You must do this
If you happen to ask any Aussie, particularly a Melburnian, about what things are good to do or see during your time in Oz, you’ll hear about the Great Ocean Road. Firsts things first: the GOR is in no way overrated and is perhaps even a little underrated… the views, the activities… just the experience of seeing and traveling along this magnificent stretch of Australian coastline – is unforgettable and simply unlike anything else you’ll ever see! Driving the GOR was undoubtedly one of the best road trips I’ve ever made, and one I would do again in a heartbeat.
So, you’re on a tight schedule
It’s ok. So was I. In fact, I only had the weekend! I’m sharing my 2 day GOR itinerary with you and what I was able to see and do, so you will at least be able to get a feel for how long everything takes and hopefully, be able to better plan your own Great Ocean adventure! I have met people that have driven down (usually this means as far as the 12 apostles or partway there), and back in one day, although I do feel that this would make for quite a rushed trip. I would recommend making at least a 2 day trip out of it, and this is certainly doable, though I also think the more time you have along this fantastic route, the better.
But… they’re on the wrong side of the road??
Don’t worry, we all go through this at least once. Believe it or not, I drove the entire weekend for the first time being on what is for me the wrong side of the road – and the wrong side of the car! Fortunately, with a little extra care, everything was absolutely fine, though the driving was of course an adventure in and of itself. In the interest of safety, it is of course best to only drive the route if you feel completely comfortable with driving generally, regardless of the side, as it can get quite curvy and narrow in parts. The road is completely modern and very well maintained in all areas, and quite nice to drive, with plenty of pull outs for “slow” cars, aka to let the locals pass, and well-marked corners and speed zones – keep an eye out for the well-known kangaroos ahead signs!
*A note on the drive: There are tons of pullout spots, so don’t worry about getting in someone’s way, and better, there are even more pullout spots at amazingly scenic spots for quick photos or leg-stretches, and the reason my trip actually took a bit longer than the prescribed times or distances you will see on Google Maps is because during the first day of our trip, I stopped at almost, if not every single one of these pullout spots, addicted to the amazing views of the powerful ocean, majestic coastline, and amazing peacefulness of the road itself. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for these, so if you miss one, don’t worry – there will be a next soon!
My two-day GOR itinerary
Melbourne to Torqay (approx 1.5 hours) – Though it is debated where exactly the Great Ocean Road “begins,” Geelong is typically referenced as the real starting point. Given the time constraint, we decided to skip Geelong and head straight for Torqay, a seaside town most well known as the home to the National Surfing Museum, and Bells Beach. We went out to Bells Beach to a very windswept, though breathtaking, view, just long enough to watch a view hardy surfers braving the winds and cold waters, before we continued on.
Torqay to Lorne (45 min) – Even smaller than Torqay, Lorne is a quaint seaside town along the route, but a convenient and favorite place to stop, as well as home to a must-see; Teddy’s Lookout (about 5 min beyond Lorne center, searchable on Google Maps). Just a short drive to the top end of George Street (it may seem like you’re driving to nowhere) takes you to an amazing and majestic lookout with views of bass straight and the Great Ocean Road, winding around the cliffs. Just after visiting Teddy’s Lookout, I came across a sign for “Sheoak Falls”; as waterfall-obsessed as I am, I pulled into the designated parking lot and hiked for about 30-40 minutes down a small path, up a gulley and into the forested area until I reached a small trickling waterfall. Another 15 minutes or so beyond this and another waterfall section, visible between golden rays of sunlight and draping trees. Nothing out of NatGeo, but a beautiful and relatively easy hike. If you have the time, I would recommend doing ALL the waterfalls of GOR, but sadly I was quite short for time, so I chose my battles, but just had to follow this little path. We turned back after a while, still trying to make the 12 apostles by sunset.
Lorne to Apollo Bay (1 hour) – There are several key lookouts, vistas and attractions nearby to Apollo Bay, just on the eastern side of Cape Otway (lighthouse). A nice place to take a break, pull over and take some pictures along the way. We stopped for a quick lunch of grilled fish in the small town, before continuing on down the road.
Apollo Bay to Lavers Hill (1 hour) – this is a good route to type into Google Maps if you need to shave a bit of time off your trip or are hurrying down to the apostles as we were; this route goes inland and cuts off the Great Otway National Park portion of the GOR. To make sure you’re on the right track in case of signal loss, follow signs towards “Lavers Hill”.
