Road Trip: Great Ocean Road
Arguably one of the country's most spectacular drives, the iconic Great Ocean Road hugs the windswept, rugged coastline just west of Melbourne. Allow six days for this 900-km (562-mile) road trip and be prepared to enjoy some of Victoria's best.
Day 1: 187 km (117 miles)
Having escaped Melbourne, drive down the Princes Freeway for about 75 km (47 miles) to the Torquay/Great Ocean Road turnoff. A quarter hour more at the wheel brings you to Torquay, Australia's premier surfing and windsurfing resort town. On your way out of town, detour to Bell's Beach, the setting for Australia's principal surfing competition each Easter. The renowned Great Ocean Road officially starts 30 km (19 miles) beyond Bell's Beach, but the dramatic splendor of Victoria's southwest coast reveals itself sooner. Stop in Lorne, at the foot of the lush Otway Ranges, for lunch. Once you're back on the road, slow down and enjoy it. The winding Great Ocean Road is narrow; don't pass unless you can see far ahead, and don't pull onto the shoulder to admire the view! There are designated pull-over areas where you can safely enjoy the vista.
Drive the 45 km (28 miles) to Apollo Bay for dinner and the night.
Day 2: 234 km (146 miles)
The 91-km (57-mile) Great Ocean Walk starts just west of Apollo Bay in Marengo. Here the Great Ocean Road heads inland. Stay on the main road to Lavers Hill; then detour about 17 km (11 miles) east to the Otway Fly. This 1,969-foot-long elevated treetop walk takes you up into the rain-forest canopy for a bird's-eye view of giant myrtle beech, blackwood, and mighty mountain ash. Backtrack to Lavers Hill and the Great Ocean Road. The road's most famous landmarks lie along a 32-km (20-mile) stretch of coast within Port Campbell National Park. First stop is the Twelve Apostles—there are now only seven of these offshore limestone stacks, but who's counting? Take a helicopter flight for a jaw-dropping view of the eroded and indented coast. Next stop is Loch Ard Gorge, named after the iron-hulled clipper that hit a reef and sank here in 1878. Loch Ard is a natural gallery of sea sculpture, where you could wander for hours on a sunny day. Don't stay in your car if the sun doesn't show, though. Only when a howling wind is roughing up the Southern Ocean will you fully appreciate why this is called the Shipwreck Coast. Leaving the Great Ocean Road now, drive to the maritime village of Port Fairy for the night. In whale season (June–November), divert to Logan's Beach, in Warrnambool, where southern right cows and calves often loll just off the beach.
Day 3: 146 km (91 miles)
Take a leisurely post-breakfast promenade around Port Fairy, Victoria's second-oldest town and widely considered to be its prettiest. Then backtrack 7 km (4½ miles) to the Penshurst/Dunkeld Road and drive 74 km (46 miles) north to Dunkeld, on the edge of the Grampians National Park. Stop for lunch before undertaking the 60-km (37-mile) drive to Halls Gap, the main accommodation base. Be sure to slow down and enjoy one of the most picturesque drives in the Grampians; pull in at the Brambuk Cultural Centre, just before Halls Gap, and learn about the park's rich Aboriginal history.
Check into your Halls Gap accommodation for two nights.
Day 4: No driving
Spend a day exploring on foot. Walks of varied grades showcase the Grampians' extraordinary geology; don't miss the Pinnacle Walk, just out of Halls Gap, the valley and ranges view from Chatauqua Peak, and Hollow Mountain in the park's north.
Day 5: 140 km (88 miles)
Drive out of Halls Gap to Ararat, on the Western Highway, and follow the highway east to the famous gold town of Ballarat. Spend the rest of the morning among the gold-rush-era Victorian architecture on Sturt and Lydiard streets. Visit the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, if only to see the tattered remains of the Southern Cross flag that the rebels flew during the 1854 Eureka uprising over mine license fees. Spend the afternoon at Sovereign Hill, where you can pan for gold, ride a horse-drawn stagecoach through dusty streets, and stick your teeth together with old-fashioned candy.
Day 6: 111 km (69 miles)
Have close and not-so-close encounters with saltwater crocodiles, snakes, wombats, kangaroos, and other Australian fauna at Ballarat Wildlife Park. After that, continue your journey or head back to Melbourne.
Tips and Logistics
Unleaded petrol, diesel, and LPG are available at gas stations in major centers; however, LPG is rare in small country towns.
There is a petrol price cycle in Victoria, which authorities can't—or won't—explain; try to fill up on Tuesday and Wednesday, and avoid buying fuel on Friday.
Choosing accommodation as you go gives you flexibility in when and where you stop. For peace of mind, though, you might prefer to prebook.