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Visiting the towns along the route of the Great Ocean Road is one of the highlights of the trip. From the famous Torquay surfing beaches and laid-back Lorne to foodies’ favourite Apollo Bay and pretty Port Fairy, each of the Great Ocean Road towns has its own character and attractions.
The Great Ocean Road begins in the town of Torquay 103 kilometres from Melbourne. Key attractions in this picturesque, coastal location include surfing mecca, Bells Beach. Mega surfing brands Quiksilver and Rip Curl both began life here, and the Rip Curl Pro competition takes place at Bells Beach. It’s great spot for those who want to stock up on surf wear and gear, as there’s plenty of local surf shops.
The chance to sample fine wines at the cellar door of Bellbrae Estate winery nearby is certainly one worth taking too. Torquay is all about sand, rolling surf, surfing culture and the Surf Coast Walk. Despite the perhaps off-putting name, you can also snorkel to see local underwater life at Point Danger Marine Sanctuary.
Anglesea is just 10 minutes’ drive west of Torquay, and 113 kilometres by road from Melbourne. Surfing is big news here too, but kids can also splash around in safety at Point Roadknight beach nearby. Coogorah Park has an adventure playground, and older children or adults may hire a canoe to paddle around the Anglesea River channels. This town offers the ultimate in living by the water, with sandy beaches as well as the river.
The town is also a walker’s paradise and great for spotting local flora as well as fauna. Anglesea Golf Club is a must-see, for its legendary 300-strong Eastern Grey Kangaroo population. For mountain bike fans there’s Anglesea bike park as well as tracks through Great Otway National Park. Walkers, meanwhile, can explore Anglesea Heath with its abundant flora and fauna – wallabies, wildflowers, kangaroos and orchids.
Lorne is also a popular base being just 29 kilometres from Anglesea and 118 kilometres from Melbourne. Here you will find cafes, galleries, restaurants and accommodation, as well as a laid-back and arty vibe. Beaches include patrolled Lorne beach for surfing and Shelley Beach for rock-pooling. Anglers, meanwhile, love Lorne Pier, and Lorne is a great place to spot migrating whales if you visit between May and September.
Nature lovers and walkers often venture into Great Otway National Park nearby to see the forest and its waterfalls – there are ten within easy reach of the town, including the dramatic tumbling waters of Erskine Falls. In town, the Lorne Festival of The Performing Arts takes place in early October, and the Lorne Sculpture Biennale in March. The latter sees art installations along the foreshore, and there is also a sculpture park at Qdos Arts.
Apollo Bay is 47 kilometres along the Great Ocean Road from Lorne and 197 kilometres from Melbourne, and a popular stopover on the Great Ocean Walk. The town is nestled among the foothills of the Otway Ranges, and makes a central base for exploring the rainforest and Cape Otway. Foodies are in paradise as there is a regular weekend foreshore market selling the freshest produce, and the Great Ocean Road brewhouse for local craft beers. Don’t miss the Apollo Bay Seafood Festival every February or the Winter Wild festival in August.
Apollo Bay makes a great base for exploring the region. See koalas at Kennett River, look for the platypus at Lake Elizabeth or go to Melba Gully in search of glow worms. Back in town, make sure to sample a seafood dinner. Anglers may also want to try their luck in the local fishing spots too. During May, the town hosts the Great Ocean Road Marathon, a foot race with spectacular views over the Southern Ocean.
Port Campbell is the closest town to the Great Ocean Road’s number one must-see – the 12 Apostles. It is 97 kilometres from Apollo Bay and 230 kilometres from Melbourne. The settlement is positioned within Port Campbell National Park and is a vibrant and colourful spot.
As well as the famous Apostles, there are other limestone formations nearby including The Arch, London Bridge and The Grotto, Loch Ard Gorge, the Bay of Islands and Gibson Steps. The town, like others close by, is popular with anglers, while surfers head to Two Mile Bay for the breaks. At the jetty, see the surf battering the limestone cliffs, just as it did to form the famous local rock formations. Back in town, refuel by savouring some homemade treats from the fabulous cafes and bakeries.
Warrnambool is positioned between green dairy-farming country and the rugged Shipwreck Coast. This town is 256 kilometres from Melbourne and 62 kilometres along from Port Campbell. Warrnambool is a regional centre and as such has plenty of shops, parks, accommodation, galleries and eateries. Lake Pertobe has several fantastic playgrounds for kids of all ages.
In the center of town, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village is a must for history buffs. And a short drive takes you to Tower Hill Reserve’s abundant native wildlife, including emus, koalas and kangaroos. There are some stunning beaches too, including Logans Beach, which Southern High Whales return to yearly to give birth and raise their calves. During May, the Warrnambool Race Carnival is a major draw with its Grand Annual Steeplechase.
Every bit as lovely as its name suggests, Port Fairy is a picturesque fishing village just 29 kilometres from Warrnambool. The Great Ocean Road ends here, and it’s a 287 kilometre trip back to Melbourne. The port is one of Victoria’s busiest, while the bustling village at the end of the Shipwreck Coast is characterised by cottages and stone churches dating from the 1800s, positioned along broad streets framed by tall and fragrant Norfolk pines.
The Port Fairy Folk Festival is held in early March (although sadly postponed in 2021). Port Fairy boasts a thriving local arts scene and the chase to get close to native aquatic and land animals such as whales, dolphins and seals as well as wallabies, emus and kangaroos. In this town you can also explore the arts, take a surfing lesson, watch the fisherman unload the day’s catch or enjoy a round of golf at the impressive links course.
Which towns will you stop at on the Great Ocean Road?
Which beach towns along the Great Ocean Road are calling your name? Will you base yourself centrally in Apollo Bay or Lorne, take several overnight stays in different locations, or stay close to the renowned surf breaks in Torquay or Port Campbell? Every town has its own star attractions, and finding your favourite is all part of the journey.