From surfing the rolling waves of Torquay to stargazing through giant windows in luxury lodges, discover the best things to do, places to stay and spots to eat and drink in our definitive guide to Australia’s Great Ocean Road.
Stretching along the coast of Australia from Torquay to Allansford, the Great Ocean Road twists past crescent-shaped bays, towering cliffs, resort towns and tangled rainforest. As you drive, you’ll hear the waves crashing against the rocks and watch the wild landscapes rolling by. Make sure you get your forty winks in a stylish hotel, dine at one of the best restaurants in the area and tick an unforgettable experience off your bucket list with this Culture Trip guide.
The cocoa-coloured Lorne Hotel sits a short amble from the beach, so within minutes you can be digging your toes into powdery sand, jogging along the boardwalk or taking a refreshing dip in the ocean. When you’ve had your fill of sun and sea, return to your light-filled room, crack open a cold one from the bar fridge and cool down under the gentle air conditioning. With steel-blue walls, rattan lamp shades and woven wall hangings you’ll feel like you never left the golden shores. Queen rooms have the benefit of a balcony for soaking up the sunset, while executive suites offer a lounge, fireplace and bath.
Leave the kids at home, pack your swimsuit and stick the champers in the cool bag. The Drift House is an adults-only laid-back retreat from which you can take long, leisurely swims in the solar-heated outdoor pool and devour locally sourced breakfasts of smoked meats, fresh fruit and artisan sourdoughs. There are six individually designed suites spread over a Victorian bluestone house, Edwardian villa and modern extension. Step into cinematic worlds with Suite Four’s giant film projector, sprawl on Suite Six’s daybed with a gripping murder mystery or curl up by the open fireplace and sip your bubbly in Suite Three’s private walled courtyard.
Alkina Lodge is squirrelled away among thick forest just a short drive from the Twelve Apostles. Created by award-winning architects, these four-bedroom lodges take an eco-friendly approach with solar heating, handmade bricks and filtered rainwater to drink. In the mornings, wake up to the sound of laughing kookaburras, stare out the window at grazing kangaroos and listen to the whistle of the coastal breeze over a frothy coffee from the lodge’s Nespresso machine. In the evening, take a long soak in the egg-shaped bath and gaze up at the Milky Way through the giant windows that span the ceilings.
After hours of driving in a hot car, being battered by the sun’s rays and tasting the salty coastal air, you’ll be racing to the beach for a dip in the refreshing sea. While you’re there, why not try a surfing lesson? Take a pit stop at Torquay or Anglesea, wiggle into a wetsuit and learn the basics from an experienced instructor. You’ll be taught everything from paddling out into the water to finding your balance and getting up on the board, so you’ll be riding the waves in no time.
Leave behind endless roads, gesticulating drivers and puffing traffic to breathe in the fresh air of Australia’s untamed wilderness. Hop off at Tower Hill, an otherworldly nature reserve in a crater of a dormant volcano, lace up your walking boots and embark on a tour with a friendly local guide. Binoculars are usually provided, so you can get a close look at native wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and emus. As you walk, listen to stories about the indigenous communities, watch birds skim the waters of the wetlands and listen for the rustle of munching koalas.
The Twelve Apostles, a famous collection of weather-beaten limestone stacks, aren’t the only treasures on the coast of Warrnambool: think decaying shipwrecks, eroded rock formations and craggy grottos, which can all be discovered on an immersive tour. You’ll get to see sights such as the London Arch (formerly the London Bridge), which partially collapsed in 1990, and the Bay of Martyrs, where destroyed vessels are hidden under crashing waves. Along the way your guide will share the history of each spot and give you a chance to snap some photos.
Where to eat
Cocktail Bar, Restaurant, Argentina, Seafood, Cocktails
The aromas of smoky grilled meat and sounds of live music often spill from the doors of Mestizo, enticing passersby with the promise of authentic Argentinian fare and buzzy vibes. Inside, flames burst from cocktail shakers and ice cubes rattle as bartenders in Hawaiian shirts mix delicious concoctions. Kick things off with a salt-rimmed margarita and an aperitivo of oysters or olives, saving space for fresh seafood tapas or a meat dish – the lamb is particularly popular – plus a creamy chocolate ganache and fennel sorbet dessert.
Stepping inside the moodily lit Coffin Sally feels like entering a voodoo lair: wildflowers sprout from animal skulls, dried twines and threadbare rags dangle from light fixtures and small milk bottles are stuffed with sprigs of lavender. The food is more of a blessing than a curse, however, with delectable pizzas such as the veggie-friendly Whoops a Daisy – topped with roast pumpkin, goat’s cheese and mozzarella – and the not-so-veggie-friendly Pig Lover, with salami, bacon and ham. Wash them down with a zesty pale ale or a passionfruit cocktail.
You’ll want to celebrate with a hearty meal and tipple or two when you reach the end of your twisting drive along the Great Ocean Road. The 19th-century Proudfoots by the River is in Warrnambool, a short drive from the route’s end in Allansford, and gives you a front-row seat to the rippling waters of Hopkins River. Pull up a seat in the former boathouse and peruse the seasonal menu – featuring belly-warming chicken parma, lamb shoulder and pork belly dishes, not to mention battered Portland flake and chips – before picking your poison from the extensive wine list.
These recommendations were updated on October 2, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.