We left Melbourne before sunrise on the first day as we had a pretty tight schedule, but this meant we got to watch the sunrise as we drove along the first stretch of the Great Ocean Road. It happened to be a gorgeous one that totally made it worth getting up while it was still dark!
Lower Kalimna Falls
This was our first stop and it definitely didn’t disappoint. It took us about 45 minutes walking each way, but it’s worth it as the waterfall has a real Jurassic Park feel to it (unfortunately there weren’t any dinosaurs). We didn’t make it to Upper Kalimna Falls, but it just gives us another reason to go back.
No road trip is complete without good fuel stops, plus we’d skipped breakfast so I was getting pretty hungry by this point! HAH Lornebeach in Lorne provided just what we needed to keep us going.
Re-fueled and contented with full bellies, we made our way to Erskine Falls. We walked all 240 steps down and were rewarded with a gorgeous 30m waterfall nestled into the ferns. This is one of the busiest waterfalls, but it’s not hard to see why.
Cape Otway Lightstation
We planned to stay the night at the accommodation at Cape Otway Lightstation and wanted to be there in time for sunset. So, with the short winter days we didn’t have time to stop at any of the other many waterfalls around Lorne. If you have more time, then I’d highly recommend looking into them!
Cape Otway Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on mainland Australia and interestingly (as we were told by the lighthouse keeper) there were more shipwrecks after it was built in 1848! Although that was due to an increase in ship traffic, but I thought it was an interesting fact nonetheless.
We stayed in the Cape Otway Lightstation Accommodation and it had the most beautiful views from the window of the lighthouse.
I woke up early for the sunrise (realistically in winter that really isn’t very early – particularly when you just have to roll out of bed and walk outside your front door!). The sunrise we got wasn’t spectacular, but it was awesome to be able to watch the lighthouse catch those first rays all to ourselves with a cup of tea in hand! Don’t miss out on the breakfast at the lightstation cafe; the bacon and egg rolls were epic!
Yep, you read that right! The California Redwoods were planted in the 1930s and, despite being a non-native species, have even been included within the Great Otway National Park. It’s a truly serene and unique experience to be surrounded by such giants (they’re around 60m tall!), particularly in Australia.
This impressive waterfall is a short, but steep (about 200 stairs!) 30 minute return walk from the car park. I seriously couldn’t get enough of all the waterfalls surrounded by ferns, there’s something almost fairytale-like about them.
Ok so I’m going to be honest… if you’re afraid of heights you’re probably not going to love the Otway Treetop Walk. The 600m long walkway is 25m above the ground, and the walkway itself is a grated metal which allows you to see through to the forest floor. But, because of that, it’s amazing! It gives you unparalleled views of the rainforest and allows you to truly appreciate the grandeur of the nature.
We also stopped here for lunch, and seriously the chicken and camembert pie may be one of the best pies I’ve ever eaten – and I’ve eaten a LOT of pies.
12 Apostles/Gibson Steps
I’m not sure how much of an introduction the 12 Apostles and Gibsons Steps (scenic oceanside cliffs with a beach) really need as they are undoubtedly the most popular stops along the Great Ocean Road.
We had planned to photograph sunset there and, well, we hadn’t received the memo that sunset was cancelled that night. So we arranged another night at the end of our trip to come back to them.
We stayed the night in one of the villas at Anchors, only 10 minutes from 12 Apostles – the perfect location! I was honestly completely wowed by this place. It has ceiling to floor windows overlooking the hills and I fell in love with it instantly. Even the bathroom has a huge window with a scenic overlook (but don’t worry, each unit is secluded so you can enjoy the view without fear of prying eyes!). It’s the kind of place that felt like home, but with all the niceties of 5-star accommodation.
Oh, and to top it all off, they have a farm with lots of different animals. So of course, I had to go meet them all and help feed them. Don’t worry though, if animals aren’t your thing then you wouldn’t even know they’re there.
Our plan had been to photograph the sunrise at 12 Apostles but that was also cancelled due to rubbish weather. The plus side – extra time to hang out with the animals at Anchors!
Hopkins Falls (near Warrnambool)
Hopkins Falls is just off the road and is only 12m tall, but it’s 90m wide and flows over basalt rock making for some really cool rock features. They’re particularly impressive in the winter when there’s been some rainfall, so we had a real treat!
This Warrnambool cafe has gorgeous views over the sea and the best coffee I’d had since touching back down in Melbourne. The tempura flathead burger is also awesome and comes highly recommended. On the way out, we got a hot tip on where to watch sunrise on day four (keep reading to find out).
Whale watching at Logans Beach
There is a specially constructed platform at Logans Beach for viewing whales that use this area as a nursery during the winter months and you can often see Southern Right Whales with calves in this area. Unfortunately for us, nature decided not to cooperate and we didn’t see any whales here.
This spot is perfect for sunset. There’s a lot of rocky outcrops and tide pools, making for a really interesting place to photograph and watch sunset. We even got a rainbow amongst it all!
Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum
We went to the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village for their dinner and lightshow package and honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect. However, this turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for me. It was something so different that I wouldn’t have even considered doing, but I’m so happy we did. The show is projected onto a 9 metre wall of water and it was great to learn a bit more about the history of the area in such a fun and immersive way.
We stayed in a cabin at Surfside, which was warm and cozy, but we really didn’t spend much time in it as we got back late after dinner, went to sleep and got up early for sunrise. However, it is conveniently situated a short walk from the beach so a great spot to be if you stay a little longer.
Watching the horses at Worm Bay
So here’s that hot tip as promised: get up early and watch the race horses train on the beach at Worm Bay (at Warrnambool’s Breakwater).
I kind of expected to see five to 10 horses, but there seemed to be a non-stop flow from when I arrived at around 7am until we eventually left at around 8am.
