Top 20 experiences for your Great Ocean Road bucket list
Adventure awaits behind every twist and turn of the Great Ocean Road – home to Victoria’s most epic outdoor adventures. This action-packed circuit is a fast-paced journey to the most extreme adventures, beautiful landscapes and unforgettable experiences on one of Australia’s greatest roads. How many can you tick off the bucket list on your next Great Weekend? I dare you.
Even those that have driven the Great Ocean Road a million times will love experiencing the joy of taking the wheel of your very own Westfalia Kombi from Hire a Kombi. This freedom machine is perfect for a Great Ocean Road AdVANture where anywhere is home – for up to four people. We chose the beachfront at Marengo. Pastel pink sunsets and sounds of waves crashing sends you to sleep and watching seals play on the rocks of Marengo Reefs National Park over brekky is a can’t be beaten wake-me up. Suspend the supplied fairy lights around the van, kick back and enjoy a nightcap surrounded by stars inside and out.
Prefer to travel by foot? The Great Ocean Walk is one of the most scenic hikes in the world. Starting at Apollo Bay and finishing with a hikers-only view of the Twelve Apostles, the full 8-day Great Ocean Walk is over 90 kilometres long. But walkers of nearly any ability can make their own once-in-a-lifetime adventure – tackling shorter ½ day walks, day walks, overnight walks or multi-day trips.
Rugged explorers wanting to tackle the ‘wild side’ of the Great Ocean Walk can pre-book at the seven hike-in campsites, those who like creature comforts can book shuttle services between their car and accommodation and for those looking to do it in style (like we did)… they can book a guided multi-day tour where everything is taken care of. The only job to do is to put one foot in front of the other!
Rumour has it there are over 400 waterfalls in the Great Otway National Park.
We gave our local guide Jimmy from Lorne Tours the challenge to take us to see as many great waterfalls as we could walk in a day. From Sheoak picnic area we wandered through rainforest and Aussie bushland to Won Wondah Falls, Henderson Falls, upper and lower Kalimna Falls and through the canyon all the way through to the majestic Phantom Falls (upper and lower). Next up, Henderson Falls, a little hidden gem and Jimmy’s favourite. Much quieter and lesser known than many of the other falls and what it lacks in size it sure makes up in the serenity of having the place to yourselves. We couldn’t leave without driving to nearby Erskine Falls. This is definitely a well mapped waterfall, and no wonder it’s 30m drop into a cascading gully it makes for one impressive waterfall!
Get a bird’s eye view as you wander the 600m long, 30m high elevated rainforest walk through the lush Otway National Park at Otway Fly Treetop Adventures. This 1h experience offers unrivalled views of the region’s flora and fauna from the rainforest floor into the soaring heights of the towering treetops. Don’t miss the 47m Spiral Tower and cantilever perched above Young’s Creek, a truly exhilarating experience that allows you to gently sway with the rainforest canopy.
Tackle Australia’s most electrifying zipline and treetop challenge – Live Wire Park. This elevated experience set in the towering treetops of the Otway’s is not for the faint hearted. The Shockwave Zip Coaster is the most extreme zip line in Australia, twisting and turning for 525 exhilarating meters through the towering treetops of the Otway’s. And the Super Circuit is the most challenging of the treetop trails with 53 mid-air trails, suspended bridges, tree scaling activities, Tarzan swing and a supercharged 10m QuickJump bungee – it’s not just a physical challenge but a mental challenge too!
Forrest is famous for its tangle of brilliant biking trails – 16 of them that traverse over 65km though the Great Otway National Park and Otway Forest Park. Hard-core riders though to beginners can bike hike through tall eucalypt forests, dry healthy scrub and dense fern gullys. The trails are designed around the township of Forrest and locals joke they all lead to the local craft brewery, Forrest Brewing Co.
Looking to spot platypus in the wild? Then this dawn and dusk Otway Eco Tours canoe tour is for you. It even has a 98% sighting success rate. Not only is this your chance to see Australia’s most elusive and ancient animals, you’ll do it in the enchanting location of Lake Elizabeth, just 15 minutes from Forrest. The lush Otway rainforest gives way to reveal the slightly eerie, prehistoric looking mountain lake – it’s like the land before time. Glide past enormous, ghostly tree trunks that emerge from the platypi natural habitat as your guides pass on their wealth of knowledge about these adorable creatures. You might even see glow worms on the dusk tour.
With more than 400 volcanos this area is the third largest volcanic plains in the world. Trek to the summit of the biggest volcano in Victoria – Mt Elephant (360m). Still technically ‘active’ Mt Elephant last erupted (maybe) 180,000 years ago and is aged between 30,000 – several million years old. The moderate rated summit walk is a 3.4km loop (hiking poles are available from the visitor centre) and rewards with the stunning views of the endless plains and lakes of Western Victoria. The view is endless.
Walk as a guest on Gunditjmara country and experience a culture that is over 60,000 years old. I joined Leigh from Budj Bim Tours for an authentic, guided tour of Tyrendarra, the southern component of the Budj Bim landscape, situated almost entirely within the unique, ancient lava flow. These flows helped the Gunditjmara people create the oldest and most extensive freshwater stone aquaculture system in the world.
A Gunditjmara descendant Leigh’s 2.5h tour (available Wed, Thurs, Fri) offers a never to be forgotten opportunity to experience the history and storytelling of this awe-inspiring landscape through the eyes and voice of a traditional owner. As we roamed the remnants of the circular stone dwellings Leigh explained Tyrendarra’s history as a traditional meeting place and camping area for their people. And that the land is a part of major Dreaming trails and an important ceremonial site since the deep time (a period of at least 32,000 years).
