The ultimate Melbourne to Adelaide roadtrip along the Great Ocean Road and taking in Lorne, Apollo Bay, Port Fairy, Mount Gambier and Victor Harbour.
The inland route via Ballarat and Bordertown is faster, but the Great Ocean Road is an incredible experience.
Hero image credit: SATC
Day 1: Melbourne to Lorne
2hr 16min | 142km
Torquay is Australia's surfing capital thanks to its proximity to the mighty Bells Beach. Visit the huge Australian National Surfing Museum, including the Surfing Hall of Fame to discover how a small cluster of surfers created a globally-famous Australian surf industry.
If the weather is good, before you leave Torquay grab a picnic and rent a board (get a lesson if you’re a novice) then head down the road to Bells Beach to try the waves.
The last tour of Split Point Lighthouse starts at 2pm, though it’s still worth a look if you arrive later. A few minutes west is the Great Ocean Road Memorial Archway that commemorates the 3,000 World War I returned soldiers who built the road between 1918 and 1932 – itself a memorial to those who died during the war.
Driving into Lorne on Mountjoy Parade the history of this place as a seaside resort is evident in grand old buildings such as the cinema, Jura, Erskine House, the oldest surviving guesthouse in the state and now part of Mantra, and the Grand Pacific Hotel. It’s possible Rudyard Kipling enjoyed a drink or two at both guesthouses when he visited the town in 1891 – and you can too. Modern places to stay include Cumberland resort, Sandridge Motel/ Lornebeach Apartments and Anchorage Motel. Enjoy water views with your meals at The Bottle of Milk, Swing Bridge Cafe or Moons Licensed Espresso Bar.
Day 2: Lorne to Port Campbell
1hr 45min | 131km
Trace the coast along the beautiful B100 an hour out of Lorne til you get to Apollo Bay nestled between gently rolling hills and soft beaches. The smartly-named Hello Coffee roasts specialty single origin beans, while La Bimba serves fresh produce from the owners’ farm and good Genovese coffee.
Look. Breathe. Look again: the limestone stacks of the Twelve Apostles are simply awe-inspiring. Give yourself the better part of the day to enjoy a picnic above the cliffs or down on the sand. The main trail south from Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre is roughly 2km round trip, and includes 300 metres of sealed paths and viewing areas for people in wheelchairs or prams. You might also see penguins from the cliff top around sunset. Check at the Visitor Centre about access to Gibson Steps just over a kilometre from the car park – you should only climb the steps down to the beach at low tide.
A few minutes west of the Twelve Apostles is the equally amazing Loch Ard Gorge with its sharp cliffs, lively blowholes, gorgeous beach and interesting trails that explain the history of shipwrecks in this beautiful area. The Gorge was named after a clipper from England that was wrecked near Mutton Bird Island, with only two teenage survivors.
After a long day of walking and swimming, check in at the family-friendly NRMA Port Campbell Holiday Park right near the beach, which offers self-contained villas and cabins, ensuite studios and powered camping sites. There are plenty of activities for the kids, including a games room on site and a playground and skate park next door. Cook dinner at the resort or wander into town to try seafood at 12 Rocks or Frying Nemo, and fresh local produce at Forage on the Foreshore.
Day 3: Port Campbell to Portland Bay
2hr 11min | 162km
A busy port during the gold rush era, Warrnambool is now an arts hub for the south west coast with several galleries including The Artery and Warrnambool Art Gallery, and the Wunta Fiesta each February. Explore the town’s maritime history at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, including a shipwreck trail, re-enactments and a Minton porcelain peacock valued at $4 million that somehow survived the wreck of the Loch Ard.
Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve is just over 20 minutes west on the Princes Highway. Take a hike around an ancient volcano and learn about the Aboriginal and natural history from the guides at Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre. Walking tours are between an hour and two hours, and include lessons on native food and medicines, boomerang throwing and identifying local wildlife.
An old whaling station and current fishing port, Port Fairy is a picturesque seaside town with more than 50 National Trust listed buildings. Visit during summer and you can experience the Moyneyana Festival from 26 December to 26 January, while the Port Fairy Folk Festival is held mid-March. Get takeaway from Sterling Espresso Bar, Rebecca’s Café or Bank St + Co and soak in the view down by the harbour.
