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Adelaide to Melbourne via the Great Ocean Road

Thursday 8th August 2019
By Neil Fahey
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By Neil Fahey
An Adelaide to Melbourne road trip provides endless opportunities for exploring, relaxing, and enjoying all the nature and wildlife that the south-east corner of Australia has to offer. 

While the most direct route between the two capitals can be driven in around eight hours, you’d be missing out on so many beautiful places. So take your time and explore the first of two Adelaide to Melbourne itineraries, this one over six days. 

The Great Ocean Road itinerary is an iconic Australian road trip.  With the most stunning views and quaint seaside towns, there’s a surprise around every corner. It’s the busiest route but this is for good reason - there’s so much to see and do. Here are our recommendations, with a focus on some of the lesser-known spots along the Great Ocean Road drive.

Day 1: Adelaide to Robe (via Naracoorte Caves)

5 hours / 465 km driving

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Image credit: Alan & Flora Botting (flickr)

Depart Adelaide nice and early and make your way directly to Naracoorte Caves, where a massive limestone cave system begs to be explored. Every cave is different and well worth visiting, so book in to do a tour of one or more depending on how much time you want to spend. For the fit and agile, they even offer beginners and advanced adventure caving tours where you’ll crawl and squeeze your way through parts of the cave system that most tourists never get to see.

Thinking of hiring an RV for your next road trip? Check out these RVs available to hire near Adelaide.

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Image credit: Andrew Arch (flickr)

Continue south to arrive at one of South Australia’s favourite coastal towns, Robe, during the mid-afternoon. This will give you time to explore the coastal walks around the famous Robe Obelisk or enjoy some beach time at the pristine Robe Beach. As the day draws to a close, beer lovers can enjoy a tasting at the Robe Brewery before heading to dinner at any of Robe’s many restaurants

Well rated caravan parks like Robe Holiday Park and Robe Discovery Park are just to the west of town. A little further west is Sea-Vu Caravan Park, which offers some spots with ocean views. Free campers will love The Gums Campground which is a little further out to the south of town (check WikiCamps for details).

Day 2: Robe to Port Fairy

3 hours / 280 km driving

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Image credit: Ed Dunens (flickr)

Head east via Nelson to the quaint fishing village of Port Fairy, enjoying the rugged coastal views along the way. Arriving in Port Fairy is like stepping back in time. It’s home to one of the busiest fishing ports in Victoria and the streets are lined with whitewashed cottages, many of which were built in the early nineteenth century. The best part of this little town is its slow pace, so spend some time roaming its historic streets, have lunch in one of its many cafes or grab some fish ’n’ chips and sit down by the port. You’ll quickly relax into ‘Port Fairy time’.

Griffiths Island might be Port Fairy’s most beautiful place, where a one-hour loop walk takes in the history, wildlife and incredible views of the island. It sits at the mouth of the Moyne River but is connected to the mainland via a causeway. The island’s most notable inhabitants are the short-tailed shearwaters (or mutton-birds) which can be seen returning to their nesting grounds hear at dusk (10,000 to 20,000 of them) if you’re visiting between September and April. In summer, check out the stunning Killarney Beach for a swim, or hire a surfboard or stand up paddleboard if that’s your thing. 

Southcombe Caravan Park is a short stroll from town and right next to South Beach. If you’re after free camping, head to the Yambuk Inn just outside of town which offers shower facilities and a discounted stay if you have a meal or a few beers (check WikiCamps for details).

Day 3: Port Fairy to Princetown

1.5 hours / 110 km driving

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Image credit: Warrnambool City Council (flickr)

Your first stop for today is the spectacular Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, only 20 minutes outside Port Fairy on the Prince Highway. Tower Hill is an extinct volcano which was pronounced Australia’s first national park in 1892. Walking tours are available, guided by descendants of the area’s indigenous custodians. It’s heaven for anyone wanting to check out Australian native wildlife.

Continuing east, you’ll officially join the Great Ocean Road at Warrnambool. This is the last big town for a while, so might be a good place to stop for supplies or to have lunch at one of the many restaurants and cafes.

The Great Ocean Road is heaven for Instagrammers, so you’ll want to make at least a quick stop at Bay of Islands, The Grotto and London Bridge. Loch Ard Gorge, named after the 1878 shipwreck tragedy, is good for a quick photo stop as well, but there’s 6 kilometres of walking trails if you want to stay longer and stretch the legs. 

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Image credit: Andrey Sulitskiy (flickr)

The famous Twelve Apostles is next and although it’s an unfortunately very busy place, it’d be hard to drive straight past it without stopping for a look. As with Loch Ard Gorge, it’s possible to turn this into a 4-kilometre return walk and check out Gibson Steps and the Gog and Magog limestone stacks. I suggest parking at Gibson Steps carpark and following the last part of the Great Ocean Walk to the Twelve Apostles (returning via the same route).

That’s enough Instagramming for one day, so you might like to camp at Princetown Recreation Reserve, a cheap camping spot only 10 minutes further along the road. The campground may be basic, but the facilities are clean and modern and there’s a stunning secluded beach only a short walk away from camp. Eating out options are scarce on this part of the Great Ocean Road so make sure you’ve brought your own food.

Day 4: Princetown to Apollo Bay

2.5 hours / 110 km driving

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Image credit: Otway Fly Tree Top Walk (flickr)

Leave the coastline at Lavers Hill this morning and head inland to Otway Fly Treetop Adventures to take on the Otway Fly Zipline. You’ll spend around an hour and a half zooming through the rainforest canopy over six different ziplines and you’ll even brave two rope bridges. It’s not a cheap adventure but it’s one you won’t regret.

