Three ways to see the Otways
How will you discover the Otway Ranges?
Walk: Melba Gully
About halfway between the Twelve Apostles and Apollo Bay is Melba Gully. Here dense rainforest builds in layers of moss, ferns, blackwoods and myrtle beech trees. During the day you’ll spot a fallen 300-year-old messmate and the Johanna River, but come night glow-worms sparkle in the darkness like Mother Nature’s fairy lights.
From the car park, follow the steps down past the public toilets to the vast picnic area (with tables and a gas barbecue) to the start of Madsens Track Nature Walk. A round-trip of 35 minutes is estimated, but fast walkers will do it in little more than 20 minutes. You don’t have to go far to spot the twinkling glow-worms, but make sure you wear sensible shoes and bring a torch – though don’t shine it at the worms, or they’ll “turn off”. They can be seen all year unless it’s unusually dry.
Ride: Forrest trails
Forrest’s 16 mountain-bike trails cover a distance of more than 65 kilometres, so there’s one suitable for every age and ability. The trails are split into southern and northern loops. At the southern end of town, the Forrest Loop is an easy, three-kilometre track that can also be walked. It branches off into the six-kilometre Barlidjaru Trail (it takes its name from the local Indigenous word for platypus), which takes riders to Lake Elizabeth, as does The Red Carpet, a 4.5-kilometre trail through eucalyptus forests, with tight climbs and challenging descents.
There are three more trails on the other side of the main road, and the rest are a touch further north near Forrest Hire Bikes. You can BYO mountain bike or rent one for a half or full day ($50 or $80 respectively).
Paddle: Lake Elizabeth
Otway Eco Tours is so certain that you’ll see platypus during their guided, small-group canoe tours that they’ll refund you 20 per cent of the cost if you don’t. Owner-operator Bruce Jackson is a local guide and ecologist with a degree in zoology and botany. He provides a wealth of information during the tours, which leave from Forrest and last up to three hours. It’s a one-kilometre walk on a bush track to Lake Elizabeth, where you can paddle at dawn or dusk.
Guests can choose to row or sit back and let the guide do the work. It’s $85 per adult, $50 per child, or $300 for a family with three kids. If you can’t make a tour, Lake Elizabeth is reason enough to visit on its own, with glassy water speared by dead tree trunks.
While you’re there
Conveniently sited at the entrance to the southern loop mountain-bike trails in Forrest is the Platypi Chocolate Café. Sit level with a canopy of messmate trees and order the signature sausage roll made with seven vegetables from the garden, followed by a deconstructed hot chocolate poured in local pottery.