One of Victoria’s most well-known attractions is the Great Ocean Road. Popular to complete as either a day trip from Melbourne or over multiple days, of course we added it to our road trip driving between Melbourne and Adelaide.
However, in the lead up and while driving it, we discovered that the Great Ocean Road isn’t the most dog-friendly destination in Australia. Before you complete the road trip, I’ll let you know where your dog is and isn’t welcome, and how everyone can have a great time.
The Great Ocean Road and National Parks
The main difficulty about visiting the Great Ocean Road with your dog is that many of its attractions are located within national parks, principally the Great Otway National Park and the Port Campbell National Park.
The Great Otway National Park covers a large expanse between Torquay and Cape Otway and stretching inland, encompassing much of the forested areas. The Port Campbell National Park meanwhile is smaller, but its narrow coastal sections on the western part of the Great Ocean Road include many of its famous formations, such as the 12 Apostles lookout.
Generally as a rule, pets are not allowed inside national parks in Australia, although there are some exceptions (such as the Johanna Beach area, where dogs are allowed on a leash). This includes dogs in cars, except for when driving through the area.
Where are Dogs Allowed along the Great Ocean Road?
1. Driving Along the Great Ocean Road
Dogs are permitted to join you in a vehicle driving along the length of the Great Ocean Road, even when the highway passes through areas of national park. This often includes stopping at lookouts along the way. At least on the eastern half of the road, I didn’t see any signage at the many lookouts prohibiting dogs. (See the section below about the famous formations on the western half of the road, including the 12 Apostles.)
2. Formations Along the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is synonymous with the 12 Apostles and the many other natural formations lining the rugged coastline along its western half. Heading west after the 12 Apostles, there’s also Loch Ard Gorge, The Arch, London Bridge, The Grotto, the Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands.
The trouble when visiting with a dog is that the lookouts for all of these attractions, except Bay of Martyrs, are within the Port Campbell National Park or another area that forbids dogs.
The one spot that you can definitely still visit with a dog is the 12 Apostles, as long as your dog is left in the carpark area. According to maps I looked at, either the carpark is just outside of the national park or the boundary extends to include it. Either way, there are no signs forbidding dogs at the entrance to the carpark, but there is a sign forbidding taking dogs further at the start of the short walking path to the lookouts.
To visit the 12 Apostles, unfortunately without your dog, either take turns staying with your dog (if there are at least two of your travelling together), or if the weather is overcast and 14C like it was for us (despite being November), and if your dog is fine, leave them briefly in your car.
At most other formations along the road (Loch Ard Gorge, The Arch, London Bridge, The Grotto, Bay of Islands), there are signs in the carparks forbidding dogs. Technically, you shouldn’t even park in the carpark and leave your dog in the car at these locations. Although, I’m not sure how strongly this is enforced. We probably weren’t the only visitors leaving a dog in our car while walking to some of the lookouts on the day we visited. However, I did encounter one couple who took their dog down to The Grotto, which I don’t recommend.
The most dog-friendly section of the coastline to visit is the Bay of Martyrs. Dogs are allowed on the cliff-top walkway in between Peterborough and the carpark at the far end (listed as Bay of Martyrs on Google Maps). Park at either end and take your dog for a walk on leash. However, the lookout point also accessible from the same carpark as this dog-friendly walk had a sign saying no dogs – very harsh!
3. Beaches Along the Great Ocean Road
Many of the beaches along the Great Ocean Road are dog-friendly, at least if you visit outside of the peak summer months. For instance, when we visited Lorne during November, our dog was allowed to run along most of gorgeous main beach off leash. This was the case up until the end of November.
Generally, dogs are prohibited on many beaches during the summer months, either December to March or Christmas to Easter, except for after around 7pm and before 9am. Check the local signage for the exact dates and exact times, as this varies along the road, due to passing through different council areas.
Also double check if dogs are allowed off leash, or still need to be on leash. Plus, outside of towns there are some beaches that allow dogs off-leash year round, all day long.
There are also some beaches that fall within national park areas, or may have restrictions due to nesting seabirds, where dogs are not permitted year round. Again, check the local signage.
But if you visit outside of summer, or are happy to visit beaches with your dog in the evening or first thing in the morning, you can still enjoy many beaches with your dog. Generally the beaches on the eastern half of the road are gentler, although some are still very rough with swimming not recommended.
4. Waterfalls Along the Great Ocean Road
The majority of the waterfalls located along the Great Ocean Road are located within the Great Otway National Park and no dogs are allowed. This includes the popular Erskine Falls near Lorne, plus Sheoak Falls just south of Lorne, accessible by a short walking trail.
The two main waterfalls that you can visit with a dog are Beauchamp Falls and Stevenson Falls. With both waterfalls, turn off at Skenes Creek and head inland, possibly rejoining the Great Ocean Road later at Lavers Hill. (Along the way you’ll miss the turn-off to Cape Otway and its lighthouse, but dogs are not allowed to visit outside of the carpark.)
We considered visiting Beauchamp Falls. The falls are accessible by a 3km return walking trail through forest, which takes about 1hr to 1.5hr to walk. However, some reviews mention the trail is quite strenuous, with many steps that may not be suitable for small dogs, like my dog. Plus, at least 3km of the access road is unsealed, which we technically weren’t allowed to drive along in our rental car, so we skipped.
