The Great Ocean Road will awe you with its vast, colorful, windswept landscapes. While perusing stunning imagery and collecting highlights builds anticipation and excitement for the journey, nothing beats the real thing. Since this epic drive attracts two million visitors per year, be prepared for traffic and crowds.
Given my lack of directional sense, I mistakenly thought the Great Ocean Road connects Adelaide to Melbourne. Yep, turns out, it doesn’t (and it’s nowhere close to Adelaide). Opting to visit during June, the Australian winter, provides many benefits. Off-season travel results in non-existent crowds, minimal traffic, and plentiful lodging and dining options.
While most opt for a round-trip journey from Melbourne, we started in Port Fairy, working our way to Melbourne over four days. The gastronomical delights during the road trip were unexpected and delicious.
Port Fairy – the world’s most livable community
Based on Australian friends’ input, we overnighted in this delightful seaside town. It’s located 35 km west of Allansford where the Great Ocean Road officially starts. The tiny hamlet offers a number of great options for photography and dining.
Port Fairy dining options
If you are a fan of afternoon tea, don’t miss Time & Tide. While enjoying their delectable offerings, you can feast your eyes on the beautiful coastline and crashing waves. We devoured a flavorful Indian curry and then smothered our tasty scones in jam and cream.
TIP: High Tea is offered 12-4 Saturday and Sunday. Bookings are essential. Lunch and afternoon tea is available Wednesday – Friday 12-4.
Conlan’s Wine Store offers a charming ambiance and extensive wine selection. Their BBQ cuttlefish, crispy pork belly, fluffy gnocchi, and creative cheese plate with quince spread and pistachios were phenomenal.
TIP: If visiting during the winter, quince features prominently on Great Ocean Road menus. Make sure to indulge!
Great Ocean Road AirBnBs offer character and variety
Throughout our Great Ocean Road trip, we opted to stay in AirBnBs along the way. Not only did we appreciate the hosts’ wonderful insider tips for dining and sightseeing options, we relished the variety and character. In Port Fairy, we stayed in an Old Whalers Cottage, with gorgeous detailing throughout.
TIP: Since winter nights can be chilly and central heating is not common in historic abodes, make sure to bring warm pajamas and cozy socks for the evenings along the Great Ocean Road. Wall heaters and fireplaces provide heat in the sleeping areas. Heat lamps are common in the bathrooms.
Other Port Fairy dining/lodging options:
- Merrijig Inn is a historic inn, with attic rooms overlooking the wharf. We couldn’t explore the property since they were closed for winter break when we were visiting, but heard great things
- Merrijig Kitchen – open 6pm Thursday – Monday. Their menu highlights local and regional artisan producers & farmers
- Coffin Sally – Pizza
- Lemongrass Thai
- Slitti – Creating award winning chocolates since 1969
- Poco Artisan Ice Cream
Get your serenity on at these sunrise and sunset spots
We were enchanted with the beautiful sunset light over the Crags our first night. Since we had the location to ourselves, it made it even more enjoyable.
TIP: Given the jagged rocks and waves, it’s a great place to experiment with long exposure as the water swirls and pounds the surrounding rocks. 0.5- 0.7 seconds is my favorite speed to capture water motion and movement.
While we didn’t have time to check out the Griffiths Island Lighthouse (built in 1859), it seems to provide lots of great photographic opportunities.
Port Campbell is the Great Ocean Road Gateway
Admiring sunrise or sunset at the iconic 12 Apostles will be the highlight of any Great Ocean Road visit. Unfortunately, due to erosion, only eight remain. If you can, stay two or three nights in centrally located Port Campbell. Given its proximity to all the most popular sights, it’s the ideal base camp. This makes it easy to capture the magical sunrise or sunset light at a few different iconic Great Ocean Road locations.
TIP: If you want to minimize crowds, opt for sunrise. While sunset often offers better colors, it can be a bit of a madhouse.
Arriving to desired viewpoints between 6 – 9AM will increase your odds of having it to yourself. As a result of day tours from Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road sights get extremely crowded by lunchtime.
TIP: To access the 12 Apostles, follow the path behind the Visitors Center in the parking lot, which takes you underneath the highway. Don’t cross the highway as I did in the dark looking for a path!
Explore all four 12 Apostles viewpoints – the iconic Great Ocean Road shot
Be aware that numerous viewpoints for the 12 Apostles exist. This is a great place to experiment with long exposure photography. I hadn’t realized this when I arrived and anchored too long to one spot, missing some of the best light. Fortunately, I knew the layout by the second day.
TIP: Vary your shutter speed from 0.3 – 2 seconds. As it gets brighter, you will need to use a variable neutral density filter. 4 stop, 6 stop and 10 stop are my favorites. A 2 – 3 stop graduated filter can come in handy too!
- Metal viewing platform – stand in the far right corner to get an unobstructed view of four of the Apostles and the one that crumbled in July 2005. This is also a great viewpoint for moon/nightscapes.