Lavers Hill to Princetown (40 mins) – this last stretch of the drive (also up North of the Otways getting to Lavers Hill is incredibly magical, as the inland portion away from the coast takes you through an incredible jungley, rainforest-like overhang of dense, luscious greenery and tall, tall trees of all kinds, Eucalyptus included! (You are supposed to be able to spot koalas at a few key places along the GOR, though unfortunately this was one sight I missed). We were still on the approach to Princetown as the sun was rapidly descending, and wanting to make it in time to see the 12 apostles at sunset, we hurried to the parking lot (well marked) for the attraction, parking and heading out to the main viewing area. We were right in time, and caught the magnificent formations in the moody hues of a cloudy sunset. Of course, some nights are 1000% better than others, so unless you are a professional photographer waiting to get the photo for the yearly GOR calendar, you may be counting on a hit or a miss here. Of course, any sunset at the 12 apostles is going to be unforgettable and magical, so I would still recommend it. Alternatively, you could opt for sunrise, which arguably does light up the apostles themselves much better, as the sun is then shining from the proper direction.
Overnight: as I decided upon and booked the trip rather last minute, there was not an overwhelming abundance of accommodation options around the area. I figured in the end that if anything, the trade off between comfort/amenities and access to the apostles may be a worthy compromise, so I found the “hotel” as close as possible to the apostles; it turned out to be down a driveway actually connected to the viewing area parking lot! The Twelve Apostles Motel & Country Retreat is an intriguing experience, to say the least, and was one of the many pieces that made for an absolutely unforgettable (and at times, laughable) weekend. Driving down Booringa road seems like you’re just trying to find an abandoned barn and then get lost even more, but have faith and functional car headlights, and you’ll find it eventually. The small yard we pulled into seemed only slightly out of a horror film, with only slightly creepy dwarves and figurines jutting crookedly out of the grass amongst the sparse trees, a sign on the “office” door telling new visitors to pick up the phone receiver for service after hours. This is one of the those places I suppose you would joke about never wanting to show up after dark, and then of course when do you think you show up…? Eventually, a slightly odd but friendly woman bustled out to greet us and hand us our room key, with directions to one of the rooms behind the tree line. We drove out further, parked the car and made our way into our little abode for the evening. If retreating into the countryside – way, way into it – is the kind of vibe you’re going for, this is the place for you. Each little bungalow thingy forms a glorified trailer park, with worn out amenities but still, I couldn’t complain at a shower (actually with hot water), a warm blanket, and a functioning heater (it gets cold out here at night!) We made our camp for the night, snuggling into the strange little house and laughing at the circumstance, simply happy to be in the experience. Luckily, we had brought plenty of leftovers from our dinner the night previous in Melbourne, because the best that this motel can offer at the time was a sadly worn cup of microwave noodles (I think), and the area itself is not exactly popping. Note to self, bring food in and don’t rely on having much more than a microwave, and/or make dinner or accommodation plans in a bigger town on ahead, like Port Campbell.
After a morning visit back to the apostles to see them in stronger daylight, we continued our journey, knowing that this time it would take us back to Melbourne. Wanting to see a bit more of the coast and a few key attractions, we headed first down the road towards Port Campell, stopping a short 10-15 minutes away to see the Loch Ard Gorge. The gorge is named after the clipper ship “Loch Ard,” which ran aground on a nearby island in 1878, nearly at the end of a 3-month long journey from England to Melbourne. Supposedly this particular passage was so dangerous that it claimed many ships during those years. There were only two survivors from the Loch Ard; a 19 year old ship’s apprentice and a 19 year old Irish woman, emigrating with her family, who was stuck in the waters and rescued by the ship’s apprentice, who then climbed out of the gorge to call for help. Being inside the gorge is both eery and impressive, with massive waves crashing thorugh the narrow entrance and swelling into the gorge. I couldn’t imagine having to climb out, so I was definitely glad there is a well-built staircase to enter and leave the gorge. Since my visit, I have seen a few photos of people swimming and sunbathing down in the gorge; it looks simply magical when the sun shines down and lights up the clear blue waters – if you’ve been to my insta page, you can see that it is a bit more dismal when cloudy, but still impressive. Driving the GOR in middle of hot, sunny summer is definitely on my bucket list, with plenty of time to pull over and swim, sunbathe and explore.
