Venture inland from the great ocean road for starlit skies, wilderness and wildlife encounters. This is your ultimate guide on the best things to do in the Great Otway National Park.
Apollo Bay, the midpoint of the Great Ocean Road, sits in the shadow of Cape Otway, less than three hours south-west of Melbourne. Many simply pass through on their way to see the majestic Twelve Apostles, a little over an hour down the road. But this quiet stretch of coast is the gateway to the Great Otway National Park, on Gulidjan and Gadubanud Country, a diverse landscape of tiny towns (including Birregurra, the home of landmark restaurant Brae), rainforest valleys, wildlife and fertile farmland.
Take it slow and you have a good chance of spotting koalas as you meander along enchanted forest paths to the sounds of birdsong and bubbling creeks. After dark, it’s time for glow-worms and captivating skies. Far from light pollution, a night in the Otways reveals an impossibly clear view of the Milky Way.
Owned by Melbourne nightclub veteran Maxwell Vella and his wife, Lisa, each of the glass-walled, offgrid Sky Pods has an ensuite, kitchen, slow-combustion heater and a bed with a view. The adults-only getaway sits on an 80-hectare sanctuary at the edge of Cape Otway (about 30 minutes south of Apollo Bay). Lounge on your timber deck or elevate the adjustable bedhead and watch the weather changing through the windows. In the morning, walk to rugged Station Beach. A track leads to the bottom of the property and past a colony of koalas – at the gate, look up into the branches of the manna gums to your right. The rest of the half-hour ramble takes you through bush and flowering coastal shrubs. Take care at the beach as the waves are furious. “Swim in there and you’ll end up on King Island,” says Vella.
Eat and drink
Sky Pods is self-catering so pick up supplies in Apollo Bay and dine in for breakfast at least. Later in the day, head inland along winding roads to the tiny township of Forrest (population less than 200). Inside the former general store, Forrest Brewing Company is a microbrewery, dining hall and mountain-biker hangout, with its own B&B next door. Order a tasting paddle of eight beers produced using pure local water and malt grown onsite, as well as a made-to-share brewer’s board of housemade charcuterie, beer-fed beef jerky, pickles and sourdough. Down the road at Platypi Chocolate, take a seat on the balcony and watch for echidnas as you sip a signature “deconstructed” hot chocolate served in locally crafted pottery. Double down on the decadence with handmade sweets – try the whisky fig fudge made with premium spirits from nearby Timboon Distillery.
Return to Apollo Bay for dinner at Mediterranean-style fine-diner Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant. Owner Chris Talihmanidis, now in his late 80s, keeps a close eye on the kitchen and greets guests every night. The menu covers all bases but the specials reflect the best local catch of the day.
Seek thrills at the Otway Fly zipline or on the kilometres of mountainbiking and hiking trails. Within the 102,000-hectare national park there are numerous walking tracks to waterfalls, including Triplet Falls, Hopetoun Falls and Beauchamp Falls, that pass mountain ash and myrtle beech trees, lush ferns and colourful lichens.
For the best chance of a wildlife encounter, book an early-evening Paddle with the Platypus experience in Forrest or visit the not-for-profit Wildlife Wonders, near Apollo Bay. Set on 20 hectares, the sanctuary is home to plenty of critters, from pobblebonk frogs to potoroos. Take a small-group guided walk to meet koalas, emus, kangaroos and more.
After dark, stop at Maits Rest, a rainforest walk where you can see glow-worms. From the car park take the right-hand path and use the light of your phone to guide you through the inky blackness. When you get to the metal walkway at the creek, stop and let your eyes adjust. Pretty soon, pinpricks of light will appear along the banks, mirroring the star-studded night sky.