Promises of southern rock lobster, abalone and scallops fresh from Bass Strait aren’t the only alluring elements here. This stretch of the south-west is also flush with craft brewers, distillers and forest-bathing opportunities. In partnership with Visit Victoria, here’s our guide on where to eat, drink and stay.
If you’re a nature lover, this north-south ribbon of the Great Ocean Road is the kind of place you’ll want to return to again and again. From the forested hills of the Otway Ranges, to lush rainforest, rugged coastline, and sandy beaches, there’s an abundance of flora, fauna, and fungi to explore.
Here, you’re visiting Gadubanud and Gulidjan Country. It’s one of the wettest areas in Australia, with rainfall particularly plentiful in winter and spring. While the weather might be occasionally tumultuous, this time of year can gift sightings of southern right whales.
Whether you’re intent on cycling, birdwatching, bushwalking, or swimming (or just sitting on a verandah and soaking it all in), you’ll need some local specialty coffee and fresh seafood to support your pursuits.
From Melbourne, it’s a roughly two-hour drive to the Otways, or three hours if you mosey along the coastal route to Apollo Bay. In partnership with Visit Victoria, here’s our guide on what to do, eat, drink, and where to stay.
Welcome to Apollo Bay and The Otways
From fresh-as-can-be seafood to Neapolitan pizza and Portuguese-style bistro fare, most meals in the region come with a view.
There’s no shortage of things to sip here. Start with specialty coffee, progress through the local craft beers and ciders, and maybe pack the wine to go.
Nature and wildlife abound in this forest-to-beach stretch of diverse microclimates. Explore it slowly by foot or swiftly on two wheels.
A living compendium of plants, fungi and animals that call the Otways home, Wildlife Wonders is recreating the interdependent ecosystem that existed pre-colonisation. Protected by a fox- and cat-proof fence, the conservation project was designed by Brian Massey – an art director on The Hobbit and landscape designer of Hobbiton in Aotearoa. He’s worked with scientists, zoologists, botanists, wildlife veterinarians and interpreters to simulate natural ecologies where the animals feel safe (and humans can quietly observe). Enjoy a 75-minute, 1.4-kilometre guided walk on an all-abilities path at a gentle pace. Spot Tasmanian pademelons (they used to be found throughout south-eastern Australia), koalas, eastern grey kangaroos, swamp wallabies, southern brown bandicoots, long-nosed potoroos, and the southern boobook owl. Learn about mycorrhizal fungi and their symbiotic relationship with plants, and the Otway black snail with its carnivorous habits. Afterwards, enjoy coffee with a view, and visit the shop to take home some knowledge-laden books. All profits help fund the Conservation Ecology Centre, which works to address urgent conservation challenges and nurture the Otway biome.
Forrest Mountain Bike Trails
The aptly named Forrest has been luring keen mountain-bikers with its 65 kilometres of single track since 2005. Whether you’re a beginner, dabbler or devotee, there are 16 trails to explore – ranging from short, (relatively) gentle warm-up cruises, to the challenging 11.5-kilometre Yaugher super loop. Pass through tall eucalyptus forest, dry heath scrub and fern gullies as you weave from wide, free-flowing trail to tight switchbacks, berms and jumps. Save paper with the downloadable map, and keep in mind some tracks are dual-use with walkers. You can climb from Forrest to Lake Elizabeth (track two) to glimpse the resident barlidjaru (platypus), but keep in mind the alternate return track, Red Carpet (track three), is closed for construction through to 2022. A revitalisation project is underway, set to create another 38 kilometres of trails.
Californian redwood, or Sequoia sempervirens, doesn’t normally grow here. This plot of trees was planted in 1936 as part of plantation experiments trialling different timber species in Victorian soils. Unlike the Corsican pine and Douglas fir plots that were planted nearby, the Californian redwoods managed to avoid being logged or removed. These slow-growing giants are now roughly 70 metres tall, but they’re known to reach almost double that – and they might get the chance, now they’re protected as part of the Great Otway National Park. It only takes about 15 minutes to traverse this “forest”, but you’ll want to take your time (and maybe a picnic). Arrive early to catch the redwoods in their quietest state, when the silence is punctuated only by birds and the trickling Aire River. And take note of the native mosses and ferns that have reclaimed some of the undergrowth, not just the towering foreigners.
Maits Rest Rainforest Walk
This rare patch of old-growth, temperate forest is an ideal spot for reconnecting with the area’s ancient terrain. A boardwalk hovers over the moss-covered roots of 300-year-old trees to preserve the delicate ecosystem. Mountain ash, myrtle beech, and blackwood tower overhead, while ferns fill the understorey. Koalas, ringtail possums, long-nosed potoroos, and swamp wallabies all live here. Come nightfall, glow-worms may appear – as might the partially nocturnal Otway black snail. This gentle 800-metre walk takes about 30-minutes.
Enveloped by gardens, forests and calming seascapes, accommodation in the region leans into its natural surrounds.
24 hours in Apollo Bay and the Otways
This ocean-to-forest tract offers ample reprieve from the city tempo. Punctuate the plentiful nature bathing (or actual sea bathing) with delicious dishes shaped by local produce. The drinks scene here is fertile too – with wine, spirits, beers and coffee always close at hand.
Apollo Bay VIC
0437 375 774
Make a beeline for this wholefoods cafe, where you can start your day with a “medicinal” latte, local tea, cold-pressed juice, or healthful smoothie. Pair your St Ali-roasted coffee with soy, almond, coconut, oat, macadamia or local Schulz cow milk. The food offering is just as accommodating of diverse dietary requirements.
Apollo Bay VIC
Set along the Great Ocean Road, this special protected habit offers a glimpse into the Otways ecosystem of the past. Sheltered from introduced animals (and logging), the conservation project allows the plants, animals and fungi that were once native to the region to thrive – and humans to quietly observe. Join a guided walk to spot bandicoots, potoroos and pademelons, among other rare furry and feathered friends.
Apollo Bay VIC
(03) 5237 7411
Enjoy a leisurely lunch of local seafood, meats and produce with a stunning view of Apollo Bay. Portuguese and Spanish dishes lead the menu, while the wine list has a strong Bellarine Peninsula focus. Local fishers bring in southern rock lobster and whole fish daily.
Apollo Bay Distillery
Apollo Bay VIC
(03) 5237 7165
Apollo Bay Distillery
Stroll over to this distillery to digest lunch over a gin flight. Each is infused with local botanicals, including foraged saltbush, wild rosemary and native myrtles. Apollo Bay roasters Hello Coffee are also based on-site, so if you need an afternoon espresso, you’re in good hands.
0407 318 507
Leave the coast behind and head inland to the quaint town of Forrest, where the flora is lush, community vibes are strong, and there’s more wildlife than people. Check in to your cosy accommodation for the evening and take a stroll around the garden before dinner.