Melbourne 3 Day Road Trip Itinerary
Road trips, who doesn’t love them. The kind that will stay with you forever. Driving down the highway with besties singing to the soundtrack of your lives, stopping at random spots for pictures, checking out eats along the way. Melbourne, Victoria, is the perfect place for road trips that is equal parts coastal drive and country side cruising. Melbourne is, after all, only half explored if you don’t drive out.
Having lived in Melbourne for about 15 years, first as a student then as a hospitality professional by day and indie creative by night, these getaways are perfect retreats to inspire anyone. I’ve personally driven and taken different groups of friends on this tried and trusted itinerary. It’s about time I shared them on this blog.
This 3 day road trip itinerary will cover Mount Dandenong, Phillip Island, Arthurs Seat Eagle, Sorrento, Geelong, Lorne, Apollo Bay, Cape Otway and The 12 Apostles, including recommended places to eat on these routes!
Start the day bright and early from the city with an easy 60 minutes drive to Mount Dandenong. Depending on the time you leave, taking the highway M3 with tolls, will get you there in about 50 minutes. Otherwise, you can also take local roads without toll fees and arrive in about 1 hour 15 minutes or so.
Arrive at Sky High Mount Dandenong. This is the Mount Dandenong Observatory. On a clear day you can see a beautiful Melbourne city skyline with unobstructed horizon views. A great way to begin your road trip.
Mount Dandenong is a sprawling hilly township with many local shops and eateries along the way. Sassafras and Olinda are the two main areas within this mountain region with not just shops and cafes but gardens, picnic grounds and even a golf course. You could spend a whole day here.
Brunch at Miss Marples
For first time travellers, you should have a spot of tea and scones English brunch at Miss Marples. Portions are huge, so you can share mains, desserts and scones if you like. Scones are served piping warm and perfect on a cold morning. Miss Marples scones are more cake-like texture here but the star is the cream and home made raspberry jam. You’d be tempted to bring home a bottle. As for mains and appetisers, the chicken and asparagus fingers, salmon fingers, cottage pie and bread and butter pudding are just some of my favourites. Opens at 11am. Even on a weekday, seats are already full in a matter of minutes after doors open. Unfortunately you cannot book ahead. A queue usually starts forming outside before opening time. Just put your name down and wander around the shops while you wait.
A few other eats in the area include the famous Pie In The Sky. You can pack a few guiness pies to munch on the long drive after. But for pies, I personally would save that for another spot along the Great Ocean Road. More on that later in this blog.
Side Trip Option: If you have children travelling with you, post brunch activity can include the Puffing Billy which is an old steam train you can ride across the lush forests at the foot of Mount Dandenong. You can also do a luncheon on the Puffing Billy if you want to experience a fancy first class train experience.
Phillip Island - Koalas and Penguin Parade
Once you are done exploring Mount Dandenong, head down south with a 90+ minute drive down toward Phillip Island.
If you arrive early, you can visit the Koala Conservation Center and/or the Churchill Island Heritage Farm in the afternoon before heading towards the Penguin Reserve. I am making this an option because depending on the time of year, you may need to arrive at the Penguin Reserve as early as 4.30pm.
Penguins come inland at sunset. That’s the only time you get to see penguins at the foreshore. During winter, sunsets can be as early as 5pm and sunsets over summer can be as late as 9pm. Fortunately, the Phillips Island Reserve website has a cheatsheet to give you an approximate time the penguins will arrive.
We only had time to visit the Koala Reserve when we did our road trip in July as the sun sets pretty early. After checking into our airbnb we headed straight to the penguin reserve by about 4.30pm. Arriving early is a good idea to get a good spot as you cannot reserve seats for any of the viewing options. Fortunately there are bundle passes you can get. Even if you used 2 out of 3 attractions, you are still saving.
Stay overnight at Phillip Island. The best spot to stay is at Cowes because that’s the town area with lots of food options and a large Coles supermarket to stock up any snacks and drinks you may need.
For dinner we had Thai on the Island. Which was passable. If thai food is not your tune, there’s good fish and chips for takeaway or the classic family friendly aussie-italian main stay, La Porchetta. There are also a lot of other choices and pubs for dinner, so feel free to explore.
Grab coffee and breakfast at G’day Tiger! Highlighting this because this cafe uses beans from Seven Seeds in Carlton. I used to stay a stone’s throw away from the original Carlton cafe and Seven Seeds coffee is my go to never fails me good coffee. G’day Tiger pulls a mean shot. The food here is pretty standard gourmet sandwiches. Pick up your coffee here if you like and grab a takeaway breakfast food item from somewhere else. Pennylane a few doors down seems to be a good breakfast option with more food variety on their menu. Not sure about coffee here as I’ve never been.
Arthurs Eagle Seat
After a 90 drive, arrive at Arthur Eagle Seat. This is a cable car ride that gives you breath-taking spectacular views of the Mornington Peninsula coastline. Used to be known just as Arthur’s Seat, this place has had a facelift in the last few years.
