The Great Ocean Road with its 12 Apostles is one of Australia’s most recognisable sights. The wonderful variety of unique and beautiful landscapes and the fact that most of the sights are free makes it a favourite with Australian families and foreign tourists alike. Here is our perfect Great Ocean Road itinerary: 19 things to do and see on the Great Ocean Road with kids.
- Where is the Great Ocean Road?
- When to go?
- Where to stay
- What to see and do on the Great Ocean Road with kids
- Great Ocean Road Itinerary: Day 1
- 1. Check out the surf culture – Torquay and Bells Beach
- 2. The Great Ocean Road sign
- 3. Go for a swim
- 4. Do a kangaroo tour
- 5. Relax near a waterfall
- 6. Admire the view from a lookout
- 7. Find a koala
- 8. Build a cairn at Carisbrook Creek
- 9. Stroll amongst the treetops
- 10. Climb a lighthouse
- 11. Marvel at some tall trees
- 12. Savour some ice cream
- 13. Glow little glow worm
- Great Ocean Road Itinerary: Day 2
- 14. Search for dinosaurs at Maits Rest
- 15. Wonder at the 12 Apostles
- 16. Descend the Gibson Steps
- 17. Find a shipwreck
- 18. Take in the rugged splendour of the Grotto
- 19. Try the local delicacies
- 20. Meet the Maremmas
- 21. Go penguin spotting
- Great Ocean Road Itinerary: Day 3
- 3 budget blow-out activities to do on the Great Ocean Road with kids
- The Great Ocean Road with kids: a fantastic budget-friendly family holiday
Where is the Great Ocean Road?
The Great Ocean Road is a 243 km (151 mi) stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia (Victoria), between Torquay and Allansford, near Warrnambool.
The Road was built between 1919 and 1932 by around 3,000 returned soldier and dedicated to their fallen comrades. This makes it the largest war memorial in the world.
The road hugs the coast along the Southern Ocean from the surf coast (between Torquay and Cape Otway) and the shipwreck coast (west of Cape Otway). It winds through rainforests and along limestone and sandstone cliffs and provides access to the famous landmarks along it.
Originally, when the road opened, there was a toll to drive along it. This was to repay the 81,000 pounds raised to build the road. Once these construction costs were recouped, the Great Ocean Road was gifted to the state, so there is no longer a toll to pay.
In 2011, the Great Ocean Road was added to the Australian National Heritage List.
Most people will start their trip along the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne. Some will drive no further than Otway National Park. Others will continue on to Adelaide. We took the latter approach.
When to go?
You can visit the Great Ocean Road at any time of the year. While it is almost guaranteed to be cold and rainy and wet in Winter, there is still much that you can see – and some things that you are more likely to see in Winter. Just rug up warm.
Even if you go in Summer, there is no guarantee that you won’t see some rain. We were at the 12 Apostles in the middle of February and got drenched by cold rain.
If you are visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids, you might be limited to visiting during the school holidays. If you’re not, try and go outside the holidays to avoid the crowds.
If you can, avoid Victorian long weekends. Many people living in and around Melbourne will escape the city for the weekend and head to the seaside. It makes accommodation much more expensive and more difficult to find.
Ideally, you should have at least three days and two nights to see the Great Ocean Road with kids. As a minimum, you should have at least two days.
Where to stay
There are literally hundreds of places to stay on the Great Ocean Road.
The best idea is to work out what things you want to see and then work out which area(s) you want to stay in.
We were travelling from the north of the state and didn’t get to the Great Ocean Road until around midday. There were also four of us – Peter, my Dad, Miss M and me, so we opted for apartments.
On the first night, we stayed at the Apollo Apartments at Apollo Bay. They were clean and quite spacious and comfortably fitted us all. They have a built-in kitchen, so we could have easily catered for ourselves, had we wished. Parking is on-site (underground) and staff were friendly (though our interaction was limited).
They are only a short walk away from a great pub and a number of other restaurants. And some award-winning ice cream, but we will talk about that in a moment. It is also just across the road from the Apollo Bay beach, which we had to use while we were there.
On our second night, we stayed a little further away than I had hoped, but we couldn’t find any accommodation that was closer. We stayed at the clean and modern (and cheaper) Portland Bay Apartments.
The apartments are a little away from the main shopping area, but it did not really matter as we had a car. We found supplies at a local supermarket and made an epic cheeseboard for dinner and the kitchen had all the utensils, knives, etc we needed.
The apartment is located across a park from the bay. This made it nice and quiet, and the beds were very comfy. We walked part of the way around the bay before being eaten by mosquitos, which forced us to return to safety. The location was also quite convenient given our onward journey.
