The Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia is a road-trippers’ dream with beautiful scenery, beaches and rainforest all packed into 285km. My goal was to stop at the main sights while maximizing the birding opportunities along the way. Rufous Bristlebirds, Hooded Plovers, birding from the heights of a rain forest canopy and seeing my first Koala in the wild – it’s all here and more!
Here are my favourite stops along the Great Ocean Road for birding, wildlife and amazing views:
1. Point Addis: Rufous Bristlebirds and Beautiful Views
My boyfriend and I started our Great Ocean Road birding adventure in Melbourne, and Port Addis was one of the first stops we made (it’s about a 1.5 hour drive from the city). We attempted to stop at Bells Beach in Torquay, but the Rip Curl Pro surfing competition was on so we weren’t able to.
Great Ocean Road birding: Rufous Bristlebird
One of the most sought after birds along the Great Ocean Road is a Rufous Bristlebird. It’s a ground-dwelling rusty coloured bird with ‘whiskers’ (bristles) on its face. It likes the dense coastal heath along cliff tops, so it can theoretically be seen at many of the tourist stops along the Great Ocean Road. It’s known as being quite shy and difficult to spot; however, with enough patience you will see them!
The parking lot of Point Addis is a known hotspot so it’s worth stopping here for the gorgeous views and to look for Bristlebirds.
Time needed: 15-20 minutes
2. Anglesea: Shorebirds and more
After the busy and commercial Torquay, Anglesea is a quieter coastal town and a nice place for a longer stop. We lunched here, spent a couple of hours on the beach and stopped at a few birding hotspots. There is a lot of birding to be done here, so depending on your priorities, you may want to allocate a fair chunk of time for Anglesea.
Point Roadknight Beach: Hooded Plovers
Another Great Ocean Road birding highlight is the endangered Hooded Plover. Point Roadknight beach is an excellent place to see them (check the beaches on either side of the point). I also saw a Double-banded Plover at this beach.
Time needed: 20 minutes to find and photograph the Hooded Plovers. More if you want to laze on the beach.
Anglesea River Estuary
You can park beside the river for free at the Lorne Queenscliff Lake Parking and then walk along the river to the ocean. On the sandy flats I saw Black-fronted Dotterels, Crested Terns, Pacific Gulls and Silver Gulls.
Time needed: 10-15 minutes to just stop, park and see the birds. Longer if you want to walk down to the beach.
Eumeralla Flora Reserve
A worthwhile Great Ocean Road birding stop is the Eumeralla Flora Reserve off Purnell Street in Anglesea. I was hoping to see a Southern Emu-wren here, but I wasn’t successful. I added Chesnut-rumped Heathwren and White-eared Honeyeater to my list here.
Time needed: 20-45 minutes
A fairly large park in the middle of Anglesea with paths through wetlands and bushlands. I was hoping for Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos here, but I didn’t see any. I added Red-browed Finches and Silvereyes to my list.
Time needed: 30-90 minutes depending on how much of the park you want to explore.
3. Aireys Inlet: Rufous Bristlebird
My last and favourite Great Ocean Road birding stop of the day was the Split Point Lighthouse at Aireys Inlet.
I saw my first brilliant blue Superb Fairy-wren (most Fairy-wrens at this time of year are brown and dull looking, but dominant males retain their breeding plumage) and a Rufous Bristlebird! The views are also amazing.
Time needed: 15-30 minutes
This seaside town is where we spent our first night on the Great Ocean Road. In terms of birding, walking the path that runs alongside the beach in the morning was fairly birdy. There are also insane amounts of parrots on the grounds of the Mantra Lorne hotel!
Check out this video I took featuring Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Galahs, Maned Ducks and Masked Lapwings:
The following morning we did a small detour to the Erskine falls to see a beautiful rainforest waterfall. There are also birds like Striated Thornbills along the path to the falls.
5. Kennet River: Koalas and Parrots
If you want to see Koalas in the wild this is the place! I was worried it would be too touristy, but it’s actually an awesome and quiet spot for seeing the Koalas (I was there mid-week in the morning). You drive along Grey River Road (past the tourists hand-feeding the Australian King-Parrots at the start of the road) and start looking in the trees on either side of the road.
