You've seen the image…rocky outcrops over a fierce and spectacular sea, 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 Uluru or the Opera House, but what you may not know is that the rugged coastline makes up just one small part of a whole region of natural wonders – The Otways.
The Otways (GreatOtwayNational Park to be more accurate) stretches 60kms from Anglesea west to, and including CapeOtway. From the Great Ocean Road in the South, spanning dozens of picturesque waterfalls, volcanic lakes and stately ancient forests all the way north to Colac - and it's just a stone's throw from Geelong (or two stones from Melbourne!)
So what to do with just one day when there're 103,000 hectares of breathtaking scenery to explore?
Most visitors to Australia consider cuddling a koala an essential experience but KennettRiver offers something even more amazing, the chance to see wild koalas in their native habitat. From the Great Ocean Road, turn onto Grey road follow it for two kilometers – then, just look up! Take plenty of care, especially in the evening and at night as koalas are not very road smart and if the worst happens, be sure to check for joeys.
Surfing, swimming, diving, deep sea fishing, kayaking, dining, hiking.whatever it is you are hoping to do near a beach, Apollo Bay is the Otway headquarters! 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 CapeOtwayNational Park, the southernmost tip of the Otways. Be warned, you might experience a touch of déjà vu – that's because several of the iconic images of Australia, reproduced on so many postcards, calendars and travel brochures are among the geographical features you'll see. Towering cliffs, sandy beaches, magnificent forests, ship wrecks and an outstanding view of Bass Strait from Australia's oldest lighthouse (and don't let the guides tell you fibs, you can't see Tasmania or Antarctica from there – it doesn't matter how clear the day!) If taking one of the many walking tracks, be sure to take plenty of water and let someone know where you are going, and tread carefully as the 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 the views, on what is officially the most beautiful drive in Australia – you might be more interested in a little refreshment!
The Otways are dotted with wineries producing wines of varying quality from the cheap and cheerful to more acclaimed drops, most with a cellar door or restaurant where you can sit back, relax and taste. The region is probably better known for its Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling but a few surprisingly tasty reds are starting to appear too.
And if wine isn't your drop, The Otway Estate Winery, just south of Colac does a mighty fine beer too!
For foodies, the Otways represent the best in 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 the Otways food trail guide. BeechForest
Heading inland, BeechForest 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 (including a little something for dinosaur lovers!). The walk can be done in around an hour so it makes a nice break from the car for restless kids.
Colac is the largest town in the region and sits in the central north. Colac features a number of charming historical buildings and sites but mostly serves as a hub for tourists heading to OtwayNational Park, the Volcanic Plain and the magnificent LakeColac.
Annually, tens of thousands of fishing, outdoor and water sports enthusiasts flock to the 2000 hectare, shallow LakeColac. 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, several years ago, the lake dried completely during the drought but it is on its way to recovery now.
While the Great Ocean Road certainly deserves its name, the parks and wildlife of the Otways makes the whole region a worthwhile short trip. From the educational, to the ecological to the bodacious, there is plenty for every traveler, no matter what their age, interests or tastes..