The image of the 12 Apostles silhouetted at sunset is so famous this page almost doesn’t need a description. Except the Great Ocean Road is so much more than that one view. Snaking for 243km along Victoria’s south-west coast, the road is one of the world’s great scenic drives and provides access to a huge number of natural attractions including giant sea cliffs, wild beaches and peaceful hidden coves. Turn inland to the Otway Ranges and you’ll find magnificent forests and countless waterfalls. And head a bit beyond the official Great Ocean Road and there is more to discover including the picturesque seaside town of Port Fairy and old volcanoes at Tower Hill and Mount Eccles. It’s enough to keep you busy for weeks. Just don’t forget to stop at that famous lookout.
Time: 1 hour
Start/finish: Wreck Beach car park
The car park is at the end of a gravel road that leaves the Great Ocean Road at Moonlight Head, west of Cape Otway. Descend more than 350 wooden steps to a beach in the shadow of high sandstone cliffs. Walk west (right) for about 500 metres to rock platforms where two anchors of the Marie Gabrielle, a French barque that ran aground in the 1880s en route from China after hitting an unseen reef, are embedded in the rock . A short walk further up the beach the anchor of the Fiji, which ran aground in 1878, stands like a monument to the more than 600 vessels that came to grief on the “Shipwreck coast”. Return up the beach and make the climb up the steps to return to the car park.
Distance: 6km (approx)
Time: 2 hours
Start/finish: Milanasia Track
One of the most scenic beaches on the Great Ocean Walk can be accessed as a day walk. Turn off the Great Ocean Road on Hiders Access Road west of Lavers Hill (the road is easy to miss – if you get to Yuulong you’ve gone too far) and park where a gate blocks further progress along Milanesia Track. The road gradually deteriorates before descending steeply to the beach. It’s best to check tide times before you go – visit http://www.bom.gov.au/australia/tides/#!/vic and select Apollo Bay – as the central parts of the beach and the rock platforms are only safe to visit at low tide. However even at high tide the rest of the beach, backed to the east by the cliffs of Lion Headland, is spectacular in any conditions. Return to the car via the same route.
Shelly Beach circuit
Time: 1.5 hours
Start/Finish: Shelly Beach Picnic Area
Follow the sign to Shelly Beach from the Great Ocean Road a couple of kilometres west of Marengo. From the car park the track descends through coastal forest to Shelley Beach, a small cove that matches its name. Follow rock platforms west to Elliot River then return to the car park through a stand of blue gums – look for koalas.
Surf Coast Walk
Time: 12 hours
Start/Finish: Point Impossible (east of Torquay)/Fairhaven surf beach
The recently opened walk at the eastern end of the Great Ocean Road is split into 12 sections mostly 3-4km in length (the shortest are two 1.6km sections along the Torquay and Anglesea foreshores and the longest is 8.2km from Bells Beach to Point Addis). You can combine as many sections as you like to make up outings from a few hours to a full day, with lots of places to rest and buy an ice-cream along the way. For more information visit www.visitgreatoceanroad.org.au/surfcoastwalk.
Time: 30 minutes
Start/Finish: Maits Rest car park
A well developed walk on the Great Ocean Road between Apollo Bay and Cape Otway. A wooden boardwalk winds through tree ferns and moss-covered trees. The highlight is a wide wooden platform built over the roots of a giant gnarled myrtle beech tree.
Madsens Track Nature Walk
Time: 45 minutes
Start/Finish: Melba Gully Road
From the car park – 1.5km from the Great Ocean Road, 3km west of Lavers Hill – head left at the track fork, following interpretive signs into the rainforest. Cross the Johanna River and visit Anne’s Cascades then climb 100 steps to the Big Tree, a fallen 300-year-old Otways Messmate that is now providing new life to other rainforest plants. Continue the circuit to return to the car park via more open forest and another river crossing. This is one of the wettest places in Victoria with more than 2000mm of rain a year. Visit at night to see glow worms along the track.
Triplet Falls rainforest walk
Time: 1 hour
Start/Finish: Triplet Falls car park, Lavers Hill-Beech Forest Road
Possibly the most impressive waterfall in the Otways is viewed from an excellent boardwalk after this track was totally rebuilt in the early 2000s. Head left from the car park and pass a side-track to Little Aire Falls – if you have time it’s worth the diversion; it’s an extra 2.5km so allow another hour (the falls are viewed from a platform high on the opposite side of a deep gully).
