The Twelve Apostles
One of the most visited natural attractions in Australia, travelers from all over the world come to see the 12 Apostles. The Great Ocean Road is famous for its winding, cliff-hugging drive culminating in the spectacular and rugged coastline of the Port Campbell National Park, home of the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and more.
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There is so much to see along the way, beautiful beaches, waterfalls, seaside towns, cool temperate rainforest walks, historic lighthouses, koalas in the wild and kangaroos.
It is important to be aware of how long the journey will, realistically, take. Driving the route as a day trip from Melbourne is tiring.
Watch our videos to see what the road trip is like. The 6 part series shows the whole trip starting from the Memorial Arch, about 15 minutes before the town of Lorne.
What are the Twelve Apostles in Australia?
The 12 Apostles are an Australian icon. The Ocean Road drive is likened to the coastal road of California and often ‘declared’ the best road trip in the world, rather overstated perhaps, is there any such thing as ‘the best road trip’ in the world? It is fabulous, it is dramatic and it is worth visiting though.
Limestone pillars, once connected to the cliffs of the Port Campbell National Park, rise out of the sea. Carved out over many thousands of years through the natural forces of nature, firstly as caves, then into arches and eventually becoming the limestone stacks we see today.
Further along the coastline, ‘The Arch’, ‘London Bridge’ , ‘ The Grotto’ and ‘Bay of Martyrs’ are more reminders of how the coast constantly changes.
Where are the 12 Apostles?
The 12 Apostles are located within the Port Campbell National Park, Victoria. The distance from Melbourne: 227.5 km / 2 hours 50 minutes on the fastest possible route or 277 km / 4 hours 25 minutes on the scenic coastal drive (definitely the best option). These times are driving only, without any stops.
How many of the 12 Apostles are there?
We do not actually have Twelve Apostles. When named, only eight or nine were in the group, there are now six rock formations that can be seen from the main viewing platform.
There are more of the limestone rock stacks along what is known as ‘The Shipwreck Coast’, including some smaller ones in the Bay of Islands Coastal Park further along towards the town of Warrnambool.
Why are they called the Twelve Apostles?
The ‘Sow and the Piglets’ was the name previously used to describe these beautiful formations, not a terribly romantic title at all. The Sow was what is now called ‘Mutton Bird Island’ in the Loch Ard Gorge section of the park and the piglets were all the other rock stacks.
The short-tailed shearwater, or mutton bird as it is often known in Australia, migrate 1000’s of miles south from the Alutian Islands to nest along the coast during the Aussie summer. The sight of these sea birds coming into nest each evening after searching for food for their chicks, is one of the lesser known attractions at Loch Ard Gorge.
As the coastline changes, so do some of the names of formations we have come to know.
At Loch Ard Gorge, what was previously known as ‘The Island Archway’ is now known as ‘Tom and Eva’ after the arch collapsed creating two new islands. Tom and Eva were the only survivors from one of the most famous shipwrecks, The Loch Ard in 1878.
When is the best time to visit?
The 12 Apostles attract more visitors than any other location along the Ocean Road, daily visitor numbers peaked at 11,000 during the Chinese New Year recently.
Those numbers were extreme, but it does get insanely busy, especially when Melbourne day tour buses arrive mid to late afternoon. Sunset is also very busy. The quietest time is early morning at any time of the year, though there will always be other visitors there at dawn too.
The summer holidays (Christmas till the end of January) and Easter are the peak times, winter attracts fewer crowds and can be a wonderful time to experience the area.
Tips for your visit
- Free Parking is plentiful at the 12 Apostles visitor centre.
- Toilets and drinking water available at the centre, 24 hours.
- There is a small kiosk/gift shop at the centre, which closes at 5 pm – crazy for such a famous attraction.
- Accommodation and cafes/restaurants (even a microbrewery!) can be found in Port Campbell, 12 minutes drive away.
- There is a 2 km, gorgeous, walk along a well-made path to Gibson’s Steps from the main visitor centre.
- If possible, do this road trip over at least 2 days so that there is time to relax, read our one-day itinerary for an idea of what to expect and how much you can see.
