We couldn’t have asked for better weather for our week-or-so exploring the Great Ocean Road and Otway Ranges! From Grampians National Park we cut across some country back roads, through Dunkeld, and finally to Warrnambool to the beginning of Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road. A quick stop at the Warrnambool information office for some maps of the area and then to the beautiful Childers Cove a short drive east along the coast to escape the midday heat. What a spot, crystal clear waters hemmed-in by striking cliffs, if we had stayed longer I would have been tempted to have a look for some of the abalone that I’m sure would inhabit the ledges at the edges of the cove. It was about lunch time but unfortunately we couldn’t eat as the flies at Childers were some of the worst we’ve experienced, so we continued and took in some of the famous rock formations along the Great Ocean Road. A lot of the more notable rock formations have been worn away from their original namesakes: London Bridge is now effectively London Arch after the portion of land joining the arch to the mainland broke away a few years ago, Island Archway is now just two vertical columns of rock, and the 12 Apostles are now just called The Apostles as there’s only seven-or-so left! Regardless, it’s a beautiful stretch of coastline and the weather during the day we drove it was fantastic, such brilliant blues with calm and clear water.
After lunch at Port Campbell’s bakery we continued east to Johanna Beach, a beautiful stretch of sand tucked between Cape Otway and Moonlight Head. The campground at Johanna is basically an extensive stretch of grass nestled in the sand dunes, a fantastic location within walking distance of the beach. We all took a dip in the crystal clear waters of Johanna Beach to escape the flies and after another of Chris’s scrumptious dinner concoctions (with the last of the yabbies we caught inland) returned to the beach to try to snag some of the Salmon Trout running the shallows. We caught a couple of keepers before the sun set, the aggressive little buggers were very greedy at times, taking lures almost as big as themselves! We went back for another session early in the morning, again attacked by flies as soon as we emerged from our tents, and were a little more successful with some bigger specimens for the dinner plate.
From Johanna we made our first foray into the beautiful Otway Ranges. The Otways stretch almost the entire length of the Great Ocean Road, the striking mountains are littered with rainforests, waterfalls and a plethora of hiking trails as well as some beautiful back roads drives. We took the back roads from Johanna past Melba Gully and on to Triplet Falls, definitely one of the most beautiful stretches of track we’re ever driven with towering Eucalypts, massive tree ferns and bubbling rainforest creeks along the way. The loop walk to Triplet Falls was a fantastic hike through the rainforest to the majestic string of waterfalls, cascade after cascade led up to the main Triplet Falls, an amazing spot… From Triplet falls we continued on the back roads through the rainforest to the beginning of the Otway Fly treetop walk, a similar adventure to the Giants Treetop Walk in Western Australia’s Great Southern. After seeing that it was $22 each to walk along the suspended boardwalks we decided against it and kept moving for another hike to Beauchamp Falls. The walk into Beauchamp Falls made its way down steeply to the stream feeding the falls and then crisscrossed the water for a few kilometers until reaching the cascades. Chris and I psyched each other up enough to take a dip in the icy pool below the falls, it was actually cold to the point of being painful, neither of us lasted long but it sure was exhilarating!
It was back to the coast for lunch after our morning in the Otways, we made it to the nearby coastal enclave of Apollo Bay and sniffed out a bakery before all taking a dip at the stunning Apollo Bay beach. The Great Ocean Road is usually synonymous with rough seas but we were extremely lucky to have mirror-like water almost every time we ventured into the ocean for a swim. We all had a good laugh soaking up the rays and watching a group of Indian fellas play soccer on the beach, there were some hard hits and painful-sounding slaps as some of the heavier blokes hit the sand!
From Apollo Bay we set our sights on Lake Elizabeth high in the Otways near the mountain town of Forrest. Another beautiful backcountry drive through the forest took us up to Lake Elizabeth but we discovered on arrival that it was a walk-in campsite only, not so good when we sleep on top of our car and have our kitchen setup on the back of The Tank! So we trudged on late in the afternoon, west through the Otways to nearby Stevenson Falls (S38°33.873′ E143°39.305′). Along the way we passed through Forrest, we have to remember to return to Forrest one day to test out the myriad of mountain biking trails beginning in the tiny town. The campsite at Stevenson Falls was a great spot, our initial site was next to a pack of rowdy teenagers so we moved shortly after arrival and found a couple of friendly girls from Brisbane willing to share their large site. Turned out to be beneficial for both parties as we made them a nice campfire where we sat late into the evening sharing traveling yarns and drinking a few too many beers.
Back to the coast and toward the ritzy seaside settlement of Lorne from Stevenson Falls, we passed by Cape Patton along the way and took in the beautiful views westward back along the route we’d driven. Lorne is within a few hours of Melbourne so is quite the escape for rich Melbournites, the esplanade lined with million dollar holiday homes and streets with expensive European cars. The town still retains a lot of its charm, however, and its beach is similarly as beautiful as nearby Apollo Bay’s. We spent a little while exploring the shops and cafes along Lorne’s esplanade, during which time Bessie was dealt a parking ticket by the local fuzz, stopping off at yet another bakery for lunch and then hitting the beach. The Otways around Lorne are jam-packed with hiking trails to an extensive number of falls, we drove a short way into the mountains past the old Allenvale Mill site and tackled the roughly eight kilometer loop to Phantom Falls and through The Canyon. It was amazing how much drier the mountains around Lorne were compared to nearby Apollo Bay: the latter had ravines covered with ferns and rainforest while those around Lorne were more typical of the Eucalypt forests we’ve seen elsewhere in Australia. All the falls along our loop walk were dry but for a trickle, but it was still a great hike and the view from the top of Phantom Falls was quite breathtaking.
We continued up into the mountains from Phantom Falls to a campsite at Big Hill for our last night in the Otways, cooking up the last of the steaks from Big Al in Mount Gambier for a true blue meat and potatoes dinner. An early morning drive along the last stretch of the Great Ocean Road took us to Torquay, arguably Australia’s most famous surfing town and home to Bells Beach and the world’s first wetsuit. We checked into the last site available at the Torquay Caravan Park, at $60 for the four of us for a small patch of grass we started to realize how awesome the free campsites through the Otways had been! It was 44°C (111°F) in Torquay on the day we were there so we pretty much spent the whole day on the beach, which was absolutely jam packed. I think we fully lathered ourselves in sunscreen three or four times during the day, the sun sure packed some punch when it poked through between the scattered clouds. We whiled away the late afternoon and evening at the Torquay Hotel Motel, putting away a few too many jugs (pitchers) of beer with our first evening meal at a restaurant since leaving Adelaide. It was a miserable night trying to sleep for our last night with Gina, Melbourne broke its record for the hottest night ever, shattering the previous all-time high set back in 1902! We all woke at 5:00AM to get Gina to Melbourne airport for her 8:05AM flight, all feeling a little groggy after the beer the night before and not too much sleep in the overnight heat.
What an awesome couple of weeks we’ve had through Nora Creina, Mount Gambier, the Grampians, the Great Ocean Road and the Otway Ranges. So much fun to have a couple of close friends along for the ride, Chris and Gina were so easy to travel with and added a lot of laughs to our evening conversations. Hopefully they’ll join us again somewhere down the road!