Built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to soldiers killed during World War I, the road is the world’s largest war memorial. Winding through varying terrain along the coast and providing access to several prominent landmarks, including the Twelve Apostles limestone stack formations, the road is an important tourist attraction in the region. In December 2020, legislation went into effect to legally protect the Great Ocean Road – called the “Great Ocean Road Environs Protection Act 2020”.
The road is considered a tourist attraction in the area, in which much of the road hugs coastline affectionately known as the Surf Coast, between Torquay and Cape Otway, and the Shipwreck Coast further west of Cape Otway, providing visibility of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean. The road traverses rainforests, as well as beaches and cliffs composed of limestone and sandstone, which is susceptible to erosion. The road travels via Anglesea, Lorne, Apollo Bay, and Port Campbell, the latter being notable for its natural limestone and sandstone rock formations including Loch Ard Gorge, The Grotto, London Arch (formerly London Bridge) and The Twelve Apostles. At the stretch of the Great Ocean Road nearer to Geelong, the road meanders along the coast, with tall, almost-vertical cliffs on the other side of it. Road signs put up along the road warn motorists of possible rockfalls, which have occurred before.
The first stage linking Lorne and Eastern View was completed in early 1922. Over the next decade, the trust continued its work on the Great Ocean Road linking Lorne with Cape Patton and Anglesea, while the Country Roads Board built the Cape Patton to Apollo Bay link.