Hidden at the bottom of southwest Victoria lies the Great Otway National park, the gem of the great ocean road most people only drive through on their way to the 12 apostles or onwards to Warnambool.
This not so little national park has so many great things to do and explore, like the many waterfalls of the great otways, the rainforest walks through fern gullies, the Californian redwood plantation, or spend an entire day at Hopetoun Falls, the best waterfall in Victoria.
We’ve created this handy (not so little) guide from our own personal visit to the Great Otway national park.
History of the Great Otway national park
Spanning 102,000 hectares across the Barwon south west region of Victoria and forming part of the Otway ranges, the Otways have been a source of logging and timber for us Victorians since the 1870’s.
A number of state national parks and their respective environmental committees joined together to what is now known as the Great Otway national park in 2004, officially being gazetted the following year.
Tourists flock to the Great Ocean road every year in droves for the main draw cards like the 12 Apostles, the surf side towns of Lorne and Torquay and the world famous annual surf competition the ‘Rip Curl Pro’ held at Bells beach.
Read Next >> Your Guide to the Great Ocean Road
How to get to the Otway national park
Staying in Melbourne? You need to check out some of the best day trips from Melbourne if you’ve made all the way down here, but if you just plan on travelling west to the ranges then a road trip from the CBD shouldn’t take you no more than 3 hours in total.
If you prefer the shortest route possible, you can take the M1 (known as the West Gate freeway, Princes Hwy) all the way to the park, but if you prefer the scenic route then take the M1 towards Geelong, getting off at the Anglesea Rd exit (C134), making a left at Mt.Duneed rd, and a right on the surf coast highway towards Torquay.
From Apollo Bay
The closest little surf town to the ranges is Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road, and luckily it’s only a 13 minute drive to the official entrance to the park.
Depending on the things you want to do in the Great Otway national park, you can easily plan out your day trips based on the distances between each place.
Here’s a quick little cheat sheet if you’re travelling from Apollo Bay –
-Hopetoun falls, 45 minutes
-Redwood forest, 41 minutes
-Beauchamp falls, 53 minutes
-Otway Fly treetop – 59 minutes
-12 apostles, 1 hour 17 minutes
Indigenous people of the Otway national park
The coastline of Cape Otway, the Great Otway national park and the rainforest region were home to the traditional custodians of the land called the Gadubanud tribe.
Today, principally the Gunditjmara people are considered the traditional custodians of the land, and have a deep respect for country and their tribal lands.
What you should know before visiting the Otways
The Great Otway National park is vast and widespread, however there’s no real line or park entrance where you officially arrive and enter, so knowing what your plans are is important in planning out your day trips within the region.
– Respect the road rules, drive on the left hand side.
– Pick up your rubbish, it ends up in the ocean, or in the stomachs of animals.
– Respect other people and the traditional owners of the land.
– Leave the natural environment undisturbed with a ‘no trace’ principle
For more information on rules and national park regulations head over to the parks website.
Places to visit in the Otway national park
California Redwood forest
Surely no place more enchanting and thought provoking exists on the great ocean road than right here amongst the 60m tall Sequoia Sempervirens (Redwoods).
This Californian Redwood plantation in the Otway’s exists thanks to the efforts of tree planters back in the 1930’s whose original idea was to experiment with these trees, see if they could grow and flourish.
This 85 year old plantation is one of the best places to visit in the otway national park, full of picnic areas, toiletry access and car parks for visitors off the main road.
Whilst in the ranges, get a sense for how tall these trees are by visiting the Otway Fly Tree top adventure park; a series of suspension bridges and flying fox cables to soar through the trees.
The Aire river runs through the fern gully embankment of the Redwoods and provides a real sense of biodiversity and calm.
Visit Hopetoun Falls
Our personal favourite and the best waterfall in Victoria in our opinion is right around the corner from the Californian Redwoods in the Otway’s.
A stunning waterfall that plunges 30m to the bottom of the Aire river that eventually feeds out into the Southern Ocean makes a fantastic day on the great ocean road and a great day trip from Apollo Bay.
The best time of the year to visit any waterfall is winter; when the rainy season has filled the river mouths and waterfalls flow powerfully into the river beds.
