Why I Think the Great Ocean Road is Overrated

By on Published: January 30, 2015 | Last Updated: March 6, 2020 in AUSTRALIA, Travel Stories with 19 Comments

The Great Ocean Road is Overrated

I think the Great Ocean Road is overrated. I’m sorry, but there it is.

It’s an opinion, not a fact.

And, for better or worse, I’m entitled to it!

This is not a hate campaign, I didn’t detest the Great Ocean Road and I’m not saying you should never go, but for me it just didn’t live up to the hype.

All the key ingredients were there, the upgraded campervan we’d scored, the open-ended itinerary-free days stretching ahead of us.

Yet, somehow all these separate components just didn’t mix together to create the fabulous road trip recipe I’d hoped for.

Despite being part of my big birthday trip, the Great Ocean Road, unfortunately, felt just a few steps too close to getting old and boring for comfort.


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The Scenery is Mediocre

Australia, Victoria, Memorial Arch

It’s very similar for hours on end and ironically actually covers probably the least picturesque coastline I’ve seen in Australia.

Ever a fan of the beach I’m usually able to stare out to sea, watch, photograph and loose myself in waves for hours; but the Great Ocean Road views – meh, got to be honest, they bored me a little.

Sure, there are certain parts worth jumping out the car for – the cliff faces, arches and stacks of the Twelve Apostles section in Port Campbell National Park are actually pretty good – but in general the scenery is a fairly flat, washed-out, colourless, uneventful coastline.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that, I can walk along such beaches for hours without being bored, hell I grew up on the British coast, so know all about the moody overtones and intricate beauties these places bring.

However, the fact is that nobody is putting these pale stretches of wind-swept, seaweed-tinged coastline in their top 5 lists of things to visit; nobody is decorating flyers with them or selling tours by the bucket load to go and see them.

They are the forgotten places, the places you go to forget, not the places of overt beauty everyone clammers to get the sunset shot of.

They are the places you visit when your camera is at home, the places in the shadows we can go to hide and find quietness.

 

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It’s Packed

Australia, Victoria, Port Campbell NP

From fellow campervaners like us, to cyclists, motorbike-riders and the bus-loads of tours taking over the place, the drive feels more like an overrun fairground.

(Point 2 why I think the Great Ocean Road is overrated is underlined by the fact that I hate fairgrounds.)

When I go on a road trip I go to get away from it all, to get off the beaten track, to discover and uncover and recover a sense of wilderness.

I don’t go to be surrounded by people all elbowing each other out of the way to get the best photo.

So if you were hoping to get to the Great Ocean Road to yourself, forget it!

Overcrowded = overrated in my book.

 

It’s a Boring Drive

London Bridge

It’s long and slow.

It’s thin and a bit windy, but not in an exciting, hell-raising, bone-rattling kind of way, so don’t get your hopes up.

No, the Great Ocean Road is more like a rollercoaster for the retired; a fact exacerbated by the high chance you will very often be stuck behind an incredibly slow moving person, unable to overtake them.

Now I’m no speed demon, no crazy thriller seeker, in fact I hate rollercoasters (see point 2 about the fairgrounds), but when you’re stuck at a snail’s pace with nothing but a rather monotonous coastline to view out a car window and no good tunes to listen to because you’re hired vehicle isn’t adapted to play your ipod, you can see why anyone’s mind might start wandering to such riveting topics as the need to start a pension fund.

Add to this, the fact that often the Great Ocean Road doesn’t even hug the coastline and it literally just feels like you are driving on a road, you know, the normal sort you use to get places.

Except this time, the road is the place and you’ve nowhere to get but the end of it, which is starting to feel like light years away.

 

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#1 Good Camera – You will be pretty much snapping non-stop in Australia and will need a good camera to do this gorgeous country justice. I highly recommend the Sony A6000, which I use for all my travels and love, not least because it’s light, compact and robust!

#2 Good Walking Shoes – There will be a lot of walking in Australia – from cities to national park! Make sure your feet are comfortable therefore with a pair of New Balance Trainers. Perfect for stylish strollling, I love mine

#3 Good Guidebook – I’m still a massive fan of the Lonely Planet Guidebooks and do think their Australia edition is well put together

#4 Good Water Bottle – Travelling in hot old Australia can be thirsty work, so make sure you have a metal water bottle that you can refill as you go, because tap water is drinkable… and free!

