It’s the ultimate Aussie road trip; the Great Ocean Road. With breathtaking views and lots of free places to visit and camp, it’s an unmissable trip for anyone backpacking around Australia. We took the road all the way to Adelaide, but you can finish in Allansford, the official last town of the Great Ocean Road (GOR) if you then wish to turn back. However, there is still plenty to see beyond this point if you, like we did, chose to continue on.
To make things easier, I’ve broken down our route into our daily itinerary. We found all our campsites through Wikicamps, a great resource and well worth the purchase!
Day one; Melbourne > Lorne
Okay, so we didn’t get very far on our first day. We had a slow start before we left Melbourne, having to pack up the car, get petrol and get ourselves out of the city traffic. We left around 1pm, and it was probably around 3pm before we hit Torquay.
Torquay is the first official town of the GOR, with the beautiful Bells Beach and lots of other scenic viewpoints around. I’ve lost count of how many times we stopped to take in the views, which resulted in us not getting to Memorial Arch, just 30 minutes drive from Torquay, until the sun was setting. Still, it looked impressive in the evening light, and seeing the Memorial Arch and reading about the history of the road and the area really felt like the beginning of our road trip to me.
A short drive from here, we continued on to our free camp spot for the night, Allenvale Mill bush campground which is right outside the town of Lorne. Impressively for a free campsite it had a toilet and running water facilities, the only negative was having to camp away from your car, which meant hauling all our stuff backwards and forwards to get set up and take down then next day. A minor inconvenience really though, and it was a very quiet and peaceful spot to stop full of interesting wildlife.
Day two; Lorne > Port Campbell
Greeted by kangaroos outside our tent in the morning, we packed up camp and got ourselves ready to head off on day two. A short 15 minute drive from our campsite was the beautiful Erskine Falls. I’m a sucker for a good waterfall, and with a huge cascading drop and walking tracks to view it from both the top and the bottom, I really enjoyed our short stop off here.
Next up, we headed into Lorne for some brunch. The previous night camping had been our first night camping in Australia and neither of us were ready to brave the gas stove quite yet! After a search on trip advisor we opted for Bottle of Milk, a nice local cafe right on the waterfront and got a burger each. Both were delicious, and with us set up for the day, we then continued with our trip. Backtracking a little we headed back to see Memorial Arch in daylight this time for some quick picture opportunities, then the rest of the day was spent taking in the beautiful scenic views along the drive to Twelve Apostles. In our running theme of arriving everywhere late, the sun was setting again as we arrived at Twelve Apostles. At first I was a little disappointed to have arrived so late in the day, but it turned out a wonderful time of day to take in the view, and it looked spectacular in the evening light. Being winter I’d expect this not to be peak season for the GOR, yet it was still very busy here so be prepared to fight through the many tourists to get that perfect picture!
That night we camped at Port Campbell, this time a paid campsite but with an honesty box system. Wikicamps reviews said the ranger would occasionally come around, but we saw only the few other campers there that night. It was a nice campsite, with very good showers, toilets and cooking facilities. Despite actually having cooking facilities available here, we decided tonight was the night to crack open the gas stove and successfully cooked our first meal on the road (pasta if I remember correctly).
Day three; Port Campbell > Portland
Starting off in a similar fashion to the day before, we backtracked a little to go see Twelve Apostles in daylight. In this case I actually thought it looked better by evening light, but I imagine that was mostly due to it being an overcast day so that was a little unfortunate. Still, it’s obviously one of the highlights of the GOR so was well worth going back to see. While there we also took a walk down Gibson’s steps to take in the views from sea level.
Continuing our drive along the GOR, we stopped to look at lots of the amazing cliff side formations including Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge and The Grotto. The Grotto was probably my favourite of them all, but all are really impressive. We also made a quick stop for some fish and chips (you have to at the seaside), at a place named Frying Nemo in Port Campbell and sat and enjoyed them at the beach. This day actually took us to the end of the official GOR, but as mentioned before our road trip was far from over here.
To finish off our day we drove to Warrnambool to go whale watching at Logan Beach, a spot thats famous for whale sightings. The best time of year to see them is from June to September and we managed to spot a couple in the distance which was pretty cool.
That night we set up camp in Henty campsite, another free camp spot with a toilet block. It wasn’t until after we arrived we realised it was for self contained vehicles only (Wikicamps did say this, but I hadn’t read the listing properly), but it was already dark and we didn’t want to drive on, so we set up our tent anyway and had no problems.
Day four; Portland > Mt Gambier
Packing up our campsite early, we first drove to Cape Nelson lighthouse to take a look around. It was pretty nice up here, with just enough to see for a short stop. Moving on we headed to Cape Bridgewater. Two seal colonies live along this shore, but the viewpoint isn’t accessible by car, so you have the option of two walking paths that take you there. On reading the reviews, one is shorter (5km round trip) but more difficult, and one is a longer (12km round trip), more leisurely walk. We chose the longer walk of the two, and absolutely loved it. We set off at 11:30am and with a stop for lunch to sit and watch the seals, we were back at our car by 4pm. This is up there with one of my favourite walks I’ve done, as the views were just absolutely incredible and we hardly passed anyone meaning we could enjoy it all peacefully at our own pace.
Walk finished, we were both exhausted and ready to camp. We had around an hour of driving to do before arriving in Mt Gambier, where we camped at the showgrounds. It took us a little while to find the camp spot, but we managed eventually and with a really friendly ranger we got set up in a nice camp spot for the night.
Day five; Mt Gambier > Naracoorte
Mt Gambier I hadn’t heard much about before this trip, but it turned out to be a fantastic little stop. There’s a couple of sink holes around the city, and the Umpherston sink hole was fascinating, both in its history and appearance. We were also lucky enough to get up close with the most adorable little possum while there. We also took a trip to Blue Lake, which seasonally changes colour from a steel grey to brilliant blue, though sadly was grey on our visit. Next stop was to check out the Lady Nelson Visitor Centre, which offers a free walkthrough experience explaining the history of the area. To finish off our time in the town, we headed to Engelbrecht Cave, and took the guided tour down into the cave to hear about its formation and history. It sadly was used as a dump until 1979, when it was excavated to reveal this amazing underground cave system that runs right under the town. It’s a very popular spot with divers, with people coming from all over the world to explore these cave tunnels, though I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying myself!
I think we could have easily spent a second day in Mt Gambier as it did have so much to offer, but we’d already made the decision (and booking) to stay in Adelaide the following night, so we continued on to Naracoorte where we explored the wet cave before camping at Naracoorte showgrounds.
Day six; Naracoorte > Adelaide
While I’ve titled the blog post five days, we did actually take six. However, all we did on the last day was head straight to Adelaide with a stop off at the Prancing Pony Brewery just outside the city on the way to check out their beers and tasty lunch menu. When planning the road trip I did find plenty to see between Mt Gambier and Adelaide, including wineries, Victor Harbour and Kangaroo Island, but we felt none of them called out to us as must see, so we skipped them this time around and headed straight for the city.
The Great Ocean Road is certainly an incredible drive, and even in the winter everything was spectacular. This will definitely stay with me as one of my most memorable times in Australia and I hope to get the chance to come back and do it all again in the future.