Review: Small group Great Ocean Road day tours avoid the coastal crush

There are spectacular natural landscapes to be found in just about every direction from Melbourne, but the iconic Great Ocean Road attracts most of the attention. It can get a little hectic around mid-afternoon as the majority of tour buses reach the famous 12 Apostles sea stacks at the same time, but this small group tour lets you avoid the bulk of the crowds. Review: Louise Reynolds

Great Ocean Road day tours

Great Ocean Road day tours

5 stars

Small group Great Ocean Road day tour from Melbourne with The Little Penguin Bus

These small group Great Ocean Road day tours offer a slightly later departure from Melbourne to avoid the mid-afternoon surge in visitor numbers at the 12 Apostles. Travel along the coast in air-conditioned comfort taking in all the must-see sights, and finish with a pub dinner on the inland route home. Duration: 13 hours (approx.)

Best price guarantee: If you find this tour elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book this tour with The Big Bus tour and travel guide.

Victoria’s winding Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s classic drives, and encompasses idyllic holiday townships, spectacular coastal vistas, diverse natural landscapes and the famous 12 Apostles rock formations.

It should come as no surprise that the Great Ocean Road is one of Victoria’s biggest draw cards for both domestic and international visitors. Today I’m joining The Little Penguin Bus on one of their small group Great Ocean Road day tours from Melbourne – but I’ll be avoiding most of the day tripping crowds by departing Melbourne slightly later than the big tour buses. It’s one of the things that sets The Little Penguin Bus apart from other tour operators in the region.

This boutique tour company also guarantees small group sizes – a maximum of eleven passengers. Today it’s just three lovely Americans, myself and our Kiwi-born, extremely knowledgeable guide Nicky – so there’s plenty of room to spread out on the bus!

Small group Great Ocean Road day tours

Small group Great Ocean Road day tours. Image: Adam Ford

The Great Ocean Road, which stretches for 243km from Torquay to Allansford, took 13 years to build. Its construction provided work for returned servicemen from the Great War and the unemployed of the Great Depression. When completed, the road was dedicated as a memorial to the fallen from WWl.

Recent wild weather has closed a short section of the route, so we travel inland from Melbourne and join the Great Ocean Road-proper at Skenes Creek. We backtrack a short distance to Kennett River to try and spot koalas, and we’re lucky enough to find four! I’ve lived in Australia all my life, but it’s still a treat to see a native animal in the wild (even though in this case ‘the wild’ is the middle of a busy caravan park!).

A short time later we reach Apollo Bay, the largest town on the Great Ocean Road and the lunch stop on these small group Great Ocean Road day tours. There’s ample time to stroll along the beach, grab a bite from one of the numerous cafes, or sample the award-winning treats at Dooleys Ice Cream. This local institution has the best liquorice ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

Small group Great Ocean Road day tours

Small group Great Ocean Road day tours. Image: Adam Ford

Leaving Apollo Bay we soon discover that the Great Ocean Road isn’t all about the coast. It also passes through pristine rainforest. We take a break from the drive to visit the Maits Rest Rainforest Walk. The 800-metre boardwalk winds through stunning ferns and mountain ash, some up to 300-years-old.

Small group Great Ocean Road day tours

Maits Rest Rainforest Walk. Image: Louise Reynolds

Emerging from the forest, the Great Ocean Road soon reaches the Shipwreck Coast and its famous rock formations and sea stacks. The massive limestone monoliths have been formed over the centuries by erosion. One of the best spots to view sea stacks is from the beach beneath Gibson Steps. The walk down and back up the 86 steps is well worth it.

Small group Great Ocean Road day tours

Small group Great Ocean Road day tours. Image: Louise Reynolds

A highlight of the tour is Loch Ard Gorge, scene of a famous 1878 shipwreck. The colours and shapes of the rock formations, cliffs and ocean are astonishing. There are three easy 15-minute walks to help you get the best views. We take the time to complete them all before moving on.

The day’s grand finale is the 12 Apostles – the most famous of the limestone sea stacks. We’ve timed our arrival perfectly to avoid the mid-afternoon crush when the big tour coaches from Melbourne arrive and visitor numbers peak. Although there are still a few hundred people here in the late afternoon, there’s plenty of room for everyone.

The 12 Apostles are said to be Australia’s second most photographed attraction (after the Sydney Opera House). I do my bit to maintain the ranking. As the sun drops below the horizon the sky is awash with magical pink and purple hues. It’s spectacular. Remember, if you book this tour in winter or spring, you too will get to enjoy a 12 Apostles sunset!

Small group Great Ocean Road day tours

Small group Great Ocean Road day tours. Image: Louise Reynolds

While it’s a big day, the pace on these small group Great Ocean Road day tours is leisurely and relaxed. The small group size ensures a more personal experience, and the tour price – which includes morning tea and a pub dinner on the way home – is very competitive. The best part is someone else does all the driving, so you can just focus on the spectacular setting.

Louise travelled as a guest of The Little Penguin Bus. 

Additional images: Bigstock


About the writer

Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world – and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, Louise has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Her favourite way to explore the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. Louise also has a passion for her home state and loves exploring regional Victoria. While travelling she’s usually found with a pile of books and at least one teddy bear in tow. She also practices the little-known sport of extreme knitting in far off places.

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