One of the great things about travel is the people that you meet. Two and a half years ago, I went on an incredible road trip to the Bolivian Salt Flats. It was one of my first-ever solo trips, and I was put into a Jeep with another American and two Australians for our four-day journey. We all bonded quite quickly, and it became an unforgettable trip. Upon arriving in Melbourne, I was picked up by Alex, whom I hadn’t seen since he was randomly assigned to be in my Jeep back in South America. Exhausted after having taken an early flight from New Zealand, we spent the day catching up and relaxing. Alex offered to be my chauffeur from Melbourne to Adelaide via the iconic Great Ocean Road.
Reconnected with a friend for our road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide
We had three days to complete the journey, as I had a flight to catch in Adelaide on the fourth day. For those planning a trip down the Great Ocean Road, and/or those looking to catch a flight to Uluru/Alice Springs from Adelaide (like myself!), here’s what I suggest:
Melbourne to Adelaide via the Great Ocean Road
Rather than driving west out of Melbourne en route to the Great Ocean Road, detour a bit east and stop at Brighton Beach. Here, you will find incredibly colorful (and overly expensive) Beach Boxes. It’s a picturesque beach and many of the Boxes will have fun images — a boxing kangaroo, a crab, a Japanese wave, etc.
The colorful Brighton Beach Boxes outside of Melbourne
Continue driving south through Mornington toward Sorrento. In Sorrento, grab a “Famous Vanilla Slice” for breakfast. Unbeknownst to me, these slices are HUGE! While Alex and I both managed to finish our ginormous portion, it’s definitely a shareable pastry. Typically Australian and delicious, this served as my breakfast and lunch!
Vanilla Slice is a must!
To meet back up with the Great Ocean Road, take the Searoad Ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliff, and drive 45 minutes or so to Torquay, the home of Australian surfing. Coming from a family that loves pro surfing, we had to make a quick pitstop at Australia’s National Surf Museum. The museum documents the advent of surfing in Australia and has an innumerable amount of surfboards of all shapes and sizes. It describes a bit about Aussie surf culture and showcases a bit of memorabilia from some pro surfers.
Inside Australia's National Surf Museum
If you’re looking to do some shopping for bathing suits, “thongs,” beach towels, or any surf brand clothing (ie. Billabong, Rip Curl, etc.), Torquay is the place to do so.
From Torquay we drove to Bell’s Beach, home of the WSL Rip Curl Pro Surf Competition. The winner is awarded the acclaimed “Bell” trophy.
En route from Melbourne to Adelaide is Bells Beach
We then drove another hour to explore Erskine Falls. While the area itself was cool, we were relatively unimpressed by Erskine Falls.
A dribble of water down Erksine Falls
The most memorable parts of our day were two lookout points. First, we went to Teddy’s Lookout, near Erskine Falls. This lookout provides you will a great view of the Great Ocean Road itself:
Teddy's Lookout over the Great Ocean Road
Then, we went to Marriner’s Lookout. This lookout overlooks Apollo Bay and the surrounding areas:
Marriner's Lookout – End of Day 1 on our Melbourne to Adelaide road trip
After a long day of driving, we grabbed dinner in Apollo Bay. Grilled lemon pepper calamari and chips in town really hit the spot. We spent the night in Sugarloaf sleeping in an old, semi-creepy monastery…
Driving Melbourne to Adelaide via the Great Ocean Road should be on everyone's bucket list!
Most people drive the Great Ocean Road with one particular sight in mind: the 12 Apostles. What most people miss out on is the magnificent sunrise over the 12 Apostles. Alex quickly won best-friend-status when he offered to wake up at 5am to drive us an hour and a half to the 12 Apostles for sunrise.
The 12 Apostles at Sunrise
We arrived just in time. Do note that the sun rises very quickly, so factor in ample time if you want to see the colors. We spent about an hour at the 12 Apostles taking it all in.
Your road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide wouldn't be complete without a stop at the 12 Apostles!
