Embark on an eight-day adventure down Australia's marvelous southeastern coast. Begin with city tours of Melbourne, an eclectic coastal capital quickly emerging as a tourism hotspot. Then get behind the wheel for an unforgettable road trip down the famous Great Ocean Road, which stretches for 150 miles (241 km) amid golden beaches and unspoiled natural parks. In these natural wonderlands, you'll enjoy outdoor adventures and First Nations culture in equal measure.

Highlights

  • Visit Melbourne's hipster laneways and historical landmarks on a bike tour
  • Drive the Great Ocean Road and see highlights like Bells Beach and the 12 Apostles
  • Embark on outdoor adventures in Great Otway and Grampians National Parks
  • See ancient First Nations rock art and learn about the culture

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Melbourne, Optional Activities & First Nations Heritage Melbourne
Day 2 Best of Melbourne by Bike, Free Afternoon in Melbourne Melbourne
Day 3 Great Ocean Road Self-Drive: Melbourne to Apollo Bay Apollo Bay
Day 4 Great Ocean Road Self-Drive: Apollo Bay to Warrnambool Warrnambool
Day 5 Self-Drive: Warrnambool to Grampians National Park Halls Gap
Day 6 Half-Day Canoe Trip Halls Gap
Day 7 Self-Drive: Grampians National Park to Melbourne Melbourne
Day 8 Depart Melbourne  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Melbourne, Optional Activities & First Nations Heritage

Melbourne
Melbourne's riverfront

Welcome to Melbourne, Australia! This is the largest city and capital of the state of Victoria. Upon touching down at the airport, your private driver will transfer you to your hotel. After settling in, you can head out and explore on your own. This city of over five million people is a melting pot of diversity and a paradise for lovers of fine food and wine. In Melbourne, hidden enclaves and back-alley laneways hold the keys to the most exciting nightlife, trendiest boutiques, and liveliest bars in the city.

To get to the heart of Melbourne, it's best to start with a deep dive into the city's First Nations culture. A great option is to visit the Koorie Heritage Center. A First Nations-owned and managed organization, the Koorie Trust offers an immersive, urban-Aboriginal experience. Start at Federation Square, Melbourne's premier culture and arts venue, where you'll view the Trust's collection of artworks and artifacts. Then you can meet with a local guide for a cultural walk along the Birrarung (Yarra) River to witness art installations and significant historical sites that date back thousands of years.

Day 2: Best of Melbourne by Bike, Free Afternoon in Melbourne

Best of Melbourne by Bike
See landmarks like St Paul's Cathedral

This morning, you'll embark on a 4.5-hour bicycle tour of Melbourne. Examples of the locales you'll visit include the Yarra River, Flinders St Station (Australia's oldest train station, which dates to 1909), the National Gallery of Victoria, and Queen Victoria Market—the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. You can also visit Melbourne's famous laneways and historic shopping arcades. These labyrinthine alleyways and street malls are full of charming boutiques, intimate cafés, colorful street art, and trendy restaurants.

After the bike tour, you'll have the rest of the afternoon free to continue exploring. The most efficient mode of transport is the City Circle, a zero-fare (re: free!) tram that runs through Melbourne's central districts. You can visit attractions like the neo-Gothic St Paul's Cathedral, the neoclassical Parliament House, and the 19th-century Royal Exhibition Building on these routes. For great views, head to the Shrine of Remembrance, a stately war memorial next to the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, where you'll find more than 8,500 species of plants from around the world. 

Day 3: Great Ocean Road Self-Drive: Melbourne to Apollo Bay, Explore Apollo Bay

Bells Beach, Torquay
Bells Beach, Torquay

Pick up your rental car this morning and embark on a grand adventure down Victoria's Great Ocean Road. This stretch of highway runs 150 miles (240 km) along Victoria's southwest coast and is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Your first stop after leaving Melbourne is Bells Beach. Located just south of the seaside town of Torquay, Bells is a famous surf spot known for hosting the Rip Curl Pro surfing competition. For a more in-depth look at this popular aquatic sport, visit Torquay's Australian National Surfing Museum.

Next up are the quaint beach towns of Anglesea and Aireys Inlet. In the latter, take a walk to the Split Point Lighthouse, which offers incredible views over the coastal bluffs. Then continue driving for about 30 minutes to Lorne. This is another seaside gem with plenty of cool shops you can browse and great cafés you can stop at for lunch. Additionally, the area has several scenic waterfalls, including Erskine Falls, Henderson Falls, Phantom Falls, and Sheoak Falls. Another must-do in Lorne: Visit Teddy's Lookout, which offers panoramic views over the coastal mountains.