#5 Good Sun Hat – And there’s no denying you’ll need a good sun hat for protection in Australia too. In my opinion you can’t go past this Hello Sunshine one, which is both gorgeous and ideal for keeping the rays off your face.

 

It’s Ridiculously Long as Well

Australia, Victoria, Anglesea

Nobody really tells you this, especially given its lack of official ending, so let me inform you that it goes for ages, especially when you’re crawling along at the pace it seems to necessitate.

Sure, there’s the official start with its commemorative archway (the road was built by first world war veterans as a lasting memorial to the Australian servicemen who died during the conflict), but basically you don’t seem to reach the end of it until you get to Warrnambool, some 243km from the start.

After 2 days of near-constant driving (coffee breaks count as necessary safety stops in our very health and safety-conscious lifestyle!), we’d had enough and pulled out around Port Campbell, just after the famous London Bridge archway.

This is actually the most spectacular part of the road (from Twelve Apostles to London Bridge), so if you do want to at least say you’ve been on the Great Ocean Road, I’d very much skip the first part and cut down just for this section (very possibly via the much nippier A1 which beelines straight from Geelong to the coastal town nearest these natural attractions, Port Campbell).

 

Never Take a Great Ocean Road Day Trip

Australia, Victoria, 12 Apostles

Not only do you have to leave the city at around 7am in the morning, but you probably won’t be back there until around 10pm – a pretty long and exhausting day of sightseeing by anyone’s standards.

The vast majority of your time will no doubt be spent staring out a coach window trying not to fall asleep and wondering why you paid money to do so.

Occasionally, I imagine, you’ll hop out the coach to snap a picture of something, only to be hurried back on-board fairly promptly due to the amount of ground yet to cover.

243km doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is when you have to drive slowly and get out to take photos every 5 minutes!

As it was, doing our own self-drive and picking out own places to stop got boring enough, so I’d hate to think what it would be like if someone else was in the driving seat!

For me, as the inevitable passenger due to poor driving skills, but exemplary navigation abilities, it was a disappointment to find that the Great Ocean Road rendered my map reading skills unnecessary.

Essentially you just keep going straight. From A to B or W. Anglesea to Warrnambool.

This rather takes the sense of adventure out of a good road trip.

Now, I know it’s a Great Ocean Road and not a 4wd track, but still, who doesn’t want a sense of the wide, open space of possibilities when you set off in the car or van for a few days.

Sadly however, with no free camping available (except deep in the Otway National Park a good few km away), no hidden side roads, no undiscovered tracks and no tucked away tiny villages the sense of freedom and excitement on the Great Ocean Road quickly shuts down.

 

The Waterfalls are Average

Sheoak Waterfall

What you do have along the Great Ocean Road are a number of average-looking waterfalls, some surfers to watch and a couple of lighthouses, one which charges the extortionate rate for $20 per/adult just to walk to.

Needless to say, we gave it a miss!

Perhaps I’m spoilt, I mean I’m lucky enough to have seen some incredible waterfalls, surfers and lighthouses in my time, but a lot of these were in Australia itself – from Gunlom Falls in Kakadu National Park, to surfers at the Gold Coast and Byron Bay Lighthouse – and so I just don’t understand why those on the Great Ocean Road get such large kudos when they’re really nothing special.

Ok, well maybe the surfers on Bells Beach are pretty famous and impressive, I’ll give you that one!

But the towns, in particular, are nothing special.

People had raved to me about how pretty Lorne was, but to be totally honest, I found it looked more like the faded glory of some British seaside towns.

The sort that had their heyday in the 70’s and now all their teashops just look slightly depressing and dull, not yet cool enough to become kitsch.

 

It Can be Wet and Cold

Australia, Victoria, Lorne

Ok, so the weather didn’t help my perception, wet, windy and cold as it was the whole time we were down in Melbourne.

Being hardened a Queenslander now (!), I sadly find anything below 20 degrees a bit scary, especially when it’s late November, the beginning of summer in Australia.