The 12 Apostles is that iconic Australian image that I only ever dreamed of seeing; years ago, I never would have thought that I’d make it “Down Under.” It was then that it hit me — I was in Australia. I had done it. I’d made it to all seven continents. I felt paralyzed for a moment, then so proud of myself that I almost wanted to cry. Five years ago I couldn’t even get on an airplane due to such a crippling fear of flying. No one would have ever guessed that that same Sarah would end up traveling the world, much less exploring all seven continents. I was overwhelmed, to say the least.
It dawned on me that I'd officially visited all 7 continents!
We then backtracked a bit to the grab coffee, put some petrol in the car, and check out the Gibson Steps. If you’ve seen the sunrise over the 12 Apostles, or seen the 12 Apostles in general, I’d suggest skipping the Gibson Steps unless you want to walk down onto one of the beaches. We decided to pass and continued along the Great Ocean Road to the Lock Ard Gorge car park. From there, you can access four main attractions —
The Island Archway: The arch of the island archway actually collapsed, so now it’s just the two rocks that supported the arch in the sea.
The Island Archway along the Great Ocean Road
The Razorback: This limestone stack is beautiful; watch the waves thrash against it. Do, however, go before 3pm when most of the tourists start to flock in.
The Razorback, as seen from the Great Ocean Road
The Shipwreck Walk. This walk will take you to the anchors of the Marie Gabrielle and the Fiji. We found the plaque a bit over-the-top as it described the sinking scene as, “Paralyzed with fear, the passengers clung to one another and, amidst their screams and cries, the ship slipped into the silent depths below.” A serious matter, yet we couldn’t help but laugh at the dramatic wording.
Views from the Shipwreck Walk
The Loch Ard Gorge: Named after the Loch Ard ship that ran aground nearby, this gorge is lovely and serves as the central point for many other walks in the area.
The Loch Ard Gorge
We then drove another two minutes to see Thunder Cave and Broken Head. It’s a very easy, beautiful walk to hear the waves crashing and see some more beautiful coastline.
From there, we went to see the London Bridge. While no longer a bridge, it is situated off an absolutely stunning beach. The natural bridge was a major tourist attraction before it came tumbling down in 1990. Two people were stranded on the (now) island, but were thankfully rescued by a helicopter a few hours after the event.
Stopped to see the infamous London Bridge on our drive from Melbourne to Adelaide
Our Great Ocean Road experience came to an end with our final two sites: The Arch and The Grotto. Both were well-worth the stop!
Final stop along the Great Ocean Road: The Arch
Because we had started our day so early, we finished our plans quite early and decided to continue driving further to the adorable town of Mt. Gambier where we camped for the night after wandering around the Umpherston Sinkhole, a beautiful sunken garden.
Inside Umpherston Sinkhole
Being in South Australia, we naturally had to start our day with some Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee…also known as my new favorite coffee in the world. When we were ready to hit the road, however, our car wouldn’t start. After trying to jump it, we realized quickly that our battery was (somehow) very dead. Thank goodness for Roadside Assistance! An hour later, we were off to begin our long day of driving ahead.
But, first, we had to explore Mt. Gambier’s famous Blue Lake. This lake within a gorgeous, extinct volcanic crater is absolutely breathtaking. The Blue Lake is a bright cobalt blue color, and pictures can’t even come close to doing it justice.
Blue Lake – Melbourne to Adelaide Road Trip
From Mt. Gambier, we drove an hour to the Naracoorte Caves, South Australia’s only UNESCO site. Since we were a bit crunched on time, we only went on a self-guided tour of the wet caves, however, if you have time definitely check out the Fossil Caves tour since that’s what they’re known for. It preserves Australia’s most complete fossil record for the past 500,000 years!
A peak inside Naracoorte Caves
Four hours of driving later, we arrived in Adelaide and stayed with some of Alex’s absolutely lovely friends. After great conversation, a rack of lamb, and some wine, we conked out after a tiring but fulfilling few days of driving and sightseeing. I am so grateful to Alex for being such a good friend and joining me on my Melbourne to Adelaide journey — I couldn’t have done it without him!
Next Stop: Alice Springs and Uluru!
You can read about my experience in Australia's Red Centre here:
Commonly referred to as “The Outback,” this region of Australia has so much to offer! I highly recommend continuing your journey onward from Adelaide to experience it firsthand!
Standing in front of Uluru, Australia's sacred aboriginal site