There was something so magical about watching the horses and their riders galloping along the beach and splashing in the water. And after the early start, you can reward yourself and warm up with an amazing coffee and breakfast at Pavilion Bar and Café (order ‘The Pavilion breakfast’ – it was incredible!)
Yep, we went back! We loved the light show the evening before but really wanted to see the village in its full glory during the day, and it was totally worth it. They even let me dress up in some 19th century style clothing and feed the chickens (or chooks as they call them here!).
If you’re feeling as chilly as we were after a cold morning, then this is exactly what you’ll need… a long soak in a 38.5°c geothermal mineral pool at Deep Blue. It was like heaven.
Once we were wrinkled up like prunes we realised we should probably get going and reluctantly left!
Lunch at Port Fairy
Does being in water make anyone else really hungry? We were supposed to go to Tower Hill next, but my belly demanded we make our way to lunch at Bank St & Co first in Port Fairy.
The special that day was homemade meatballs on ciabatta… seriously they need to add this to their standard menu! It was the best meatball sandwich I can remember having.
Griffiths Island Lighthouse
We didn’t have much time to explore Griffiths Island at Port Fairy, but the lighthouse gave us the perfect subject to photograph from many different angles. In the summer you can also see the shearwater birds return to their nests here!
If there is ONE place I would go out of my way to eat along the Great Ocean Road, this is it! The venue is small and intimate, with a cozy fire which made it feel like we were eating at a friend’s home rather than a restaurant.
The service was above and beyond anything I’d experienced before; both Sarah and Leeroy were able to tell us where nearly every ingredient was sourced from, including the eggs from the “girls in the garden”. This is definitely the first time I’ve HUGGED the servers goodbye! Best yet, the food matched the service (particularly the chocolate brownie which may well be one of the best I’ve ever had.) So, short story… go eat here!
This is the place to go to spot some Australian wildlife. We were greeted with three cheeky emus at the car park (please just be wary of them and don’t feed them, some of them have become aggressive due to people feeding them). We only spotted one koala and one kangaroo, but that still totally made it worth it for me and the actual grounds are stunning for a walk.
That night we stayed at a holiday house right on the beach managed by Hearns Port Fairy Accommodation.
As we had a beachside apartment, we made the most of it and watched the sunrise from the comfort of the couch with a cup of coffee in hand! My favorite sunrises are the ones I can watch in my bathrobe.
The coastline from Crags Lookout is gorgeous! Think crystal blue water swirling around rugged rock formations. And the best part, you can pretty much drive right up to it.
Round two of whale watching! Definitely take the time to stop by the Port Fairy Visitor Information for information on recent sightings!
We followed their directions to a spot where a mother and calf Southern Right Whale had been seen that day. We were so excited when we finally spotted them. They were about 300 metres from shore, so realistically we couldn’t see much more than the occasional splash of a tail, but it was amazing to know they were there. Definitely take some binoculars with you!
Sunset at Cape Nelson Lighthouse
The sunset here was amazing, we loved the walk around the park, and there was what seemed to be petrified forest around. It made the perfect setting for watching the sunset.
That night we made the most of our spacious room at Quest Apartments in Warrnambool. We knew we weren’t getting up for sunrise the next day so could truly unwind, and made the most of it with some local wines.
This was originally supposed to be our travel day back to Melbourne, but as we had arranged another night on the Great Ocean Road to photograph the 12 Apostles, we thought we’d make the most of it! I’ve grouped the descriptions into parks, as there are too many stops along the way to list individually!
Bay of Islands Coastal Park
This 32km coastal reserve covers the area between Warrnambool and Peterborough. The coastline is breathtaking, with limestone stacks and ocean views. There are also several areas where you can gain beach access. The best part about this stretch of the coast, is that there are much fewer tourists than the 12 Apostles area. We stopped at Childers Cove, Sandy Cove, Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs, all of which are easily accessible and beautiful!
Port Campbell National Park
This park is most famous for the 12 Apostles, but it’s also home to many other amazing spots, including The Grotto, London Bridge, The Arch, Loch Ard Gorge and Gibsons Steps. I would honestly recommend visiting them all. They’re all impressive for different reasons, and the walking time is minimal.
We finally got a decent sunset at 12 Apostles and capitalized by photographing at both 12 Apostles and Gibsons Steps during sunset, then rushed to Loch Ard Gorge to get some shots during blue hour. We couldn’t have been happier with our decision to come back and try again!
We stayed at Great Ocean Road Tourist Park. We called ahead to say that we would be late for check-in, and they’d kindly already started our fire for us and left the key so we could let ourselves in. Once again, we didn’t spend much time there as we were back late and out early, but it was a really cozy cabin conveniently located 20 minutes from 12 Apostles.
Sunrise at the 12 Apostles
It wasn’t the most impressive sunrise and it was FREEZING, but there’s something so magical about watching the sunrise in such an iconic place. Definitely make the effort to get up early for sunrise here. We’d had horses, koalas, whales, waterfalls, lighthouses, and so many sunrises and sunsets, but the Great Ocean Road just felt incomplete until watching the sun rise and set at Victoria’s most iconic spot.
Now I know I said our trip felt complete, but we couldn’t waste our last day, so we stopped by Beauchamp Falls on the way back to Melbourne. It was about an hour and 20 minute return walk. It’s a really impressive falls in a beautiful setting, and we had it all to ourselves for most of our time there. Well worth the walk.
We took the coastal route back to Melbourne, despite it being longer, because it’s just so much prettier. We stopped several times along the way to snap some photos and got our final sunset at Airey’s Inlet.
We finally arrived back in Melbourne around 7pm, exhausted after such a full itinerary, but bursting with excitement after such an amazing trip.
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawuurung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Ancestors, 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.