With a void of activities scheduled for Australia Day, we head off after work Monday evening to explore Great Otway National Park. Leaving around 6pm, we made our way down the iconic Great Ocean Road towards Lorne. We picked out the Allenvale Mill Campground to pitch our tent for the night. The campsite is free and no bookings are required, making it ideal for a quick trip down the coast. It is listed as a walk-in site, however the walk is only a very manageable 200m from the carpark. Despite being a public holiday at the peak of Summer, there was no problem finding a site.
Having rested well, we set off the next morning (after a sneaky cafe brekky) for our first walk, the Elliot River loop. The walk begins at the Shelley beach picnic area. It begins with a descent into the mouth of the river, where we explored the rocky shore.
The track then heads back upwards via a steep stone staircase that helped bring up our heart rates.
Once back at the top of the loop, the hike is little more flat and mundane, and mostly follows access tracks. We reached our car at around 12pm, the entire 4.7km hike taking us just over an hour.
Making our way along the Great Ocean Road, we made a quick stopover at the short (30min reccomended/1km) Maits Rest walk. A wooden boardwalk guides you through the gullies of tree-ferns and huge, ancient rainforest trees with their mossy roots. The path is well signed to provide ecological and historic information. A chance to cool off and break up the drive to the lighthouse, the walk took us around 15 minutes.
Our next stop was to the Cape Otway Light Station, where we intended to spend a couple of hours making our way along a stretch of the Great Ocean Walk (on my to do list to tackle this walk in its entirety). The light station was built in 1948 (Australia’s oldest surviving lighthouse) on the cliffs of Cape Otway, where the Bass Straight and Southern Ocean meet. It was built after public outcry after a series of 19th century Shipwrecks lefts hundreds dead. Victoria’s Western Coast claimed more shipwrecks than any other Australian coastline. The SS City of Rayville, the first American Vessel to be sunk during WW2, was also sunk nearby by a German Mine. For this reason, an American Radar bunker also sits near the lighthouse site.
We meandered along the first 1.6km of the track towards the site of the cemetery, a historic reminder of the harshness of early life in the Australian colonies hidden alongside the walking track. With most people turning around at this point, we decided to continue along for another hour or so from here. A little further beyond, the track returns to follow the coastline, making for some dramatic views across the ocean. We turned after approximately 3km total, making for a 6km round trip (the return journey had us run into a very cute echidna who didn’t seem to mind us watching him dig up his lunch on the side of the track).
We then set off back up the GOR and northwards on Binns Rd towards Beech Forest. This stretch mostly takes you on access tracks, so be prepared for some rally driving. It was just shy of Hopetoun falls that we came across one of our favourite spots of the day, the Aire Valley Californian Redwood Forest. The enormous trees here were planted as a logging experiment in the 1930s, and have subsisted to this day, now reaching heights of around 60m. What sunlight manages to sneak through the towering redwood canopy provides a stunning dappling effect, and the trickle of the adjacent Aire River made this an idyllic location to recharge before our final two short hikes.
Continuing on our journey, we made our way to Hopetoun Falls, the first of two falls we intended to check out. The falls are visible from a viewing platform, but it is definitely worth the steep walk downwards to check them out up close. The walk up takes almost 3 times as long as down, but in total it only took us around 15 minutes.
Our final and most northern destination was to be Beauchamp falls. The starting point for the trail to the falls had a pretty campsite, useful to remember for future trips.
The walk itself was a somewhat strenuous, but rewarding finish to the day. A descent through large mountain ash, blackwood and beech trees takes you the the falls themselves, which stand at 20m. The trail is listed as 3km/3 hours return, however with some gusto we managed to complete it in around an hour.
All round, we managed to achieve a very satisfying amount of hiking and sightseeing in the Otways in just a day. An extended trip taking in some more of the GOW is definitley on the cards for the future.