52 Great Weekends

No 47: Just Off the Road

The must-see towns and natural attractions just off the Great Ocean Road.

Get off the beaten track and be rewarded with must-see inland towns and a mecca of natural attractions.

Spend a great weekend mountain biking in the foodie town of Forrest, feast up with the birds at the highest point of the Great Ocean Road, explore the lush gullies and rainforests of Lavers Hill and pretend to be a lightkeeper for the weekend at Australia’s oldest working lighthouse.

Ride the historic rail trail in Timboon then follow the 12 Apostles Food Artisan Trail for 88 gourmet kilometres. Venture into the dormant volcano of Tower Hill, enjoy a cold one in the historic Irish settlement of Koroit and discover the UNESCO listed, ancient volcanic landscape of Budj Bim.

Sometimes great things are just a little off the main road.

Forrest

Venture inland from the Great Ocean Road to the hidden, gourmet township of Forrest – half an hour drive from Apollo Bay. But just because you’re out in the wild it doesn’t mean you have to rough it on the foodie front. Forrest is the gateway to the Otway Harvest Trail – an easy to follow driving route that weaves its way through the lush Otway Ranges to reveal its showcase of some of the state’s best produce.

MOUNTAIN BIKING

Forrest is famous for its tangle of brilliant biking trails – 16 of them that traverse over 65km through the Great Otway National Park and Otway Forest Park. Hardcore riders though to beginners can bike hike through tall eucalypt forests, dry healthy scrub and dense fern gullies. The trails are designed around the township of Forrest and locals joke they all lead to the local craft brewery, Forrest Brewing Company.

DINNER & DRINKS – FORREST BREWING COMPANY

You know you’ve arrived when you have a pint of ‘Lost Gold’ in hand at the Forrest Brewing Company. Brewed with the crisp, pure waters of the Otway rainforest it’s no wonder this is how locals describe the much sort after, small batch beers that can be a little hard to get hold of elsewhere. Don’t worry, brewing and bottling happens onsite so there’s no chance the friendly owners and beer makers will let this pub and 600L brewhouse run dry of their year-round, seasonal and special release brews.

You won’t just find great beer here. It has equally great food too. The team serve up fresh, locally sourced informal pub classics as well as international dishes in their warm, rustic and relaxing dining hall. Bike friendly, dog friendly, family friendly, Forrest Brewing Company is a Forrest favourite that is friendly all round!

STAY – FORREST GUESTHOUSE

Your traditional accommodation at the historic Forrest Guesthouse is only metres away. You’ll feel instantly at home in the country with the long veranda and lush gardens. And the boutique décor is a history lesson in itself – the bedroom walls were lined with the local newspapers dating back to the days when the guesthouse was built, fascinating!

Lavers Hill

Lavers Hill is situated on the inland section of the Great Ocean Road between Port Campbell and Apollo Bay. Perched at the highest point on the Great Ocean Road this tiny country town is surrounded by lush rolling hills embraced by the Great Otway National Park.

MELBA GULLY

Melba Gully is known as the ‘Jewel of the Otways’ and also one of the wettest places in the state! The gully is a dense, mossy rainforest with prolific plant growth, impressive in daylight but majestic at night. From the picnic ground car park, take the short walk through an easy gravel track. If you go at night you will be rewarded with hundreds of glittering glow worms, creating the most majestic experience through the forest.

MAITS REST RAINFOREST WALK

All ages and abilities will love taking the rainforest walk through Maits Rest. The winding boardwalk leads you through centuries-old, towering Mountain Ash trees and stunning fern gardens. Not only does the boardwalk protect the fragile ecosystem of the area but offers unique views across the forest. If you’re lucky, you may make a few friends on route as koalas, swamp wallabies, possums and kangaroos are common in the area.

DINNER & DRINKS – THE PERCH

Feast up with the birds on the highest point of the Great Ocean Road, half an hour from the 12 Apostles. Nestled between lush rainforest of the Great Otway National Park and sprawling gardens you’ll find a modern contemporary fine dining dinner menu with an extensive wine selection that celebrates the produce of this bountiful region. Dine on lue Fin tuna carpaccio, Burrata Cheese with local fresh figs, confit Great Ocean Road Duck, house-made falafels and cold smoked watermelon ‘tuna’ soba noodles.

Cape Otway

Australia’s oldest working lighthouse is just one reason to visit Cape Otway. Located just 3hrs 30mins from Melbourne, Cape Otway sits right on the southern tip of Victoria’s Western Coast, where the Southern Ocean collides with Bass Strait. It is also known as the Shipwreck Coast. It’s home to Australia’s oldest working lighthouse, aptly named ‘The Beacon of Hope’. Built in 1848 this beauty has saved hundreds of sea-farers lives and today is a drawcard for history buffs and sight-seers alike.