I found both apartments on booking.com, which still has a wide variety of accommodation.
For the non-Australian’s, two other sites to try (which often have a different selection of accommodation) are stayz.com.au and wotif.com.
If you don’t live in Australia, you probably do not want to go camping as you don’t want to bring a tent, sleeping bags, etc. If you do like camping, there are a number of great campsites on the Great Ocean Road, such as in Lorne or Allenvale Mill (free campground!). There is also on-site (cabin) accommodation available at some of the campsites, such as Bimbi Park (camping under the koalas), the Big 4 Holiday Parks at Apollo Bay, Anglesea or Wye River.
While we’re on the subject of visitors from outside Australia, you should note that accidents do occur on the Great Ocean Road. Between visitors driving on the wrong side of the road (there are reminders at some of the big car parks), high cliff faces, strong winds and strong waves, you might want to get some travel insurance. Try AXA Travel Insurance for a quote.
What to see and do on the Great Ocean Road with kids
There is so much to do on the Great Ocean Road with kids. Fortunately, much of it is free or cheap. Here is our proposed 3-day Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Great Ocean Road Itinerary: Day 1
1. Check out the surf culture – Torquay and Bells Beach
Start at Torquay, the official start of the Great Ocean Road. In Australia, Torquay and nearby Bells Beach are synonymous with surfing. Surf brands Ripcurl and Quiksilver were both started in Torquay and it is home to the Australian National Surfing Museum. Take a walk on the beach at Torquay, visit the museum if its a topic of interest and drive round to Bell’s Beach to view it from the road.
If you’re looking for some light entertainment to prepare your kids for this trip, let them watch the animated mockumentary film “Surf’s Up!” (Sony, 2007). The Australian surfer is from Bells Beach.
2. The Great Ocean Road sign
Just outside of Lorne is an archway heralding the start of the Great Ocean Road. Stop and take a few photos and read the historical plaques to find out more about the building on the road.
3. Go for a swim
If the weather is warm enough, go for a swim at one of the beaches or at least go for a stroll along the sand: Anglesea, Lorne, Aireys Inlet. They are gorgeous!
4. Do a kangaroo tour
If you want to see kangaroos ‘in the wild’, visit the Anglesea Golf Course and go on one of their kangaroo tours. Around 300 Easter Grey Kangaroos call the golf course ‘home’.
Tours in 14-seater open-air electric vehicles take around 25 minutes and run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with additional twilight tours from mid-December to mid-February. In some areas, you can get out of the vehicle to take photos. You can even play a round of minigolf while you are there.
Tickets cost 12.50 for those aged 12 and up and $5 for children under 12; a family ticket costs $30. Book online to reserve your spot.
We didn’t do a tour as we had seen some while staying with family to the north of Melbourne (that have a mob that lives in their paddocks) and knew that we would be able to feed some when we visited Cleland Wildlife Park the following week.
5. Relax near a waterfall
There are numerous waterfalls that you can admire while on the Great Ocean Road with kids. Some are better seen in winter or after heavy rain (there is just no water flowing in Summer). We recommend Erskine Falls, as it is close to Lorne and you can drive quite close to the falls. Beauchamp Falls are great if you are looking for a 30-minute walk to get there. Others great waterfalls include Triplet Falls, Hopetoun Falls and Stevenson’s Falls.
6. Admire the view from a lookout
No Great Ocean Road itinerary would be complete without a view from a lookout. And there are numerous lookouts with stunning views to take in.
Try one of these suggestions:
- Point Addis Koori Cultural Walk and lookout. This also gives access to the beach.
- Teddy’s Lookout in Lorne.
- Mt Defiance Lookout – a small car park area with good views.
- Cape Patton Lookout with a view to Apollo Bay.
- Marriners Lookout: Quite steep, but worth a visit.
7. Find a koala
We knew that we would be going to Cleland Wildlife Park, so we didn’t worry about trying to find any koalas. However, if this might be your only chance, Kennett River is one of the best places to see koalas in the wild.
Visit Kafe Koala (great breakfasts) and go for a stroll along the koala walk. If you are lucky and have good eyes, you will spot numerous koalas and an abundance of birdlife. Some of the birds may even try to eat from your hand, though this should be discouraged. Keep your eyes open for koalas when driving along Grey River Road, too.
8. Build a cairn at Carisbrook Creek
Over the last few years, it has become almost tradition to build a cairn at Carisbrook Creek when visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids.
As you head towards Apollo Bay, you will cross the Carisbrook Creek Bridge. As you cross, look towards the sea, you might see the cairns.