What to See & Do at The Twelve Apostles
1. Gibson’s Beach – This is a must do!
This is the first stop when arriving at the Port Campbell National Park from the Melbourne direction, and one of the best beaches to visit for dramatic scenery.
It is not safe for swimming, though surfers can often be seen there. 88 steps lead down the cliff face to the ocean and two of the famous rock formations, known as Gog and Magog, can be seen.
High above the beach at the western end one of the 12 Apostles viewing platforms can be seen. The steps were hand carved into the cliff over a century ago but were concreted for safety in the 1990’s.
When the tide is extra high, the steps are closed off as there can be very little of the beach available to walk on,, otherwise, it is a fabulous spot to relax, walk and view the limestone cliffs from sea level.
Parking is very limited at Gibson’s Steps, if it is busy, drive 2 km’s to the large parking area at the Apostles visitor centre and follow the 2 km coastal path back, it is signposted clearly and a lovely, easy hike.
2. The Twelve Apostles
No need to introduce these icons of the Great Ocean Road! There is plenty of room on the viewing platforms, though it does get crowded, the busiest time is mid to late afternoon.
2a. Helicopter Flights
It is amazing to finally see these famous rock stacks from the viewing platform, but how about from above?
- Scenic helicopter flights leave from near the 12 Apostles visitor centre behind the car park.
- Or how about a flight from Apollo Bay? These trips follow the coast, passing the Cape OtwayLight Station and parts of the coast that you can’t see or access from the road. Apollo Bay Aviation provide a variety of trips, read more on their website.
3. Loch Ard Gorge
This area is simply awesome. The walks to the well known ‘Razorback’ formation, past ‘Tom and Eva’ along a path to Shipwreck lookout and down into Loch Ard Gorge and the beach are the most popular but, if you have time, walk on to the small cemetery, Mutton Bird island viewing platform, Thunder Cave and down to the Sherbrook River where it meets the ocean.
- No toilets or visitor facilities at Loch Ard Gorge
- Swimming is allowed on the beach at Loch Ard Gorge, though at your own risk.
- Do not swim on the beach at the Sherbrook River as the current is extremely strong and dangerous.
- Watch out for snakes, do not approach if you see any, leave them alone and they’ll generally leave you alone too.
To do all the walks at Loch Ard Gorge it takes a few hours and covers about 8 km of trails, but is one of the most spectacular places to visit.
We spent over three hours here recently, taking our time to see every lookout, walking down to the Sherbrook River to watch the waves crashing in.
Never underestimate the power of currents and waves and never overestimate your own strength and abilities. The seas can be dangerous and it takes a split second to get into trouble and be swept off rocks or the beach and out into the ocean. Even going in just waist deep can be catastrophic.
On the 21st April, 2019, two volunteer lifesavers from Port Campbell, a father and son, lost their lives trying to save a tourist who was swept into the sea from this area. The rescue boat overturned in a 2 metre swell, a third rescue volunteer survived and the tourist was winched to safety.
4. The Arch | 5. London ‘Bridge’ | 6. The Grotto
A short drive from Port Campbell, on the road to Warrnambool, are even more formations well worth visiting.
The Arch involves a short walk to a viewing platform. London Bridge, now known at London Arch, always attracts crowds and ‘The Grotto’ is an especially interesting formation to walk down to.
Australia’s ‘London Bridge’ fell down in 1990
A formation that was for decades known as ‘London Bridge’ had a connecting arch collapse in 1990, leaving two unsuspecting travellers stranded on the newly formed island. A couple of hours later they were rescued by helicopter.
It was fortunate that there was no one on the section that fell into the sea. It is now referred to as ‘London Arch’.
Bay of Islands Coastal Park & Bay of Martyrs
Further along the road, the Bay of Islands Coastal Park is near the end of this incredible coastal drive and less than an hour from the town of Warrnambool, well known for whale watching. Along with the Bay of Martyrs, this area is well worth visiting. Follow the historic trail of the Bay of Martyrs, walk on the beaches…
The Shipwreck Coast
Immigrants and supplies were brought to the country via what was a major shipping route through the Bass Strait. Many ships would sail via Cape Town, across the Southern Ocean and through what was described as the ‘eye of the needle’ – the relatively narrow gap between King Island and Cape Otway.