We skipped the Arthur Eagle Seat ride on our roadtrip, though we had planned on going. We wanted to get to our next lunch spot for an early lunch and do waterfall hikes. Which involved getting onto the 11am Sorrento Searoad Ferry to get across Queenscliff on Geelong side. It was also winter, so we wanted to get to our destination before sunset, which was around 5.00pm in July!
Sorrento Searoad Ferry
It takes about 30 minutes drive from Arthurs Eagle Seat to get to Sorrento (about 90 minutes or more from Phillip Island). Here, there is an hourly ferry service you can drive your car onto and sail 40 minutes across to Queenscliff, Geelong. You can pre-book your tickets online but if you want to have a flexible schedule, you can always drive up to the ferry terminal, buy a your tickets at the window counter without having to get out of the car and get on to the ferry. It will feel like you are entering a carpark, except you are driving onto a cruise ship!
This is by far the most scenic route to take to go from Mornington Peninsula to Geelong. Instead of driving back into the city and down south again, taking the Sorrento Searoad Ferry is a wonderful experience to break up a long monotonous drive.
Do note that ferries leave on the hour, so you need to make sure you arrive 15 minutes ahead of sailing, whether you have pre-booked tickets or buying at the ferry terminal.
Little Creatures Brewery
After arriving at Queenscliff, head to South Geelong for lunch at Little Creatures Brewery. Yes this is the OG of the world famous craft beer brewery from Australia. Food is amazing and you can have pretty much any of their brews on tap. In fact, get a beer flight to taste 4 different brews. Glass sizes start at a tiny 4 oz that they call pony, up to a pint. Pony sizes are perfect for the driver. The pizza, steak sandwich and the crumbed mac and cheese are highly recommended. When they used to have a branch in Fitzroy in Melbourne city, it was my go-to happy place for weekend hangouts with friends.
Great Ocean Road
After lunch, drive out toward the Great Ocean Road, the B100. From Geelong, this is the beginning of one of the most scenic coastal drives out of Melbourne. The entire Great Ocean Road takes you all the way to the 12 Apostles. From Geelong, a non-stop drive can take 3 - 4 hours and roughly 6 hours from Melbourne City. But there are plenty of sightseeing you can do along the way to break up the drive.
My personal recommendation is not to drive directly to 12 Apostles in a single day. It is best to stay one night as near as you can to the 12 Apostles and take a short drive the next morning to beat the tourist crowd. But more on that later in the blog.
From Geelong, it is a 80 mins drive to Lorne. Visit either Erskine Falls and/or Sheoak Falls. Each is a short 15 minutes hike down the to the landing area of the waterfall. Make sure to wear good shoes on these hikes as the path may be wet. We found Erskine Falls to be very manageable as a short hike. The waterfall was magical and there were perfect spots to get some really good photos.
Stay over at Apollo Bay or Lorne. There are nice motels and airbnb in these two areas. Both of these towns are beautiful coastal towns with plenty of food options. My recommendation is to spend the night at Apollo Bay. It is the nearest township before the 12 Apostles. There are plenty of choices for food and home to the Great Ocean Road Brewery for some good ol’ pub food. We stayed in an airbnb apartment here.
Apollo Bay is a lovely quiet coastal town that is also home to the amazing Scallop Pies at Apollo Bay Bakery. People come here for the pies. Coffee here is just passable but them pies mean business! Super scrumptious and delicious. If you love scallops, you need to know there are 3 massive scallops in one pie. We loved it so much, we took away frozen pies to give to friends in Melbourne, stuffed some in the freezer and brought them back to Hong Kong. A week later, out of the freezer and reheated in the oven, it was still as amazing!
If you don’t care for scallop pies, there are other options further out from Apollo Bay. Once, I stayed at the 12 Apostle Cottages with my family who visited from Singapore, It is a tucked away rustic farm stay and a short drive in the morning to 12 Apostles. There aren’t any cafes in the area cos it’s pretty much farmland, so be prepared to stock up some food for the morning before you set off. Do note that if you are a germaphobe, this option might not be the best. The cottages are very clean, but with anything rustic, there will always be a light musky smell about, old appliances and such old western barns to expect. On the night we stayed here, our hot water ran out and I had a duck out into the rain, round back of the cottage to reset the hot water valve. It was quite an experience for a city boy like me. I didn’t mind the occasional mud and farm dirt, because if you’re lucky like we were, you wake up to a view overlooking a field of kangaroos chilling out in the misty morning sun. Truly magical.
There are also many options like Pebble Point, 12 Apostles Inn and other motels and backpackers in the vicinity. Each about 30 - 60 minutes drive to 12 Apostles.
One option I would do sometime in the future when I visit The 12 Apostles again, is to stay over at Cape Otway Lightstation which is a magnificent lighthouse lodge at the southern most tip of the Great Ocean Road, just 60 minutes drive to The 12 Apostles. Imagine waking up to the smell of the sea breeze, sipping coffee and taking in the sights on top of the lighthouse overlooking the Tasman sea.
