Wind your way beside the crashing Southern Ocean, twist around hairpin bends hugging limestone cliffs, take pit stops under koala-filled tree canopies, and bask in the sun on secluded beaches on one of Australia’s most spectacular drives: the Great Ocean Road.

While the drive is best known for the iconic Twelve Apostles and famous beaches at Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Lorne and Apollo Bay, many of the region’s treasures are not on the Great Ocean Road itself. It might be hard to tear yourself away from that view, but we recommend you make a detour every now and then and stretch your legs to see historic country towns and lush rainforest where you’ll find native wildlife, Aboriginal cultural experiences and gastronomic delights.

a koala walks along a guard rail alongside the Great Ocean Road in Australia on a cloudy day
Spot koalas along the Great Ocean Road and in the treetop canopies of Great Otway National Park © John Crux / Getty

This stunning coastal road (officially the B100) starts on the stretch between the surf town of Torquay and Anglesea, just over an hour from Melbourne, and ribbons its way along the ocean to finish up between Port Campbell and Warrnambool where it meets the Princess Highway (or the A1).

A walkway to Bells Beach on the Surf Coast of Victoria, Australia
A walkway to the famed waves of Bells Beach on the Surf Coast of Victoria, Australia © bennymarty / Getty Images

Surfs up on Bells Beach

Although you’ve only just started the road trip, you’ll want to veer off the Great Ocean Road early on to get a look at surfers riding the waves at Bells Beach between Torquay and Anglesea. It’s famous as the home of the annual Rip Curl Pro Surfing competition over Easter (as well as the setting for the beach wrestle between Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves in Point Break, although the scene wasn’t actually filmed on location here).

Victoria’s Great Ocean Road: breathtaking views and adventure

Sacred knowledge of the Wathaurung people

Situated close to Bells Beach, Point Addis is a stunning clothing-optional secluded stretch of beach backed by terracotta-colored cliffs and part of the Point Addis Marine National Park. The excellent Koorie Cultural Walk here will teach you a little about the Wathaurung people, who lived in the region for millennia before Europeans arrived by ship to colonize this country.

The bushwalk takes you on a 2km trail with informative plaques along the route. Keep an eye out for spiky echidnas waddling through the brush and wallabies hopping by, as well as taking in dramatic coastal views from the lookout points.

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Kangaroo on the Anglesea golf course Great Ocean Road Victoria Australia
A baby kangaroo just looking for the rest of its family on the Anglesea golf course © John W Banagan / Getty

Surprising golf buddies at Anglesea

The popular seaside town of Anglesea is a magnet for holidaymakers in the summer months for its family-friendly beach and pedal-boat rides on the Anglesea River. But we have a reason to head away from the water and into the residential backstreets: to glimpse the kangaroos who have made the Anglesea Golf Club their home. Play a round of golf and share the course with the resident population of Eastern Grey kangaroos, or simply join a 30-minute 'roo tour run by the club.

Misty waters at Erskine Falls near Lorne

Next the road twists and turns to the hugely popular seaside town of Lorne, nestled between tall gum trees on one side and the Loutit Bay on the other. To escape the crowds, take a 9km detour to the lovely Erskine Falls, which tumbles into the Erskine River 30 meters below. There are a couple of lookout options: it’s an easy five-minute walk to the viewing platform from the parking lot, otherwise, tackle the slightly more precarious 250 steps to the base of the falls in a lush fern gully to feel the mist on your face.

Car driving on the Great Ocean Road Australia on a sunny day
Note: you get the best views on the left passenger side heading down the Great Ocean Road © James O’Neil / Getty

Historic Birregurra

A 30-minute drive inland from Lorne will bring you to the historic town of Birregurra, well worth a detour to wander its charming 19th-century streetscape and to dine at the much-lauded Brae –consistently voted one of the best restaurants in Australia. The restaurant is located just outside the main town in a lovely cottage among 30 acres of gardens with onsite accommodation suites that come with their own cocktail bar, record player and bathtub with nature views. Chef Dan Hunter creates a degustation menu of creative genius using mostly what is grown onsite or sourced locally. Note: you’ll need to reserve a table well in advance.

Erskine Falls near Lorne Australia
Turn inland to see the lush temperate rainforests at Erskine Falls near Lorne © Aneurysm / Getty

Walk in the treetops at Otway National Park

Detour into the ferny gullies and wander among ancient plant life in the beautiful Otway Ranges. This lush national park is home to the popular tourist attraction, Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, where you can brave the heights among the treetops on an elevated walkway 50 meters above the rainforest floor. There is plenty here to keep kids entertained from the zipline tour to the prehistoric path dotted with dinosaurs.

Mountain hiking and platypus spotting at Forrest

While the beachside town of Apollo Bay gets a lot of attention around this part of the Great Ocean Road, it’s definitely worth ducking into the Otways hinterland to the town of Forrest and nearby scenic Lake Elizabeth. Adventure lovers can hike the excellent trails around Forrest, beer lovers can sample cold ales at the Forrest Brewing Company, and nature lovers should not miss out on a guided canoe trip on Lake Elizabeth to spot elusive platypuses in the wild.

Victoria, Australia: the queen of outdoor adventure

Ancient volcanic caldera at Tower Hill

Though technically the Great Ocean Road becomes the Princes Hwy around here, you won’t want to miss out on a detour some 15km from the town of Warrnambool to the vast caldera of Tower Hill that was born in a volcanic eruption 30,000 years ago. It was declared Victoria’s first national park in 1892 and not only does it offer some incredible wildlife watching opportunities – emus, echidnas, koalas, kangaroos and unique Australian birdlife – but it's an essential stop for anyone with an interest in Australia’s Indigenous history. The Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Cooperative operates the Tower Hill Natural History Centre where you can check out rare Aboriginal artifacts (don’t miss the possum-skin cloak) and join bushwalks led by Indigenous guides.

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Give your tastebuds a tour of Timboon

Port Campbell National Park on the Great Ocean Road is the gateway to the iconic Twelve Apostles, which should not be missed. After admiring these magnificent rock formations jutting skyward from the ocean, make the 15-minute drive inland from Port Campbell to the gourmet town of Timboon. Here you can indulge in everything from free cheese tastings at Timboon Cheesery, single-malt whisky at the Timboon Railway Shed Distillery and artisan ice cream at Timboon Fine Ice Cream, to name a few.

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This article was first published October 2018 and updated November 2021

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