The main track descends into dense, dark rainforest then swings north to the falls, which tumble through tree ferns in three main cascades – hence the name. The various stages can be viewed from a series of elevated platforms. There are a couple more viewpoints and the remains of a historic timber mill before the track returns to the car park.
Upper and Lower Kalimna Falls
Time: 4 hours
Start/Finish: Sheoak picnic area lower car park
A gentle walk through the forest following the route of an old timber railway that was used to transport wood used to build the Lorne pier in the early 20th Century. The lower falls tumble about 3 metres over a rock overhang and are extremely attractive especially after heavy rain. It’s possible to walk behind the water for a different perspective. The track continues for another 1km to reach the upper falls, where dense ferns frame the 15-metre falls which cascade down a steep rock face. Return via the same route.
Phantom Falls, the Canyon, Won Wondah and Henderson Falls
Time: 3.5 hours
Start/Finish: Allenvale Mill car park, Sheoak picnic area
A challenging and fun walk through the forest behind Lorne. Cross St George River and head north, passing the edge of an orchard and climbing on a vehicle track before dropping to the base of Phantom Falls, an impressive cascade seen from a viewing platform. The track continues through damp forest for 1.2km to the Canyon, a narrow path through jumbled boulders, exiting via a narrow gap between the rocks.
Next is Won Wondah Falls, which is mostly obscured by trees, with Henderson Falls a short detour upstream – it’s well worth it to see the most impressive waterfall of the trip. Return to Won Wondah Falls and continue south; the circuit intersects with Sharps Track 300 metres before arriving at Sheoak picnic area. If you don’t have a car waiting it’s a 1.6km walk up Allenvale Road to return to the mill site.
Time: 3 hours
Start/Finish: Cumberland River Holiday Park
The holiday park is on the Great Ocean Road 7km west of Lorne under the cliffs of the Cumberland River gorge. From the car park walk through the campground to find the start of the track beside the river, which flows through tree ferns and between boulders under the cliffs. Initially follow a gentle dirt track into Cumberland Gorge then rock-hop across the river to reach Jebb’s Pool on a wide river bend. From here more river crossings and some rock scrambling to reach the falls – don’t attempt this section if the river level is high. The final section is quite tricky before reaching the falls, which are more of a large cascade. Return via the same route to the holiday park.
Erskine Falls and Straw Falls
Time: 3 hours
Start/Finish: Erskine Falls car park, Lorne
Erskine Falls are one of the most popular in the Otways due to their natural beauty (the Erskine River plunges over a cliff in a narrow 30-metre stream into a fern-filled gully) and their accessibility – the falls are a short drive from Lorne and can be seen from a lookout 300 metres from the car park. More than 300 steps lead to the base of the falls, where you can pick up a walking track downstream. Pass Straw Falls after 400 metres then follow the track all the way to Lorne, passing Splitter Falls on the way.
Cora Lynn Cascades
Time: 2 hours
Start/Finish: Blanket Leaf car park, Erskine Falls Road
An easy walk that descends gently through the forest on a wide track to reach the falls, which cascade over a series of exposed shale ledges. Return via the same track.
Time: 45 minutes
Start/Finish: Hopetoun Falls car park
Possibly the most photographed waterfall in the Otways and with good reason. The Aire River plunges over a cliff into a dramatic gorge, then flows through ferns and moss-covered boulders past the viewing platform. From the car park it’s a five-minute walk to a lookout that provides a distant view of the falls. Continue down steep steps cut into the steep hillside (there are a couple of seats along the way if you need a rest); the track levels out as it hits the river bank. The final section is a wooden boardwalk that leads to the viewing platform, an ideal spot to photograph the falls.
Time: 1 hour
Start/Finish: Beauchamp Falls car park
This walk is a couple of kilometres from Hopetoun Falls (both are found off Binns Road just east of Beech Forest) and the two waterfalls can be visited in one afternoon. This is a longer walk, descending steeply through plantation forest to reach attractive fern gullies along Deppeler Creek. The track follows the creek, crossing a couple of gullies en route to a viewing platform that provides a good view of the falls, which tumble into a fern-filled gorge. Return along the river and climb back to the car park.
