is one of the Great Ocean Road’s most sought-after attractions. This imposing collection of limestone stacks just off the coast, adjacent to the soaring cliff face, rises majestically from the choppy waves of the Southern Ocean, towering 45 metres above the waters. The result of millions of years of erosion, these rock islands were once part of the mainland. While the 12 Apostles draws coachloads of spectators, there are other rock formations that are well worth a stop, too: the Grotto, where the fierce spray of the ocean blasts through the rock archway, the limestone stacks of the Bay of Islands, the London Arch, Loch Ard Gorge and the Bay of Martyrs.

Spot koalas at Cape Otway

Where nature lives and breathes, wildlife follows — and the area surrounding the Great Ocean Road is a thriving haven for it. Just outside of Apollo Bay is Cape Otway, one of the most reliable areas for spotting these most famous of Australian animals, thanks to its abundance of Manna gum trees. Head down Lighthouse Road and see how many koalas you can spot lingering in the canopies. At the very least you’ll be on the road to the Cape Otway Lightstation and its spectacular views over Bass Strait.

Take a picnic and spot wildlife at Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve

The ruggedly beautiful Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve was Victoria’s first ever National Park, established in 1892. The crater of an extinct volcano, the park is home to more than 300,000 trees and countless wildlife, from kangaroos and koalas to native birds and echidnas, which can all be observed up close in their natural habitat. Pack a picnic basket, take a stroll and watch some of Mother Nature’s finest work unfold before your eyes.

Top places to eat and drink

A La Grecque

The family-run A La Grecque has retained its crown as one of Victoria’s finest regional restaurants, having now been handed down to the next generation. Here, the Talimanidis family combines its Hellenic and Australian heritage in dishes crafted using fresh seasonal produce and the finest seafood, such as grilled rack of lamb with melitzanosalata, chargrilled local octopus and chocolate mousse with a cheeky dash of ouzo (a potent booze with which anybody who has visited Greece will have surely been acquainted).

Great Ocean Road Gin

If a ‘gin garden’ sounds like your idea of heaven, get ye to Great Ocean Road Gin, where a pretty, sun-kissed courtyard with your name on it awaits. Take a moment to relax as you sample the distiller’s creations, from raspberry gin liqueur to Guvvos Gin and the intimidatingly named navy-strength gin. You could even grab a takeaway for your obligatory tourist snap under the Memorial Arch at Eastern View, the wooden sign that marks the start of the Great Ocean Road.

Wye General Store

Whether you’re a straight-up burger and beer kind of diner or an oh-so-Melburnian avo on toast and coffee lover, you’ll find the perfect all-day brunch for you at Wye General Store – even if you’re just in the market for a flaky, buttery French pastry on-the-go. The perfect little pitstop between the forest and the ocean, Wye General Store is the place to come before beach strolls in the summer or for the wood-burning heater in winter months. Be sure to pick up some produce from the store for your onward journey – fresh and colourful fruit and veggies, eggs, house-made bread and cheese awaits.

Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant

Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant is something of an institution, having attracted discerning diners since 1979. Nestled in the Otways above the Great Ocean Road and Apollo Bay, the restaurant offers elevated views over the Bass Strait and canopies of gum trees and ferns, where koalas can often be seen lounging. The passion of Greek owner Chris is evident in his warm hospitality and lovingly prepared dishes, which marry European flavours with fresh ingredients, freshly caught seafood and Mediterranean herbs and spices.

Forage on the Foreshore, Port Campbell

If a true local experience sets your culinary fire alight, look no further than Forage on the Foreshore in Port Campbell, a family-run restaurant that serves dishes crafted with ingredients grown, produced or foraged along the Great Ocean Road and surrounding Hinterland. The menu is informed by the availability of produce – with small local producers and farmers supported wherever possible – and might include mushroom bruschetta, a forage plate of pork terrine, locally made cheeses and house-made quince paste and lavosh, or fresh grilled fish with tomato and kipfler potatoes.

Prickly Moses Brewery

The Otways: mountains, waterfalls, verdant forest and… great beer. The rainwater gathered here is nature’s gift to beer lovers and is used to brew Prickly Moses Handcrafted Beer and Forbidden Fruit Cider. Pop by to discover the techniques and high-quality ingredients used at this independent brewery in pursuit of the finest beers and ciders – and, of course, sample a few of the creations, from pale ale, stout, IBA and IPA to mango and berry ciders.