Aussies love cruising along the Great Ocean Road. But this 243km winding stretch of tarmac is a gateway to more than just the 12 Apostles. Let us share with you the gems of the Great Ocean Road that are hiding in plain sight.
You know those people who say ‘I remember Tassie before it was a tourist destination’, or ‘I was holidaying at Byron before the Hemsworths were even born’ like they’d caught on to the magic of a place before everyone else? You’re about to become one of those people.
We’re about to lift the lid on a part of Victoria that’s been hiding away in plain sight – and it packs an incredible punch when it comes to exploring the outdoors.
You’ve heard of the Great Ocean Road right? An iconic coastal road, famous limestone rock formations, the ultimate road trip from Melbourne.
But driving the road itself is only the tip of the iceberg. When you slow down and look closer, there’s a whole lot more to this part of Victoria. So here it is. We’re pulling back the ferns and letting you in on a little secret… Apollo Bay and the Otways are hiding some damn good adventures.
Go Deeper Into Apollo Bay and The Otways
Located on the Great Ocean Road approximately 2.5 hours drive from Melbourne, Apollo Bay is bustling with holiday-makers in the summer months, but has a relaxed village vibe in the cooler months (making it a great time to visit!) It’s also the perfect launching pad from which to explore the surrounding Otway Ranges and the Great Otway National Park.
So why do we start grinning wildly at the mention of this region?
It’s the ultimate weekender destination – ride some of Australia’s best mountain bikes trails, hike through lush rainforest in search of waterfalls and wildlife, and kayak along calm lakes, or through ocean swells. You can surf big beach breaks, go ziplining through the trees, or traverse cliff tops on an epic multi-day hike.
And to fuel up for your adventures, there’s a tasty Produce Trail, fresh local seafood, wholesome cafes, and local craft beers on offer.
Matter of fact, better make it a long weekend.
If you’re bringing the crew along, Holidays Great Ocean Road has houses that will fit everyone inside. Alternatively, to get off-grid and really immerse yourself in nature, Skypods offer luxurious self contained pods on a 200-acre wildlife refuge along the Cape Otway coast.
For seaside options the Big4 Pisces Holiday Park has beach houses, luxury cabins or campsites. Good for any budget, and you’ll fall asleep listening to the sound of the waves.
But What’s There To Do?
Now that you’ve got somewhere to base yourself, it’s time to explore. This destination is all about nature and there’s no better way to enjoy it than to hit the trails.
The Great Otway National Park has plenty of options for rainforest hikes and exploring waterfalls. Turn off the Great Ocean Road and into the Otway Ranges to visit Hopetoun Falls, Beauchamp Falls, and Triplet Falls.
For an easier stroll, try the Maits Rest Rainforest Walk, or gaze up in awe as you wander amongst the towering trees in the Californian Redwood Forest. At night, Melba Gully is the place to be as the twinkle of glow worms can be spotted lining the trail.
The sometimes-muddy forest floors and undulating terrain isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and if that’s the case, the new Wildlife Wonders attraction could be the answer. With purpose-built accessible walkways and a guided tour with a local conservationist, Explorers of all ages and abilities can experience the magic of the Otways.
If hiking in the rainforest isn’t enough to get your adrenaline going, there’s also an epic selection of mountain bike trails on offer.
The small town of Forrest acts as a hub for riders of all abilities who want to take on the varied terrain. There are over 65 kilometres of single track trails which can be accessed via the Forrest and Yaugher trailheads.
Surfing and Kayaking
Back at the coast, Apollo Bay Surf and Kayak can have you geared up and ready to explore the bay. Join a kayak tour to visit the local seal colony in the Marengo Marine Sanctuary or rent a longboard to catch some cruisey waves.
For experienced surfers the powerful beach breaks at Johanna Beach are a short drive away.
You can also take a kayak tour on Lake Elizabeth for a tranquil paddle and the chance to spot a platypus.
Great Ocean Walk
If you want something a little more ambitious, the Great Ocean Walk might be what you’re after. Starting in Apollo Bay and finishing at the 12 Apostles, this 100km trail can be done as a through-hike over eight days, or you can access different sections of the walk for day hikes.
For a vertigo-inducing adventure, Otway Fly Treetop Adventures is the place to go. With elevated walkways built amongst the towering eucalyptus trees, you’ll get a whole new perspective as you stroll through the forest canopy. To add to the adventure, hook up to the zipline and you’ll be zooming between platforms suspended 30 metres in the air.
Best Places to Eat and Drink
With so much time spent outdoors and exploring, it’s fair to say you’ll be wanting to take a break and refuel.
For the freshest of fresh seafood, the Apollo Bay Fishermans Co-op is a must-visit. Taste freshly caught crayfish, abalone or the daily specials at the only working fishing harbour along the Great Ocean Road.
To follow it up, grab a scoop from Dooley’s Ice Cream. You won’t miss the queue of people streaming out onto the footpath. One step inside and you’ll easily be tempted by their award winning flavours.
If you’d prefer to fuel up with superfood and additive-free snacks, check out Icaro Wholefoods Cafe. They serve up everything from cold pressed juices to medicinal lattes, and locally sourced housemade treats.
When it’s time to hit the mountain bike trails, you can’t skip a visit to Forrest Brewing Co. Fill up on cake and coffee before you pedal out and then stop back in afterwards for a local brew and recount the day’s adventures.
For days spent chasing waterfalls, Otway NouriShed in Ferguson is a great place to stop for a hearty lunch. Found inside an old woolshed, the walls are lined with memorabilia and stories from the area’s timber milling days. If you can draw yourself away from the photos and artifacts, grab a seat by the fireplace and settle in for a long lunch break.
Taste The Region
Sometimes finding a good meal IS the adventure.
Grab a map of the Otway Harvest Trail and visit farming gates, quaint cafes, and even award-winning restaurants. The cool climate and rich soils of the Otway region mean there’s an array of delicious local produce on offer. You’ll find yourself not only indulging but stocking up on delicious snacks for back home as well.
If you’ve had your fill of trails, but still want to work your way through a culinary exploration of the region, head to the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse. Their Tastes of the Region tasting room has beer and wine tastings, 15 local beers on tap and a selection of over 100 Australian and international craft beers available too. You’d better pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable!
Take a Look For Yourself
By now you’re probably picturing yourself settled in by the fireplace with a craft beer tasting paddle, tired muscles, and the deep hunger that only outdoor adventure creates. Sounds like you’d better start planning your visit to Apollo Bay and The Otways (and make sure you get here before the Hemsworths do!).