Beech Forest, Otway National Park, Victoria © Great Ocean Road Tourism
10-day road trip through regional Victoria
Wind along the famous Great Ocean Road, get up high in the Grampians and discover Victoria’s gold-rush towns on this extraordinary 10-day loop.
By Sue Gough Henly
Despite its small size, the state of Victoria delivers a spectacular diversity of landscapes from the Southern Ocean to the sandstone escarpments of the Grampians National Park. Along the way, you'll learn about Aboriginal culture, pan for gold, see wildlife and wilderness, enjoy local food and wine, and soak in some of Australia’s finest thermal mineral springs.
What to expect
- Enjoy one of the world's greatest coastal drives along the Great Ocean Road
- Discover Aboriginal culture amid the sandstone ridges of the Grampians National Park
- Immerse yourself in the 1850s gold rush era at Sovereign Hill living museum
- Time: 10 days
- Distance: 1,200 kilometres (746 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Melbourne
Day 1: Melbourne to the Bellarine Peninsula
Just a 30-minute drive south of Melbourne, start your adventure with a safari at the Werribee Open Range zoo to see rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras and antelopes grazing on the grassy plains. You'll come face-to-face with gorillas, a pride of lions, monkeys and cheetahs on the Pula Reserve Walking Trail.
Continue for 50 minutes to the bayside city of Geelong. Stop for lunch in the funky surrounds of the Little Creatures Brewery or enjoy the innovative tasting menu at Igni. Explore the nearby Bellarine Peninsula and enjoy a glass of wine at Jack Rabbit Vineyard, with its splendid views of Port Phillip Bay, and wander around the Victorian-era seaside town of Queenscliff.
Dine this evening onboard The Q Train, a travelling restaurant that departs from the historic Drysdale Train Station. Move through a degustation of exquisite local produce and picturesque Bellarine Peninsula views.
Day 2: Bellarine Peninsula to Lorne
Torquay is the official start of the Great Ocean Road; drive beneath the iconic memorial archway at Eastern View and continue driving about 15 minutes to the pretty coastal town of Lorne. Serious foodies will want to book lunch at Movida Lorne, an outpost of the iconic Melbourne tapas restaurant. For a more casual affair, take a seat at Swing Bridge Café. Ocean lovers should take a quick dip at nearby Lorne Beach.
Families will love a daredevil zip-line through the tree canopy at Lorne Livewire Park. Alternatively, visit the 30-metre (98-foot) tall Erskine Falls in the surrounding rainforest. Enjoy superb contemporary fare at Brae, a 30-minute drive into the hinterland (book well in advance to avoid disappointment). Stay overnight in one of Brae's luxury suites or at the oceanfront Cumberland Lorne Resort.
Day 3: Lorne to Cape Otway
Drive the curviest and most spectacular stretch of the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Apollo Bay, roughly a one-hour drive. Along the way, stop at Kennett River to see the koalas and parrots along a quiet side road.
When you start to feel hungry, have a Mediterranean-inspired lunch with a stunning bird's-eye view of the ocean at Chris's Beacon Point Restaurant (hint: for more casual fare, wait a bit longer to stop for lunch and a tasting paddle at the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse). Full up on delicious cuisine, head inland to taste craft beers at the Forrest Brewing Company and enjoy a dusk platypus paddle at Lake Elizabeth.
Drive an hour through the Otway National Park rainforest and visit the Cape Otway Lightstation, the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia. After a busy day, stay at the Great Ocean Eco Lodge to see Australian animals in the wild and help with rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife. If time permits, see glow worms on an evening walk at nearby Maits Rest.
Day 4: Cape Otway to Port Fairy
Do a treetop walk or zip-line adventure in the heart of the rainforest at Otway Fly Treetop Adventures. Enjoy a steak sandwich with a local Crowes Nest Steam Train brew at the Otway Central Tavern and discover other local gourmet products on the Otway Harvest Trail before hopping in the car for an hour drive to the 12 Apostles. Here, you can soak up a spectacular panoramic view of Victoria's famous limestone stacks on a helicopter flight and explore Loch Ard Gorge, the Grotto, the Arch and London Bridge from the ground. If you're feeling energetic, walk the later part of the Great Ocean Walk, which ends at the 12 Apostles.
Drive west for an hour to Warrnambool to visit Flagstaff Hill, a fascinating historical village showcasing life in a 19th century seaport. Between May and October, you can see southern right whales here from the viewing platform at Logans Beach. Finish your day in the nearby historic fishing township of Port Fairy, a 40-minute drive away. Enjoy dinner at one of the village's stand-out restaurants – Conlan’s Wine Store and Coffin Sally both fit the bill.
Wind down for a deluxe stay at Drift House.
