Follow this Melbourne couple’s adventure along the Great Ocean Road stopping at waterfalls, epic lookouts, exploring towns, iconic places and getting in as many ocean sunrises as they can.
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!
This was our first stop and it definitely didn’t disappoint. It took us about 45 minutes walking each way, but it was 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.
A road trip isn’t complete without good food stops, plus we’d skipped breakfast, so I was getting pretty hungry by this point! There is plenty of choice at Lorne and we found just what we needed to keep us going with plenty of healthy wholefood and smoothie options. Plus the Lorne cafes and shops are right on the beachfront, so you can enjoy your snack and the famous Lorne views at the same time.
Re-fueled and content 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 so it was recommended to avoid peak times, and it’s not hard to see why, it is as stunning as the walk to get there.
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 this was due to an increase in ship traffic I thought it was an interesting fact nonetheless.
We woke up early for the sunrise at Cape Otway Lightstation (which really in winter isn’t very early). The sunrise was a little cloudy, but it was awesome to be able to watch the lighthouse catch those first rays all to ourselves.
Yep, you read that right, the Great Ocean Road has Redwoods! 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. While these may not be as tall as the towering Mountain Ash trees you can find in the Otways (Maits Rest is a must stop!), they create a magical, dark, serene experience with the trickling of Aire River running right through the middle.
Close to the Redwoods is this impressive waterfall, Hopetoun Falls. It is a short 30 minute, steep (about 200 stairs!) return walk from the car park and winter is the absolutely perfect time to see it. I seriously couldn’t get enough of all the waterfalls surrounded by ferns, there’s something almost fairytale-like about them.
I’m not sure how much of an introduction the 12 Apostles and Gibson Steps really need as they are undoubtedly the most popular and most photographed stops along the Great Ocean Road.
We had planned to be there for sunset to get some photos and, well, we hadn’t received the memo that sunset was cancelled that night, the weather wasn’t great. So we arranged another night at the end of our trip to come back to them. Tip: If you want the inside scoop on the best times to visit, the weather and everything in between, chat to the local team at the Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre, their knowledge is unparalleled.
Hopkins Falls (near Warrnambool)
Hopkins Falls is just off the road and while it is only 12m tall, it is a massive 90m wide and flows over basalt rock making for some really cool rock features. It is particularly impressive in the winter when there’s been some rainfall, so we had a real treat!
Whale watching at Logan’s Beach
There is a specially constructed platform at Logans Beach for viewing whales that use this area as a nursery during the winter months between May and September. 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. Pop in to see the friendly folk at Warrnambool Visitor Information Centre for all the tips on recent whale sightings.
This spot is just perfect at sunset. There are a lot of rocky outcrops and tide pools, making for a really interesting place to photograph and watch the sun set. This time the weather did turn it on and we even got a rainbow amongst it all!
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 a few 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.
Winter on the Great Ocean Road can get cold but there are plenty of ways to warm up, and this is one of the best of them – Deep Blue Hot Springs in Warrnambool. A long soak in a 38.5°c geothermal mineral pool was like heaven. There are a number of different natural pools and some with essential oils that I never wanted to leave.
Once we realised we should probably get going to explore some more, we 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 in Port Fairy.
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. You can walk or ride across to the lighthouse and in the summer you can also see the shearwater birds return to their nests here!
This is definitely the place to be to see some wildlife! We were greeted with three cheeky emus right at the start and even saw koalas and kangaroos. The actual grounds are stunning for a walk too. Make sure to also stop in to experience Tower Hill, a lake in the crater of an extinct volcano, almost 3kms wide.
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 dressing gown, but sunrises along the Great Ocean Road are always worth getting up for.
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 Centre 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 a petrified forest around. It made the perfect setting for watching the sunset.
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 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!
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 Gibson 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 capitalised by photographing at both 12 Apostles and Gibson Steps during sunset, then headed 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.
Sunrise at the 12 Apostles
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, just make sure you rug up! 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 waterfall 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 pretty. We stopped several times along the way to snap some photos and got our final sunset at Aireys Inlet.
We finally arrived back in Melbourne around 7pm, exhausted after such a full itinerary, but bursting with excitement and feeling fully rejuvenated after such an amazing, memorable trip.
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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.