To drive the Great Ocean Road is undeniably one of Australia’s greatest pleasures. Whether you experience it in the height of summer, when the road is abuzz with caravans, tour buses and cyclists or the depths of winter and its moody dramatic days that cast a different light on the horizon and seas, this is a drive that no one forgets.
The Otways is part of the adventure, the road weaving through the Great Otways National Park and pockets of rainforest, joining the lush forest with the awe of the ocean. Roads intertwine and link towns and gems of nature along the way. Close by are the familiar picture postcard scenes of the 12 Apostles, London Bridge and Loch Ard Gorge however, for those willing to venture off the well-travelled scenic route, there’s an even more delicious side to the Great Ocean Road.
1. The gourmet produce
From sweet delights to local, grass fed beef and smooth cheeses, the fertile soils of the Otways has become synonymous with quality produce and passionate farm owners. There are twelve producers on the circular gourmet food trail, and you can easily spend an entire day (or more) to experience them all. Since 2009 the Otway Harvest Trail has brought out the absolute best of the hinterland in the form of food produce, wine and gourmet products.
First up for us was the Dairylicious Fudge Farm where we meet the affable Linda who’s gone from designing wedding dresses to making divine fudge. The secret she says is in the locally produced milk. The fudges are many and varied and just the beginning of what will be a delicious experience in the area.
2. Explore the towns
Your gourmet tour of decadence weaves in and around the towns of Port Campbell, Timboon and an area known as Cooriemungle. Sleepy seaside towns beckon with alfresco cafes that look out onto blue waters.
Nestled not far from the Great Ocean Road, the town of Timboon is the source of some of Australia’s best soft cheeses, as well as an ice-creamery and the diverse Railway Shed Whisky distillery. At Timboon Cheesery (at Schultz Organic Dairy) there’s a great assortment of cheeses, yoghurts, and other mouth-watering goods to sample.
Heading back to Gellibrand and Forrest, one of the highlights of the area is a walk around pristine Lake Elizabeth deep in the heart of the Otways. The 4km circuit walk takes around an hour and a half and is a peaceful way to start the day. Get there early enough or organise a canoe tour and you might spot the elusive platypus.
In Forrest there are some great choices for lunch. The microbrewery is extremely popular as is the Playtypi Chocolate Café where you can enjoy delicious food with a view on the decking overlooking the treetops. Chocoholics take note, this place makes its own chocolates.
Did you know you can find and book gourmet food, wine and brewery tours on your CamperMate app?
3. Chilled out camping
Nestled within the Otways is the Gellibrand Tourist Park, set amongst lush, landscaped gardens and close to many of the attractions of the Gourmet Food Trail. It has both powered and unpowered sites and its own bistro on site. Nearby Dandos campground, between the towns of Gellibrand and Forrest, is a great free camping spot with ample room for big rigs. There’s no reception here but there’s fire pits, grilling plates and drop toilets available.
Not far away Princeton has one of the most understated camping spots along the Great Ocean Road. This small township backs onto the wetlands where the Gellibrand River makes a virtual island of the hilltop town as it meanders through the valley. There are powered and unpowered sites, hot showers and free barbeques all in a large open setting. Being adjacent to the Gellibrand River it’s an ideal base for fishing, hiking, canoeing and exploring the sites of the Great Ocean Road.
4. The waterfalls
Away from the ruggedness of the ocean, the Otways National Park hugs and wraps you in its fold, even as you’re dwarfed amongst ancient giants. Walk through canopies of lush tree ferns and follow the sounds of trickling streams. The Otways is waterfall heaven and in any season it’s worth a walk to one of the numerous waterfalls like Beauchamp Falls, Hopetoun Falls and the stunning Triplet Falls.
Beauchamp Falls receives two metres of rainfall annually, one of the highest amounts in the area and you can feel the moisture in the air. Even on a hot day here the rainforest is lush and cool. There’s tent-based camping with a few basic facilities at Beauchamp Falls for those who want to savour the serenity.
5. The rainforest
Nearby, on an old logging track off Binns Road, is the magnificent Californian Redwoods, an awe-inspiring forest of California Redwood trees that leaves you feeling dwarfed. It’s like stepping into a prehistoric forest. Huge towering trunks stretch more than a hundred feet into the sky and down beside the river, giant fern glades and green mossy logs rise up against the tall trunks of the forest.
Drive through Turtons Track and experience one of the prettiest sections of road in the Otways. Once an old logging track, the now-graded Turtons Track meanders its way from Tanbryn to Beech Forest, a beautiful but narrow road that winds past 1850s mountain ash trees and lush rainforest gullies.
6. Take home the experience
The main 12 Apostles food artisans are open 7 days a week, all year. Take a gourmet food trail and visit factory door sales and tastings. A map can be picked up from local information centres or from any of the producers. Visit www.12apostlesfoodartisans.com.au
For us, the last port of call is Gorge Chocolates, high up in the hills and not too far away from Loch Ard Gorge. In this picturesque setting outside the kids can pat the farm animals, while inside chocolate and coffee lovers can get their fix. A chocolate tasting whets our appetite and the large range of local produce on sale tempts us to stock up the camp larder. It’s the perfect way to take a piece of this wonderful place home with us.