We’re set to get going on the trip of a lifetime, the Great Ocean Road drive tour. But we’ve struck a small problem.
“Why won’t this convertible roof fold down?”
We’re getting some recurring message on the vehicle dash screen about the car boot, but have no real idea what it means. Every time we press the button on the centre console, we’re greeted with this indecipherable message and an accompanying foreboding sound.
Our inaugural Great Ocean Road drive trip is to travel the fabulous stretch of road in a convertible, roof down, taking in the full experience.
Got to be doing something wrong. But what? Out with the phone, YouTube videos. Nope, no help at all.
Open the boot yet again. What’s that? A small handle. Pulling it down seems to create some space for the roof when it retracts. Hit the button again. Like watching a ballet in slow motion, the engineering excellence of the Beemer doing its thing. Roof down, Houston, we’re ready to launch.
We’re On The Road (At Last)
We pull out of Melbourne Airport. So the journey begins. We will travel the Great Ocean Road and beyond for the next nine days in a vehicle that surely was made for this trip.
Our best estimate is about 1,200 kilometres; from Melbourne, Torquay, Apollo Bay, Port Campbell, Port Fairy right across to Penola in the Coonawarra Wine Region of South Australia before returning to Melbourne. While the Coonawarra region is not part of the Great Ocean Road, we decide to head that way anyhow.
We depart, Marise at the wheel. I glance across. A dozen lemons wouldn’t wipe the smile off her face. We’re off to a great start.
Great Ocean Road Self Drive – The Ultimate Road Trip
Firstly, what makes a Great Ocean Road trip one of those ‘must-dos’; or to use a more popular term ‘bucket list’ experience? The combination of stunning scenery, wonderful towns and stopovers along a road that just begs to be travelled.
The road has a wonderful history. Work started on it in 1919 involving thousands of workers; mainly soldiers who returned from World War I. It serves as a memorial to their fallen comrades. If you’re interested in finding out a bit more then click here.
Here is our original Great Ocean Road driving itinerary. We didn’t drive the full length of the road, as the best experiences, in our opinion, is from Torquay to Port Fairy. We ended up spending an extra day in Port Campbell to sort out a work related issue, then driving directly onto Penola. You can do it in less time, but we’d recommend an absolute minimum of 3 days.
Great Ocean Road Drive Itinerary
Day From To Distance (approx.) Details
Day 1 Melbourne Torquay 109 kms Fly in from Gold Coast to Tullamarine Airport, sort out paperwork and get on the road!
Stay at Jarrod’s Place (AirBnB booking).
Days 2 & 3 Torquay Apollo Bay 92 kms Stop off at Bell’s Beach, Point Roadknight, Lorne for lunch before heading into Apollo Bay
Day 2: Torquay to Apollo Bay
Day 3: Apollo Bay – Guided kayak tour out to Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary to visit seal colony. Eat at the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse for a wide selection of local ales.
Accommodation x 2 nights at Apollo Bay.
Days 4 & 5 Apollo Bay Port Campbell 128 kms Day 4: Detour to Cape Otway Lighthouse. Visit Twelve Apostles. Walk down Gibson Steps.
Day 5: Loch Ard Gorge, walk along the headland at Port Campbell.
Accommodation x 2 nights in Port Campbell
Day 6 Port Campbell Port Fairy 89 kms Day 6: Stop off at Warrnambool
Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum
Explore Port Fairy
Accommodation x 1 night at Port Fairy
Day 7 Port Fairy Portland 130 kms Day 7: Killarney Winery
Cape Bridgewater incl. walking tracks
After Cape Bridgewater walk – drive on to Coonawarra
Day 7 (con'd) Portland Coonawarra 170 kms Day 7: Arrive Penola. Stay at the historic Sarah's Cottage for 2 nights.
Day 8 Coonawarra Local Wineries - Day 8: Wineries/Tours etc
Day 9 Coonawarra Melbourne - Tullamarine (via Geelong) 437 kms Day 9: Return hire car
Fly Melbourne to Gold Coast.
Choice of Hire Car
People travel the Great Ocean Road everyday on vehicles ranging from bicycles to buses, and everything in between. I’d ridden along this stretch of road a few years before on a motorcycle, and that left an indelible impression on me.
However, for those amongst us who love the romance of travel, we choose a BMW M240i convertible. What better vehicle to drive along this iconic stretch of road with the roof down and having a total connection with the beauty around us. We used Airport Rentals to find the convertible we ended up hiring at a very good price of $956.19 (8 days) + excess insurance removal policy. They’re always worth a look before going to the individual car hire websites. Our choice of car saw us hire from Europcar-Tullamarine Airport, as we’re flying in from the Gold Coast and want to get on the road as soon as practical.
Do not forget to purchase insurance excess reduction cover! Typically the standard excess on this type of vehicle is many thousands of dollars. We don’t purchase the excess reduction cover from the car hire companies. It tends to be very costly. We go through people like Trip Cover or use Airport Rentals to secure a value for money policy. I’ve made a claim through the Airport Rentals supplied policy in the past, and they’re very good to deal with. There is a caveat: when using a third party insurer, you will need to pay the excess up front for any damage, then claim it back via the insurer.
Great Ocean Road Drive Tour Details
Distance from Melbourne Airport: 109 kms
Torquay is the official start of the Great Ocean Road.
