The Great Southern Touring Route is an impeccable blend of lush green national parks and ocean breeze, an elongated Great Ocean Road experience. It takes you from Melbourne to the Bellarine Peninsula, down to the best drive on the planet- the Great Ocean Road. The southern coastline continues into the untouched nature of the Great Otway National Park and the centuries-old Twelve Apostles. The final leg of the journey will have you relax at the lovely local wineries of the Grampians, the spa country of Daylesford and the wildlife parks of Ballarat. Sounds intriguing? Here’s our ultimate guide through the best of Victoria’s southern coastline!
Important Travel Tips
- Basic Road Info: The Great Southern Touring Route is a loop track starting and ending in Melbourne. It’s 864km long and fully sealed, except for some optional detours. Most of the road has up to 100km/h limit but beware of wildlife crossing.
- Best Travel Time: The summer season is the best and most popular time to do the route, so you can expect some crowds. If you want to avoid them, opt for the wintertime, when you can spot some whales and waterfalls start to fill up. Even though nature is awakening in spring, you can’t predict the amount of rainfall, and you might end up with a not-so-pleasant road trip.
- Estimated Travel Time: Compared to other road trips, the Great Southern Touring Route is short, and the fact that it takes you exclusively through sealed roads cuts the travel time. You can do it in approximately 6 days, but you might rush and miss some of the charming towns. Allow at least 8 to 10 days.
- What To Bring: This route moves through populated places, so even in a case of emergency, you won’t be stranded on the way. However, fill up your tank in the bigger cities for cheaper prices and bring essential road emergency equipment. Hiking boots are a must, as well as a surfboard if you’re into surfing.
- Tickets And Permissions: Australian National Surfing Museum $12 per adult; Cape Otway Lightstation $10 per adult; Apollo Bay Museum $5 per adult; Otway Fly Treetop Adventures $25-$120; Halls Gap Zoo $38 per adult; Sovereign Hill $39 per adult; Ballarat Wildlife Park $35 per adult.
Melbourne to Torquay
Start your journey by getting on Highway One from Melbourne and drive 75km down the coastline. Your first stop is Geelong. Go for a stroll through the Geelong Botanical Gardens and visit the National Wool Museum. Learn about sheep farming and shearing, and get up close to the machines used for carpet weaving and knitting socks. It’s the place where history, science and fashion come together. Geelong Gaol is another captivating piece of history, a former prison operating until 1991.
Enjoy lunch by the beach and travel 22km further to Torquay, the surf capital of the world. Visit the Australian National Surfing Museum, a fascinating place even for those who don’t surf. Take a walk up to the lookout of Bells Beach and enjoy watching the pros conquering the waves.
Places To Stay
Paid: Torquay Holiday Park or Jan Juc Caravan Park
Free: Tanners Road Bend Campground or Hammond Road North
Torquay to Apollo Bay
Leave Torquay and drive merely 20km to Anglesea, a charming small coastal town. Start your day by a walk through the Point Addis Marine National Park. Enjoy some stunning views from the platforms before continuing your journey to the Loveridge Lookout. For kangaroo sighting, stop at Anglesea Golf Club and catch them relaxing under the trees.
Grab a treat at the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery and continue your drive to Lorne. Pick some mesmerizing falls to visit in the area; the Erskine Falls, Lower and Upper Kalimna Falls, Phantom or Henderson Falls. Each one has a unique appeal, and the hikes vary in difficulty.
Get back on the road, and in 55km, you’ll reach Apollo Bay, the gateway to the Great Otway National Park.
Places To Stay
Paid: The Dairy Apollo Bay or Marengo Holiday Park
Free: Beauchamp Falls Reserve or Ferguson Recreation Ground
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Apollo Bay & Great Otway National Park
Start your day with a hike to the Cape Otway Lightstation for some magnificent views and a history lesson. The Old Cable Station Museum is another essential piece of history, as it was once the only connection between Tasmania and Australia.
Your following stop is the Great Otway National Park, the real treasure of the area. Plan at least a day to dive into its lush greenery, scenic waterfalls and red forest. Traverse the stunning Australian south woods and meet some wallabies along the way. Hopetoun and Beauchamp Falls are a must-visit. There’s free camping in the park as well as walking platforms. For a different view of the forest, visit the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures and take the 600-metre long, 47 metres high treetop walk or the zip line tour.
Finally, hit the Wreck Beach at low tide, to spot some significant remnants of a shipwreck. Beware, you’ll need to climb and descend over 300 stairs and some slippery rocks!