Stevenson Falls is accessible by a shorter walking trail, at least if you drive further on to the day-use area, rather than starting from the camping ground. However, the bridge to access it was closed for repairs during our visit, so we also skipped. (Plus, part of its access road is also unsealed, and it’s a longer detour off the Great Ocean Road.)
5. Spotting Koalas along the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is one of the best places in Australia to spot koalas in the wild. Both of the last two times that I’ve driven along the road I’ve easily spotted multiple koalas, as some of their favourite areas to hang out in are well-known.
Your best chance of spotting koalas is at Kennett River, north of Apollo Bay. Turn off and park outside of the aptly named Kafe Koala, then walk along the road behind the caravan park with the other tourists. Generally the easiest way to spot one is by seeing where the other tourists are standing and taking photos!
There’s no restrictions with dogs in this location, so you can be joined by your dog, with care. Always keep your dog on a leash and remove them from the area if they become excited and start barking at these strange creatures. Don’t allow them to run to the bottom of trees and scare the poor koalas! Our Schnitzel was somewhat excited by them, but some dogs will probably just ignore them.
Koalas can also be spotted elsewhere along the Great Ocean Road, with another popular spot being the turnoff to Cape Otway. We also spotted some just outside of Apollo Bay. Again, the best way to spot them is by spotting tourists stopped along the road taking photos. Keep your eyes open!
6. Attractions to Skip Along the Great Ocean Road
I should also mention here that dogs aren’t allowed at two of the popular attractions along the Great Ocean Road, saving you a drive to their entrance.
Dogs aren’t allowed to visit the Cape Otway Lighthouse, and must remain in the carpark if you take the 10km or so detour down to its entrance. Note that this is a ticketed attraction (with entrance around $20 per adult) and the lighthouse is not visible from the carpark, so I would recommend skipping.
Secondly, not surprisingly dogs are not allowed at the Otway Fly, a walk high up amongst the treetops. In this case, dogs are also not permitted in the carpark, so don’t turn off for this.
Dog-Friendly Accommodation Along the Great Ocean Road
We found it difficult to find dog-friendly accommodation along the Great Ocean Road. The two main dog-friendly options are caravan parks that allow dogs, but generally only if you’re camping or bringing your own caravan, plus some holiday homes and cottages. In the latter category, most options are quite expensive (especially if there’s just two of you), plus many require a two-night minimum.
We ended up finding one caravan park that allowed us to stay in their on-site caravans, but discovered when we arrived that we shouldn’t have been booked in without a two-night stay (as it was the weekend). Plus the caravan and park were both quite run-down, so I’m not going to recommend it. Another park had some rustic cabins, but didn’t offer an option to supply linen, so we had to skip.
Be prepared to either spend more on accommodation than you would elsewhere, or be flexible with location. There are some better priced options if you head inland away from the coast and extend your road trip.
On the other hand, there are plenty of options for dog-friendly accommodation at the far end of the Great Ocean Road, around Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland. This includes plenty of dog-friendly cabins in caravan parks at reasonable prices. We stayed the night at the Gum Tree Caravan Park just outside of Port Fairy. The studio cabin was lovely and modern, with a great kitchen and ensuite bathroom, the owner of the park was friendly, and we were only charged an extra $10 per night for our dog.
Dog-Friendly Dining Along the Great Ocean Road
Luckily there’s plenty of dog-friendly dining options along the Great Ocean Road, meaning that no-one will go hungry.
An easy, traditional option is to buy takeaway fish’n’chips, with usually at least one fish’n’chip shop in most towns along the Great Ocean Road, and plenty of parks to enjoy your feast in. We stopped at the Apollo Bay Fishermans Co-Op, which had a great value deal for two. Plus our dog was fine to join us at the outdoor tables, where he helped keep the seagulls at bay.
While in Apollo Bay, also stop off at the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse. There’s plenty of craft beers available, and dogs are allowed in the outdoor courtyard (as long as they well-behaved and on a leash), which was fully enclosed when we visited. Dogs are also permitted to join you in the Tastes of the Region tasting room just behind the pub, where you can sample local wines and food.
Heading further west, I highly recommend turning off just before the 12 Apostles or near Port Campbell to follow part of the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail, including visiting the rural village of Timboon. We visited Timboon Cheesery and enjoyed a tasting from the Schulz Organic Dairy for a tiny fee. Dogs are welcome to join you in the gorgeous garden, if you order any of their food or drinks. (We enjoyed the Nachos topped with their own Quark.)
Also in Timboon is the Timboon Ice Creamery. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any of their dog-friendly ice cream available when we visited, but they generously gave us a mini cup of vanilla ice cream for our dog, Schnitzel, to devour outside – he loved it, and we also loved our own cups.
Close by is the Timboon Railway Shed Distellery. I didn’t check if they allowed dogs, but they likely do, at least outside. One other tip for Timboon – the Timboon Provedore had some excellent looking pies at their counter, which I’m disappointed I didn’t have room to sample. I’m not sure if they had outdoor tables, but if not there’s the nearby park.
A few other recommendations… In Lorne, stop off at the Swing Bridge Cafe and Boathouse for a coffee or meal. We arrived just after they closed for the day, but it was a great spot to venture onto Lorne Beach with our dog, outside of the summer months.
Also, before embarking on your road trip, stop off with your pup at the Pure Paws Dog Bakery in Geelong. Load up on treats for your dog on the road, or enjoy at Doggy Donut or Puppaccino at the tables inside (dogs allowed off leash). Hot drinks for humans are also available from a coffee cart on the weekends.
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