The Great Ocean Road winds across the southern coast of Australia, taking travelers on a beautiful adventure. For many tourists, the highlight is the 12 Apostles, a set of limestone stacks that protrude majestically from the clear blue waters of the Southern Ocean.
Visiting these natural landmarks isn’t too difficult -- if you don’t mind spending some serious time in the car, you can plan a single-day trip from Melbourne -- but to truly appreciate the Great Ocean Road, you’ll need to budget a few days.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 12 Apostles, other nearby landmarks, and the history of Australia’s most popular highway.
Millions Of People Drive The Great Ocean Road Every Year
The Great Ocean Road runs about 150 miles from Torquay to Allansford, traversing some of the most beautiful terrain anywhere on the planet. Visitors pass by cliffs, beaches, and even rainforests.
Given the drive’s scenic charm, it should come as no surprise that the Great Ocean Road is well traveled. Millions of people drive the road every year, including more than 245,000 international tourists.
The Road Is A War Memorial
While Australia toyed with the idea of a southern coastal road in the late 1880s, construction didn’t begin until 1918, when Geelong mayor Howard Hitchcock gathered money to build the road as a permanent memorial to Australia’s World War I servicemen.
Many of the servicemen who’d served in the Great War worked on the road, using shovels, picks, and other basic tools to painstakingly carve out the route over the next several decades. The Great Ocean Road officially opened to the public in November 1932.
There Aren’t Actually 12 Apostles
The 12 Apostles are the Great Ocean Road’s most famous landmarks, but the name is something of a misnomer. Initially, they were simply called the Pinnacles, or the Sow and Piglets (Muttonbird Island was the Sow, while the limestone stacks made up the Piglets). At some point, they were called the Apostles, which became the 12 Apostles to better reflect their Biblical namesake.
However, there are only eight stacks in the officially recognized formation. At one point, there were nine stacks, but one was lost to erosion.
The Apostles Are Constantly Changing
Every year, harsh storms batter Australia’s southern coast, further eroding the limestone structures by about 2 centimeters annually. Eventually, the erosion will send the Apostles tumbling into the sea, and new limestone pillars will gradually form from the same geological process over thousands of years.
For travelers, that’s a good reason to move a Great Ocean Road drive to the top of your bucket list: At any given time, any of the pillars could disappear forever.
Other Natural Wonders Await Near The 12 Apostles
The 12 Apostles are breathtaking, but they’re not the only attractions on the route. Travel a few miles west of Port Campbell to see the Grotto, an incredible geological archway that frames gorgeous views of the sea.
The Loch Ard Gorge is also nearby. The gorge gets its name from the ship Loch Ard, which ran aground on the site, killing 52 of its passengers; memorials on the site tell the story of the lost passengers and crew.
You Can See Local Wildlife In Nearby Kennett River
Kennett River is a small town located between Lorne and Apollo Bay. It has a wonderful beach, but the local wildlife is the real draw.
Take a quick stop here, and you’ll see koalas, kookaburras, parrots, and various other native Australian creatures. The koalas are comfortable around humans, though you should try to plan your visit for the late afternoon when they’re at their most active.
Plan On Spending At Least A Day On The Great Ocean Road
Driving the road from Melbourne to Apollo Bay takes roughly 3 hours nonstop, but you’ll be stopping fairly regularly. Most travelers plan on spending at least two days on this trip, though it’s doable in a day if you design your itinerary carefully.
If you decide to make the trip in two days, consider overnighting in Port Campbell, a quaint seaside village about half an hour from the 12 Apostles. Apollo Bay, another coastal town alongside the Great Otway National Park, is another great place to spend a night or two.
The Great Ocean Road is a delight for true adventurers, and you could easily spend weeks on the route without seeing everything. If you emphasize the “tour" in “tourist,” you’ll certainly want to make this trip a part of your itinerary.