Sleep and eat at NRMA Portland Bay Holiday Park with its water view cabins, ensuite cabins and powered camping sites. The camping sites are pet-friendly too. It’s a minute’s walk to Nunn’s beach for a swim, or a couple of minutes to the port. You can explore the town and foreshore by cable tram or on foot, including the Portland Visitor Centre with a giant sperm whale skeleton inside, the Powerhouse Motor & Car Museum and Whalers Bluff Lighthouse.
Day 4: Portland Bay to Beachport
2hr 20 min | 194km
Take the C193 route out of Portland and set your GPS for “Seal Colony” nearly 30 minutes’ drive. From the main carpark you’ll likely build up a sweat on the two-hour round trip walk down the cliffs to the seal colony, or if you drive over to Cape Bridgewater Blowholes, there’s an easier but longer walk to see seals, with the bonus of blowholes and petrified limestone forest – allow four hours for the round trip. You can also book a Seals by Sea surf boat tour if you’re feeling adventurous.
Stick to the coastal route to get to Mount Gambier and its mind-blowingly beautiful Blue Lake in 90 minutes. Buy picnic supplies and drive along Bay Road to get to the extinct volcano that holds Blue Lake, which turns a bright turquoise in summer and a steel grey from autumn to the end of spring. The walking trail is 3.6km, so allow a few hours. Guided tours can be booked at the visitor centre.
Cut across country an hour on the Princes Highway to Beachport and soak your trek-weary body in the salt-dense Pool of Siloam. Stay at Beachport Motor Inn, or Bonnies. The Old Wool and Grain STORE Museum shares the area’s history of the Buandik people over thousands of years and more recently the fishers, whalers and farmers. Eat at the Waterfront Cafe at the Jetty or Beachport Take-Away & Coffee Shop.
Less than an hour from Mount Gambier is the red wine country wrapped around Coonawarra, which some say is rather like the Bordeaux region of France. There are, of course, plenty of amazing places to eat including Chardonnay Lodge, Fodder & Ottelia, Milieu at The Bushman’s Inn, Pipers of Penola, and Vintage Cafe at Penola.
Day 5: Beachport to Victor Harbor
4hr 22min | 402km
Coorong’s interwoven waterways are best enjoyed by kayak or boat, though there’s also a birdwatching trail along the Narrung Peninsula for viewing the more than 240 bird species that live here year around or visit while migrating to Asia and Antarctica. The indigenous Ngarrindjeri people who have been custodians of the area for many thousands of years are also involved in park management and tours, including Camp Coorong near Meningie.
Set on the beachfront, NRMA Victor Harbor Beachfront Holiday Park is the perfect place to base yourself whilst exploring South Australia's Flueurieu Peninsula.
If you visit between June and October you’ll be able to see southern right whales in their breeding sanctuary at Encounter Bay nearby, while the rest of the year the most popular water creatures are the cute little penguins that live at Granite Island. Catch the horse-drawn tram out along the causeway to Granite Island Recreation Park with its huge lichen-covered boulders and dusk tours of the penguin colonies. Sleep at NRMA Victor Harbor Beachfront Holiday Park has a great range of accommodation, including Seaview family villas, cabins, studios and powered sites. Kids will especially enjoy the jumping pillow, waterpark and pumptrack (for bikes, scooters and skates). Eat at Anchorage Seafront for seafood, Cafe Bavaria for burgers, Loco Mexican, Nino’s for modern Italian and seafood, Two Bees for dessert and Whalers for fine dining.
Day 6: Victor Harbor to Adelaide
1hr 14min | 84km
McLaren Vale is so close to Adelaide it’s almost worth checking in to your hotel in the city then coming back. The region is famous for dry reds, including shiraz and grenache, although there are an astounding number of other varieties from merlot and cabernet sauvignon to whites such as chardonnay. If you don’t fancy wine so much, swim at Aldinga or Maslin Beach then check out some art galleries including Black Cockatoo Arthouse, Freerange Gallery, Stump Hill Gallery and the new Fleurieu Arthouse.
Check in at the Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury on Flinders Street in the CBD. The complex includes an indoor heated pool and spa, gym and restaurant, and a babysitting service is easy to arrange for parents that want a night out. It’s a short walk to Chinatown, the South Australian Museum, Migration Museum and city shopping and dining districts; and less than a kilometre to the Adelaide Oval (including the Bradman Collection), the pandas at Adelaide Zoo or Adelaide Botanic Garden.