As such, I left the glorious sunny beaches of Noosa and took a trip to the cold ones of Western Victoria.

Perhaps, in hindsight, it wasn’t the best foundation for a great holiday!

Nonetheless, I don’t believe I’ve totally lost my ability to enjoy the wild and windy coastlines that were such a part of my childhood.

It’s just that the Great Ocean Road sits somewhere in the mediocre middle.

I mean if you want really wild, windswept coastline in Australia, drive the Nullarbor.

And if you want beautiful tropical palm trees and white sand visit the Queensland’s coast. But if it’s icy winds, weak tea and thrashing waves you want, really I’d just recommend the UK – the Great Ocean Road is a hell of a long way to go for it!

Much as I sound strongly opinionated on this one, I’m totally up for being told I’m wrong!

Do let me know, what are your thoughts about the Great Ocean Road?

 

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About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 19 Brilliant Comments

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  1. louisa klimentos says:

    So what is so great about the English coast.Pick the South coast of England .It is green but all rural with a nice cliff line and I visited east born with it’s pebbley beach and old buildings .Maybe you should have done the Great ocean walk instead.You would see alot more by foot.Or maybe you should have done a flight from Torquay to Warrabool ,then you will see how nice the coast line is .It maybe not the best in the world but it is nice.Blame the road that wasd built becomes you drive through alot of rural areas and you miss so much of the coast line.The British always compain and are not as layed back as we are here inAustralia when it comes to attitude

    • Steph says:

      Hi Louisa, thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree it probably would have been better if we had done the Great Ocean Walk instead, the weather just wasn’t good enough! Maybe we should go again when the sun is shining more!

  2. louisa klimentos says:

    Thanks for your reply and sorry I sounded abrupt ,but I have been reading some negative posts about Australia.I know there are better drives in Australia than the Great Ocean Road and if you have a 4wd car you can go off road and that is where Australia really shines and you have been to Australia and seen some of those off road places.Wilsons Promontory is really beautiful and so is Croajingalong National park .These are all part of the Victorian coast .These are purely Widerness places and have many great walks .Have you been to Kanangra Boyd National park and seen Kanangra falls? There are plenty of hikes there.It is near the Blue mountains with spectacular steep gorges ,Waterfalls lagoons etc.I went there a year ago with my husband and on the way back to Sydney We took the turn off to Jenolan caves and didn’t realise how narrow the road was .At each corner you had to take a really sharp turn.So we drove really slow.how ever the scenery was stunning ,as you are actually driving through the heart of a plateau.The gorges ,canyons etc ,are so georgious.you can also do a 3 day hike from the Blue Mountains to Kanangra boyd national Park.The safer way to go is via the Oberon way but that is more rural.Please look up You tube.Hopefully it would be something else to see,that you would like .By the way ,i was born in England and did like the English coast and the rugged cliff line .I don’t get disappointed about places too easily unless the place is fithy and polluted by us humans.If you look up You tube and key in Flying the Great Ocean road 5October2014 Bucket list then you will see what the Great Ocean road looks like from above.Any way love to see you do travel blogs on places you really liked in Australia.Best wishes loved lou

  3. louisa klimentos says:

    Forgot to tell you the weather can be that wild that the waves can come up over the cliffs and will not be very confortable if you were there at the time .So the ocean can be rather mean at times on the Great Ocean road

  4. Sarah says:

    I did a day trip from Melbourne for the great ocean road and found it the perfect timescale. Yes, it was gorgeous sunny January weather which helps a lot and yes it was a long tiring day but I got to see all the sights and famous landmarks, sleep for an hour between spots (as the coast isn’t always interesting) and have the comfort of not having to plan or stress about the trip. I have done plenty of self guided tours, road trips and country hopping so I appreciated someone talking control for a day to give me time to appreciate nature more. Only downside was the lack of flexibility to stay just that extra hour in one location because it was so beautiful. But I agree with the mediocre coastline, the uninspiring towns and the elbowing crowds at 12 apostles. I’m glad I only spent 1 day and $100 on it. Anything more and I would have felt robbed and disappointed.

