Review Of Great Ocean Road Day Tour From Melbourne By
Go West Tours
As part of my recent five-day trip to Melbourne, I booked a tour of the nearby Great Ocean Road. I decided to write up this quick review so that anyone considering visiting on a group tour will know what to expect. I booked mine with a company called Go West Tours, and I was pretty happy with what they offered.
Whether you decide to book with Go West Tours or another company (or even explore on your own with a rental car), I highly recommend dedicating at least one day of a vacation in Melbourne to the Great Ocean Road. It’s an absolutely breathtaking drive that could easily be the highlight of your trip!
Summary of What We Did
I’ll start with a summary of the sites we stopped at on our tour. If you’d like to skip ahead to the section on things I liked and areas for improvement for Go West Tours, click here.
1. Hotel Pick-up
The tour started around 7:30 a.m. with a hotel pickup. I just had to walk across the street from where I was staying in Melbourne’s Chinatown and I found the van waiting for me.
2. Breakfast in Torquay
Our first stop was for a quick breakfast after everyone had been picked up. We ended up having coffee and pastries at the public beach park in the small town of Torquay.
3. Great Ocean Road Arch
After actually turning onto the Great Ocean Road, we stopped for a few minutes to take some pictures of the arch. Don’t forget to check out the statue on the left dedicated to the people who built the road in the 1800s.
4. Quick Stop in Lorne
This surfer’s haven is home to a number of high-end resorts and vacation homes, and we got out of the van for a few minutes here to stretch our legs and admire the town’s main beach.
5. Koala Spotting
Up next on the list: seeing koalas! We pulled off into a eucalyptus forest and walked for about ten minutes, eyes scanning the trees for any koalas. I think we stopped somewhere near Point Hawdon or Kennett River, but don’t quote me on that.
We did see maybe four or five, but three of them were clustered together on a single tree at the bottom of the hill. If you have a fancy camera lens or binoculars, bring it for this stop! The shadows in the trees make it a hard to see anything (like eyes or noses) in great detail. This was the best shot I got of them.
6. Lunch in Apollo Bay
Apollo Bay looked like an especially beautiful little town that I would’ve liked to explore just a bit more if I had the time. Unfortunately, we had to get right back on the bus to head to our next destination.
7. Rainforest Hike near Great Otway National Park
After lunch, the landscape changed dramatically from rolling seaside hills to a dense rainforest. The road at this point turns inland, and our guide explained all the ways in which this particular forest was a fascinating and unique ecosystem. We drove through Otway National Park before getting out at the smaller Melba Gully State Park for a walk.
This short hike ended with a waterfall, but I found the unusual ferns in the forest much more interesting than the little gurgling stream at the end.
8. The Twelve Apostles
Perhaps the most famous and photographed portion of the Great Ocean Road is known as the Shipwreck Coast, which is home to some really stunning cliffs as well as the Twelve Apostles, which are the limestone formations jutting out of the ocean as seen below.
It’s awesome to watch the huge waves come crashing onto shore here, and luckily there are great views on both sides of the narrow walkway overlooking the ocean. Be warned, though: there are a ton of tourists here!
9. Loch Ard Gorge, Island Arch, and the Razorback
This was probably the most impressive stop on our tour, partly because it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the Twelve Apostles, but also because it’s just incredibly beautiful. There were three different things to check out here: the Loch Ard Gorge, the Island Arch, and the Razorback.
The Loch Ard Gorge
This lagoon is almost completely surrounded by huge limestone cliffs and boasts crystal clear blue waters. A narrow staircase leads down to the sandy beach, where you can dip your toes in the water or swim if you have time.
The Island Arch
The Island Arch is shown in the picture below. It’s worth a quick glance, but I’d recommend spending most of your time admiring either the gorge or the Razorback, discussed next.
You could definitely argue that the Razorback is as impressive as the Twelve Apostles, but I for one am glad that the tourist crowd here was significantly smaller. This narrow stretch of rock that’s technically an island has amazing formations on its top, including a small arch. Don’t miss seeing this one!
10. Dinner in Colac
For dinner, we stopped in the small town of Colac, which is further inland. There were a couple of options along the main road, and I decided to try the town’s phở restaurant.
Since we ended up driving back on a faster route to return to Melbourne, I really enjoyed seeing all of the fields of the countryside. Victoria has a lot of sheep and cattle farms, and it was very interesting to see the animals grazing in the fields.
11. Hotel Drop-off
Finally, we made it back to Melbourne at around 8:30 p.m. It was a long day, but well worth the effort!