Park in the car park on the right just before the bridge or pull over to the left just after the bridge. There is a small train next to the bridge. It is a little steep, but five-year-olds can make it. Please be careful when crossing the road.
Be warned, the cairns will wash away at high tide and will fall over in bad weather. If you can’t see any, this might be why.
9. Stroll amongst the treetops
While Otway Fly is known for its zipline tours, it is the treetop walk that is the star in our eyes. This 1.9 km walk features a 600 metre-long platform that is elevated 25 to 30 metres in the air. The view of the rainforest canopy is fantastic – lookout for the local birdlife. For us, it is a new ‘must-do’ when visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids.
It is not for the faint of heart. I am not a huge fan of heights, as Miss M has learned, so I had to be careful not to look down – because it is a long way down.
10. Climb a lighthouse
The Cape Otway lighthouse has got to be one of the most recognisable lighthouses in Australia. It is also the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia.
If you see some of the shipwrecked remains while in the area (see below), you will understand how very necessary this lighthouse was.
For a small fee, you can tour the lighthouse. If you are lucky, you can even stay in the lighthousekeeper’s cottage (book online).
Look out for koalas while you are in the area too!
If you don’t want to drive all the way out to the Cape Otway Lighthouse, try the lighthouse at Split Point (Aireys Inlet) instead. They have guided and self-guided tours on offer.
11. Marvel at some tall trees
While you are in the Otways, check out the spectacular Californian Redwood forest. The trees were originally planted in 1936 by foresters as an experiment. The trees thrived and the massive trees muffle the sound, making the area a favourite picnic area.
Find these giants on the banks of the Aire River, south of Beech Forest, along Binns Road. The forest is also close to the Hopetoun and Beauchamp Falls. Please watch out for log trucks.
12. Savour some ice cream
You can’t visit the Great Ocean Road with kids without trying some of the delicious, award-winning local ice cream.
Back in Apollo Bay, visit Dooleys Ice Cream. Their ice cream – especially their chocolate, vanilla and liquorice ice creams – have won numerous awards. And they deserve them! It’s also the first place I’ve seen that makes Vegemite ice cream (it tastes like salted caramel).
Alternatively, head to inland to Timboon and Timboon Fine Ice Cream. The fresh local ingredients really make this ice cream shine. There are traditional and not so traditional flavours to try – some of which I may use as inspiration for future ice cream recipes.
If you are going to be celebrating something on your trip, check out their Sundae School – it looked like a lot of fun and is only $13 a person!
13. Glow little glow worm
Once the sun goes down, go hunting for glow worms. Unfortunately, jetlag (Peter) and the remains of the flu (Miss M) hit, so we returned to our apartment as soon as we’d eaten dinner.
There are two spots along the Great Ocean Road where you might get lucky. The forests at Kennett River have koalas AND glow worms. More glow worms can be seen at Melba Gully.
Take a torch to see where you are going!
Great Ocean Road Itinerary: Day 2
As I explained above, our accommodation was across the (Great Ocean) Road from the beach at Apollo Bay. Of course, our second day had to start with a walk on the beach and a play at the playground.
14. Search for dinosaurs at Maits Rest
A great little walk to start Day 2 of your visit to the Great Ocean Road with kids is Maits Rest. For us, it is even a Must-See on any Great Ocean Road itinerary.
The boardwalk winds through beautiful fern gardens and 300-year-old rainforest trees. It makes a loop through the forest that takes around 20-30 minutes (30 with a young child) to complete.
If you are lucky, you might see some of the local wildlife, such as ring-tail possums, grey kangaroos even koalas.
We told Miss M that it was a dinosaur forest and that we had to go quietly and keep our eyes open for dinosaurs. Every now and then we would ‘hear something’ or see some ferns move. She even thought that she might have seen one.
15. Wonder at the 12 Apostles
This is one of the most iconic sights in Australia. It is THE reason why people visit the Great Ocean Road with kids or without, and the main stop on any Great Ocean Road itinerary. It is a must-see, even if it starts to rain, as it did in our case.
The 12 Apostles are seven rock stacks that rise up majestically from the Southern Ocean. They are called the 12 Apostles even though there were only ever eight. I remember hearing that one collapsed in 2005.
Originally, these rock stacks formed part of the mainland. However, over time (10-20 million years), the Southern Ocean eroded away the limestone cliffs to form caves, arches and then eventually the stacks of up to 50 metres high that we see today.
Walk on the boardwalk (through the tunnel under the Great Ocean Road) to see the Twelve Apostles. They are simply incredible.
Fair warning: The 12 Apostles boardwalk and carpark can get very busy at peak times, such as school and long holidays and Chinese New Year.
