You’ve seen the image … rocky outcrops overlooking a wild and spectacular ocean, bathed in the glorious orange light of a southern sunset. For Australians, the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road are every bit as iconic as the Opera House, but what you may not know is that the rugged coastline is just a part of a whole region of natural wonders — The Otways.
The Otways ( Great Otway National Park to be more accurate) stretches 60kms from Anglesea in the east to, and including, Cape Otway in the west. The park includes a stretch of the Great Ocean Road, and dozens of picturesque waterfalls, volcanic lakes — including, near Colac, the largest freshwater lake in Victoria — and stately ancient forests. All this and more is just a stone’s throw from Geelong — or two stones from Melbourne!
While the Great Ocean Road certainly deserves its name, the parks and wildlife of the Otways makes the whole region a worthwhile trip. From the educational, to the ecological to the bodacious, there is plenty for every traveler, no matter what their age, interests or tastes. So what to do with just one day when there’s 103,000 hectares of breathtaking scenery to explore?
Most visitors to Australia consider cuddling a koala an essential experience but Kennett River offers something even more amazing, the chance to see wild koalas in their native habitat. From the Great Ocean Road, turn onto Grey Road and follow it for two kilometres — then, all you need to do is look up! Take plenty of care, especially in the evening and at night, as koalas are not very streetwise.
Surfing, swimming, diving, deep sea fishing, kayaking, dining and hiking. Whatever it is you are hoping to do near a beach, Apollo Bay is the Otway’s headquarters for such activities. There is so much to do on and near the beach, that you may not even have time to venture into the antique stores, restaurants and galleries. If you are not the sun and surf type, there are rainforest walks, tree top walks, waterfalls and spectacular views in the nearby forest.
Follow the Great Ocean Road to Cape Otway National Park, the Otway’s southernmost tip. Be warned, you might experience a touch of déjà vu — as several of Australia’s most iconic images, reproduced on so many postcards, calendars and travel brochures, are among the geographical features you’ll see in this area.
Towering cliffs, sandy beaches, magnificent forests, ship wrecks and an outstanding view of Bass Strait from Australia’s oldest lighthouse beckon — and don’t let the guides tell you fibs, you can’t see Tasmania or Antarctica from the lighthouse — regardless of how clear the weather is!
If you are taking one of the many walking tracks in the area, be sure to take plenty of water and let someone know where you are going. Also, tread carefully, as this region is abundant with wildlife — large and small.
Let’s face it, you’re going to notice the ocean, cliffs and surf — but not everybody is interested in views. On what is officially the most beautiful drive in Australia, you might be more interested in a little refreshment as well.
The Otways are dotted with wineries producing a range of wines from the cheap and cheerful to more acclaimed drops. Most have a cellar door or restaurant where you can sit back, relax and taste their offerings. The region is probably best known for its chardonnay, semillon, sauvignon blanc and riesling, but a few surprisingly tasty reds are also on offer. If wine isn’t your thing, just to the south of Colac, at The Otway Estate Winery, you can find a mighty fine beer — along with their range of wines.
For foodies, the Otways represent the best of Victorian fresh produce, including outstanding seafood along the Great Ocean Road. Inland, pick your own fresh berries straight from the bush and sample mouthwatering cheeses, old-style ice cream and delicious olive oil products. Stop in at a tourist information centre along the way to pick up a copy of the east to follow Otways Harvest Trail guide.
Off the coast, Beech Forest is an excellent stop for families, as it is home to The Otway Fly, the world’s longest and tallest elevated walk. The sky walk hangs over ancient forests and rare tree and plant species and is peppered with information and educational attractions. There is even something for dinosaur lovers! The walk takes around an hour to complete, so it makes for a nice break if you have some restless children on board.
Colac is the largest town in the area and sits in the central north of the region. The town features a number of charming historical buildings and sites, but mostly serves as a hub for tourists heading to Otway National Park, the Volcanic Plain and the magnificent Lake Colac .
Annually, tens of thousands of fishing, outdoor and water sports enthusiasts flock to 2,000 hectare Lake Colac. Famous for its Redfin, it has become a centre for tourists looking for a quiet, relaxing break with not much to do but cook up a fresh catch. Unfortunately, the lake has dried up a couple of occasions in recent years due to drought, but it is on its way to recovery now.