The Great Ocean Road is a gorgeous stretch of coast along the southern part of Australia. Many people think you need several days and a good tour company to see everything, but that’s not the case at all. It is totally possible to self drive the Great Ocean Road in just one day.
Self driving the Great Ocean Road is fairly simple because the roads are pretty well managed and it’s easy to navigate. Once you know what sites to see it’s a piece of cake.
Where is The Great Ocean Road?
The main stretch of the Great Ocean Road runs from Geelong to Warnambool. The drive from Melbourne to Geelong doesn’t offer much as it’s just along a highway rather than the ocean. Most of the stunning landscape will begin around Apollo Bay.
While self driving the Great Ocean Road will take you most of the day, Warnambool isn’t that far from Melbourne – just a few hours on the highway. The reason the Great Ocean Road takes longer is because it’s not as direct, it’s windy and the speed limits are obviously much slower. Plus, you’ll want to stop at all of the beautiful sites!
My biggest bit of advice is to drive to Warnambool on the Great Ocean Road but just return on the highway. It’s must faster and once it’s dark the sights simply aren’t as nice anyway.
Self Drive the Great Ocean Road in One Day
I still can’t believe how gorgeous the water is and how awesome mother nature can be. Immediately starting in Apollo Bay, things were absolutely stunning.
The road right by Apollo Bay has a lot of lookouts where you can easily pull over and enjoy the view so I thoroughly enjoyed those, and there’s certainly no shortage. It definitely helped that it was a gorgeous day, though I would imagine dark clouds would just make it moody and awesome.
Apollo Bay itself is a nice beach side town with some cute shops and lots of restaurants that favor seafood. We had a really pleasant lunch there and walked around a bit, but I was dumb and didn’t take any photos. Because the only three things ever on my mind are coffee, food and travel, I think I was in too much of a food coma to think straight and then I had a mission of finding some coffee before we left again, so taking photos didn’t really cross my mind.
I was pretty disappointed to discover after leaving Apollo Bay that a big stretch of the road goes inland (I thought this was the Great Ocean Road, not the Great Valley Road?) but still it was nice enough and I got a cool view of the bay.
The road connects back with the coast around Princetown and then it’s pretty much non-stop sites until the end at Warnambool.
Top Sights when Self Driving the Great Ocean Road
The Twelve Apostles
Our first stop was the Twelve Apostles, and this is by far the most popular and commonly associated site with the Great Ocean Road, so it was incredibly busy and crowded. Not my favorite.
The Twelve Apostles was spectacular in all their glory with the beautiful backdrop of blue ocean. I spent a good 20 minutes counting and recounting the rocks, never getting to 12, and became very confused. Only then did I notice the information boards and discovered you can’t actually see all 12 at once – so, no, you’re not going crazy either if you didn’t get to 12.
Loch Ard Gorge and Thunder Cave
After the Twelve Apostles is Loch Ard Gorge, named after the ship, Loch Ard, which crashed there in 1800s. It’s not hard to see how they crashed a ship there with all those huge rock formations and tall cliffs.
Nearby there’s Thunder Cave, which was impressive and massive and very thunderous. You can’t go down, nor would you want to, but you can admire it from above. There are also some nice, short walks by the cave and we saw an echidna on one of those which was super exciting since I’ve never seen an awake, wild echidna before.
London Bridge and the Arch
Following Loch Ard Gorge and Thunder Cave there’s London Bridge and the Arch, both natural rock arches formed from thousands of years of water pounding the surfaces. Both were impressive and I didn’t realize just how huge London Bridge was until I saw it towering in front of me.
London Bridge used to be connected to the mainland, but in 1990 the connecting rock fell into the ocean. Luckily no one was hurt, but two people were stranded on the new rock island were rescued by a helicopter hours later.
The Arch is much smaller than London Bridge, but is still pretty spectacular considering it was made completely by nature. Then again, this applies to everything along the Great Ocean Road. I was continually astounded by the magnificent things Mother Nature can do.
Coming up next is a rock formation called the Grotto and I have to say I think it was one of my favorites. It also is a rock arch, but it has these little pools of water and then it opens up into the ocean. We had to climb down several stories of steps to get there but it was so worth it. I was kind of surprised by just how orange the rock was down there.
While The Grotto may just be a sinkhole, I think it’s the combination of it being part-cave and part-arch that makes it so special. Looking through it at the ocean the reflections in the pools below is amazing and it definitely shouldn’t be missed.
I also found this one of the least busy of the sights so fewer people to battle with.
Bay of Martyrs
Next up is the Bay of Martyrs, a spectacular rock formation, but the history behind this name is pretty grim. Europeans killed a large group of Aborigines here but essentially running them all the cliffs, also reflected in the names of nearby places like Massacre Bay.
Stories like this are incredibly hard to hear, especially when you’re looking at such a stunning landscape, but it’s important to educate ourselves on the past so that the future doesn’t repeat itself.
Apart from the sad stories behind the naming of the beautiful landmark, there are lots of walking trails should you have some extra time to explore.
Bay of Islands
We lucked out when we saw the Bay of Islands because the main viewing area’s sign was missing, so we went past it and ended up coming across a deserted viewing area totally by accident. It’s rare to be able to enjoy such a widely-known attraction almost entirely by yourself.
People say that the light limestone in this area reflects light in such a way that makes it pop even more on cloudy days so if you’re a photography fanatic than this may be the place for you to play around a bit.
After the Bay of Islands it’s about 40 more minutes along to Warnambool, mainly through farmland. At this point, you can choose to return back on the highway to Melbourne in just a matter of hours, completing the Great Ocean Road in one full day, or you can stay the night in Warnambool and return via the Great Ocean Road backward or the highway.
Tips for Driving the Great Ocean Road
Now that you’re pumped up to do this drive yourself, there are some things you should keep in mind when you choose to drive the Great Ocean Road in one day.
Although it’s completely possible to drive the Great Ocean Road in one day, you’re going to want to get an early start, especially if you’re not doing it in the summer and light is limited. Plus, it’s nice to beat some of the biggest crowds by getting everywhere just a tad earlier.
This sounds obvious, but I saw a lot of people who were speeding along the Great Ocean Road and not only is that dangerous to yourself, but it’s dangerous to other drivers and wildlife. There are some really tight hairpin turns and it gets really windy on the ocean so it’s simply not safe to go that fast.
I know you want to get in as much as you can in your one day itinerary, but just make the smart decision to drive safely.
Number of Drivers
While two drivers would be ideal, you don’t need that to drive the Great Ocean Road in one day at all. Although I went with Michael, I’m the only one who has a license so I did all of the driving myself. Although I was exhausted, by the end it was well worth it and I would totally do it again.
If you are driving alone, just make sure to take care of yourself. Take breaks when you need to, hydrate and if you’re sleepy just pull over and take a break. Safety is of the utmost importance.
Enjoy the View
Don’t get so wrapped up in the bustle to get from sight A to sight B that you forget to actually look at the view the entire way! Some of the most gorgeous spots we saw were just little places we pulled over on the side of the road to take a quick snap.
Don’t let these moments pass you by. Some of my favorite memories from travel are rarely the planned moments, but rather the unexpected ones.
If you have limited time and still want to experience this gorgeous part of Australia, just remember it’s possible to do the Great Ocean Road in one day provided you’re smart about your time.
I couldn’t recommend road tripping the Great Ocean Road enough if you’re ever in the Melbourne area because it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen and surprisingly most of the sites aren’t even extremely touristy. It’s a perfect way to spend a gorgeous spring weekend.