We next drove along the coast south of Port Campbell and stopped to have a quick breakkie (of smashed avo toast with feta and rocket, of course), at a little café overlooking an inlet. A few brave visitors were gearing up for a morning swim, which I felt was far too brave for my style of only swimming if the water, or weather, or both – are quite warm. After breakfast we drove on a bit further down the coast to see London Bridge, a popular scenic view over another “apostle-like” rock formation out in the ocean which used to be connected to the other rocks by a small bridge-like formation. Aka “London Arch,” the formation used to form a complete double span bridge, until in 1990 a sudden unexpected collapse of the span connecting the rock to land left two surprised tourists out on the water-bound section, to be rescued by helicopter. During our visit, it was just a tourst hot spot, with loud groups of Chinese tours vying for the best photo op. Needless to say, it was lovely, but we didn’t hang around too long after taking a few photos and admiring the view, as once again we wanted to conserve time when possible.
Back to Melbourne: We continued back the other way, counting the “kangaroo ahead” signs that we passed and once again, admiring the amazing variation of landscapes along the impressive coastal stretch. Knowing that we wouldn’t have time to do everything we wanted along the route, we decided to see two main attractions on the way back to Melbourne while we still had the daylight:
Otway Fly Treetop Adventures: Just north of Cape Otway National Park along Colac Lavers Hill Rd, Otway Fly is a park offering hiking along a metal, 25- meter high treetop walk that stretches for 600 meters throughout the dense canopy of the leafy green trees. It only takes about an hour to complete at a comfortable pace and is easily accessible for all ability and fitness levels; some people even brought their strollers along. Otway Fly also offers an “Eco Zip Line Tour,” which takes about 2.5 hours, during which you zip from tree to tree for a more exhilarating experience of the diverse unique flora and fauna in the Otways! Sadly, our time was too tight for the zip line, but maybe someday. Random tip, look out for the trees along the road on the way into the park that totally look like broccoli.
Triplet Falls: Very near to Otway Fly Treetop park, Triplet Falls is recognized (according to my research, anyway) as one of the most beautiful and popular falls to visit along the GOR. Of course, I would love more than anything to spend time hiking out to each and every one, though by looking into it a bit, I discovered that some of the very best are indeed a several hour-long hike in and out, so given the time availability and proximity, it made the most sense to visit Triplet for this trip. Follow Google Maps and signs down a shaded curvy road into beautiful dense forest, and eventually you will reach a small parking lot with the entrance to the falls. There are actually several ways to hike down of course, and separate paths leading to different falls and destinations. I hiked the loop, which entails turning slightly left from the parking lot and following signs to Triplet Falls; if you start out by going down a TON of stairs, this is the right track. Alternatively, you can go down by the way I came back up, which is behind the parking lot down to the right- this will take significantly less, even half the time of the other path and gets you directly down to the falls. If you have time and are willing to hit some stairs for the exercise (nothing too bad, I promise), I would recommend the loop anyway because you go through the most beautiful forest and honestly, you just feel like a little magical rainforest jungle fairy – ok, I did. You will start seeing small streamlets and offshoots of the falls before you actually reach them, so keep going – and once you get there, the only sad bit is that there is a viewing podium quite far from the falls themselves, and it would take a fair bit of time to figure out how to make it down any closer to the falls themselves. After spending some time observing the beautiful falls, we continued hiking, following a steeper set of stairs (but fewer), passing by even an old abandoned steam engine! Amazing to think that loggers used to frequent the area, and somehow pull out huge pieces of timber from the steep hillside.
A1 Princes Highway to Melbourne: After visiting the falls, the brightest part of the day was already speeding past us, and so we made the decision to head up inland a bit to shave some time off of our trip home, thinking that driving along the coast would lose most of its charm in the dark, anyway. We headed towards Colac as a maps destination in order to connect to the A1, or Princes Highway, which is basically a straight shot back into Melbourne. During our drive home, I made the lovely and rather hilarious discovery that wearing my glasses at night magically allow me to see properly (DUH), after struggling to read the fuzzy street signs at night (I’m a safe driver, I promise). After an adventure and beauty-packed weekend of driving, we pulled back into Melbourne to reminisce about all of the amazing sights we had experienced, and revel in the pure beauty that Australia relentlessly surprises us with.
