The greatest experiences, locations and adventures from 52 Great Weekends on the Great Ocean Road.
Adventure awaits behind every twist and turn of the Great Ocean Road. For the last 52 weeks it has been my job to hunt out the greatest locations, greatest adventures and greatest experiences on one of Australia’s greatest roads. Put these on your bucket list for the greatest weekend ever!
Hit the waves at the home of surfing, awaken your adventurous spirit in Anglesea and climb a legendary lighthouse in Aireys Inlet. Enjoy ocean-front fine dining, visit world-class waterfalls, swim in sparkling blue water and get back to nature. See sunrise at the 12 Apostles, then rise over them for yourselves before exploring the City by the Sea. Ride through historic fishing villages, dine at Victoria’s oldest Inn, venture into a volcano and trek one of Victoria’s Greatest Walks before hitting the high seas and experiencing nature at its wildest! Weekends don’t get greater than these!
Immerse yourself in waves at the birthplace of Australian surfing with a Torquay Surfing Academy surf lesson. Their motto is ‘Real surfers teaching real surfing’ so whether you’re a beginner (like me) or an experienced surfer looking for some pro tips they have you covered.
The Torquay Surf Academy is located just a two-minute walk from the beach – but the real schooling happens in the surf. In under two minutes you’ll have your wetsuit on, foam board in hand and be warming up with an on-sand demo at Cosy Corner before hitting the waves. For two hours the surf coaches are in the water with you giving you a little extra push when needed. Even I was on my feet in no time!
The Anglesea River snakes through the centre of this vibrant seaside town with boardwalks that allow you to explore the many unique landscapes of the area. Get your weekend off to a great start and hire a canoe, fun- boat or SUP from the iconic Anglesea Paddle Boat and Canoe Hire. Owner Adrian has run this business since 1978 and he’ll soon get you paddling on the calm waters – the shallow estuary of Anglesea River is a great place to get your adventure ‘sea legs’. We launched our two-man canoe beside the Anglesea bridge and set out for a 2h explore of the Coogoorah Reserve, a 2.5km circuit bustling with birdlife, flora and fauna.
The Surf Coast Walk offers a stunning 44km journey of natural beauty, charming coastal villages, abundant wildlife and inspiring landscapes. Set out from the Torquay, the start of the Great Ocean Road through the living landscapes of Anglesea and Airey’s Inlet to the wild shores of Fairhaven. Stroll the iconic Bells Beach and soaring cliffs of Anglesea making sure to enjoy a few refreshing pit-stops along the way. Marvel at the marine and national parks, beach comb the uncrowded beaches and let the lighthouse be your guide to Airey’s Inlet. Relish the awe-inspiring lookouts, you might even spot whales in winter!
The great thing about the Surf Coast Walk is that it doesn’t have to be done in one go. It can be split into 12 unique trails, each with a distinct start and end, usually located at a carpark. Let this interactive map help you plan your version of the Surf Coast Walk.
Venture inside the iconic Split Point Lighthouse, famous for starring in the children’s TV show ‘Round the twist’. You can spot its iconic red cap from nearly all areas of Aireys Inlet. Still in automated operation today you can see the inner workings for yourself on a self-guided lighthouse tour (open daily, weather permitting). Learn how it was built, how it operates and about the lightkeepers and their families. You’ll be rewarded for climbing the 135 steps of the 34-metre high tower with 360-degree coastal vista views of the Shipwreck Coast.
Continue the adventure with an easy stroll along the Split Point Discovery Trail. From the various lookouts perched high on the stunning 7m tall sandstone cliffs you’ll gain insight into the history of the area, take in the epic views of the Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary and spot the sandy coves, caves and rockpools below.
Some of the best seafood in the country only has to travel across the road from the fishing wharf to this beachfront boutique restaurant perched on top of the main street of Apollo Bay. It’s no wonder the restaurant celebrates locally caught fish served up with a carefully curated wine and cocktail list. Sit back with freshly shucked oysters, locally caught Southern Rock Lobster and a pan full of the signature seafood paella while you enjoy your partners company and the views of the spectacular Apollo Bay beach and foreshore. You can even see the fishing boats coming in from the restaurants sweeping ocean views.
