My husband and I love a good road trip, but surprisingly we've never done the Great Ocean Road properly – and by properly, I mean driving from Torquay to Allansford and not just from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles.
This trip we were determined to do it right. We bought flights to Melbourne, hired a car and spent two days on the road. And while we didn't quite make it to Allansford, we did get to London Bridge and I think that's pretty darn good.
Here's how you can do it for a romantic getaway like ours.
We're Stef and D, a pair of married jetsetters. Together, we've visited over 50 countries - though we're determined to see even more. All while working full time and paying off a mortgage. We count our dollars at home and away and are here to share our tips on how you can travel on a budget.
Summer is peak season along the Great Ocean Road with temperatures reaching the early 20s. If you want to laze on the beach and drive with the roof off, this is the time to do it.
However, if you want to avoid the throngs of holidaymakers hogging the scenery, a better time to make your trip is in late spring (October-November) and late autumn (April-May).
We chose the latter, travelling at the end of April. It was too cold to dip into the water (unless you're brave) but warm enough to walk around in jeans and a thin long-sleeve top. It's also quiet enough that you'll have no dramas sorting yourself with a front-seat view of the Twelve Apostles.
Keep things super low cost by visiting over winter. However, try to avoid August as this month welcomes the highest rainfall. On the upside, the colder months between May and October are whale migration season. Keep your eyes open.
How to get to the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne
The Great Ocean Road is west of Melbourne’s CBD. If you're flying in, choosing to land in Avalon Airport is a smart move that gets you halfway to Torquay and saves you the headache of driving through the CBD.
From Avalon, follow the M1 past Geelong and turn off onto the C134 to Torquay. From here, it's super easy to drive the Great Ocean Road AKA the B100 as there are signs everywhere.
Book your car hire early but double-check prices around a week out of travelling. While car hire companies offer early-bird discounts, they also offer last-minute discounts to keep their vehicles on the road and out of their parking lots. As long as you haven't prepaid your car, major companies let you cancel for free as late as on the day of hire. We originally booked ours with Europcar three months in advance for $191. We then re-booked four days before our trip for $172.
You'll not fall short of romantic stays along this impressive stretch of road, but before you commit to a hotel, you'll have to commit to a town.
Lorne is heavily praised for its sleepy coastal-town vibe. It has rooms for every budget though the one to beat is the jaw-dropping architectural feat known as The Pole House. It's suspended 40 metres above Fairhaven Beach and breathes natural light and uninterrupted coastal views. It goes from $540 per night but if it's booked out, rest assured it's not the only holiday home for hire with Airbnb hosting a bevy of sweet treehouses and beach houses, too.
While Lorne has all the makings of a romantic getaway, it is only a third of the way along the road. To ensure you don't feel rushed on your second day, Apollo Bay or Princetown are options that sit around the halfway mark.
The night sky over Apollo Bay.
Apollo Bay is also sleepy and is renowned for its seafood while Princetown is a hilly township moments from the Twelve Apostles, making it fantastic to catch the sunrise over the monoliths.
While we toyed with the idea of Chris's, being on a much slimmer budget we chose to stay at Motel Marengo. At $99 per night, it was friendly on our wallet and had a parking space right outside our door and definitely didn't scrimp on the romantic starry sky views.
Keeping an eye on hotel prices after you've booked is key. We booked with Hotels.com which price matches, even against itself. We called them up on a drop of $6 and they honoured it within a day.
Unmissable Great Ocean Road attractions
There's beauty in every corner of the Great Ocean Road but with only two days to see it all, you're going to have to get picky. Here's where we loved, in the order you'll pass them:
The Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery
We were lured into this chocolate heaven early and didn't regret it one bit. Just 10 minutes out of Torquay, this delicious site is quirky to the hilt with kangaroo sculptures covered in ice cream and signs that scream "caution, oompa loompas about".
Inside you can see chocolate being made, buy slabs of the good stuff and dine at the cafe. The hot chocolate we shared came with an extra chocolate shot, you know, just in case there wasn't enough in our drink.
Being a coastal drive there are numerous lighthouses to catch your attention. One of the first to veer off for is Split Point Lighthouse in Fairhaven. It's a short walk up from the beach and is popular with locals on their morning/afternoon jogs.
The other lighthouse to keep on your itinerary is Cape Otway Lightstation (pictured). It's the oldest working lightstation in Victoria but it takes some effort getting to, being a 20-minute drive off the B100 each way. It's also one of the only ticketed spots along the Great Ocean Road, setting each of you back $18.50 each.
You'll find everything from coastal walks and lookout points to art-deco architecture and waterfalls in Lorne. It's the kind of place you'd dedicate a whole weekend trip to.
On a warm day, spend some time on the beach and walk the famous Lorne Pier - nomming on fish and chips from the iconic Lorne Fish & Chips store, naturally.
Teddy's Lookout is a little further down the road and is one of the most scenic spots this side of the Great Ocean Road with the blues of the St Georges River blurring with the gold of the beach.
Twelve Apostles and Gibson Steps
We made a joke of giving this one a pass but honestly, you'd be sorry if you did.
Now crumbled into eight stacks, the viewing station on Castle Rock splits them down the middle (sort of) placing two stacks in the east and six in the west. This way whether you're coming in for a romantic sunrise or a dramatic sunset (pictured), you'll capture something spectacular.
During the day you can walk down the Gibson Steps to stand amongst two of the apostles. It's a unique perspective, though bear in mind the gate to the steps closes at dusk.
Loch Ard Gorge
Most people stop at the Twelve Apostles, but if you drive that little bit further you'll uncover crumbling coastline that you can savour almost to yourselves.
Lord Ard Gorge (pictured above) pushes you out onto the top of jutting cliff faces and walks you down into sandy inlets while London Arch (nee Bridge, pictured below) is a wistful reminder of how fragile this coastline is. Once resembling an arch bridge, its middle fell into the ocean in the 1990s, leaving a stump and an island.
More time to spare?
Foodies should stick around Port Campbell and sample the artisan delights along the Twelve Apostles food trail.
We swung by the Timboon Cheesery and its adorably named Mousetrap Cafe, and Timboon Fine Ice Cream where we were delivered samples of every single flavour by the friendly staff.
Other hot spots along the trail are the Timboon Distillery and Berry World.
How much did we spend?
Flights: $167 return (or $83.50 each) flying on Jetstar
Stephanie Yip is the travel editor at Finder and has been writing about travel and lifestyle for over a decade. She has written for Travel Weekly, Escape, Thomas Cook Magazine, Showpo, The Nibbler and Hostelworld. She was also the editor of kids magazine DMAG. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Technology Sydney and has visited over 50 countries (and counting). She has a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge of travel and helping readers stretch their dollars while on holiday.
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