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Image credit: Steve Bittinger (flickr)

Only five or ten minutes from Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, you’ll find the short easy walk to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Otways region - Hopetoun Falls. Descend a 500-metre staircase into a rainforest gully that looks like something straight out of a fairy-tale. Yet another prime spot for Instagram fodder. Return to your vehicle via the same staircase, allowing about half an hour in total. 

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Image credit: Keith Jones (flickr)

While you’re in the area you should check out the Californian Redwood Plantation, an experimental plantation from the 1930s that was fortunately never logged. The Redwoods themselves are spectacular but standing on the banks of the Aire River and surrounded by native rainforest, this spot has a peculiar feel about it that’s hard to describe. There’s no official walking track here but you could easily spend up to an hour exploring the plantation and taking photos.

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Image credit: Rob Deutscher (flickr)

From here it’s a beautiful one-hour drive through the rainforest to Apollo Bay, one of the two most popular towns on the Great Ocean Road. Go for a swim or a nice beach walk at Apollo Bay Main Beach or just relax and enjoy the huge range of cafes and restaurants. I’m partial to La Bimba with its beach views and locally sourced ingredients. If you’d rather just grab some fish ’n’ chips, you can head up the hill and eat them at Marriner’s Lookout while enjoying an excellent view over the town and surrounding coastline. 

If you have some extra time to kill, you might like to backtrack along the missed section of the Great Ocean Road for half an hour to the popular Maits Rest Rainforest Walk. Here a mix of boardwalks and gravel paths will guide you through ancient rainforest, surrounded by gigantic myrtle beech trees and tree ferns. Running out of daylight? Bring a torch and go check out some of the Great Ocean Road’s famous glow worms.

Apollo Bay Holiday Park is your best bet for a camping spot, featuring clean and modern amenities, incredible views, and only a short walk to the main street. Big4 Apollo Bay Pisces Holiday Park is a bit further from town but is also very well-reviewed.

Day 5: Apollo Bay to Lorne

1.5 hours / 65 km driving

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Image credit: James Hervey (flickr)

Continue east to Lorne, enjoying the ocean views along the way. Lorne is the Great Ocean Road’s other most popular beach town - even more popular than Apollo Bay due to its closer proximity to Melbourne - and is unsurprisingly another great place to relax and enjoy some beach time. Hidden behind Lorne, though, is some spectacular rainforest that shouldn’t be missed.

Head south-west out of town on Allenvale Road for about five kilometres to Sheoak Picnic Area. This is the kickoff point for a number of excellent hikes but I recommend taking on The Canyon Circuit, which takes in three waterfalls and an unexpected small canyon where you’ll wonder at the giant moss-covered boulders and dense rainforest vegetation. It’s an 8.5-kilometre walk which takes around three hours to complete, so grab some lunch from town to take with you. Make sure you bring your camera.

Now that you’ve got some exercise in, spend the afternoon in Lorne having a paddle or grab an early dinner at one of the restaurants before driving 15 minutes back towards Apollo Bay to your campsite for the night, Cumberland River Holiday Park. Get a riverside site if you can, and make sure you grab a fire drum from reception. If you’re still feeling active and there’s enough daylight left, walk and rock hop your way up the river in search of more waterfalls. You can walk for as long as you have time for and return via the same track.  

Day 6: Lorne to Melbourne 

2.5 hours / 150 km driving

By the final day, you’ve seen the best of the Great Ocean Road but there are still a few more worthy stops. 

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Image credit: Andrea Schaffer (flickr)

Aireys Inlet is a charming little town surrounded by some beautiful beaches. It’s only 20 minutes down the road from Lorne so you’re probably too early for lunch but stop and explore Split Point Lighthouse. This is one of my favourite spots because aside from the pretty lighthouse and its surroundings, the lighthouse is an icon from my childhood, having been featured in the TV show Round the Twist. During peak periods the lighthouse is open for tourists to walk through, but guided tours are available (at a cost) all year round.

Another 5 minutes along the Great Ocean Road you’ll find a signed turn-off for Urquhart Bluff, a picturesque coastal feature with eroding limestone cliffs and rugged reefs. It’s popular with surfers and fishermen but swimming isn’t recommended, though if it’s a hot day you should at least get those shoes off and explore with your feet in the water.

You’re only half an hour from Torquay now, which is officially the end of the Great Ocean Road. If the famous Bells Beach is on your must-see list, you’ll want to stop there first, but personally, I think it’s overrated. Torquay will make the perfect spot for a quiet lunch before you complete the road trip in the city, so stop off for a nice café lunch at The Pond or Salty Dog, or grab some fish ’n’ chips at Fisho's Torquay.

Take the most direct route from Torquay to the Princes Freeway (only about 15 minutes) and from there it’s freeway all the way to Melbourne. You’ll be in the big smoke within an hour and 15 minutes, so there’s plenty of time to find your accommodation and enjoy your afternoon. 

Adelaide to Melbourne via the Great Ocean Road has many Instagram worthy views! And as with any good road trip, always leave plenty of time to stop and explore. Half the fun of any holiday experience is the journey to take to get there. 

If you'd like to do the Adelaide to Melbourne trip venturing inland via the Grampians, stay tuned for this itinerary soon! 

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