This land is undeniable significant. You can feel it as you camp under the stars at Budj Bim National Park. Renamed in 2017, (previously known as Mt Eccles National Park) this 8000 hectare national park is the first national park co-managed by Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and Parks Victoria.
Budj Bim Campground is your home amongst the gum trees! It is so quiet, the only living beings we saw were the koalas and kangaroos. Here, you can set up camp in the forest rocks hollows and ridges formed by the lava flows from the ancient volcanic eruption. The simple campground surrounded by native bushland offers large campsites suitable for 6 people, bathroom and campfire facilities and several nature trails to explore this unique volcanic landscape.
Follow the Lake Surprise walk along the crater rim or descend to the crater-lake’s edge. The longer Lava Canal circuit walk will reveal a maze of lava blisters, Tunnel Cave, Natural Bridge and also a dry crater offering views of the park and into the crater itself.
Winter on the Great Ocean Road offers some of the best whale watching in the world as these gentle giants make their way from the cold Antarctic waters to the Southern Ocean to breed, birth and raise their calves. Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland are the main vantage points on the Winter Whale Trail – and the only places is the world where you can watch whales nursing their babies just 100m from the shore. Get ready for a show as Southern Right, Humpback, Blue and the occasional Orca Whales breach, chin slap, flipper and spyhop. And if you’re lucky you might see some young calves playfully splashing around too.
Take a Daily Whale Express Bus Tour with Warrnambool Tours to the custom-built lookout at Logan’s Beach Whale Nursery, play I-Spy with the fixed binoculars at Port Fairy’s East Beach, stop off at Portland’s Wade St viewing platform or follow the whale’s migratory passage with a Game on Whale Watching Charter. You’ll also stop at the local fur seal and gannet colonies on Lawrence Rocks and Danger Point – the largest on mainland Australia.
The beauty of Great South West Walk is there there’s a bushwalking trail to suit most ages and abilities. It may look wild but the 2 hours loop walks, full-day hikes and a 250km loop trek with campsites along the way make it accessible for beginners to the most intrepid travelers. As it’s a loop trail you can start and finish wherever you like! Explore the transitions of the four magnificent contrasting environments – the glorious high forest, one of the most beautiful rivers in creation, wild stormy beaches and the towering cliffs near Portland.
We decided to tackle the ocean section, setting out from Bridgewater Bay to Discovery Bay making sure to have a photo stop at the resident seal colony at Cape Bridewater before continuing to the Petrified Forest and the wildness of the blowholes. The rugged coastal views spurred us on to get to Discovery Bay and the 50km stretch of white sandy beach, wild waves and extensive dune system didn’t disappoint.
The Seals by Sea Tour 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. For 45 minutes we cruised the dramatic cliffs and into the giant cavern for 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.
Come aboard this 30ft Kevlacat and let local skipper Joe take you on an 8h Portland adventure. Blue Fin Tuna are right on his doorstep and soon to be on your line. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a complete beginner get ready to chase 100 kilo tuna – the thrill will have you hook, line and sinker! Bring your own esky to take your catch home or enjoy ocean fresh sashimi right on the boat.
Seen the Twelve Apostles before? What about from up above? Get a new perspective on this world-famous icon on a Twelve Apostles to Bay of Islands tour with 12 Apostles Helicopters. In 25 minutes we travelled over 90km in a luxury helicopter, soaring over 9 landmarks of the Great Ocean Road. Our knowledgeable pilot Ally pointed out the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, The Sentinel, The Arch, London Bridge, The Grotto, Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands. If those great icons aren’t enough you’ll also be mesmerized by the dramatic cliffs, craggy stacks, pristine bays, crashing waves… and maybe even a pod of dolphins or even a whale.
Thrill seekers can brave the newest adventure on the Great Ocean Road – skydiving over one of Australia’s most famous natural wonders with Skydive 12 Apostles. As your luxury aircraft climbs to the jump height the magnificent Bay of Island, Loch Ard Gorge, Bay of Martyrs and the 12 Apostles lay out below you. Take a moment to enjoy one of the most beautiful views you’ve even seen. And then with a ready, set, go… you and your skydiving super instructor will be freefalling straight to them. Let the adrenaline surge for 60 seconds before your parachute opens at 5,000ft then peacefully soar over this spectacular landscape with your own wings. This is a one in a lifetime experience at a one is a lifetime place. Unforgettable!
Have you tried a beach horse ride? Blazing Saddles Aireys Inlet have been operating for over 30 years and offers one of the only experiences in Australia where you can ride on the beach – in summer the horses might even decide to take you for a swim! The 2.5h ride starts in the bush then you leisurely make your way on horseback to the sea. This beach and bush ride caters for confident riders (previous experience necessary) that can canter along the sandy 6km stretch of Fairhaven Beach. It’s quite the sight leaving the famous Split Point Lighthouse (you might remember it from the 90’s ABC show ‘Around the Twist’) in your sandy wake.
The Anglesea River snakes through the center of this vibrant seaside town. Hire a canoe, fun- boat or SUP from the iconic Anglesea Paddle Boat and Canoe Hire and get paddling on the calm waters of the Anglesea River before exploring Coogoorah Reserve, a 2.5km circuit bustling with birdlife, flora and fauna.
Exhilarate the senses by immersing yourself in the waves with a Torquay Surfing Academy surf lesson at Torquay, the home of surfing. 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 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!
Driving and camping along the Great Ocean Road in a 1950’s Kombi
Getting up close and personal to whales and seals
Exploring the Otway Forrest, by foot, bike, canoe and zipline!
Learning about the significant cultural landscape of Budj Bim from a Traditional Owner
Seeing the iconic Twelve Apostles from great heights
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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.