Surrounded by the Great Otway National Park there is so much to see in Cape Otway – rocky cliffs make way for hidden sandy beaches, tranquil rainforests hide bubbling streams and even huge towering waterfalls. It is also home to Australia’s largest koala population and that alone makes a weekend at Cape Otway a must.

CAPE OTWAY LIGHTHOUSE TOUR *by appointment only

Venture onto the towering balcony of mainland Australia’s oldest surviving lighthouse. It’s well worth climbing the 78 stairs to reach the 21m high balcony and take in the 360-degree views, 91metres above sea level. There couldn’t be a better vantage point to admire the vastness of the Southern Ocean and remember over 300 shipwrecks that it didn’t allow to pass by.

Cape Otway Lighthouse is just one of the significant buildings on site. There is also the Telegraph Station which was added to the site in 1959 when Tasmania was connected to the mainland by a submarine telegraph line from Cape Otway to Launceston in 1859. There is also an American radar bunker built on the Cape in 1942 which you can also explore.

STAY – LIGHTKEEPER’S COTTAGE

Call the heritage Lightkeeper’s Cottage home for the weekend. Built in 1857, this homely historical building comes complete with sweeping views of the lighthouse and Southern Ocean. It was home to Henry Bayles Ford, his wife Mary Ann Ford and their nine children, seven of who were born here.

The four-bedroom cottage (which can be broken into two separate two-bedroom accommodation options) offers a much more idyllic escape today than it did for the original hard-working and incredibly resourceful lightkeepers. They not only raised their families in extreme isolation (deliveries came by boat only twice a year) but rescued and fed shipwreck victims and kept the light burning every evening for the safety of thousands of ships that travelled through Bass Strait.

EAT – LIGHTKEEPER’S CAFE

These days the only resourcefulness guests need is the knowledge they can request gourmet grazing platters and a range of delicious meals supplied to their accommodation by the Lightkeeper’s Café. Along with a bottle of shiraz, we took our grazing box down to enjoy the spectacular view of the sun setting over the lighthouse – one reserved for the small number of very lucky overnight guests.

Timboon

The lush pastures of Timboon produce some of the region’s finest products and the tall forests are the perfect playground for active adventures. Spend the weekend trying the locally made whisky, organic cheese, farm fresh fudge, mouth-watering ice cream, hand crafted chocolates and some of the most luscious strawberries you will ever taste! Then ride off on the historic Timboon to Camperdown Rail Trail before escaping for a night of luxury among native bushland.

RIDE THE TIMBOON TO CAMPERDOWN RAIL TRAIL

Forgot your bike? Don’t worry, Ride with Us has a large selection of e-bikes, mountain bikes and children’s cycles, seats and trailers for hire. Discover the tall forests, historic bridges, grasslands and magnificent lakes as you ride the picturesque 34km rail trail between Timboon, Cobden to Camperdown. There couldn’t be a more scenic spot to stop for lunch than Curdies River Trestle Bridge. Riders who choose the Ride With Us ‘Gourmet Rail Trail Ride’ are sent packing with a souvenir backpack and gourmet, locally made feast of bakery fresh rolls and wraps, fruit salad, delicious slices and bottled water.

EAT & DRINK – 12 APOSTLES FOOD ARTISANS TRAIL

Timboon may be the gourmet hub of the 12 Apostles region but there are plenty more local food artisans, winemakers and farmgates to discover in the area. Tour through dairy country to explore the farms and taste all that’s on offer in the 12 Apostles Coast and Hinterland region. Sit pasture-side and sample Dairylicious Farm Fresh Fudge, feed the friendly alpacas at Gorge Chocolates before treating yourself to a hand-crafted artisan block or enjoy a cold one at Port Campbell micro-brewery Sow and Piglets – just some of the many quality producers on the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail.

STAY – MODESC, YOUR MODERN ESCAPE AMONGST THE TREES

This two-bedroom, beautifully designed luxury home resides in the heart of Timboon. Something you’ll soon forget when you’re sitting on the private deck surrounded by native bushland and abundant birdlife. It would be a great weekend simply curling up with a good book by the indoor and outdoor fireplaces but more adventurous types will love the neighbouring bushwalking trails that take you all the way to Port Campbell and being only a short stroll from all of the townships main attractions.

Koroit & Tower Hill

Nestled on the northern slopes of the dormant volcano of Tower Hill lies the historic Irish farming settlement of Koroit. This quaint, close-knit village is hailed as one of Australia’s most complete examples of early Irish settlement. Here, Irish charm flows as freely as pints of Guinness. Stroll back in time along the Koroit Heritage Trail and lush Botanical Gardens before venturing into the dormant volcano of Tower Hill for a guided walk exploring the magnificent landscape and meeting the wildlife who call this re-vegetated park, home.