It was a treacherous part of the journey, over 200 ships came to grief along this section of the Victorian Coastline.
The 12 Apostles Information Centre in Port Campbell has a small scale model of the most famous wreck, ‘The Loch Ard’ which wrecked in 1878 with only 2 survivors, a cabin boy named Tom and a young passenger named Eva. The historic shipwreck display at the centre is worth visiting.
Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village in Warrnambool is an extensive museum and displays many shipwreck artefacts recovered from some of the 200 ships that came to grief along the coast.
Items range from everyday products owned by passengers, general ship items and a Peacock statue from the Loch Ard wreck, valued at $4 million. The peacock was designed by Paul Comolera in 1873 and fired at the Minton pottery at Stoke on Trent, England. It was destined for the International Exhibition of 1880 in Melbourne.
Where does the Great Ocean Road Begin and End?
Once travellers reach Torquay, the Great Ocean Road begins, the ocean finally comes into view and the adventures begin. The road goes past Bells Beach where surfing legends are made then winds on down to the little towns of Angelsea and Aireys Inlet.
It continues all the way for miles and miles along the coast and inland through forests and farmland before reaching the Port Campbell National Park and the 12 Apostles.
Port Campbell is about 12 minutes from the Apostles and then it is less than 20 kilometers further, with a few more sights to be seen before the Great Ocean Road essentially ends near the little town of Peterborough and the Bay of Islands.
|TOTAL TIME||8 HOURS DRIVING|
|Melbourne to Torquay||104.5 kilometres/ 65 miles||90 minutes|
|Torquay to Lorne||46 kilometres / 28.5 miles||50 minutes|
|Lorne to Apollo Bay||47.3 kilometres / 29 miles||60 minutes|
|Apollo Bay to Lavers Hill||51.4 kilometres / 32 miles||50 minutes|
|Lavers Hill to 12 Apostles||40 kilometres / 25 miles||45 minutes|
|12 Apostles to Port Campbell||11.2 kilometres / 7 miles||10 minutes|
|Port Campbell to Colac||77.6 kilometres / 48 miles||60 minutes|
|Colac to Melbourne||152 kilometres / 94.5 miles||2 hours|
Melbourne to the 12 Apostles
The drive direct along the coast to the Twelve Apostles is over 4,5 hours, non-stop. Read our one-day self-drive itinerary to find out the best places to stop along the way and to get a realistic time table so that you can see everything along the way.
Take a few days, if possible, to tour the coast which will allow time to drive inland to see some beautiful waterfalls and cool temperate rainforest.
Apollo Bay to 12 Apostles
Apollo Bay is often used as a holiday base as it is midway along the Ocean Road, offers a beautiful beach as well as drives into the rainforest with waterfalls and walking trails.
From the town, it is about 90 minutes drive / 87 km to the Port Campbell National Park, which can be done as a day trip.
There is so much to do once in the 12 Apostles area, so aim to leave Apollo Bay early enough to be able to enjoy the experience and, preferably, return to Apollo Bay before dark.
The road goes inland through forest and farmland before climbing to the top of the Otway Ranges at Lavers Hill then descending through more forest and farmland to the coast again.
Cape Otway with an historic lighthouse to climb is another perfect day trip destination from Apollo Bay if you are using the town as a holiday base or if time is available when touring.
12 Apostles Accommodation
Finding accommodation near 12 Apostles is easy, most motels and cabins are located in Port Campbell which is a 12-minute drive from the Port Campbell National Park where the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and Gibson’s Steps are located.
Motels and Cabins – Port Campbell
We love staying at the Sea Foam Villas when it is just the two of us and have enjoyed staying in the family cabins at the Port Campbell Holiday Park with the kids. Port Campbell offers plenty of different options for accommodation. Browse for some of the best deals here.
For many people, this may be a once in a lifetime journey, it is worth doing at a slower pace…