It is steeped in Australian surfing history; with famous surf beaches with fairy tale names like Jan Juc, Winki Pop and not too far away there is Bells Beach; the world renowned point break that can give one of the longest rides in the country when it’s working well. There are surf schools in the area if you want to get out amongst it. There are numerous surf shops along Torquay’s main thoroughfare, from discount clothing outlets to local surf board makers.
Personally, I’m very happy to take in the spectacular views from the vantage points along the way. Point Addis is worth a visit if you’re looking for an out of the way beach to chill.
For breakfast, you can’t go past Café Moby along the Esplanade. Delightful, wholesome menu with a view out over the water. Nice 1960’s kind of vibe.
We booked the accommodation through Jarrod’s Place – AirBnB, which was a self-contained room run by Jarrod with all the modern conveniences.
Distance from Torquay: 92 kms
It’s an easy drive into Apollo Bay, and on the day we arrive the weather is perfect; sunny with very little wind. Apollo Bay has an artist/creative community feel about it. It is also the perfect place for exploring the nearby Otway National Park and Cape Otway areas.
There is accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. We haven’t booked ahead for this stop, but we decide to stay at The Great Ocean View Motel for two nights. It offers uninterrupted views of the ocean towards Marengo.
A ‘must-do’ morning is with Apollo Bay Surf Shop, who take visitors out on a kayak tour of the Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary for some close up seal watching. Most of the fur seals here are juveniles who have been moved on by breeding adults from the major colonies along the coast to make room for the new season pups.
There are organised walking tours such as Otway Shipwreck Tours and Mark’s Walking Tours to help visitors appreciate and enjoy the area.
The Bay Leaf Café is one of the best in the town for good coffee and healthy breakfast.
Distance from Apollo Bay via Cape Otway Lighthouse: 120 kms
This is the hub of what is now called the Shipwreck Coast. The detour to the Cape Otway Lighthouse along the way enables visitors to learn a bit about its rich history, and the role the nearby telegraph station played in early electronic communications between Australia and the rest of the world.
The Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge are the absolute jewels in the crown of this road trip. It’s a little bit touristy, but nonetheless the scenery is spectacular. We merge in with the throng of package tour people, shuffling along like the devoted on their own 4 star pilgrimage.
“Be back at the bus in 45 minutes” we hear a tour guide bark to the faithful. We look at each other; how can anybody fully appreciate this amazing place in one single hour or less.
The next day we head over to a much more secluded part of the coast at Sherbrook Estuary. Not far from Loch Ard Gorge carpark, but no tour busses allowed. No time poor pilgrims here.
The walk to Sherbrook Estuary gives us the full sensory experience of this wild, untamed, beautiful but treacherous coastline. We sit for a while, just to take it all in. A dull thump heralds a plume of white water rising up like smoke, to slowly dissipate against the immovable rocks in the endless contest between land and sea.
Our accommodation is at the Wave Luxury Suites on Lord Street. It has a licenced restaurant attached to it.
We spend three days here. Two exploring, experiencing and immersing ourselves in what this extraordinary place, and its surrounds, has to offer.
Day 3 I walk along a trail up around the headlands to soak up the perfect conditions.
Distance from Port Campbell via Mt Gambier: 297kms
Penola is in the heart of the Coonawarra Wine Region. There’s never enough time to visit all wineries, but here is our top three:
- Brand’s Laira: World class Cabernet Sauvignon range
- Hollick Estates: Full bodied reds; but their Rosada Rosé is well worth a tasting
- Bowen Estate: A smaller, family owned winery with a limited range. Their Chardonnay is worthy of consideration.
Our stay for the last two nights is a beautiful heritage cottage. It’s named Sarah’s Cottage, after the lady who lived there for over 71 years. It’s on AirBnb, restored completely by Leolla, the present owner, and it’s pure old world indulgence complete with spa and open fire. The cottage is surrounded by beautiful rose gardens. More detail can be found by clicking here.
We visit some of the many wineries, buy a few cellar door only wines. The nice thing about wineries these days they ship it home for visitors at modest freight charges.
Recommended stopover for lunch is at Hollick Winery, with panoramic views of the vineyards. It’s warm, hovering around 30 degrees, but it’s not unpleasant. We know this isn’t going to last, as the weather forecast for the next week is cool, wet and windy. We realise how lucky we have been weather wise for this entire trip.
Last Stage of the Great Ocean Road Drive
Penola to Melbourne via Ballarat and Geelong: 471 kms
It’s back to Melbourne via Ballarat, with a detour down to Geelong for one last look. Basically a driving day.
We park the BMW at Melbourne Airport, and take one last look at the incredible car that took us 1,217 kilometres on this amazing journey.
The roof didn’t give us any further issues. Not once. In fact we travelled close to 1,100 kilometres with it down.
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Read our latest road trip post – Coromandel Road Trip
Further Reading: Great Ocean Road Drive Notes
- Day 1 – Melbourne to Toquay
- Day 2 – Torquay to Apollo Bay
- Day 3 – Apollo Bay
- Day 4 – Apollo Bay to Port Campbell
- Day 5 – Loch Ard Gorge
- Day 6 – Port Campbell
- Day 7 – Port Campbell to Penola
- Day 8 – Sarah’s Cottage – Penola
- Day 9 – Coonawarra Vineyards
- Day 10 – Penola to Melbourne