TOWER HILL WILDLIFE RESERVE GUIDED WALK

Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve lies inside a dormant volcano that last erupted over 7000 years ago. The explosion created the enormous 11km crater rim and was thought to be as forceful as 4 atomic bombs. Venture inside the crater for a 90-minute walk with your experienced guide. You’ll explore the majestic landscape, learn of its historical importance and meet the wildlife who call the re-vegetated park home. Some of Australia’s most iconic animals live here and if you’re lucky you might see emus, koalas, kangaroos, echidnas and wedge-tailed eagles just to name a few.

DINNER & DRINKS – MICKEY BOURKES ICONIC HOTEL

This iconic pub is the heartbeat of Koroit’s Irish heritage. And a freshly poured Guinness is the lifeblood that runs through its veins. Since opening the doors in 1853 Mickey Bourke’s has been the local’s favourite meeting place for a good yarn, a pint and a home-style Irish meal. So, grab yourself a beer, pull up a barstool and drink up the charming character of this renowned hotel.

STAY – HARMONY ON TOWER HILL

Wake up with the birds at your spacious, self-contained suite on the perimeter of the wildlife reserve of Tower Hill. Take your morning coffee onto your private balcony and watch the sunrise reveal views of the local farmland. Your home for the night is actually a refurbished, mid-century classroom converted into a comfortable one-bedroom bungalow, one of only five on the property.

Budj Bim

Venture inland from the Great Ocean Road to the UNESCO listed, culturally significant landscape of Budj Bim – located in the traditional Country of the Gunditjmara people. This natural wonder, including the 30,000 year-old volcano of Budj Bim (which in the Gunditjmara language means ‘Big Head’) is located just over 300km from Melbourne.

The unique lava flow from an ancient volcanic eruption is what created this significant landscape. Budj Bim’s system of weirs, channels and volcanic lava flow allowed the Gunditjmara people to create the earliest living example of aquaculture in the world, their history of eel farming dates back over 6,000 years. Hence its UNESCO listing of ‘outstanding universal value’. Budj Bim is 1 of only 19 other locations in Australia that have made the list, and the only Australian World Heritage property listed exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural value.

BUDJ BIM TOURS – GUIDED WALK WITH GUNDITJMARA PEOPLE

What better way to spend a great weekend than to walk as a guest on Gunditjmara country and experience a culture that is over 60,000 years old. Join Budj Bim Tours for an authentic, guided tour of Tyrendarra, the southern component of the landscape, situated almost entirely within the unique Budj Bim lava flow. These flows helped the Gunditjmara people create the oldest and most extensive freshwater stone aquaculture system in the world.

A Gunditjmara descendant, Leigh’s 2.5hr tour (available Wed, Thurs, Fri) offers a never to be forgotten opportunity to experience the history and storytelling of this awe inspiring landscape through the eyes and voice of a traditional owner.

It was remarkable to learn how the Gunditjmara people used the volcanic rocks and lava flow to create Australia’s first and largest freshwater stone aquaculture system. It allowed them to irrigate the winter floods into strategically placed dams and to retain not just water, but also fish and eels in holding ‘pens’ throughout the summer dry season. No wonder this aquaculture system is recognised by Engineers Australia and is now an Engineering Heritage National Landmark.

CAMP – BUDJ BIM NATIONAL PARK

This land is undeniably significant. You can feel it as you camp under the stars at Budj Bim National Park. Renamed in 2017, (previously known as Mt Eccles National Park) this 8000 hectare national park is the first national park co-managed by Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and Parks Victoria.

Set up camp in the forest rocks hollows and ridges formed by the lava flows from the ancient volcanic eruption. The simple campground surrounded by native bushland offers large campsites suitable for 6 people, bathroom and campfire facilities and several nature trails to explore this unique volcanic landscape. Follow the Lake Surprise walk along the crater rim or descend to walk the crater lake’s edge. The longer Lava Canal circuit walk will reveal a maze of lava blisters, Tunnel Cave, Natural Bridge and also a dry crater offering views of the park and into the crater itself.

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Top 5 things that made the weekend great

  • Riding the maze of mountain biking trails in Forrest

  • Seeing glow worms in the rainforest gullies of Lavers Hill

  • Riding the historic Timboon to Camperdown Rail Trail

  • The informative guided walk of Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve

  • Learning about the significant cultural landscape of Budj Bim from a traditional owner

Why not go for a winery wander this weekend?


 

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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.