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An aerial shot of the 12 Apostles and the Great Ocean Road.
Photograph: Supplied/Twelve Apostles

Things you can only do along the Great Ocean Road

Buckle up, because it’s time to discover why this world-famous coastal region really does live up to the hype

By Time Out in association with Visit Victoria

A jaw-dropping vista at every turn. Unforgettable meals that satisfy the senses. Outdoor adventures designed to push you out of your comfort zone. Incredible accommodation you won’t ever want to leave. It doesn’t matter what kind of getaway you’re seeking, the Great Ocean Road delivers on all fronts – and if you ask us, there’s never been a better time to visit. So, what are you waiting for? Get ready to unearth a whole new side to this rugged corner of Victoria.

Think you know everything there is to see and do along the Great Ocean Road? We've teamed up with Visit Great Ocean Road and Visit Victoria for their 'Stay close, go further' campaign to bring you a fresh take on what makes this region so special. Here are the experiences that drive visitors to return year after year, and have cemented the Great Ocean Road as a must-visit destination.

Natural wonders

C’mon, you know there’s no way we could kick off a discussion about the Great Ocean Road’s many natural wonders and not begin with Port Campbell National Park. Home to the country’s most famous collection of limestone stacks – the 12 Apostles, of course – this rugged stretch of crumbling cliffs, wild beaches and windswept lookouts also includes Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge and the Gibson Steps. For a complete change of scenery, follow the giant eucalyptus trees and towering Californian redwoods into the lush depths of the Great Otway National Park. The Gadubanud people are the traditional owners of this ancient land, and there are waterfalls, ferny gullies and dense bushland aplenty. And it would be remiss of us not to mention the Great South West Walk – arguably the state’s best-kept hiking secret. This 250-kilometre loop trail starts and finishes in Portland, and weaves through Cobboboonee National Park, along the fringes of Bridgewater Bay and past blowholes, seal colonies and the historic Cape Nelson lighthouse.

Signature dishes

Lovers of good food rejoice, because the Great Ocean Road does not disappoint in the dining department. We’re not being facetious, either – nestled in the hills of Birregurra is Brae, a modern, sustainable establishment that ranked 57 in the 2021 World’s Best Restaurants longlist. Here, the immersive dining experience lasts a full day, and you’ll be treated to an ever-changing menu that incorporates produce from both the on-site farm and other local suppliers. It’s not cheap, and you’ll need to book ahead, but it could just be the greatest meal of your life. For something a tad more on the casual side, look no further than the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-Op. This one-stop fresh seafood shop sells it all: flake, snapper, squid, abalone and (when in season) southern rock lobster. Or you can always just grab some takeaway fish and chips to enjoy on the beach. Sweet tooths will want to make a beeline for Jane Dough Bakery in Warrnambool. Specialising in gourmet doughnuts, everything here is homemade and preservative-free, and the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible. 

Boutique shops

Sure, seeing the 12 Apostles or dining at a world-class restaurant like Brae is pretty cool, but sometimes you just want to splash some cash and indulge in a little retail therapy, right? Fortunately, the Great Ocean Road has plenty to offer in the way of cute boutiques and specialty stores. If you’re a fan of elegant, handcrafted jewellery (and seeing how it’s made), a visit to the Luone workshop in Port Fairy is a must. At Eagles Nest Fine Art Gallery in Aireys Inlet you’re invited to browse and purchase works by emerging and established artists – many of whom live locally. Then there’s Surf City Plaza in Torquay, AKA the retail home of every major surf brand you can think of. They’re all here – Rip Curl, Billabong, Quiksilver, Ghanda and Oakley – so consider it your chance to stock up on everything from surf boards to wetsuits, boardies and sunglasses.

One-of-a-kind experiences

From the sea to the sky (and the treetops in between), if you’re looking for unparalleled experiences, the Great Ocean Road has got you covered. Start with a splash and hit the water with Apollo Bay Surf and Kayak. The expert team runs a range of fun activities – including surf and stand-up paddleboard lessons – but our top pick would have to be the kayak tour out to an Australian fur seal colony. Expect to get up close with these curious creatures as they swim, dive and play in the waves. Feeling brave? After an adrenaline hit? Then why not jump out of a plane from 15,000 feet in the air. If skydiving has always been on your bucket list, there’s no company more capable to make that dream come true than Skydive 12 Apostles. And trust us, you’ll be too busy admiring the scenery below to even be scared. Fun for the whole family comes in the form of Live Wire Park in Lorne. This outdoor adventure park features a zip line track, high ropes course, elevated trampoline nets, swing bridges and a Tarzan swing.

Country bakeries

If you’re not familiar with the unwritten rules of a road trip, they are as follows: the front seat passenger is in charge of the tunes at all times, someone must yell ‘are we there yet?’ a minimum of three times, and there needs to be at least one scheduled stop at a country bakery. Because what’s a proper road trip without a sausage roll and a strawberry Big M? Along the Great Ocean Road, there’s no place more renowned for its scallop pie than the Apollo Bay Bakery. Whether it’s for brekky, lunch or afternoon tea, these piping-hot parcels of goodness go down a treat every time. Head inland to Mortlake and you’ll find Clarke’s Pies, another purveyor of fine baked goods. We dare you to pick just one treat from the display cabinet filled with slices, biscuits, cakes and tarts. And finally, the Loaf and Lounge in Camperdown may be celebrated for its fresh-outta-the-oven sourdough, but the bacon and egg rolls are the real MVP.

Bodies of water

There’s no denying the lure of the Great Ocean Road’s beaches – they’re pretty spectacular, after all – but there are a couple of lakes that deserve a bit of fanfare too. Lake Elizabeth in the Otways is one that will blow you away with its eerie beauty. Formed more than 50 years ago when a landslide created a natural dam, it’s now punctuated by the trunks of dead trees which jut out of their watery grave like wooden headstones. Visit at dawn or dusk, and you might be lucky enough to spot a platypus. On the southern outskirts of Camperdown is Lake Bullen Merri – a deep volcanic crater that’s a popular spot for boating, fishing, picnicking, walking and water sports. But it’s Lake Condah (also known by its Gunditjmara name of Tae Rak) that is the most sacred of these waterholes. Located within the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape, this significant wetlands site boasts some of the state’s largest and earliest Indigenous aquaculture systems.

Memorable accommodation

Choosing the right accommodation for your Great Ocean Road getaway can be tricky – but only because there are so many fabulous options to pick from. Lucky for you, we’ve done the hard work and come up with three cool-but-quirky options that are surefire winners. The first is a no-brainer, and if you’ve ever driven along the Great Ocean Road you definitely know it. It’s the Pole House, widely considered one of the most photographed homes in Australia. Suspended 40 metres above Fairhaven Beach, the views are – unsurprisingly – insane, and you could easily while away an entire day just sitting on the balcony watching the waves roll in. For something planted firmly on solid ground (although the name does suggest otherwise), check out Sky Pods. Tucked away on a private wildlife refuge property on Cape Otway, these eco-friendly, self-contained and completely off-grid abodes encourage you to switch off and reconnect with nature. Or you can step back in time with a stay at Steam Carriage – an old locomotive carriage in Forrest that has been converted into a three-bedroom lodging. 

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