The toilets at the kiosk are a welcome sight when you are visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids.
Tip: If you can, view the 12 Apostles at sunrise or sunset and watch them change colour. At sunset, you can also look for little penguins returning to the beach (see below).
16. Descend the Gibson Steps
If you are visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids, who are older or at least sure on their feet and enjoy climbing stairs, take the 86 Gibson Steps down to the beach. This will give you a totally different view of the 12 Apostles and Gog and Magog (the two giant limestone stacks) in particular. Very impressive!
You can walk from the 12 Apostles carpark (approx. 1 km walk) or park at the Gibson Steps car park.
Unfortunately, the wet and windy weather (we got soaked while on the boardwalk overlooking the 12 Apostles) meant that the steps and the beach were closed during our visit.
17. Find a shipwreck
Approximately 640 ships are known to have been shipwrecked along this “fearful” section of coastline, although only 240 of them have been discovered.
Perhaps the most famous of these shipwrecks is the Loch Ard, which gives its name to the Loch Ard Gorge just three minutes to the west of the 12 Apostles. The ship was on its way to Melbourne from England when it hit fog. The captain thought that he was miles away from the cliffs but had fatally miscalculated.
The ship hit Mutton Bird Island on 1 June 1878, killing 52 of the 54 passengers and crew on board. Miraculously, a cabin boy called Tom Pearce and a passenger named Eva Carmichael survived. They managed to spend the night in a cave and climbed the cliffs to find help once the weather had cleared.
The combination of trails, blowholes and history mean that you can easily lose even three hours at Loch Ard Gorge when doing the Great Ocean Road with kids. Please note: there are no toilets at the Loch Ard Gorge site.
If you want to see actual shipwrecks, visit Wreck Beach (at Moonlight Head). It is a rough journey (about an hour and a half hike), so not one to do with small children. The reward is the anchors of the Fiji and Marie Gabrielle (a French barque). The beach is only accessible in good weather and at low tide.
Wrecks can also be seen in Wye River and in Cape Bridgewater, both of which are much easier to see with small children.
- You can see the wreck of the W.B. Godfrey in Wye River at low tide. The crew survived the incident in 1891, but five men drowned in three separate incidents during salvage attempts. A marker commemorates the event.
- You can see the wreck of the steamship S.S. Barwon from the cliffs off Cape Bridgewater.
In Warrnambool at the Flagstaff Hill Museum, you can also find out how the Shipwreck Coast got its name and see various treasures saved from the ocean floor.
18. Take in the rugged splendour of the Grotto
The Grotto is part blowhole, part archway, part cave. It is essentially a sinkhole, but is often neglected by tourists who have seen enough stone formations by the time they get to the Grotto. Stone formations on the Great Ocean Road are like castles or cathedrals in Europe. Don’t miss the Grotto! It is one of the best!
There is a viewing platform at the top or you can view the Grotto from eye-level via a decked staircase. The lower viewing platform has the best views. However, avoid this platform if it is windy or the tide is high as it can get quite dangerous.
19. Try the local delicacies
Not only is this area known for its rock formations. It is also known for its artisanal food producers, especially ice cream and cheese.
Tip: Why not get some yummy goodies for a picnic overlooking the sea?
There are two trails you can choose from, depending on what you want to try. When you are visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids, we’d recommend taking the shorter 12 Apostles Food Artisans Trail as it is also closer to the 12 Apostles. You can find olives, cheese, strawberries, fudge and ice cream, as well as a microbrewer and a distillery.
For more regional producers try the Otway Harvest Trail.
20. Meet the Maremmas
Depending on where you are staying when you are visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids and the time of year, you might have the opportunity to meet the Maremmas.
Little penguins live on Middle Island near Warrnambool. In 2006, with penguin numbers dwindling due to fox attacks during breeding season, a local farmer had an idea. In a world-first, Maremma dogs were trained as guardian dogs to protect the penguins on Middle Island from foxes. The project was a success!
From December to April you can take the Maremma Experience and meet these guardian dogs. Book tickets online.
Prepare your kids for their meeting with the Maremmas: the film ‘Oddball‘ (Roadshow films) is based on the true story of the use of the Maremma dogs as penguin guardians on Middle Island.
21. Go penguin spotting
You can’t visit the south coast of Australia without watching some little penguins waddle their way ashore. You can see them at St Kilda and on Phillip Island and Kangaroo Island, but also on the Great Ocean Road near the 12 Apostles and London Bridge viewing platforms.
The penguins return each night about 10 to 30 minutes after sunset. Why not get there in time to see the sunset first?
There are more penguins at the 12 Apostles site. However, you will be a little closer to the penguins at London Bridge.