Loch Ard Gorge
Time: 2-3 hours
Start/Finish: Loch Ard Gorge car park
Three car parks and four walking trails link the area around Loch Ard Gorge, named after the clipper Loch Ard which ran aground on June 1, 1878 near the end of a three-month journey from England to Melbourne. In a classic tale of survival a young apprentice named Tom Pierce was washed into the gorge, and he then swam out and rescued a passenger named Eva Carmicheal. The small cave where they sheltered is now named Carmichael Cave. Sadly the other 52 people on board were not so lucky, and they were the only two survivors. A short walk from the car park leads to a lookout over the gorge and a wooden staircase to the beach below. The Wreck of the Loch Ard trail is 1.4km along the clifftops and the Living on the Edge track runs for 3.2km, with shorter trails to lookouts over the wild coast.
Port Campbell Discovery Walk
Time: 1.5 hours
Start/Finish: Port Campbell Beach
Start by crossing the mouth of Campbells Creek and follow the track along the clifftops and through coastal heathland to enjoy views of the harbour, Port Campbell township and east to Sentinel Rock and the 12 Apostles.
Time: 6 hours
Start/Finish: Thunder Point car park, Warnnambool/Griffiths Island car park, Port Fairy
The walk west passes some rocky coves before hitting the beach which leads all the way to Port Fairy. Along the way try to spot any remains of the Mahogony Ship, a famed shipwreck discovered buried in the dunes in the late 19th Century and since covered up by the drifting sands. Theories for the origin of the ship range from a small punt used by convicts, to a Portuguese caravel from a secret exploratory mission in the 1500s (making its crew by far the earliest Europeans to view the east coast of Australia) to a lost Chinese treasure junk.
(No, not the Mahogany ship – sorry! This is a replica of a Portuguese caravel, one of the candidates for the mysterious wreck)
Time: 1 hour
Start/Finish: Martin’s Point car park, Ocean Drive, Port Fairy
Cross a causeway to reach the island and turn left to complete a very pleasant circuit through coastal scrub, watching for burrows that are home to a large colony of shearwaters, or muttonbirds, that migrate each year each September from the Aleutian Islands near Alaska, leaving again in April (they return from fishing expeditions in large swarms just after dusk). The track leads to the eastern tip of the island and the Port Fairy lighthouse, built from local bluestone in 1859 (it is now powered by solar panels). From this point the track continues past small dunes and a quiet beach before crossing the island to return to the car park.
Time: 4 hours
Start/Finish: Tower Hill picnic area
Declared Victoria’s first national park in 1892, Tower Hill is an extinct volcano formed 30,000 years ago. Extensive revegetation since 1961 has created a habitat for native animals with emus, koalas, kangaroos and echidnas all commonly encountered. From the visitor centre follow a series of well-signposted tracks to visit the crater rim, a fern gully and bird hide.
Cape Bridgewater seal walk
Time: 2 hours
Start/finish: Seal walk car park
There is more spectacular coastline further west near Portland. Follow Bridgewater Road out of town to Cape Bridgewater and continue past the picturesque town located on a wide bay. At the top of the hill is a car park – from here it’s an easy walk to see the largest seal colony on the Australian mainland. Take binoculars.
Cape Bridgewater blowholes
Time: 30 minutes
Start/finish: Blowholes car park
Bridgewater Road starts in Portland and ends about 25km away at a car park on a spectacular headland, backed by giant wind turbines. You can continue on foot for a short distance to explore the interesting coastal terrain – head left for a short walk to visit the petrified forest, formed when a stand of moonah trees was buried under shifting sand. Head right to visit a viewing platform where you can watch giant waves crash over rock platforms below. This is a good spot to look for whales, including the mammoth blue whale – the largest animal known to have ever existed – which can be spotted here between November and May (look for water vapour from the whale’s blowhole). The path continues around the cliffs all the way to Nelson – this is the 250km Great South West Walk. For more info on that epic trek click here, or wander a short distance around the cliffs before returning to the car park.
