The Otway Ranges
Otway Ranges Overview

The Otway Ranges run inland from the coast between Anglesea, on the Surf Coast, and Princetown at the start of the Shipwreck Coast. They consist of moderate to steep slopes, sheltered valleys, and swamps and lowlands. The hills to the south of the main ridge, largely encompassed by the Great Otway National Park, catch the moisture-laden air rolling in from the Southern Ocean and are rich green even in summer. The most characteristic vegetation classes include temperate rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest. Numerous creeks and rivers tumble down to the ocean and a number of picturesque winding roads follow the valleys. The prized remnants of the Otway Ranges’ temperate rainforest are nearly all found in sheltered gullies on this southern flank. The rainforest is principally defined by the beautiful, sometimes massive and ancient, Myrtle Beech. Instantly identifiable because of its clouds of tiny leaves, these trees once cloaked Gondwanaland, but because they cannot cope with fire, they have found one of their last refuges here. There are also stunning ferns, some reaching heights of three or more metres.

In the hills to the north of the main ridge of the Otway Ranges, partly encompassed by the Otway Forest Park, the rainfall drops away quickly (there’s 25mm less rainfall for every kilometre you go north) and you quickly move from the damp and then dry sclerophyll forests of the Otway Ranges to the volcanic Otway Plains. Weeaproinah, at the top of Otways near Lavers Hill, is the wettest place in Victoria, with nearly 2000mm of rain per year; Colac, 50 km to the north is lucky to get 700mm. This is the catchment area for the water supplies for most of the nearby towns and as far away as Geelong.  

Apollo Bay is a small coastal town, surrounded by the spectacular beauty of steep green hills, wide cloud-torn skies, and clean, cold sea. The first reliable road reached Apollo Bay in 1927 and it was not until the 1980s that the travel time from Melbourne dropped below three hours and it became a weekend destination. Smart holiday homes have mushroomed in Apollo Bay and nearby Marengo and Skenes Creek, and the town now boasts more cafes and restaurants than Lorne, which are a favourite stopover for visitors from around the world to stretch their legs and top up their caffeine levels before tackling the next leg of their journey. The opportunity to explore the natural environment is Apollo Bay’s big drawcard. Aside from the beach, there are walks in the nearby ranges, golf, fishing, sea kayaking (to a seal colony) and surfing lessons.

Heading south, off the Great Ocean Road about 20 km west of Apollo Bay, you pass through forest dominated by tall straight messmate stringybark on the way to the coast and Cape Otway. Nearer to the cape the dominant trees are manna gums, the preferred food of koalas. Cape Otway is dominated by the lighthouse, and the significant collection of heritage buildings including cottages, a telegraph station and a radar station. There are a number of accommodation options around the cape, including campgrounds at Blanket Bay and Parker River, a number of cottages and an eco-lodge. It is even possible to stay in the lighthouse keeper’s cottages.

Back at the Great Ocean Road, heading west, you skirt around the lakes and wetlands at the mouth of the Aire River and briefly touch the coast again at Castle Cove, before heading back into the forest. It was near here, at Dinosaur Cove, that bones from small plant-eating polar dinosaurs were excavated from 110 million year old rock.

By the time you reach Johanna, by turning off the Great Ocean Road about five km west of Castle Cove, you’ve left the world behind. One of the wildest, most beautiful beaches in Australia, Johanna is backed by green hills that roll back to the top of the Otway Ranges. There is basic camping by the beach and a number of excellent self-catering cottages hidden in the surrounding hills. Good or bad, the weather is usually Johanna’s star performer. It’s always dramatic.

Inland from Johanna is Lavers Hill, the largest town in the western Otways. There are a couple of cafes/stores and a hotel. Johanna’s location, at the junction of the Great Ocean Road and the road north to Colac makes it a good base. The small settlement of Beech Forest is only 20 minutes away, leading on to many of the more easily accessible Otways waterfalls, Turton’s Track and Forrest. The Gables Lookout, Moonlight Head and Wreck Beach are about 30 minutes away and beautiful Melba Gully is only three km from town, near Crowes, once Australia’s most southerly railway station.

Fifteen km from Lavers Hill, at the old Wattle Hill Hotel, you turn onto the Moonlight Head Road visit some of the highlights of the rugged coast between Lavers Hill and Princetown. The Gables Lookout is perched 130 metres above the Southern Ocean and you have commanding views of the coast including Moonlight Head and the reefs below. On nearby Wreck Beach you can still find wreckage from the Marie Gabrielle (1869) and Fiji (1891).

