The Otways, Vic
Away from the coast, the breathtaking beauty of the Otways reaches new heights.
Inland of Victoria’s most famous crumbling coastline, on the rainforested flanks of the Otway Range, tall canopies of mountain ash and ancient myrtle beech trees tower above a vast network of fern-fringed streams and dramatic, multi-tiered waterfalls.
In this easy, breezy waterfall circuit, we loop inland from Apollo Bay to overnight at the base of Stevensons Falls, bushwalk around the picturesque hamlet of Beech Forest, and picnic beneath a giant stand of Californian redwoods before ending our journey at the historic Cape Otway Lighthouse – the mainland’s oldest surviving lightstation.
Nestled among pine trees in a tranquil valley on the Gellibrand River, this spacious, sunny camp provides one of the region’s most pleasurable stays. Located 35km north of Apollo Bay and 5km west of Barramunga, Stevensons Falls is both stunning and easy to access. With great facilities and plenty of room to move, it’s the sort of place that inspires relaxation, especially after busy days of discovery along the Great Ocean Road.
But you won’t want to stay completely sedentary. Within easy reach of camp, a gentle path follows the Gellibrand River upstream to Stevensons Falls, leading past king ferns and mountain ash trees to a picnic spot tucked beneath a glorious stand of Douglas fir trees and towering Californian redwoods. From here, it’s about 15 minutes to the falls, skirting the river’s edge through indigenous riparian vegetation, following the thundering sound of the falls towards a viewing platform at the head of the valley.
Plummeting spectacularly over a broad, arcing rock face, the Gellibrand River’s vigorous flow fills a deep, invigorating pool beneath the falls where you can cool off or simply sit and enjoy the birds.
Once a timber-getting hub, the misty, high-altitude hamlet of Beech Forest is a picturesque spot where cosy cafes delay travellers with delicious Devonshire teas on chilly days.
Close by, the much photographed triple cascades of Triplet Falls are one of the Otways’ most beautiful waterfalls, accessed via a short boardwalk loop that takes about an hour. En route to Triplet Falls, the trail detours to another of my favourites – Little Aire Falls – through fern-filled gullies to reach an 8m-high cantilevered viewing platform. It takes around two hours return and, perhaps because it demands more time on the trail, Little Aire Falls seems to attract far fewer walkers – it’s a good place to enjoy some quiet time.
Of the two forest camping options located close to Beech Forest, Dandos Campground reigns supreme: a big, shady, eucalypt forest camp where you can relax to the sound of birdsong and the Gellibrand River’s bubbling brook. Like the camp at Stevensons Falls, Dandos is a spacious spot with ample room for dozens of rigs and enough facilities to appease bush campers and birdwatchers. There is a lovely short walk alongside the river where you can also spook schools of fish as you swim.
Eluding the limelight is Beauchamp Falls, located just outside of Beech Forest. Surrounded by plantation pines and towering mountain ash, this beautiful wilderness spot provides a lovely walking trail and campground, accessible to most rigs via graded, unsealed roads.
Facilities might be basic but it’s for the magnificent, 20-minute walk to Beauchamp Falls that you’ll want to seek out this spot. On the edge of camp, a gentle trail follows Deppeler Creek as it bubbles downstream. Platypus and spiny freshwater crayfish shelter along the creek’s edge and rufous fantails flit through the undergrowth.
Lured downstream by the distant thunder of falls, walkers reach the slippery staircases that switchback to the base of the falls, and climb atop a platform that eyeballs Deppeler Creek as it plunges over Beauchamp Falls into a steep mossy cauldron carpeted with maidenhair ferns.
WALKNG IN THE OTWAY RANGES
Dropping steeply back down the Otway Range to the coast, the road twists and turns through verdant temperate rainforests and across pristine streams that flow and fall to the sea.
At easy-to-enjoy Hopetoun Falls we stroll mere metres to a lookout over the top of the waterfall, and continue down a tree fern-fringed path to the pool at its base. Even at an easy pace, the 1km-return stroll takes less than an hour.
Barely back on the downhill drive, we pull up at an unbeatable picnic spot in the midst of a magnificent grove of Californian redwoods, planted in the 1930s. Sizing ourselves up beneath these forest giants, we meander through the grove whose canopy steals the sunshine from other rainforest hopefuls that wither on the forest floor.
The Redwoods’ picnic area provides tables, fireplaces and toilets, and a 10-minute walking trail that can be easily tackled, even with your neck craned upwards. Back on the road after a couple of cuppas, we push south and join the Great Ocean Road, turning west for one final rainforest walk at famous Maits Rest.
Here, an easy trail loops around a National Trust-registered 300-year-old myrtle beech tree and in the early morning mist this enduring forest dweller is a mystical, magical sight. If you happen to find yourself alone in its company, there is no better place to rest and reflect.
CAPE OTWAY KOALAS
Winding west through colourful heathlands and woodlands, a detour off the Great Ocean Road leads south to Cape Otway where colonies of koalas can be spotted sleeping silently in the crooked limbs of manna gums, right on the side of the road.
You’ll need a keen eye to spot the sleepy koalas, but any car parked on the roadside draws a crowd, as do the tourists pointing their cameras into the treetops. The koalas are a lovely diversion on the way to Cape Otway Lightstation, although the large population here has devastated many of the trees in the area, putting their own survival at risk.
To complete this loop, follow the Great Ocean Road 5.5km east of Apollo Bay, turn north on to the Forrest-Apollo Bay Road (C119) and continue for 25.5km to Barramunga. Turn left on to Upper Gellibrand Road to reach Stevensons Falls. For Dandos Campground, backtrack to Turtons Track, turn left on to Lardner Track and continue to camp.
Head west of Beech Forest on the C159 to reach the Otway Fly, Triplet Falls and Little Aire Falls. For Beauchamp Falls, turn off Turtons Track on to Aire Valley Road and follow the signs. As you head south, Aire Valley Road becomes Binns Track and joins the Great Ocean Road just west of Apollo Bay. Continue west to reach Maits Rest and the turn-off to Cape Otway.
- Explore the numerous bush-walking trails
- Check out the stunning waterfalls
- Make the most of the free bush camping
- Take yourself on a self-drive tour of this spectacular region.
- The free campgrounds at Stevensons Falls, Dandos and Beauchamp Falls are managed by DELWP (formerly DEPI). All provide toilets, picnic tables, firepits and walking trails, permit dogs on leads and impose no time limits, but do not provide firewood, rubbish bins or drinking water.
- Contact the Apollo Bay Visitor Centre on 1300 OTWAYS or visit www.visitgreatoceanroad.org.au to download the ‘Walks and Waterfalls’ guide and for information on walking and camping.
- Cape Otway Lightstation is open daily with entry costing $19.50 for adults, $17.50 for concession cardholders and $7.50 for school-aged kids (preschoolers tour for free).
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The full feature appeared in Caravan World #549 March 2016. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!