Places To Stay
Paid: Bimbi Park or Parker Hill Campground
Free: Aire Crossing or Stevensons Falls Campsite
Apollo Bay To Warrnambool
Just 85km further from Apollo Bay, you’ll reach one of the route’s highlights, the Twelve Apostles. Ensure to visit early in the morning to avoid the crowds as well as to enjoy the majestic limestone stacks in peace. Due to the natural process of erosion, there are only seven left, therefore the next time you get the chance to visit them, there might be even fewer left. There’s an info centre on-site as well as parking and an underground pathway to the coast. Continue to Loch Ard Gorge, a stunning scenery named after the shipwrecked clipper. London Bridge is another spectacular lookout as well as the Bay of Islands – a site giving out the Twelve Apostles feeling but relatively smaller and less crowded.
Ensure to reach Warrnambool in time for the sound and light show at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.
Places To Stay
Paid: Surfside Holiday Park or Warrnambool Holiday Village
Free: Panmure Campground or Caramut Western Hotel
Warrnambool To Dunkeld
Before heading out north, stop at Port Fairy, the small charming town with picturesque scenery. Take a walk to Griffiths Island and visit the lighthouse along the edge. Captain John Griffiths, was the first one to bring white settlers from Tasmania to Portland Bay, as a result, the island was named after him. There are plenty of wallabies around and a lovely beach walking area.
Leave Port Fairy and drive an hour to Dunkeld, where some fantastic hikes await. Dunkeld is located on the southern tip of the Grampians National Park. Visit the Dunkel Arboretum, a botanical paradise filled with ancient red gum trees and kangaroos. Depending on your fitness level, you can take the Grampians Peaks Trail and stop by the must-see locations as Boroka Lookout, Reeds Lookout, The Balconies and Mackenzie Falls.
In fact, if you’re up for a bigger challenge, take the 3.5km loop track to the Chimney Pots – cliff formations in the remote side of the Grampians Park.
Places To Stay
Paid: Dunkeld Caravan Park or Jimmy Creek Campground
Free: Freshwater Lake Reserve or Wannon Crossing
Dunkeld To Halls Gap
This is the section for 4WD lovers; the Grampians Park and Halls Gap provide some interesting 4WD tracks. Brambuk, The National Park & Cultural Centre, is an award-winning visitors centre with a wonderful representation of the Aboriginal culture, history and rock art sites. Take the Pinnacle walk, a medium difficulty 4.3km loop taking you to the top where you can enjoy a nice picnic. After that, you can take the descend to the Venus Baths for a refreshing swim.
The Halls Zoo is one of the area’s highlights, especially if you’re travelling with kids. It features over 160 different animals, like giraffes, cheetahs, monkeys, crocodiles, kangaroos and koalas. The walk along the zoo is 2.5km long and wheelchair friendly. You’ll find a kiosk for food, toilets, a playground and free BBQ areas.
Places To Stay
Paid: Halls Gap Lake Side Tourist Park or Grampians Old Man Emu Stay
Free: Dansa Campground or Plantation Campground
Halls Gap To Ballarat
Get back on the road for a longer drive, 145km to Ballarat, the centre of the Victorian architectural heritage. Your first stop is Sovereign Hill, a living outdoor museum showcasing life in Australia in the 1850s goldrush era. It’s both fun and educational; it provides horse carriage rides and hands-on activities for visitors of all ages. Further, visit the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, where you can relax by Lake Wendouree.
For a different close encounter with wildlife, visit the Ballarat Wildlife Park. You’ll find over 100 free-roaming kangaroos, koalas, wombats, little penguins, dingoes, Tasmanian devils, snakes, tortoises, emus, Sumatran tigers, and so much more. This park is home to Crunch – the 5-metre long crocodile. You get the unique opportunity to cuddle a koala or a wombat, hand feed a kangaroo or get a snake wrapped over your shoulders.
Places To Stay
Paid: BIG4 Ballarat Goldfield Holiday Park or Haddon Lions Park
Free: Learmonth Stag Hotel or Lake Burrumbeet South
Ballarat To Melbourne
Heading out of Ballarat, there’s an optional but very recommended 45km detour you can take to Daylesford. The region is home to the Passing Clouds Winery, Lake Daylesford and Spa Country. It features tons of weekend getaway properties, farms and mineral springs. Are you feeling tired already? Treat yourself to a spa day and a wellness treatment at some of the many resorts.
For a different kind of experience, take the Daylesford Spa Country Train, a volunteer-run tourist railway, taking you into the wombat forest.
Back on the road to Melbourne, stop for magnificent views over the city at Mount Macedon or a glass of wine at Gisborne Peak Winery.
And you’re done! The Great Southern Touring Route ends where you started, in Melbourne. Where will the road take you next?
Places To Stay
Paid: Daylesford Holiday Park or BIG4 Melbourne Holiday Park
Free: Mt Franklin Reserve or Kyneton Mineral Springs
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