Everything about this iconic ribbon of road befits the archetypal Australian driving holiday – the stream of families and soaked surfers bustling into clapboarded cafés, the barefoot stops at lookouts and the scenic, swaying route that either tightly hugs the rugged coast or dives into thick bushland.
What to do day one
From Melbourne Airport, travel the outskirts of the CBD and in just over an hour, you’ll hit the start of the Great Ocean Road. Roll on for another 30 minutes and pull in for lunch at family-run A La Grecque at Aireys Inlet. Set in a seaside homestead, the restaurant transforms Greek classics into modern Australian magic. Highlights include chargrilled octopus tumbled with pink grapefruit and fennel or briny kefalograviera with pear and hazelnuts.
Leaving Aireys, you’ll discover treasures on the two-and-a-half-hour journey towards the earthy and luxurious Alkina Lodge. (Loop into Lorne if you have time; the beach’s foreshore is perfect for a picnic rug and leg stretch.) Spot kangaroos from your lodge windows in the afternoon or take a 20-minute trip west to the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park to admire the sandstone stacks at sunset as they stand sentry over the glistening ocean. Back at Alkina Lodge, start the fire, fill the bathtub and choose from the in-house wine list, while a home-cooked meal is delivered to your room. (Enquire about a personal chef for the ultimate in private dining.)
What to do day two
Great Otway National Park, less than an hour’s drive east, is packed with hiking trails, lush hinterland, waterfalls and dense fern gullies. The Blanket Bay to Parker Hill walk, an easy track snaking through grass trees and coastal forests, includes two stunning lookouts, while Cape Otway Lightstation, 15 minutes east of the trail, offers another sweeping view over the ocean’s edge. Woodfired ovens produce great results for a lunchtime layover at Lorne’s Pizza Pizza. From here, it’s just 45 minutes to RACV Torquay, where pastimes range from golfing to indulgent spa treatments. Nearby Pearl, a moody Italian restaurant serving twirls of pappardelle with blue swimmer crab and truffled parsnip with cream-coated gnocchi, demands a big appetite.
What to do day three
Make one last trip to the water’s edge to dine at Torquay’s Pond, a homey café serving hearty toasties, paninis and sangas plus great coffee alongside a lovely view of the scrub-edged shore. Got time for another stop? Only 30 minutes due north from here is Geelong Gallery, which features an impressive collection of more than 6000 works from contemporary Australian art to European pieces spanning the 19th to 21st centuries.