In the afternoon, continue driving an hour southwest to the fishing town of Apollo Bay. After checking in to your hotel, you can head out for a walk on the town's long crescent beach. You can also venture into the adjacent Great Otway National Park for a nature hike. This protected area covers 398 sq miles (1,032 sq km) and encompasses sections of rugged coastline, beaches, rainforests, and the mountains of the Otway Ranges. Hike to lookout points, drive to Melba Gully to see the famous glowworms, or try to spot the elusive platypus at Lake Elizabeth. The options for adventure are nearly limitless.

Day 4: Great Ocean Road Self-Drive: Apollo Bay to Warrnambool

12 Apostles
The 12 Apostles

After breakfast, depart Apollo Bay and continue south, stopping at one of the main highlights on the entire Great Ocean Road: The Twelve Apostles. These towering limestone rock pillars jut out from the choppy seas and have been shaped by wind and weather erosion over millions of years. The erosion continues, in fact, to the point that today only eight of the 12 pillars remain (despite the name). Three minutes west is another dramatic landmark: Loch Ard Gorge. This lovely inlet was named for the ship Loch Ard, which tragically ran aground in 1878.  

Next, you can visit London Arch, a dramatic rock outcropping and one of Victoria's most popular natural landmarks. Only a few minutes from here is the Grotto sinkhole, where from lookout points, you can peer into the void and witness the mist and spray that fills the air as the ocean surges and the rock pools fill with water. You'll arrive in Warrnambool, a historic coastal city at the western end of the Great Ocean Road. Here, you'll check in to your hotel and should be pleased to discover that it maintains a small-town vibe despite Warrnambool's urban layout.

Day 5: Self-Drive: Warrnambool to Grampians National Park

Grampians scenery
Grampians scenery

After breakfast, hit the road for the roughly two-hour drive inland to Grampians National Park. This group of five rugged sandstone ridges comprises one of the grandest nature reserves in Australia. You'll have the day free to discover the park on your own by embarking on any number of mountain hikes. Within the park are plenty of trails leading to dazzling waterfalls and awe-inspiring lookouts. Along the way, you'll catch glimpses of local wildlife like deer, red foxes, brown hares, and even dingoes.

No matter your route, you'll be treated to the incredible mountain landscapes of the Grampians, which are smooth and sloping on the west side and rough and craggy on the east. Don't miss the ancient First Nations rock paintings in the park's rock shelters. This is archeological evidence of First Nations people's long association with the Grampians. You'll continue to the heart of Grampians National Park and the village of Halls Gap, where you'll overnight. Here, you're sure to spot wild kangaroos grazing around town.

Day 6: Half-Day Canoe Trip

Grampians canoe tour
Grampians canoe tour

There are many outdoor adventure options at the Grampians, and canoeing is one of the most popular. In the morning, you'll leave Halls Gap and head to one of the stunning lakes in the area, such as Bellfield or Fyans. You and your local guide will launch the canoe and spend a few leisurely hours on the water. As you paddle, your guide will point out the highlights and any wildlife in the area. Also, watch for native water birds milling about, like black swans, cormorants, and ducks.

At the end of the outing, you'll return to your accommodation in Halls Gap. Should you choose, you can embark on an optional Grampians activity for the remainder of the afternoon. These include hikes to mountain lookout points and waterfalls, as well as visiting an First Nations cultural center. 

Day 7: Self-Drive: Grampians National Park to Melbourne

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat

Time to make your way back to Melbourne. As you drive along the Western Highway, you'll come across one of the many rock shelters featuring ancient First Nations artwork. The Bunjil Shelter is located in the Black Range Scenic Reserve, about 4.3 miles (7 km) from the town of Stawell. Take the Bunjil Cave Road to the parking area; from there, it's a five-minute walk to the large boulder featuring the art. The work is regarded as the most important in the area, as it shows an image of Bunjil, a creator deity central to First Nations mythology. The idea is estimated to be thousands of years old.

About 1.5 hours east of Stawell is Ballarat, Victoria's largest inland city. Stop en route to enjoy this hub of contemporary arts, diverse cuisine, great wine, and tasty craft beer. The city retains much of its charming architectural heritage from its days as a 19th-century gold-rush town. Learn more at Sovereign Hill, a living museum that transports visitors back to 1851 Ballarat. Set on 25 acres (10 ha), the streets here are packed with costumed characters who bring the town to life and put the scent of gold fever in the air. When ready, leave Ballarat for the 1.5-hour drive east back to Melbourne. 

Day 8: Depart Melbourne

Goodbye, Melbourne
In the morning, you'll have some free time to enjoy a bit more of the city. Then, at the appropriate time, drive to Melbourne Airport and drop off your rental car at the depot. Then, continue your journey home. Safe travels!

More Great Australia Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Australia? Check out these other Australia itineraries, explore different ways to spend eight days in Australia, or learn about the best time to visit Australia.

Map

Map of Melbourne & the Great Ocean Road Self-Drive Adventure - 8 Days
Map of Melbourne & the Great Ocean Road Self-Drive Adventure - 8 Days