Logistics of Booking
I booked my trip through a third-part website called GetYourGuide (specific listing can be found here), and booking went smoothly. The tour cost about $100 USD for one person, and I received a confirmation email after booking. I wasn’t asked to present any form of voucher or QR code at pickup, only a name confirmation. I had one small issue related to GetYourGuide, which I discuss in detail below.
Review of Go West Tours
Let me start off by saying that overall, Go West Tours did a good job. It was pretty clear that they cared about making the experience as interactive as engaging as possible, which was probably the most important thing for a long van tour like this. Below you can read the things I liked specifically and possible areas of improvement.
Things They Did Well
1. Our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly.
The thing I appreciated most was how much knowledge our tour guide had about everything we saw. He told us about the history of the towns we passed through, some of the animal species we encountered, and the geology behind the stunning Shipwreck Coast. Longer stretches of driving were broken up perfectly by facts, stories, and anecdotes.
2. Our tour group size was optimal.
Another thing I liked about this tour was the group size. Each vehicle had a maximum number of 24 passengers, and this ended up being an ideal number for this kind of tour. You’ll see other tour buses along the various stops you make, and some are massive. I can only imagine that listening to a guide speak on a bus like that would feel more like a series of lectures than a conversation.
3. They made an attempt to have guests get to know each other.
The last thing I liked about this tour was that they made an effort to have people actually talk to each other. Not all tours do this, and I’ve been on at least one in recent memory in India where no one really talked to each other because the guide didn’t really facilitate any conversation between visitors. Go West Tours was basically the opposite, which was quite refreshing.
Possible Areas for Improvement
1. I felt just a little bit carsick.
As I’m sure you can imagine, a thirteen-hour tour is quite long. Portions of the Great Ocean Road are filled with twists and turns, and this made me a bit carsick at times. I’m personally sort of sensitive to motion sickness, but it felt like our driver was maybe accelerating through some of these curves, and going slightly slower through them could’ve helped just a bit.
2. The pacing of the tour was fast, especially for meals.
We obviously covered a lot of ground on our trip, and I’m glad we did. However, the time spent at each stop felt limited. There wasn’t really an opportunity to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Nonetheless, it wasn’t unmanageable at most of the stops. However, for lunch and dinner, I felt like I really had to scarf my food down in order to be back to the van on time. I personally would’ve preferred fifteen more minutes for both meals even if it meant getting back to Melbourne half an hour later in the evening.
3. A mention of a helicopter ride on GetYourGuide that never happened.
So at the time of writing, an “optional helicopter ride” is mentioned on the GetYourGuide listing for this activity. The full text reads:
“For those guests who do not want to take the optional helicopter ride over the Shipwreck Coast, an alternative stop is possible at Gibsons Steps. Here guests can descend the steps to Gibsons Beach below for beach level views of two of the Twelve Apostles.”
Our tour group did neither the helicopter ride nor Gibsons Steps (which I believe are currently closed at the time of writing, December 2019). In any case, the mention of the helicopter ride should be removed from GetYourGuide if it’s not a standard offering (which I imagine it’s not. We saw helicopter tours at the Twelve Apostles, but there was no way there would be time for it with the tight schedule, and I also suspect that they might cost hundreds of dollars).
4. Natural Lighting at the Twelve Apostles
This isn’t so much an issue pertaining to Go West Tours, but just a general warning: the lighting at the Twelve Apostles during the afternoon wasn’t ideal for photos, especially portraits with the scenery in the background. Maybe the position of the sun might be better during other months of the year, but I sort of doubt it. And as good photographers will tell you, natural lighting for photos tends to be best early in the morning or during sunset, but obviously the tour schedule isn’t planned around that.
Is the group tour worth it?
In wrapping up, I’ll address one last question: was the tour worth the money? It’s fair to say that 100 USD for a day trip isn’t the most budget-friendly activity you could do, but I’d say it was still worth it. Go West Tours clearly knew how much time we had to spend at each stop. I’m sure if I rented a car and went on my own, I would just spend all morning in the first town we passed through, and constantly want to pull off on the side of the road to take a million pictures.
The tight schedule is a bit of a blessing and a curse. You get to see so much beauty in one day, but there’s not a ton of time to take it all in. In a perfect world, I’d love to spend three days in a rental vehicle exploring each small town in depth. But the Great Ocean Road can be done in a day, especially with a company like Go West.
In case the pictures haven’t convinced you, I’ll say it explicitly: I highly recommend seeing the Great Ocean Road on your next trip to Melbourne! If you’re spending more than two or three days in the city, there’s no excuse not to dedicate a day to getting out of the city and seeing the stunning landscapes and coastline that Victoria has to offer!
Have you been on a day trip to the Great Ocean Road? Did you travel with Go West Tours? Leave a comment below and let me know what you thought!