Erskine Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Otways. No wonder, it’s 30m drop into a cascading gully it makes for one impressive waterfall! Take in the view from two lookouts – the upper is an easy 5-minute stroll from the carpark and the lower takes you down 240 steps into the lush tree-fern gully of the Erskine River. Make sure to get here early to avoid the crowds, its popular for a reason!
Nature lovers won’t want to the weekend to end without visiting the roaring Hopetoun Falls, it plummets 30m into the Aire River. Soak up the view from the upper platform (20m from the carpark) or descend the 200 steps and feel the spray for yourselves. The lower platform is roughly a 1km, 30m minute trip but don’t worry, there’s a romantic rest stop at the bottom to take a moment and ‘admire the view’.
Take a wander and even a plunge at the fern lined pool of Kalimna Falls. The gentle 3km walk from the Sheoak Picnic Area to the falls follows a historic timber tramway route, you can see some of the original sleepers used to build it along the way. The tranquil trail follows a creek valley filled with ferns and huge blue gums all the way to Lower Kalimna Falls. Whilst not the biggest waterfalls in the Otways, Lower Kalimna Falls comes with its own unique charm. Water trickles from the overhanging rock ledge leaving a large cave behind the falls – an idyllic spot to explore or take in the view of the large pool, mossy rocks and surrounding ferns. The brave can even freshen up in one of nature’s most romantic showers before heading to the next destination – Apollo Bay.
There’s a million reasons ‘Wye’ to visit this hidden hamlet. Slightly bigger than its closest neighbours, Wye River is one of the smaller townships spanning the length of the Great Ocean Road. Discover the secluded sandy bays and cool off in the sparkling water of Wye Beach. Step off the sand straight into the riverside general store café and to dinner and drinks at the town’s only pub. Return to your luxury home among the gum trees and drink in the magnificent beach views framed by a rugged mountain backdrop. Then spend your Sunday chasing over 400 waterfalls in the Great Otway National Park.
Take a walk on the wild side of the Great Ocean Road at Apollo Bay’s newest attraction – Wildlife Wonders. For an informative 75 minutes you will explore this spectacular bushland wildlife walk with your own conservation guide – and if luck is on your side meet the animals that call the Otways home. The odds are in your favour as Cape Otway has the largest koala population in Australia.
Keep your supplied binoculars at the ready as you walk along the 1.4km all abilities walk. It was designed by the art director of ‘The Hobbit’ films and landscape designer of the award winner ‘Hobbiton’ in New Zealand. What make you feel as warm and fuzzy as a koala is that all profits from your visit go towards projects being under taken by the Conservation Ecology Centre. As part of your walk you will be able to stop into the Research Base where you’ll be able to learn about the local projects they have on the go. On our visit, a koala strolled right up to the centre, it must have wanted to see research in action too! Make your way back to the visitor centre to browse the gift shop or enjoy a well-earned snack or drink at the café.
Get up early and have your camera ready to experience the region’s famous limestone stacks at their best. Start your tour of this spectacular coastline at the 12 Apostles viewing platform and watch the colours change before your eyes. Descend the 86 of the Gibson Steps to walk to the wild beach below for a ground-level view – you’ll feel tiny as you gaze up at the pillars towering 45 metres above you. Leave plenty of time to stop at lookouts over the cliffs of the Loch Ard Gorge, the unique rock formations at London Bridge and The Arch before discovering the hidden pebble beach of The Grotto. For the best views of this breathtaking coastline take to the skies on a 12 Apostles Helicopter Tour. It will give you a whole new perspective on these impressive icons.
Kick back in this city by the sea and delve into its vibrant art scene, complete with Melbourne-sque hidden laneways and cafes. Local artists have turned these hidey-holes into a maze of unexpected artworks with new pieces appearing nearly every week. Grab a coffee, check out the interactive map and get walking on this self-guided street art tour. You’ll discover over 26 pieces that tell rich stories of Warrnambool’s history while they lead you to some of the best watering holes in town.
Nestled on the South West Coast amid green dairy country and overlooking the Southern Ocean Warrnambool is blessed with natural beauty too. Breath in the fresh sea air as you wander the foreshore promenade or the family favourite, Lake Pertobe. The eight-hectare Adventure Playground complete with a maze, giant slides, flying foxes and boat ride is paradise for kids and adults will love the walking tracks around the lake and the tranquil picnic spots.
