Planning a Great Ocean Road self-drive from Melbourne without a tour? This guide tells you how to make a 1-day Great Ocean Road self-drive from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles and back.
The Great Ocean Road is one of the most popular and scenic road trips in Australia. Stretching along the southeast coast of Australia in the state of Victoria, the 243 km drive offers beautiful views of the Indian Ocean and the landscape of southern Australia.
The Twelve Apostles are the most famous landmark along the Great Ocean Road. The Twelve Apostles are limestone stacks that rise from the ocean near the coast, offering very scenic views. In this guide, I give tips how to do a Great Ocean Road self-drive in one day, driving all the way to the Twelve Apostles and back.
I also give some other suggestions for your one 1-day Great Ocean Road itinerary.
Is it possible to self-drive the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne in one day?
Yes, it’s possible to do a 1-day Great Ocean Road self-drive from Melbourne, although you won’t have enough time to drive all of it in one day. However, you will be able to reach the Twelve Apostles and nearby sights before heading back.
Not enough time? Why not?
Most car rental companies in Australia want the cars returned at working hours. The car rentals close at around 5 PM, so you need to be back by then.
Another reason is that although the Great Ocean Road is only 243 kilometers, the road doesn’t begin from Melbourne. Instead, the road officially begins from the coastal town of Torquay, a hundred kilometers southwest from Melbourne.
Of course, you can always rent the car for two days and return it the following morning if you have the chance.
So, where do I begin my Great Ocean Road self-drive to the Twelve Apostles? Melbourne, right?
Wrong! If you want to maximise your drive time on the Great Ocean Road and avoid the heavy traffic around Melbourne, it’s easier to take an early regional train to Geelong. Geelong is a smaller town one hour away from Melbourne, and it offers plenty of car rentals.
Thrifty is a good option for a car rental in Geelong. The place is within a walking distance from the train station, and it is open from 7.30 am to 17.30 pm. Most car rentals open at 8 am and close at 5 pm, so this gives you an extra hour on your 1-day Great Ocean Road self-drive.
We took a train that left Melbourne Souther Cross station at 6 AM and arrived in Geelong at 7 am. The train ride costs 8.8 AU$ (5.9 €) one way. On the way, you can enjoy your almost empty train out of Melbourne and catch glimpses of the crammed trains heading to the opposite direction.
How long does it take to drive from Geelong to the Twelve Apostles?
It took us three hours and 50 minutes to reach the Twelve Apostles from Geelong. We didn’t rush and we had a few shorter stops along the way.
Shorter stops? What’s there to see on the way from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles?
There are several interesting stops along the Great Ocean Road. The coastal town Torquay has a nice beach and scenic viewpoints to the ocean. Right after Torquay, you can make a very short detour to see Bells Beach, one of the most famous surf breaks in Australia.
If you have enough time in your itinenary, you can make a longer side expedition to see the lighthouse of Cape Otway. And that’s just the start of it – there are plenty of beautiful viewpoints and landmarks that you can add to your Great Ocean Road itinerary if you have the time.
Ok, I’ve driven from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles. What next?
When you’ve driven all the way from Geelong to the Twelve Apostles, you’ve got a few other sights nearby. A famous shipwreck site called Loch Ard Gorge is a few kilometers away from the Twelve Apostles. There are many landmarks and walking routes nearby, so you’ve got plenty of activities to choose from.
If you’ve only rented your car for a day, this is a good time to check how much time you have left. We arrived at the Twelve Apostles at 11.30 AM. We spent half an hour on the site, and then another 30 minutes to experience Loch Ard Gorge. Thus, we had five hours to grab a lunch and drive back to Geelong.
It’s possible to return from your 1-day Great Ocean Road self-drive the same way, but that’s not the only option. The fastest route back to Geelong goes on a faster road away from the coast. This way passes through a small town called Colac, which offers several lunch options along the main road. So, if you’re worried about time or just want a change of scenery, I recommend returning this way.
How long does it take to self-drive from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles and back?
Our one day Great Ocean Road self-drive from Melbourne took around 13 hours. We left Melbourne at 6 am on a train that arrived in Geelong an hour later. We left Geelong at 7.40 am. The drive to the Twelve Apostles took us nearly 4 hours, with a few short stops on the way.
We spent an hour on the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge. Driving back to Geelong took us 3 hours and 30 minutes on the shorter route. The return trip included a lunch break in Colac, which slowed us down. We took a regional train to Melbourne and arrived in the city at around 7 pm.
How much does it cost to make a 1-day Great Ocean Road self-drive from Melbourne?
If you can share the cost of the car rental with more people, it naturally makes your self-drive from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles a lot cheaper. Our car rental cost us 56 AU$ (37.3 €). Besides that, we paid 30 AU$ (20 €) for “Ultimate Protection” insurance and 50 AU$ (33.3 €) for gasoline. In total, we paid 136 AU$ (90.5 €) for the car.
Besides the car rental, we paid 17.6 AU$ (11.8 €) per person for our train journeys from Melbourne to Geelong and back. There were two of us, so our 1-day Great Ocean Road self-drive cost us 76.8 AU$ (51.1 €, food excluded) per person.
Alright, I’ve got it. But does it make sense to drive from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles and back in one day?
If you have limited amount of time, a 1-day self-drive from Melbourne to the Great Ocean Road is still worth the experience. It gives you a good idea of the route and the landscape, although you won’t have enough time to stop in landmarks that are too far away from the main route.
However, if you can make an overnight trip from Melbourne to the Great Ocean Road, I recommend that option. Having an extra day gives you a chance to put a lot more destinations in your itinenary, and you won’t need to worry about your schedule.
Any other questions?
Yes, just one.
Are there really twelve limestone pillars at the Twelve Apostles? I can’t see that many of them in the pictures.
No, there are only seven or eight limestone stack at the Twelve Apostles. One of the stacks did collapse in 2005, but there’s never been twelve of them. The name is just there because it sounds nice and attracts tourists.
Oh. That makes sense.
It does, doesn’t it?
This guide was written in 2017, so the sums and some other details are out of date. Still, I think the general plan of a 1-day drive is still doable.
Ps. If you travel around Melbourne, I also recommend a less famous sight nearby: How to Visit William Ricketts Sanctuary Near Melbourne