Day 5: Port Fairy to Halls Gap
Visit the Tower Hill Nature Reserve, an enormous volcanic crater to the east of Port Fairy where it's easy to see koalas, kangaroos, emus and native birds. The beautiful visitor centre is managed by the Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Cooperative, which offers guided walks explaining the local Aboriginal culture and bush tucker.
Drive an hour north through the rolling farmland of the Western Districts to enjoy an informal meal at the Parker Street Project or an inspired tasting menu in the dining room of The Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld. Drive 45 minutes north to the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the Grampians National Park. Watch a video of the Gariwerd creation story and enjoy didgeridoo workshops, bush food tasting, boomerang painting and throwing lessons.
Stay in the stylish DULC cabins near Halls Gap.
Day 6: Halls Gap to Ballarat
Your final morning in the Grampians should include exploring the area's Aboriginal rock art sites and hiking trails. Enjoy an Italian-inspired lunch at The Views. Drive 30 minutes east to explore some of the region's historic wineries, such as Seppelt Great Western, famous for its sparkling wines and labyrinthine cellars dug by gold miners, and Best's Great Western, one of Australia’s oldest family-owned wineries, which specialises in old vine shiraz. Pause for lunch at Salingers Café; be sure to check out the beehive contained within the walls.
Learn about the gold rush from a different perspective in Ararat, the only town in Australia founded by Chinese miners. At the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre, learn how Chinese miners travelling overland from Robe in South Australia discovered the Canton Lead, one of the world's richest shallow alluvial goldfields.
Day 7: Sovereign Hill
Grab a locally roasted coffee at family-run Kittelty’s before spending the day at Sovereign Hill, a living museum goldfields town that re-creates Ballarat's first 10 years after the 1851 discovery of gold, when thousands of international adventurers came in search of fortune. It's set on 10 hectares (25 acres) of an original mining site, and costumed characters bring the shops, hotels, theatre, school, factories, gold diggings and underground mines to life. Take an underground mine tour, pan for real gold, watch a $150,000 gold pour, visit the gold museum, ride in a horse-drawn carriage and use pen and ink in the one-room schoolhouse.
In the evening, watch Sovereign Hill's multimillion-dollar sound-and-light show, Blood on the Southern Cross, which tells the dramatic story of the 1854 Eureka Rebellion, in which miners rebelled against unfair government gold taxes and swore allegiance to the Southern Cross flag.
Day 8: Ballarat to Hepburn Springs
Explore the gracious city of Ballarat, built on the riches of the world's largest alluvial gold deposit. Visit the Art Gallery of Ballarat with one of the most comprehensive collections of Australian paintings in the nation.
In the afternoon, pay a visit to the Ballarat Wildlife Park to see native Australian animals and reptiles in the natural bush or wander amid the mature trees of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens beside Lake Wendouree. Visit Creswick Woollen Mills, the last coloured woollen spinning mill in Australia, where you can feed alpacas, see the interactive exhibit and shop for fine natural materials. If you have kids, visit Kryal Castle, Australia's only medieval adventure park. Drive 30 minutes to Hepburn Springs to soak in mineral springs at the historic Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa before staying at the Peppers Springs Mineral Springs Hotel.
Day 9: Hepburn Springs to Daylesford
Just 10 minutes down the road, enjoy a class with some of the finest chefs in Australia at the Lake House cooking school, complete with baguette or sit-down lunch. Spend the afternoon exploring the region following the Daylesford Macedon Produce Trail to find gourmet products and meet producers. Go shopping in Daylesford, wander through the Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens (home to delicious restaurant Wombat Hill House) and visit the Convent Gallery, which showcases the work of local artists and artisans. Enjoy a massage at the Salus Spa, perched in a treetop stilt house above Lake Daylesford, before a sublime meal at the trailblazing Lake House restaurant before you tuck in for the night at the Lake House hotel, one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia.
Day 10: Daylesford to Melbourne
Drive 20 minutes east to the pretty township of Trentham to visit Trentham Falls, the longest single drop waterfall in Victoria, plunging 32 metres (105 feet) over basalt columns. Explore the boutiques and enjoy a coffee and pastry at the Red Beard Bakery, or take a sourdough bread making class before having lunch at the nearby café, La Trattoria, in the historic Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm. Explore the farm's historic stone buildings, which overlook the lavender fields that supply the raw materials for the farm-made lotions and creams.
Drive an hour to Mount Macedon to visit exquisite private gardens at Forest Glade and Tieve Tara, or climb nearby Hanging Rock, a 105-metre (344-foot) tall, steep-sided ancient volcano, which has eroded to create bizarre rock formations. You'll see lots of Australian birds, and maybe an echidna or wallaby, and enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding farmland from the top. Stop in at Curly Flat Winery to taste some of the region's best pinot noir before you drive an hour back to Melbourne.