Going on a tour of the Great Ocean Road is a must when you are visiting Melbourne, Australia. This beautiful stretch of the southern border of Australia west of Melbourne will definitely be one of the highlights of your trip down under. The official start of the Great Ocean Road is in Torquay and goes 151 miles west to the city of Allansford.
We found that the best way to experience it was by a guided bus tour. This way you don't have to drive yourself (it's a 12 hour trip just hitting the major spots) and you have a great tour guide leading the way. Our tour bus of choice - The Little Penguin Bus. It was very reasonably priced and was an overall amazing experience. They also offer a ton of tour options based on budget, length of trip, where you'd like to go and what you'd like to see. We took the "Great Ocean Road" tour that began at 9:30AM in Melbourne and lasted 13 hours. It was just over $120 for the day, breakfast and dinner included! The great thing about this tour was the small size. With only 10 people in the tour group, it was easy to make quick stops and get everyone on and off without taking a huge amount of time. It also allowed the freedom to request stops at places we drove by that looked cool or for a bathroom break.
Anglesea: Our first stop on the tour was in the small town of Anglesea. Here, we stopped and had our first look at the Bass Strait that separates Australia from Tasmania and also dined on cakes and pastries, coffee and tea on the beach (all prepared by our wonderful tour guide). And the best part about this stop is you may just a have a feathery friend join you for your breakfast. Australia is one of the few places in the world where the cockatoo can be found naturally, so having him join us on this morning was quite the treat!
Memorial Arch: Here is the official start of the Great Ocean Road! Other than a structure stretching over top of the road that has a sign reading "Great Ocean Road," there isn't a lot to the place. But as you can see, it is a very good place for photos. And when you have a tour guide like ours, who is also a natural photographer, you get great jumping shots on the first try (for those of us who jumped on time).
Teddy's Lookout at Lorne: This was my favorite spot on the entire Great Ocean Road. Take a small hike through the forest and arrive at an observation deck overlooking a grassy hillside and the Bass Strait's blue water that Australia has to offer. When this view gets old (it never does), take another small hike down the hillside to another observation deck that gives you a slightly different view of the scenery. You'll get a close up look when you leave the lookout and take the winding road down the hill and across the Saint George River. Also, be on the lookout for kangaroos in the hills!
Kennett River Nature Walk: Be ready to see your first wild koala! The Little Penguin Bus will take you off the beaten tour bus path and into the forest where you will be sure to see multiple wild koalas. Although the little guys will be sleeping they are still very, very, very cute. This was actually the only time in my week in Australia that I saw koalas in the wild. The crazy thing about this spot was that there were houses visible from the dirt road we were traveling on. Can you imagine having koalas literally in your backyard? As you make your way from the end of the road back down to the entrance, keep your eyes peeled for all kinds of Australian critters.
Apollo Bay: It's finally time for lunch! You will stop in the town of Apollo Bay where there are a ton of eateries where you can get whatever it is that your craving after a long morning of sight-seeing. We went to a cafeteria-styled restaurant where there were tons of options, such as pizza, chicken, sandwiches, etc. There are also many little shops that you can visit during your lunch break. I recommend using this time to sit in the shade and relax a little bit because you still have a long day ahead of you!
Great Otway National Park: Next up on the itinerary is a rain forest walk through Otway National Park. Although we didn't see any koalas or kangaroos during our trip that doesn't mean that you won't so always be on the lookout! Along with the potential animal sightings, there are some great walking paths and some massive trees (finally found one big enough for my friend and I to fit into!) On your way back to the bus, choose a long route to see even more of the great nature that the park has to offer, or opt for the shorter path to get back to your air-conditioned van faster.
Shipwreck Coast: The Shipwreck Coast area, a part of Port Campbell National Park, was a close second to being my favorite part of the tour. Up first you will check out Loch Ard Gorge, named after a ship that wrecked nearby, which is another wonderful photo op location. After visiting the Gorge, travel 3.5 kilometers South East and arrive at the Twelve Apostles, the huge limestone rocks of which only eight are still remaining. If you brought bug spray with you on the trip this is the time to use it! For some reason, and I don't know if it is always like this, but there were thousands of bugs at the lookout. We could hardly take a decent picture from swatting at the flies and having them land on us. Below is the best group photo we could get but if you look closely you can see the flies on us. The third major stop at Shipwreck Coast is Gibson's Steps. Walk down a huge, 100 meter staircase that is built into the side of the hill and down to the beautiful scene just as sunset hits. It's quite the walk down all the stairs, but it's your last stop on the tour and definitely worth the view at the bottom!
After such a long day on the road, you get to relax and eat a delicious meal at an authentic Aussie pub on your venture home. You're with your tour group all day, but 99% of the time everyone splits up as soon as we arrived at the sights and in the van the tour guide is usually going you information about the next stop, so this will be the first time you get to sit and chat with the people that have came from all around the world to visit Australia as well. This wonderful tour ends with a drop off to front entrance of your hotel (if you're in the Melbourne area).
These are just the highlights of the tour - your tour guide will stop the van at many other locations along the way to allow for photos, a rest, whatever! Our drive took us by a field in the middle of no where that is known for having wild kangaroos. And she was right! Although they were pretty far away, we could see some pretty large animals hopping around in the weeds and I think it's safe to say they were the 'roos!
1. Sunscreen - I got the worst sunburn of my life... from riding on the bus. Sunscreen a lot and sunscreen often.
2. Bug spray - Refer to the 12 Apostles
3. Snacks & Drinks - snacks and drinks are more than welcome on the bus as long as you clean up after yourself. Even though we stop for breakfast, lunch and dinner, there is still a lot of time in the van and you'll want to keep your energy up with all the walking around in the sun. And you'll definitely want to keep a bottle of water with you that you can refill as the day goes.
4. Portable charger - You're going to take tons of photos and your phone is going to die. Quickly. Make sure not to miss out on any photos and bring an extra charger.... or two.
5. Shoes - wear good walking shoes. This tour isn't a beauty contest. Wear something that you are going to be able to walk a couple miles in over the course of the day. And also a pair that you don't care if they get muddy, sandy, wet, etc.