- Metal viewing platform – far left corner – you’ll get a large apostle in the foreground with the four smaller ones + crumbled one in the background
- Make your way along the path and you’ll come across another small viewing platform – this perspective offers some flowers in the foreground plus the large Apostle and the four in the background.
- TIP: Place your tripod legs over the platform walls to vary your perspective
- At the end of the path, you’ll come to the busiest viewpoint. Facing one direction you can see Gibson Steps (Gog & Magog) with beautiful seagrass in the foreground. When you turn around, you’ll get a perspective of the large Apostle with the smaller ones in the background and seagrass in the foreground as seen in the headline image.
If you head up the hill, you can get a slightly different perspective. However, I prefer the view from the lower perspective since the walls block the view at the higher viewpoint, especially for vertically challenged people like me!
Since we had two sunrises and one sunset along this famous part of the Great Ocean Road, we opted to divide and conquer for our first sunrise. Jason dropped me at the 12 Apostles and continued on to Gibson Steps. We switched positions for sunset.
After parking in the small parking lot, take the 86 steps down to the beach.
TIP: If this lot is full, you can park at the 12 Apostles car park and walk 1 km to reach the Gibson Steps viewing area.
For the best view of the two stacks known as Gog and Magog, walk further down the beach towards them to avoid the crowds that gather near the steps, especially at sunset.
TIP: Make sure to check the tides for Gibson Steps and look out for sneaker waves. Waves can not only prevent you from getting around the corner, but they may suddenly crash where you are standing and try to steal your camera and tripod! Never turn your back on the ocean here!
Seek out reflections at Loch Ard Gorge
Just after sunrise, drive three minutes to Loch Ard Gorge to beat the crowds. Early morning light will beautifully illuminate the two formations. Since we were there before 9AM, we had it to ourselves most of the time.
TIP: Position yourself low and look for reflections in the shaded water and sand, making for an even more epic perspective. Did you know reflections are best if your subject is lit and the water is shaded? Watch those waves though as they are sneaky here too!
Razorback is another impressive spectacle
Walk down a different path in the same car park as Loch Ard Gorge to reach Razorback. Photographing this in the early morning as rays just begin to light the top edge allows you to appreciate all the color gradients. Watching as the waves crash into the base and examining the details and lines gives you a new appreciation for this stunning formation formed by the wind and spray.
TIP: I used a 4 stop Neutral Density filter here to offset the brighter light
Tom & Eva lookout provides another gorgeous view
We also really enjoyed the other two formations you’ll pass on the path to reach Razorback – Tom & Eva – named after the two people who survived when the ship named Loch Ard wrecked on a nearby island. They washed ashore at Loch Ard Gorge and sheltered in a cave. Tom scaled the cliff face to find help, ultimately resulting in their rescue.
TIP: Photograph Razorback first and this after as the light will hit here after Razorback.
Bakers Oven will be an unexpected highlight
Bakers Oven turned out to be one of our favorite spots on the Great Ocean Road. You access it via a narrow one lane road, so NO tour buses can visit here. And, when waves cascade through you get a cool mini waterfall in the middle of the ocean. The perfect combination!
TIP: To counteract the mid-morning sun, use a variable neutral density filter so that you can still capture long exposure without overexposing the image. If you are petite, position your tripod higher so that the bushes don’t block your view of the waterfall.
The Arch viewpoint marveled me with its delicacy
Since this formation is closer to the elevated viewpoint than most others you can marvel at how the water has carved it. No doubt this one will collapse as London Bridge did in 1990. Very few arches remain in the area so it’s a privilege to see this one.
TIP: Be patient and wait for the water to flow over to capture another waterfall here.
Be prepared for crowds at London Arch
Since we arrived at London Arch mid-day, we encountered the dreaded crowds. Fortunately, three viewpoints exist, allowing you to move around to avoid people.
In January 1990, two tourists were stranded and ultimately rescued by helicopter when the span connecting it to the mainland collapsed. Previously, it was known as London Bridge.
The Grotto is glassy and serene
While Jason wasn’t initially super keen to visit this one, he really enjoyed it. Be aware it is a small space with a staircase leading down. Realistically, only two to four people can shoot the view through the hole at a time. While nearly impossible to be creative with your compositions here given the layout, it is worth a stop. You can see the ocean beyond at low tide.
Port Campbell food and lodging
- Daysy Cottages offers self-catering and is conveniently located to all the spots in the area.
- 12 Rocks Portions are generous at this beach bar. Jason enjoyed his oven roasted lamb rack. And, my turmeric roasted cauliflower and pumpkin salad with beetroot and pistachio dust was divine.
- Nico’s Pizza and Pasta
- Waves offers boutique style accommodation and fresh local seafood and produce
- Grassroots Deli Cafe
- Plan your trip to avoid weekends
- Arrive to places before noon to avoid the day bus crowds from Melbourne
- Grab snacks at the grocery store to maximize your time on the Great Ocean Road