I’ve been told time and again that the South Island is the best place to be in New Zealand; it has the best views, the prettiest scenery… the greenest grass. Well, I haven’t made it down there yet (it’s on my list), but I can now happily say I’ve seen a pretty good portion (at least geographically speaking) of the North Island, and it’s still amazing.
If like me, you happen to find yourself on North Island and want to explore but are a little strapped for time, hopefully my adventure will provide you with some helpful inspo for a quick, but action-packed trip across the north.
Starting in Wellington, NZ, I needed to arrive in Auckland by Sunday night and wanted to see as much as possible. Originally, it was my plan to do the Alpine Crossing hike in Tongariro National Park, just outside of Taupo. After a bit more research, I learned that not only does the hike (as it should of course) take a comfy minimum of 8 hours, one should (must) also be properly geared up, prepared, etc. Equipped only with lifestyle Nikes (lol) and a frattagonia, I figured I’d at least need to rent some gear. While this was most likely possible, I came to the conclusion that in order to enjoy the weekend to the fullest without being rushed nonstop, it would be smarter to save the hike for another visit to NZ, when I have plenty of time to immerse in the nature, hike around as much as I want and actually spend a few days around Tongariro. (It looks amazing though, if you have a little more time in this area- I’ve heard great things!)
After realizing the extent of my time crunch, I looked for activities and stop-offs that would be fun to explore but wouldn’t necessarily take the entirety of a day, and ended up with a fabulous itinerary; here’s what I did over the weekend.
The drive from Wellington up to Taupo is lovely in and of itself, winding in between cute little towns, one-street villages and rolling green hills. Be sure to stay focused on the road, because the beautiful views can get distracting. I chose to rent a car in Wellington, which could be dropped off in Auckland – a car allowed me to go wherever I wanted, whenever… it was absolutely worth it to me for this kind of trip, and unless there is a major barrier to renting a car, it’s the way to go. It took a little over two hours to reach Taupo, where I had booked a one night stay at the Hilton Lake Taupo. I first saw Lake Taupo from the road, which is the major lake for which Taupo is famous. A monstrous blue gem, the lake is gorgeous and home to all manner of fun activities.
Since I hadn’t pushed to leave super early Saturday morning, I arrived late afternoon into Taupo and began looking for things to do still that evening. I had heard about the Maori rock carvings on Lake Taupo, and found an evening sunset cruise still available to visit them. Having a few hours before the cruise, I asked about any hot springs nearby, since the area around Taupo is renowned for its geothermal activity and plethora of hot springs. It turned out that Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort is right next door (a 5 minute walk) from the Hilton, so I walked just down the road to the public hot springs. There is a small entry fee for unlimited day access to the pools, which are well-maintained in a lovely landscaped area, including trees, plants, waterfalls and even waterslides, for kiddies and adventurers. I spent at least an hour soaking in the warmth of the vividly turquoise-green pools, amazed at the natural temperatures (allegedly cooled down by necessity to make it possible for people to swim!)
Later, on to Lake Taupo for some evening exploring: It is easy to drive down to the harbor (Redoubt street), and park along the water where all of the boats are docked. There are many ways to see the carvings throughout the day, including by several types of boat or even kayak. I went on the sunset cruise with a company called Ernest Kemp; a relatively small group of people is taken out on the lake in an adorable little green tug boat, and the sunset cruise included pizza and (seemingly unlimited) beer or wine, tea or coffee… pretty fancy stuff, folks. The cruise takes about two hours total, reaching the carvings just in time to catch the last of the daylight and circling back with a gorgeous backdrop of the setting sun, painting streaks across the evening sky.
*I was not able to fully explore the Taupo area, but it is most famous (apart from the lake itself), for its geothermal attractions, including hot springs, pools and waterfalls. According to my own quick research, top picks for the area include Haka Falls, Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa, and Otumuheke Stream Spa Park. Unfortunately my trip was too quick to explore all of these, but they are on my list for next time; I would love to do a relaxing hot springs crawl of sorts around Taupo; if you are looking for more tips, the Great Lake Taupo website is quite helpful.