The best way to take in the quaint village of Port Fairy is with the salty sea breeze in your lungs and wind in your hair as you cycle the historic streets and boardwalk of the Moyne River. Hire bike from the Port Fairy Visitor Centre and set off to the bustling harbour, one of the busiest ports in Victoria. Ride back in time as you cruise down the beautifully preserved streetscapes then keep peddling to the trails of the nearby Griffiths Island and Lighthouse – you may have to push in some sandy areas. This natural oasis is a sanctuary for native animals including wallabies, blue-tongue lizards, echidnas and over 80 species of birds.
Enjoy dinner at the historic dining room at the Merrijig Inn, Victoria’s oldest inn. Sip cocktails in the enchanting cottage garden whilst listening to live local folk music before enjoying a decadent degustation in Victoria’s oldest dining room. A new menu is written daily showcasing the best produce from the Merrijig garden and local farmers. Chef Tanya Connellan uses traditional and European techniques to create her magic – flavourful hearty dishes that look like works of art.
Venture into volcanos at the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, an easy 10-minute drive. Join your experienced guide for a 90-minute walk exploring the dormant crater that last erupted over 7000 years ago. The explosion created the enormous 11km crater rim and was thought to be as forceful as 4 atomic bombs. You’ll explore the majestic landscape, learn of its historical importance and meet the wildlife who call the re-vegetated park home. Some of Australia’s most iconic animals live here and if you’re lucky you might see emus, koalas, kangaroos, echidnas and wedge-tail eagles just to name a few. Make sure to visit the Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre and find out more about the reserve’s Aboriginal and geological history.
Starting and finishing in Portland the grade 4, 250km walk is one of Victoria’s best kept hiking secrets. Loops through the Cobboboonee Forest to the beautiful banks of the Glenelg River, meander through the quiet fishing town of Nelson before traversing the spectacular dunes to the long, deserted shores of Discovery Bay. You’ll pass blowholes, the Petrified Forrest and seal colonies before the trail leads you to the breathtaking Bridgewater Bay and the historic Cape Nelson lighthouse before returning you to Portland.
Beginners and intrepid travellers alike love this epic loop self-guided trail. Challenge yourself with the full 13-day trek or tackle multi-day, full day or half day walks. Campgrounds are dotted along the trail or for hikers that like their walks pack free, a local friendly shuttle service can transfer you to and from your Portland or Nelson accommodation or car.
Look forward to winter with a Game On Charters Whale Watching Tour. For 2 or 4 hours skipper Joe will put on a show following the whales migratory passage off Cape Nelson and Cape Bridgewater. Playful dolphins will often join you for the ride. You’ll also stop at the local fur seal and gannet colonies on Lawrence Rocks and Danger Point – the largest on mainland Australia.
Reel in a 100kg Bluefin Tuna, gummy shark and quality game fish straight from the Continental Shelf. Set off at sunrise for the waters between Lawrence Rocks and Cape Nelson Lighthouse in the search for the winter gummy sharks migrating through Portland waters. A quick stopover at the boisterous Lawrence Rocks Fur Seal and Gannet colonies then we were straight into serious fishing business. Deep drop reels lowered it wasn’t long until before we were pulling in deep-sea dwelling fish, snapper and the odd mulloway. With the first gummy on the hook all other lines are withdrawn and then it’s a group effort to bring in the magnificent fighting fish as it tries it’s last dashes to the deep-sea floor. The haul continued and each client relished the challenge of reeling in the ultimate sport fish. The sun set with a total of 5 gummies onboard and an esky full of fine eating fish to take home.
The Seals by Sea Tour is located at Bridgewater Bay, (approx. 20mins drive from Portland) is one of the most popular tours in the area. When you get so close you could pat these cute little ‘sea doggos’ it’s obvious why! In just 3 exhilarating minutes our guide Jo had our zippy Zodiac boat at the seal breeding colony, the only one on mainland Australia and the one we had seen earlier on the GSWW. For 45 minutes we cruised the dramatic cliffs in an up-close and personal experience with a small group of fellow nature lovers. The seals love showing off for an audience and we were lucky enough to see lots of playful pups. And playful adults too.
Thank you for coming on this epic journey along the Great Ocean Road.
And to all the incredible operators that I have met along the way, thank you for sharing your beautiful part of the Great Ocean Road with me.
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.