Sitting roughly a ninety minute drive from either Torquay or Port Campbell, Apollo Bay was once an isolated fishing village on the Victoria coast, serviced only by occasional ferries and trading ships. These days, however, it’s a near-mandatory stop for anyone driving the Great Ocean Road, and a popular summer holiday destination in its own right.
There’s no shortage of things to do while you’re in town, whether you’re there for an hour or a long weekend. From delicious craft beer and gin tastings to some of the best fish and chips of your life (not even kidding), wildlife encounters on land and sea, epic hiking trails, or just chilling on the beach and working on your tan, this is a little town with a lot to offer.
Here’s what you need to know.
Note that I’m only including things that are actually in, or at least within a very short drive of, Apollo Bay itself. If you’re looking for activities further afield, we’ve got guides to all the other great spots along the Great Ocean Road as well!
Walk, Run, or Just Laze On the Beach
Apollo Bay’s biggest attraction is hard to miss: the long stretch of sand that runs from one end of town to the other. Protected from the southern winds and waves by a small peninsula, most of the bay is much calmer than the ocean that surrounds it.
On a sunny day, it’s the perfect spot to build sandcastles with the kids or work on your tan, with the southern section (closest to the main part of town) patrolled by lifeguards in summer. The northern end is less protected from the weather, with larger waves that make it popular with surfers.
The beach is also a popular spot with walkers and runners, especially first thing in the morning. Expect a solid workout if you do decide to run the full 6km return length along the sand; there’s almost always a breeze blowing, so if it’s not in your face on the way out, it will be on the way back!
Have Some of the Best Fish and Chips of Your Life
I have no idea how many times I’ve eaten fish and chips over the years–it has to be well into the hundreds by now–but it’s enough to make me pretty discerning about where I’ll get it from, and whether I’ll go back and get it again.
The fact that I’ve gone out of my way to eat at the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-Op on multiple occasions, and now tell people to time a meal on the Great Ocean Road to coincide with its opening hours, probably tells you everything you need to know about this place. It really is that good.
The Co-Op itself has been operating for over 75 years, and like all the best fish and chip places out there, there’s absolutely nothing fancy about the dining experience, just a dozen tables and chairs sitting out on the pier overlooking the bay. It feels like you’re sitting in a car park, because you basically are…and it doesn’t matter in the slightest.
Just wander inside, order from whatever’s listed on the board (it changes depending on what the local fishermen have caught that day), find a table outside, and amuse yourself by fighting off the seagulls until your number gets called.
And then resign yourself to never having fish and chips quite as fresh or quite as delicious anywhere else you go.
Take In the Epic Views From Marriner’s Lookout
Apollo Bay’s long curving beach and crashing waves are impressive enough at ground level, but they’re really best appreciated from above. Fortunately that’s very easy to do: just head to Marriner’s Lookout, up in the hills at the far (eastern) end of town.
From the carpark, it’s a roughly ten-minute uphill walk along a dirt path to get to the lookout itself. The track is a little steep in some parts and can get a bit muddy after rain, but unless you have limited mobility, you shouldn’t have many problems getting up there.
Trust me, it’s worth the effort: this is easily one of the best viewpoints on the Great Ocean Road, especially given how (relatively) accessible it is. On a clear day, you can see all the way over the beach, harbour, and township of Apollo Bay and next-door Marengo, and far out over the southern ocean.
If you do nothing else during your time in Apollo Bay (other than eat those fish and chips, of course), do this!
Strap On Your Walking Shoes
Apollo Bay is a great place to stretch your legs, with options ranging from an easy half-hour stroll to an epic multi-day hike. It’s the starting point for the Great Ocean Walk (GOW), which stretches 110km from here all the way to the 12 Apostles, and takes roughly a week to complete.
If you’re not up for quite that level of exertion, never fear: there are plenty of much easier alternatives. You can follow the first section of the GOW southwest along the coast for as far as you like before turning back: it’s about 5 km return to Marengo, and about 16km return to Shelley Beach.
You’ve got options heading east as well: from the harbour, it’s about 7km return (and a good old climb and descent) to the top of Marriner’s Lookout that I mentioned above, and 12km along the coast to Skenes Creek and back.