After a relaxing arrival to Taupo and a lovely evening, I got a good night’s rest and woke up for a delicious fresh breakkie at the hotel, overlooking a misty Lake Taupo in the distance. I got around early to make the most of the day, heading out from Taupo and up north towards Rotorua. A little over two more hours north of Taupo along the “Thermal Explorers’ Highway” lies Rotorua, another area famed for its volcanic and geothermal activity. There are plenty of fun things to see and do around Rotorua, but if you only have a few hours, you must go to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. Waiotapu is a Maori word meaning “sacred waters,” and is an active geothermal area at the southern area of the Okataina Volcanic Center in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone. I spent close to three hours total at Waiotapu, taking the long path (of three options based on which thermal attractions you would like to see and how long you wish to take) to see all of the thermal craters and lakes, and then afterwards stopping by the boiling mud pool. For more detail on Waiotapu, see my blog post about it here.
After exploring Waiotapu, I was back on the road towards Rotorua proper. On my way through, I stopped at Polynesian Spa, a developed and fully landscaped geothermal spa that sits directly on the banks of Lake Rotorua, with amazing views across the water. The pools in the spa come from various natural sources in the area, some of which are exclusively sourced by Polynesian Spa and are only accessible there. For example, the “Priest’s Bath,” which for centuries served as the bathing site for local Maori, who long acclaimed the therapeutic benefits of bathing in the acidic water. Information about the baths claims that people have long traveled to Rotorua and to these baths specifically to reap such health benefits as relief from arthritis and rheumatism, or even to seek “eternal beauty,” which is said to grace those who bathe in the nearly magical water.
Refreshed from my R&R stop at Polynesian Spa, I headed on down (up) the road for what is basically the middle of nowhere in the north island to nowhere other than The Shire, of course. I debated as to the real importance of visiting the famed Lord of the Rings filming spot, but in the end decided that if I was going to be so close, I simply couldn’t and shouldn’t miss saying hello. So, a few hours and many luscious green rolling hills later, a tiny country one lane road brought me to the parking lot of Hobbiton. I did question Google Maps every once in a while, especially when the road became narrower and the hills became more dense. I had a feeling I was on the right track, however, when pulling around a corner I happened upon a (honest to God) wizard (?) with a small horse (?) seemingly taking photos alongside the road (WHAT). Hobbiton is – well – quaint, and as expected, a bit on the touristy side. For the die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, the tour guides invite you to reenact any scene you like from The Hobbit, and a video playing inside the tour bus on your short jaunt out to the hobbit houses explains a bit with footage about the making of the film and how the land was originally found by the director, in the middle of a beautiful New Zealand farm. It was interesting to learn about the film and its history, and about just how much of a production it became for the countryside farm; instead of monetary backing from the government, the director was instead offered help and manpower from the military, which assisted in building roads on set and through the hills of the farm. This eventually drew (unwanted) attention to the ongoings on an otherwise unassuming property, and eventually the surface tales would no longer satisfy curious neighbors; once people found out what was really going on, the project had to even establish a no fly zone above the farm to avoid the occasional helicopter trying to get a peek from showing up on camera! After the tour of Hobbiton and plenty of selfies with Bilbo’s house (although don’t expect to see a fully-furnished Hobbit hole… the insides of the houses were all constructed and filmed in Wellington), we were taken to the Green Dragon pub, set in a shockingly idyllic valley, where the golden sun dances across the verdant hills and plays magic on the small lakes. How can you not feel like you really are a hobbit, or living for real in this fantastical world? After enjoying a leisurely beer at the Green Dragon, we were escorted back to the entrance and of course exited through the gift shop, where available for sale you will even find the Ring, inscription and all, and an “elvin cloak,” as made famous by Gandalf in the movie. While I consider myself somewhere in between a die-hard fan and ambivalent aficionado of the movie series, it was still very enjoyable to visit Hobbiton, and definitely something that I would recommend once. You can decide for yourself if you cant live without a second trip back.
The rest of the drive up to Auckland was done as the sun went down, painting the sky with streaks of vivid purple, orange and red – theres just nothing like a New Zealand sunset. Unless it’s an Aussie sunset, but still. From there, I cant say too much about the scenery but it was a good drive up, pretty soon made it to the city and checked in for a much needed snooze. Overall, choosing to drive across the North Island was a fantastic decision and I saw some amazing things. My only wish is to spend much more time in each place, and perhaps explore much more along the way! Several weeks spent just exploring NZ is definitely on my bucket list.
My roadtrip at a glance:
Wellington, NZ to Auckland, NZ (2 days)
Wellington to Taupo
Maori Carvings, Lake Taupo
Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort
Taupo to Auckland
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland & Mud Pools
Polynesian Spa at Lake Rotorua
Hobbiton Movie Set, Matama