The 12 Apostles
Set off as early as you can to beat the tourist crowd. There are lots of tour buses that do day trips to 12 Apostles but the earliest bus leaves Melbourne City around 6 or 7am and peak arrival hours are from as early as 11am.
We stayed overnight at Apollo Bay and got up really early, grabbed breakfast (scallop pies!), coffee and was at 12 Apostles by about 9.30am. You can also do a side trip to Cape Otway Lightstation to catch the view of the Tasman sea before heading to The 12 Apostles. However, try to get there by the mid morning to beat the crowd. When we arrived, there was already a little bit of crowd. In the middle of non-peak winter season too! But it was still pleasant, allowing us space to explore, enjoy the different vantage points and take lots of pictures without being inadvertently photobombed.
It takes about 90 minutes to get to 12 Apostles from Apollo Bay, 60 minutes from Cape Otway, over 2 hours from Lorne and about 6 hours from Melbourne City.
The main sights for The 12 Apostles are Gibsons Steps, Castle Rock, Loch Ard Gorge, The Razor Back. These are the main touristy sight seeing spots. Past Port Campbell, a small town just past the main sightseeing area, is the London Bridge and The Grotto. Further out, there is also Halladale Point, Bay of Matyrs and Bay of Islands. These spots are less touristy.
We were more of less done by lunch time and were out of the area before the crowds came in.
Timboon Shed Railway Distillery
You can head to Port Campbell to explore the town and find a spot for lunch. On Google Maps, there are some highly rated cafes and restaurants but because this is the nearest town next to The 12 Apostles, we decided to be away from the crowd and head further out to a distillery for lunch. Unfortunately food wasn’t mind blowing so I wouldn’t recommend it, even though it is highly rated on Google Maps. Hopefully, when I next head to The 12 Apostles again, I’ll find a better eating spot to recommend!
Our final destination was back to Melbourne after a 3 day road trip. The drive back to Melbourne city normally takes about 3 hours depending on traffic. The best is to avoid peak hour, which is between 5 - 7pm most days. Also check your routes in case there are toll roads you want to avoid.
Remember not to take the same Great Ocean Road back, unless you really want to take a slow 6 hour drive back to the city. Take the A1, Princes Highway, which will be just 3 hours or so, back to the city.
You can always expand this road trip itinerary to a 5 days road trip and take it real slow. Spend a whole day ay Mount Dandenong. Ride the Puffing Billy and do a special lunch and wine country tour with the heritage train. Spend a whole day exploring sights and experiences along Mornington Peninsula. If the season is right, you can also visit a strawberry farm and pick your own strawberries (season usually from Nov - April). Check out beaches at Sorrento or go surfing at Portsea Back Beach if the weather is warm enough. Spend an extra night in Geelong and explore this emerging second tier city. Explore lighthouses along the Great Ocean Road as well a host of nature hikes, waterfalls and otway adventure parks along the way.
Important things to note
Australia has a zero tolerance on speeding. While some countries like Japan has a high tolerance over the speed limit, driving in Australia over the speed limit will most definitely cop a fine of several hundred dollars. It is a serious offence due to the fact that speeding has resulted in many fatalities across Australia. Traffic police and speed cameras are pretty much on every corner waiting to catch anyone speeding. I’ve had a few fines myself over the years speeding on Phillip Island and on the Great Ocean Road. Observe the speed limits on all roads and just don’t speed. It’s not worth ruining your holiday, especially if you get pulled over by a police officer.
Also, note that drink driving is a serious offence. Australia’s legal limit is a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.05%, roughly translates to about 1 standard alcoholic drink in the first hour. According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, this is just a guide and will differ depending on different biologies.
Repairs on Great Ocean Road
Over the years, the sheer amount of tourists and tour coaches that drive on the Great Ocean Road has resulted in massive wear and tear. In recent years VicRoads has to close off certain segments of the road due to really bad road conditions. I remember the many pot holes along the winding roads to avoid some 10 year ago. Fortunately a lot of roads have been repaved and repaired. But there is still ongoing roadworks, so always allow for plenty of delays when planning your drive. Road trips are more about the journey than the destination. So enjoy the view and vantages you get in a laid back coastal drive.
Renting a car
In order to drive in Australia as a foreigner, you just need a valid English langugage driver’s licence. If it is not in English, you need to obtain an International Driver’s Permit before you can rent a car and drive in Australia. The rules differ slightly from state to state. For more information, go to this website and follow the links to each state.
You will also need to have a valid credit card to pick up the rental car. If you are an avid self drive traveller, this would be obvious to you. Car rental companies usually need a form of deposit in the form of a credit lock of a few hundred dollars on your credit card. Fortunately, debit cards are also accepted but you need to make sure there are enough funds in the debit card to be ‘locked’ up till 7 days after the end of the rental period. This is an important thing to note as you don’t want to be left without any spending money on your debit card on your vacation. It’s an annoying thing but it seems there’s no way around this. Some rental companies may also refuse travel debit cards, so be aware of this when planning your holiday. You can always call ahead to check if in doubt.
Do you have any other suggestions for road trips in Melbourne? Tell me in the comments section below!