Finally, there’s also a lovely short rainforest walk at Maits Rest, about a 15 minute drive west of Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. Very different from the wild and windswept coast, this boardwalked trail is an easy stroll through dense tree cover that takes about half an hour. If you head there after nightfall, there’s a good chance of spotting glowworms as well.
Drink at the Southernmost Pub on the Mainland
While it’s only been called the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse for the last decade or so, the building that houses this Apollo Bay institution has been around a lot longer than that. First built in 1887 as the Ballarat Hotel, it’s been quietly guarding the southern edge of town ever since.
The signs outside proudly proclaim it to be the southernmost pub on the Australian mainland: I didn’t whip out my GPS to verify that claim, but on a sunny afternoon in the beer garden with a cold glass of Prickly Moses summer ale from their sister brewery, I can’t say I was all that worried either way.
The outdoor areas are dog-friendly, so once you’ve finished letting your canine friend walk you up and down the beach for a while, why not both pop in for some refreshment? There’s also a separate bottle shop and tasting room out the back of the pub, where you can try a paddle of the Prickly Moses range or try several local wines, along with dozens of other options, and buy whichever ones you like to take home.
Visit the Only Gin Distillery on the Great Ocean Road
If your tastes run more towards spirits than beers, you’re in luck. The only gin distillery on the Great Ocean Road sits almost alongside the pub, and they turn out remarkable gins and flavoured vodkas that are very much worth stopping in for.
As you’d hope, tasting flights are available, and you can buy bottles of anything that particularly takes your fancy. I particularly enjoyed the Captain Chapman’s Navy Strength gin, with its unusual fiery mix of ginger and Szechuan pepper, but it’s hard to go wrong with any of the nearly half-dozen options.
If for some reason you’re not in the mood for those fish and chips I mentioned earlier, the distillery’s pizza oven cranks out some great alternatives. The flavours change with the seasons, but they’re always delicious.
See Why This is Called the Shipwreck Coast
Back on July 10, 1932, the SS Casino arrived in Apollo Bay after steaming through an overnight storm, but was picked up and dumped into the shallow seabed by the heavy waves. The ship had suffered several groundings and accidents in the past, but this would prove to be its last: it sprung a leak, foundered, and sunk 400m from shore, with the tragic loss of ten of the 19 people onboard.
The wreck sits in about nine metres of water; you can’t see it from shore, but it’s easily accessible with scuba gear and is a popular dive spot. More visible, however is the ship’s anchor, which is mounted as a sculpture beside the Apollo Bay Distillery (above). There’s a small plaque in front, and a large signboard telling the history of the SS Casino and its fateful final journey.
Speaking of anchors, it’s not even the only one in town. The one from the Speculant is on display a little further along the foreshore, just along from Dooley’s Ice Cream.
The Speculant was a steel trading ship that regularly plied the route between Warrnambool and Melbourne, stopping in at Apollo Bay along the way. It ran aground during a storm in 1911 after rounding Cape Patton, a little further down the coast: everyone survived, but the ship itself was almost completely destroyed. The anchor was retrieved in 1969 and now sits in a the middle of a grassy expanse, near a small information board.
Take a Wildlife Tour, Either During the Day…
Fancy seeing some of Australia’s iconic wildlife in the wild, and helping support their conservation into the bargain? This tour with a local social enterprise lets you just do that, at a wildlife sanctuary just outside Apollo Bay. The area is protected from predators and is home to everything from pademelons and wallabies to kangaroos, koalas, bandicoots, emu, and more.
The tour is run by an experienced guide, lasts 75 minutes, and operates a few times each day during the sanctuary’s opening hours (9:30am until mid-afternoon). Numbers are limited for each one and they do sell out on weekends and during school holidays, though, so it’s worth booking in advance.
Because the animals are free to wander, each tour is different, but you get given a pair of binoculars at the start of your walk in case anything interesting decides it would rather stay off in the distance! The easy walking trail runs for about 1.5km, and is suitable for robust strollers and wheelchairs as well.
There’s also a particularly good onsite cafe, which is open to anyone whether they’re taking a wildlife tour or not.
…Or in the Evening!