It’s also the quietest time of the year because most people don’t like rain!
If you’re like us, then you could spend hours at this one spot photographing from all different angles and perspectives. If you’re curious enough, skip the railing of the boardwalk and climb your way through the ferns and fallen trees to the base of the falls for a real up close encounter.
Great Otway national park waterfalls – More than Hopetoun
Hitting every single waterfall in the region in one day is not going to happen, sorry to say..but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a few days here exploring all the great otway ranges.
If waterfalls are your thing, and for sure you have checked off Hopetoun falls by now then we recommend visiting Beauchamp falls on your to see list.
A short 13 minute drive from both the Redwoods and Hopetoun falls, you can find this beautiful falls laden amongst the myrtle beech trees and mountain ash rainforest walk that crashes into a large pool.
Viewable from the boardwalk and protected by steel handrails, getting here is no easy feat. A 3km round trip will take you around about an hour to complete without stopping for the views.
Start this track from the Aire Valley road picnic area and make sure you pack some gumboots or heavy duty shoes because it can get very muddy indeed!
NB: As of writing this, Beauchamp falls road is closed due to private pine harvesting on an adjacent property, with no access whatsoever to the waterfalls, lookouts, boardwalk or car park until December 15th.
Searching for Koalas at Bimbi Park
If there’s one type of animal you’re bound to find in the Otway rainforest it’s Koalas, Australia’s own cuddly bear.
They can be very hard to find in the wild, we’ve been lucky enough a few times to spot them, but if you think you’ll get too disappointed if you don’t see them then head over to Bimbi park where wild Koalas live on site!
Getting here is simple enough, follow Lighthouse road toward Cape Otway lighthouse and take Manna Gum Drive towards Bimbi park.
There’s all sorts of accommodation options here, camping under the stars, renting a cabin, staying in a Bimbi pod or staying in a unique caravan style home. The choice is yours.
A night’s stay in a standard cabin will set you back around $74 per person in the off season, or closer to $200 for their eco-friendly off the grid cabin that sleeps up to 4 people.
Best hikes in the Otway national park
If hiking is your thing then this is probably the ultimate guide to hiking in the Otway National park.
To kick things off from the top the most well known and arguably the best hike in the Otway national park is the Great Ocean walk that begins its journey in Apollo Bay and spans 110km, ending at the 12 Apostles in Port Campbell national park.
Passing through the Great Otway national park, it normally takes around 8 days to complete, and there are a number of shorter day hikes in the Otway rainforest that can be completed in the meantime.
More than 2 days to complete
-Great Ocean Walk (app 8 days)
–Aire River to Johanna beach (12.5km)
–Cape Otway to Aire River (10kms)
Shorter hikes (<3 hours to complete)
-Lighthouse cemetery walk (800m)
-Marengo to Shelly beach (4.4km)
-Princetown to 12 apostles (7kms)
Where to stay in the Otways
On our most recent trip to the Otways we unfortunately had a late cancellation from our Air bnb host however, we managed to get a last minute spot at the Sandridge in Lorne.
It’s not in the Otway region but especially during the busy periods it can be very hard to find as spots fill up quickly.
Other accommodation within the Otway’s are listed below
If you’re looking to stay in Lorne we recommend staying here
If you’d love to be in Apollo Bay and closer to the Otway’s then here is your best best
If surfing is your jam then staying in Torquay is the way to go, close to Bells beach.
Photography in the Otways
Do you love landscape photography? The Great Otways national park is the place to be.
The whole idea of landscape photography is to become a detective. Developing an eye for interesting subjects to point your camera at doesn’t just magically happen overnight, it takes time.
Luckily the Redwood forest is a great place to train that eye.
Scattered, fallen myrtle trees, mountain ashes covered in green moss, flowing water through a river..these are all fantastic compositional ideas that can really make a stunning photo.
We would recommend having both a wide angle lens, in this case a 10-24mm, but don’t shy away from the telephoto 55-200mm…there’s always something to shoot with both those focal lengths.
When you shoot a crop sensor camera like the Fujifilm XT2 like we do, always multiply your focal length by 1.6. (10mm x 1.6 =16mm in reality)
Adding a human element and scale are both great compositional techniques to incorporate in your landscape images.