At the top of pretty much everyone’s Melbourne bucket list is the beautifully scenic, coastal drive of the Great Ocean Road. There’s a whole bunch of tours to book from your standard day trip, a sunset tour, a 2 or 3 day tour coupled with the Grampians/Phillip Island or there’s the tour I recently did which was the Great Ocean Road in reverse. The idea of this – as you can probably guess – is to visit the main sight (Twelve Apostles) at the very beginning of the tour before most of the crowds from other tours join you to begin a selfie war!
When choosing one, the reverse tour sounded best to me. The fewer the crowds, the better the experience surely. And it was definitely beneficial. There were of course other people there but not masses of tour groups jumping off buses to crowd around you and spoil the views and overall experience. More like small groups, families, couples and solo travellers. Bearing in mind the time we arrived at the Twelve Apostles was something like 10am and the drive out from the city is around 2 hours, you should prepare for an earlier start but know that it will be worth losing a few more precious moments in bed for the calmer views.
On leaving Melbourne, our tour guide talked us through the itinerary of the day and we stopped for a short tea and biscuit break in a country town called Colac. This is not so much a stop on the tour to see things. It is merely an energizer as the tour company are obviously aware how early a start it is and that the people need their morning caffeine! After this, the journey continues past a lot of fields and cows – an opportune time for a nap unless fields and cows are your thing.
Eventually you’ll arrive at your first major stop of the day, the Gibson Steps. From here you’re gonna get your first epic view of that iconic Victorian coastline. Descend the steps to the beach and don’t go near the sea unless you’re insane! You’ll soon notice nobody is paddling. The waves are fierce. All I could think staring out at them was ‘I would die. I would literally die if I attempted walking in there now.’ So there you go.
Less than 10 minutes after jumping back on the bus from the Gibson Steps, you’ll be at your next stop ready to see the Twelve Apostles, of which there may or may not be 12 of but I’ll let you discover that for yourself! Bit of fun eh?! Doesn’t really matter how many of them there are, they just make an incredible view. They’re like a pinch-yourself-you’re-in-Australia-now view.
Up next is Loch Ard Gorge, home to a fascinating tale of a shipwreck in the 1870’s. There are three paths to walk here, all with equally stunning rugged coastline views.
I’m not sure if this is part and parcel of all Great Ocean Road tours, but next we drove away from the ocean for a while and onto the ‘Green Coast’ where we ventured into Aire Valley. Our tour guide pretty much promised we’d spot some koalas and that no other tour companies go there. Not sure how true that is but there certainly wasn’t anyone else there at the time we visited, except a few campers. Sure enough, we walked a few minutes past a crowd of Eucalyptus trees and spotted 3 koalas, including one Joey. They were high up and sort of camouflaged behind the branches but visible enough! I definitely didn’t expect my first koala sighting to be in Victoria!
From here, we drove to Maits Rest in Otway National Park to throw a bit of rainforest into the mix! We followed the path, listening to the chirps of birds, touched some spongey ferns and bent our necks looking up at a lot of extremely tall trees that surrounded us.
Definitely included in other Great Ocean Road tours I’ve seen is a visit to this next place: Apollo Bay, a small beach town. This was an exciting one for me, not just for the cute little local vibe and the sandy beach, but for the famous ice cream parlour, Dooleys. When you hear you’ve just arrived in a town with award-winning ice cream you gotta jump off that tourbus and get some QUICK. There were a lot of flavours on offer. After a good 6 minutes I’d say of walking up and down to peruse the selection and make lots of indecisive noises, I finally chose some kind of caramel-fudge-choc-chip combo. It was a delight, thankfully! It was a toss-up between that and apple pie. (Luckily for me, Australia loves an ice cream parlour and where there is ice cream, there is a happy Lucy).
Ice cream indulgence over, we drove continuously for quite some time through the Surf Coast, jumping out once for a photo opportunity in a spot where the ocean looked extra nice. We passed the town of Lorne, and eventually ended up at the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch. Around this time is when I really tuned in on the historic side of the day. The story behind the Great Ocean Road is a really interesting one and one that I will let your experienced tour guide explain to you!
After this, the journey back to the city begins. So now to sum up everything and ask whether this tour (and those similar) are worth the standard pricing of $135 (roughly £76). For me, the answer is: Yes. The drive is pretty far out from Melbourne and to do this on my own would have required a lot of strategic planning. Not to mention I’d need a car and by the time I re-fuelled a couple of times (same amount of times the bus topped up) and bought my own lunch and drinks (also provided on the tour) I’d surely be spending close to $135 (haven’t checked what Australian fuel prices are like). Instead, I had a hassle-free day of being driven around the top spots whilst having stories told to me by an experienced and passionate Aussie.
Don’t get me wrong, if I had a campervan and a few pals, I’d so be up for driving the Great Ocean Road without the assistance of a tour company. But as a solo traveller very new to the country, this was my best option. If you want to spend hours walking, sitting or looking at each of the stops along the GOR, a tour won’t be the best bet for you because you’ll be given allocated slots in each before having to board the bus again to move on. However I never felt rushed and the time given to us was just enough for each stop.
In case it makes any difference to your decision, the group size was around 20-25 and the group was a very diverse one of different nationalities and ages. You might just find a new best friend! (Or someone to tag along with who will happily take photos of you, just like I did with a solo Swiss traveller). You will inevitably meet travellers along the way or in your hostel who tell you to ignore tour companies and do your own thing. I see the validity in their points sometimes but think it’s about having a level of confidence to do certain things independently. And each to their own.
Whatever you do, just make sure you bring money for important things like ice cream.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, check out my 3 month itinerary on the rest of the best spots on Australia’s East Coast.