It took us awhile to spot our first Koala, but once you see one then it’s becomes easier to see others! Many will be fast asleep and high up in trees, but you may get lucky like we did and see one awake and lower down.
Time needed: 30 minutes
6. Otway Flyway: Birding from the Canopy
I never thought visiting a forest would be an adrenaline activity (and I’ve ziplined through rainforests before) but the Otway Flyway Treetop Walk was insane! Where I’m from in Ottawa, Canada, treetop walks aren’t very high off the ground. In the Great Otway rainforest, this is a different story! They call the trees here ‘skyscrapers’ and birding from this height was a rush.
The temperate rainforest is a great place to see a different variety of bird species such as the Eastern Yellow Robin, Olive Whistler and White-throated Tree Creeper.
Time needed: 2.5 hours (it’s a 15 minute detour off the Great Ocean Road and the walk takes 60 minutes. It’s also a lot of walking to get from the parking lot to the start of the walk)
7. 12 Apostles: Little Penguins
The 12 Apostles can be both awe-inspiring and over-crowded and touristy depending on the time of day and time of year that you visit. We opted to spend the night a short-drive away to maximize our chances of getting the best views.
We visited the Apostles 3 times: at 3pm (the most crowded time and you’re looking straight into the sun), 5pm (for the sunset and Little Penguins – much less crowded) and 10am (no crowds and the sun is in a better position).
The views are beautiful and there is some birding to be done in the area as well – Rufous Bristlebirds, Singing Honeyeaters, Black-faced Cormorants, Australian Kestrels hunting from cliff tops and Little Penguins that come up onto the beach at dusk. A word about the penguins – they arrived in darkness and within seconds had waddled up the beach and disappeared into their burrows. Perhaps on a full moon or a night with clear skies you will get better views than I did!
Time needed: 20-60 minutes
8. Clifton Beach Lodge
Amazing Great Ocean Road birding accommodation! Clifton Beach Lodge consists of 5 rustic, but well-equipped cabins located only 2km from the 12 Apostles. I loved staying here both for the proximity to the apostles and for the amazing bird life. These cabins were the birdiest place we visited during the entire road-trip!
I added Golden Whistler, Beautiful Firetail and Wedge-tailed Eagle to my list here. There was also a large group of Eastern Grey Kangaroos.
Time needed: 1 night
9. Loch Ard Gorge
Don’t stop here for the birds, but for the amazing views and ability to get down onto the beach! I also recommend doing some of the clifftop walks (particularly the Razorback).
Time needed:45 minutes
Muttonbird Island: Short-tailed Shearwaters
I got here at around 11am and apparently the last Shearwaters had started their migration to Alaska that very morning! Bad timing, but worth a stop if you’re in area from October-April.
Time needed: 15-20 minutes
The biggest challenge with any Great Ocean Road birding trip is deciding where to stop and how long to spend in each place. There’s a lot to see and unless you have unlimited time, you have to prioritize! My wish list was birds, koalas and amazing scenery and I was more than satisfied with the stops I chose.
I did this road-trip mid-April. Some bird species can only be seen at certain times of the year, particularly waders and pelagic seabirds. Plan ahead if there is a particular species you want to see.
Click here for the trip bird list.
Other Great Ocean Road birding stops:
- Princetown Wetlands: On the Great Ocean Road, as you approach Princetown, you will see wetlands on both sides of the road. It’s worth stopping here for a few minutes to add some wetlands species to your list.
- If you drive back inland along the C163 and A1 (much faster than backtracking on the Great Ocean Road) it’s worth stopping at Lake Colac and/or Lake Modewarre for shorebirds and other water birds. I didn’t do this and looking at the eBird checklists and photographs, I regret it!
- Ocean Grove Nature Reserve: Technically not part of the Great Ocean Road, but an easy stop to make at the start or end of your trip (it’s near Geelong). A great spot for Rufous Fantail, Flame Robin and Golden Whistler. I also saw many wallabies along the trails.