    • Steph says:

      Thanks so much for the info Sarah and sharing your experience. I’m really glad you enjoyed the trip and it wasn’t too expensive, $100 sounds pretty reasonable. Sometimes it can definitely be nice for someone else to take the reins while you take the photos or have a snooze!

    • louisa klimentos says:

      You people are too fussy.There is a lot more to the south coast of Victoria than just The Great ocean road .How about 90 mile beach which goes non stop for 146km and what about Wilsons Promontory National Park,which is a bush walkers paradise with geogious white sand beaches and what about the east coast of Victoria ,with Croajingalong national Park which is non stop for 100km?There is alot more to the Victorian coast line than the Great Ocean road

      • Steph says:

        Agreed Louisa and I can’t wait to see it. Wilson’s Prom is definitely on the bucket list and has been for a while – thanks for the other great suggestions. Will def check out next time I’m down there

  5. Esther says:

    It’s interesting, as I felt exactly like this driving the Australian east coast! There are lots of pretty things to see, but the drive… oh my, how boring and what a dull scenery! I frequently said to my husband that it would be interesting if you could just zap from one interesting place to another without the 3-4 days of blah driving in between (and the endless roads with no traffic where you can only drive 60 k/hr, they nearly drove me mental). It was a great adventure, but next time… more domestic flights 😉 Oh, and more vinyards!!

    • Steph says:

      Oh I’ve yet to check out many vineyards in Oz Esther, so will certainly be putting those on my list for our upcoming road trip (budget style of course!) I do think the East Coast is pretty, especially the stretch from Noosa to Byron along the coast, but do understand what you mean about the long hours – essential nap time for me!!

  6. Lee says:

    Totally agree with you Steph. The whole coastline is just plain bleak, like most of Victoria actually, and I can’t stand Lorne. The NSW and South Queensland coasts have hundreds of places far more beautiful and fascinating.

  7. Neil Ferguson says:

    I could not disagree with one thing you have said Steph. It has been a long time ambition of mine to ride my motorbike on this road. What an absolute dissapointment and waste of over 2000ks which I rode in 3 days. There are far more scenic coastlines where I am in NSW. Don’t run low on fuel when you get to Port Campbell – $1.63/litre when everywhere else in Vic was around $1.22. I was so p….. off with it I road home the next day (850 ks). Advice like yours is extremely helpful and I wish I’d seen it 4 days ago. This is written on 17/3/19.

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Neil for these comments and only sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy your time down in VIC. This part of the coast is sooo overrated in my opinion – honestly I think every other stretch of coastline I’ve visit in Oz (and that’s a lot) is more beautiful – save perhaps for Cairns! Despite the wasted money, time and effort for you, I’m pleased someone else agrees with me – we need to get the word out that people should spend their money and time elsewhere in Australia!

  8. James says:

    Thanks for the this insightful article. I’ve been researching the GOR for days for an upcoming trip. I’ve heard so many times this is one of the greatest drives on the planet. But reading over articles and seeing photos I’m just not getting excited. I think you nailed it. And maybe I’ve been spoiled by the beautiful drives in Hawaii.

    • Steph says:

      Honestly James, in my humble opinion Hawaii will knock the Great Ocean Road out of the water! Australia has such fabulous coastline, but this stretch of it is not my fav. Got to be honest! Steph 🙂

  9. Hi we have just driven the Great Ocean Rd and completely agree with you – we called it the Mediocre Ocean Rd! I think the reason is that we have been to so many parts of Australia that we completely loved and were wild and beautiful and didn’t have to share them with 100s of others. We completely missed out the 12 apostles as we could see the queue of people snaking Down the path for miles and the car Park was huge and full. We’re currently in Dimboola – staying at an Airbnb with a lovely couple and we spent the evening chatting and watching the Birds and the stars in their lovely garden – a much nicer experience Than the GOR.

    • Steph says:

      Hi Amanda, great to hear from you and learn we have similar thoughts on the GOR! Thankfully there wasn’t that level of crowds when I got to the 12 Apostles, but possibly that’s because it was a windy, freezing and grey day in November! There are so many other parts of Oz which are mind-blowingly beautiful, peaceful, wild and remote. Once you get out there and off the beaten track you soon realise it! Sounds like you’ve found another gem. Well done! Enjoy 🙂

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