There are cafes, restaurants, galleries and farm gate experiences along the coast and in and around the hinterland towns of Beech Forest, Forrest and Gellibrand. There is a range of accommodation options including bush camping, caravan parks, farm stays, backpackers, B&Bs, self-catering cabins, apartments and hotels and motels. These hinterland towns were established as timber and railway towns when the area was opened up in the 1880s. Beech Forest is best known for the nearby attractions of waterfalls, Turton’s Track Rainforest Drive and the Otway Fly. Forrest has established itself as a centre for mountain biking, with over 60 km of trails around town and out to nearby Lake Elizabeth. Gellibrand is known for fishing in nearby rivers, especially blackfish and trout.

Further inland still is Colac, the regional centre on the shores of Lake Colac. Established in the 1840s to service the graziers who took up land on the fertile volcanic plains, Colac has a wide range of shops and services, including hotels, motels, B&Bs, apartments, cottages and caravan parks. There are a number of bakeries and cafes, and several good restaurants. A heritage walk takes you to some of the town’s interesting 19th century architecture. At Red Rock Volcanic Reserve, 17 km northwest of Colac, you can view the dramatic landscape resulting from the many volcanic eruptions that occurred on this vast volcanic plain. Lake Corangamite, 15km west of Colac, is the largest permanent saline lake in Australia, and supports over 70 species of birds.

Throughout the Otway Ranges there are great opportunities to experience a range of ecosystems with abundant native birdlife and rare native animals. In the temperate rainforests and sclerophyll forests the fauna includes kangaroos and wallabies, antechinus and native rats, brushtail possums and sugar gliders. You may also be lucky enough to carnivorous Otway black snail, which thrives in the cool, damp conditions. Platypus are hard to find, but at Lake Elizabeth, deep in the Otways near Forrest, these shy nocturnal creatures may be sighted around dawn and dusk. Glow worms are common in damp, dark places in the Otways and put on a fascinating light display at night.  In the drier sclerophyll forests koalas spend most of their time regally sitting or sleeping in the fork of a tree, slowing digesting the leaves of manna gum and other eucalypts. The whipbird, king parrot, crimson rosella, kookaburra and rufous fantail are common and the currawong can be found in dry sclerophyll forests. The wetlands around the larger rivers such as the Aire and Gellibrand support numerous species of plants and animals. More than 100 water-dependant bird species have been recorded, including straw-necked and sacred ibis, fairy tern, pelican and brolga. Shore-birds and seals can be observed along the coast and whales are regularly spotted between May and October.

Otway Ranges Overview

Great Ocean Road & Otways Waterfalls

Touring the Great Ocean Road between Torquay and Lavers Hill you will experience breathtaking coastal views, visit idyllic beaches and venture into the Otway Ranges where scenic waterfalls tumble into fern-filled gullies in some of the remnants of the ancient Gondwanaland rainforest. While you’re taking in the sights and sounds you’ll learn about the Indigenous and early European histories of the region and observe native wildlife.


Days:2
Luxury:**** Four Star
Type of Tour:Small Group Guided Tour
Experience: Car Touring / Nature
Challenge: Easy
Cost: From $747
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Great Ocean Road & 12 Apostles

On this small group tour of the Great Ocean Road between Torquay and the Twelve Apostles you will experience breathtaking coastal views, visit idyllic beaches, shipwrecks, towering ocean cliffs and unique sandstone formations as well as venture into Gondwanaland rainforest gullies with eucalypts towering overhead in the Otway Ranges. While you’re taking in the sights and sounds you’ll learn about the Indigenous and early European history of the region and observe native wildlife.


Days:2
Luxury:**** Four Star
Type of Tour:Small Group Guided Tour
Experience: Car Touring / Nature
Challenge: Easy
Cost: From $747
more
Surf Coast Tour

Touring the Great Ocean Road between Torquay and Kennett River you will experience breathtaking coastal views, visit idyllic beaches and venture into the surrounding forests where scenic waterfalls tumble into fern-filled gullies. While you’re taking in the sights and sounds, you’ll learn about the Indigenous and early European histories of the region and observe native wildlife.


Days:1
Luxury:**** Four Star
Type of Tour:Small Group Guided Tour
Experience: Car Touring / Nature
Challenge: Easy
Cost: From $250
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