Tip: Want to get a closer view of the penguins when visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids? If you don’t have your own binoculars, hire some for free from the Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre.
Great Ocean Road Itinerary: Day 3
Our day 3 Great Ocean Road itinerary was rather short because we needed to get back to the Adelaide Hills. We still had a long drive ahead of us and wanted to stop in the Coonawarra on the way. However, there were a couple of things that we still got to see before we left this gorgeous part of the world.
If you only have a couple of days on the Great Ocean Road with kids and are heading back to Melbourne, you are unlikely to get as far as Cape Bridgewater. Still, these activities are worth doing, and you might even get to see the whales from elsewhere on the Great Ocean Road.
22. Go whale watching
Remember when I hinted that there are some things that you can only see in Winter on the Great Ocean Road with kids?
In Winter, Southern Right Whales migrate from the colder Antarctic waters to play in the waters off the Great Ocean Road. Lady Bay in Warrnambool becomes a nursery for these majestic mammals between May and October. With luck, you will even be able to see them from the shore.
To find out where you might be able to see the whales, visit the Great Ocean Road Whales Facebook page or ask at the Warrnambool Visitor Information Centre.
23. Tour an ancient petrified forest
Miss M loved this stop because they were “as old as dinosaurs”. It’s a great addition to any Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Between Portland and Cape Bridgewater is a natural phenomenon known as the petrified forest. It is thought to have originally been a forest of Moonah trees that was engulfed by sand. When it rained, water seeping through the sand formed a cement-like crust on the tree trunks. Over time, the organic matter decayed leaving the petrified trunk shapes, some up to 20 metres high.
When visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids, take a stroll along the boardwalk and the rocky paths and admire this miracle of nature. Reach it from the carpark at the end of Blowholes Road.
24. Blow it all out
While you are still at the forest, visit the blowholes: caves and tunnels etched into the volcanic rock by the sea. During high seas, you can see spouts of water spraying up out of the blowholes, a little like whales.
Tip: In Summer, keep your eyes open, you might be lucky enough to spot a real whale blowhole from the platform as blue whales frequent the area. Old Aboriginal middens can also be seen along the clifftop.
25. Go on a seal walk
If you have the time and are in the area when visiting the Great Ocean Road with kids, do the seal walk.
This intermediate-level walk starts at the kiosk in Cape Bridgewater and follows the cliffs for 2.5 km (approx. 2 hours return) before reaching its highlight: viewing platforms that look out over rock platforms. These rock platforms are home to a colony of about 650 Australian and New Zealand fur seals. (2 to 3 hours walk).
Take binoculars to get a good look!
Tip: If you’d prefer to get closer to the seals, do a short seal tour and see the rock platforms from sea level. We planned to do the tour but didn’t make it to the boat – Miss M’s legs were just ‘too tired’ about halfway there (the walk to the boat takes about 20 minutes).
3 budget blow-out activities to do on the Great Ocean Road with kids
You may be lucky enough to be in the enviable position of having so much left of your budget for your trip on the Great Ocean Road, that you are looking to splurge. And not just on ice cream. Here are three budget blow-out activities to do on the Great Ocean Road with kids.
We have not tried any of these with Miss M. At the moment, even if our budget and time allowed, it would make no sense. Most she is not yet able to do because of minimum size or ability requirements.
- Go for a helicopter ride to see the 12 Apostles:12 Apostles Helicopters offers 15-minute flights over the 12 Apostles ($145 per person) to a 1-hour flight that takes in the coast from the Bay of Islands to the Cape Otway lighthouse ($570 per person); minimum of 2 persons. Flights leave from the heliport near the 12 Apostles Information Centre.
- Take a surf lesson: Various surf schools operate along the Great Ocean Road, such as in Torquay, Apollo Bay and Anglesea. Apollo Bay Surf & Kayak also offers guided seal kayak tours to Marengo Marine Sanctuary. All tours and classes include the equipment needed (e.g. boards, wetsuits, kayaks, helmets, live vests). Lessons cost $70 – $75.
- Zipline tours: Two companies offer zipline tours: Otway fly and Live Wire Park. Prices vary depending on the length of time and course (Up to $120 for adults). For safety, minimum height and maximum weight limits apply.
The Great Ocean Road with kids: a fantastic budget-friendly family holiday
With so many fantastic things to do – many of which are free – the Great Ocean Road is a fantastic place to visit with kids. The huge variety of things to do means that both younger and older kids will find many things that they will enjoy doing – whether in Summer or Winter.
Follow our suggestions for a Great Ocean Road itinerary and enjoy your trip to this wonderful area of Australia – with or without kids.