Swan Lake sand dunes
Time: 15min-2 hours
Start/Finish: Swan Lake car park
Discovery Bay Coastal Park is 20km west of Portland and protects 2770 hectares of wild coastal scenery. Look for the sign to Swan Lake about 30km from Portland on the Portland-Nelson Road – head left here and follow a dirt road down a seriously steep hill (a four-wheel drive is recommended) to reach a campsite with pit toilets, bore water and a shared fireplace. Leave the car here and continue on foot towards the coast – there are no tracks but the route taken by dune buggies is clear (look out for these noisy intruders). After a short climb the huge expanse of sand dunes is yours to explore. A visit to the wild beach is worth the trip but don’t lose your bearings and beware walking on sand is more taxing than it looks! This is also a good spot to see lots of wildlife, especially around sunset – take care on the road on the way out to avoid kangaroos, echidnas and emus.
Time: 1 hour
Start/Finish: Lake Surprise picnic area
Mount Eccles (Budj Bim) is a large exctinct volcano near the town Macarthur. From the picnic area take the walking track through the forest to the rim of the crater, which is now filled with water forming Lake Surprise. The track splits, giving you the option of descending to a circuit walk around the lake or continuing along the rim of the crater. If you choose the former make sure you leave an extra hour to complete the latter as it contains the highlight of the walk, a cave left behind by molten lava when the mountain erupted 30,000 years ago. The descent into the cave is a short scramble over rocks – you’ll need to watch your head on the descent but there’s no worries once you’re inside. The cave is large enough to drive a double-decker bus, giving ample evidence of the power of the natural forces that shaped this landscape. Return back into the light of day and continue along the track to return to the picnic area.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Apart from scenic driving and relaxing on the beach (check if the one you’re at is safe for swimming), there is excellent diving on shipwrecks near Port Campbell and you can paddle a canoe on Lake Elizabeth or the Gellibrand River, ride a mountain bike on the 60km of trails near Forrest (including a 12km loop linking Forrest, West Barwon Reservoir and Lake Elizabeth) or visit Cape Otway lighthouse, the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia (it has been in continuous operation since 1848). Guided or self-guided tours of the grounds are worth the small fee. The Otway Fly near Lavers Hill is a canopy walkway 30 metres above the forest floor. The tourist attraction also features other activities including a zip-line. Entry fee applies.
The start of the Great Ocean Road is marked by a wooden arch at Fairhaven, 53km west of Geelong. The seaside drive begins a little earlier at the surfing town of Torquay – follow the signs from Geelong and the Princes Highway.
A number of ships came to grief along this section of coast in dangerous weather and it can still whip up a good storm today. There have been fatalities involving cars falling over cliffs so keep your eyes on the road at all times. Wildlife is common on roads around dusk and at night and, as with most parts of Australia, venomous snakes are occasionally encountered on walking tracks. Treat them with respect.
Most tracks are short and well graded, often including boardwalks and wooden steps near the coast. But there are some rougher paths in lesser-visited areas. Mud is frequently encountered on the forest tracks in the Otways.
ACCOMMODATION AND CAMPING
There are possibly more accommodation options here than anywhere else in Australia so you shouldn’t go without a bed at night – although it pays to book ahead in peak times over summer and holidays such as Easter. There are grand hotels and youth hostels and everything in between, and nearly every town has a campground or caravan park where you can pitch a tent. Bush camping is not permitted in Port Campbell National Park but there are 15 sites in the Otways – our pick of them is Blanket Bay near Cape Otway. Visit Parks Victoria’s website for more camping information.
The beach is always more inviting in summer, but also more crowded. Spring and autumn are great times for exploring with plenty of clear sunsets. Winter storms can produce rough – and spectacular – conditions, and fill the rivers and waterfalls of the Otways. This is also when southern right whales can be seen at Warrnambool.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Port Campbell National Park is an important nesting site for sea birds – and there is a fairy penguin colony at the 12 Apostles (hang around after dusk and you might see them waddling ashore) – but you’re more likely to see a marsupial in the Otways. Koalas seem to be in every tree around Cape Otway and kangaroos, wallabies and echidnas are common in the eucalyptus forest and heathland.
Platypus can be found in Lake Elizabeth and in the rainforest you might be lucky enough to spot a possum, sugar glider, bandicoot or, if you’re extremely lucky, a spotted-tail quoll (most of these critters only emerge at night). The Otways are also home to the endemic and carnivorous Otway Black Snail.
Or drop into the 12 Apostles visitor centre at 26 Morris Street, Port Campbell. Phone: 1300 137 255
These descriptions are a guide only. While we have made every effort to make them accurate, we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained while using them. Make sure you use an up-to-date map and consult rangers before heading out.