The same group that operates the daytime wildlife tours also offers them at dusk: in my opinion, these are even better than the standard offering, since you’ll probably get to see a lot more wildlife. Most of Australia’s native animals are more active at night or during the cooler parts of the day, so once the sun goes down, the bush comes alive.
Likewise, dawn tours are also available, when you’ll get to experience the full-throated roar of the native birdlife waking up: cockatoos, kookaburras, owls, and many other species live in the sanctuary.
These tours at either end of the day run for an hour and a half, and include a light meal afterwards: dinner with beer or wine for the dusk tour, breakfast with the dawn tour. The evening tours run on Wednesday and Fridays throughout the year, while the dawn tours operate on Thursday mornings between November and March.
Kayak or Snorkel at Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary
Just south of Apollo Bay lies Marengo, a village and beach that offers a quieter alternative to what can become a busy little town during the summer months. The beach isn’t quite as sheltered, but on the upside, that does tend to keep the crowds away if you’re looking for a bit of solitude.
Just offshore, and easily visible from the beach, lie the Marengo reefs. An important marine sanctuary along this part of the coast, it’s actually possible to walk out to the reef during extremely low tides, but the rest of the time, you’ll need to swim, kayak, or have your own boat to get there.
It’s home to a wide variety of sea life, including abalone, barnacles, and other types of sea snail, along with dense kelp forests just below the waves. You’ll need to be careful of strong currents around the reefs, but assuming you can handle those, this is a great spot for snorkeling: it’s not often you can access such a rich natural habitat this close to the shoreline.
Hang Out With Fur Seals
Speaking of the Marengo reefs, they’re also home to a population of 100+ Australian fur seals, who can be regularly found pulling themselves out of the water to bask on one of the two low islands that are part of the reef. Because of this, it’s prohibited to go ashore on the island, but you can still get close to the seals by kayak.
Local company Apollo Bay Surf and Kayak run 90-minute trips out to the reef, so you can see, hear, and definitely smell the seals from a short distance away. The trips include an experienced guide, all the safety gear you need, and active encouragement to surf the waves back into shore at the end!
These tours are the only place on the Great Ocean Road to go kayaking with seals, so if it’s something that appeals, this is the place to do it! They leave from Marengo, which as mentioned is within walking distance (or a very short drive) from Apollo Bay.
Spot a Southern Right Whale
Between May and October each year, southern right whales make the annual trek from their feeding areas near Antarctica to their breeding grounds near the coast of Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, and several other countries, including Australia.
As part of this migration, whales can often be seen off a large stretch of the Victorian coastline at this time of year, including Apollo Bay. Population numbers were decimated by whalers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the whales survived, and numbers are steadily on the rise again.
They’ll often pass quite close to shore, meaning that on the right day and with a bit of luck, you may be able to see them from the beach or elevated viewpoints like Marriner’s Lookout (above).
Pick Up Some Treats at the Farmers Market
If you happen to be visiting Apollo Bay on the third Sunday of the month, be sure to pop into the Youth Club Hall on Moore Street. That’s where you’ll find the local farmers market, which runs from 9am to 1pm and has a variety of tasty treats on offer.
Depending on the time of year and who’s there on the day, you can expect to find local meat, fruit and vegetables, flowers, booze, honey and other bee-based goodies like candles, and plenty of other delights to sample and take home with you.
Browse the various stalls, grab a bacon and egg roll from the onsite BBQ, and help support the local community!
Discover Local History at the Apollo Bay Museum
Speaking of things to do at the weekend, just out of town to the north lies the old cable station building, where the submarine cable linking Tasmania and the mainland came ashore in 1936. Initially it offered a whopping six phone channels, plus seven telegraph channels and a link for ABC radio service.
The cable only operated for around thirty years, before it developed a fault that was deemed uneconomic to repair, and service was switched to a radio-based link instead. Today, the buildings house the Apollo Bay Museum, which opens between 2pm and 5pm on Saturdays, and 10am to 1pm on Sundays.
Operated by the Apollo Bay Historical Society, exhibits cover the story of the cable link, plus everything from the history of the Fishermen’s Co-op to relics from the various shipwrecks that occurred nearby,
All images copyright Everything Victoria unless otherwise noted