Great Otway National Park has an incredible amount of 4WD tracks, where you can really get amongst the beauty of the national park, as we see in this excerpt from Linda Lee Rathbun and Steven David Miller’s 4WD Australia: 50 Short Getaways.
Some things just are not fair. As if tiny Victoria did not already have a share of Australia’s 4WD opportunities far beyond its relative size, in 2005 a number of these were consolidated into one compact area.
Otway National Park, Angahook–Lorne State Park, Melba Gully State Park, Carlisle State Park, state forest land and crown land were all combined to form the new 103,000ha Great Otway National Park. The surrounding state forests are now the 40,000ha Otway Forest Park. Logging was phased out and ceased in 2008. Managed by Parks Victoria, this combined area swallows the Otway Range, a parade of mountains draped in forest and fringed by sea. Not only is it stunning, it is also cleaved by an astonishing number of 4WD tracks.
Look at a map of all those tracks in the combined parks, and try not to drool. This getaway begins in Anglesea, with quick access to the north-eastern end of the Otway Range and to the national park. The route follows a road that in many cases divides the forest park from the national park as it convulses and spins to the south-west. Time after time, 4WD-only tracks split from the tour route, providing additional and more demanding opportunities for fully equipped, experienced drivers with a real-deal 4WD. From No. 2 Road there is Denhams Track. From Seaview Road there is Gentle Annie Track with the chance to return on Moggs Creek Track. From Mount Sabine Road there is Garvey Track with the chance to return on Sharps Track. And all along the way, there are tracks that will take you to almost anywhere along the Great Ocean Road: Moggs Creek, Lorne, Wye River, Kennett River and Apollo Bay, to name just a few. North of the tour route are just as many tracks penetrating those sections of both the national park and forest park.
Though there is much, much more to explore, this route ends at Cape Otway. A tour of the lightstation will reveal the hypnotic tale of the many ships that crashed and burned (not to mention sank) along the coastline of Bass Strait. There is camping, koala-watching and walking on sections of the Great Ocean Walk. Stretching east and west, the Great Ocean Road promises delights galore.
Victoria’s Otways prove beyond doubt that good things do indeed come in small packages.
• The start of the getaway at Anglesea is 111km from Melbourne.
• The getaway is 112km from Anglesea to Cape Otway, not including optional 4WD side tracks.
• You should allow 3 days for this getaway, not including time to get to Anglesea.
• A day to drive some of or the entire route from Anglesea to Cape Otway; more days can be added to complete additional 4WD tracks and to camp along the way.
• A 2nd day to spend at Cape Otway to do the fascinating lightstation tour, or for some walking and koala viewing in the park.
• A 3rd day to return home.
When to go
• When it is dry, and when the tracks are open. Late spring, summer and early autumn are the ideal times. In summer, be bushfire aware (Ph: 1800 240 667).
• The main tourist roads are sealed.
• The mountain roads from Anglesea to the Great Ocean Rd N of Cape Otway are unsealed. There are ascents and descents, narrow sections where passing is dangerous, washouts, potholes (possibly with water), fords and/or causeways through creeks and an endless number of extreme hairpin turns.
• Numerous 4WD-only tracks branch off from this tour. Conditions can vary, but always be prepared for muddy, boggy tracks, steep ascents and descents, creek crossings and sharp hairpin turns.
• Any 4WD, SUV or AWD will be fine on the unsealed mountain roads. For the 4WD-only tracks, a 4WD with high clearance and low range is needed.
• You should have at least 1 spare tyre in good condition and full recovery gear.
• A means of communication in case you need help; it is best to travel in a convoy of at least 2 vehicles.
• Caravans should not be towed on most of these mountain roads; camper-trailers will fare a bit better, but be prepared for a truly wild ride. The 4WD-only tracks are not suitable for towing anything.
• It is best not to drive on these unsealed mountain roads when they are wet; in fact, most of the 4WD tracks are closed through the winter.
• For general road conditions visit VicRoads (http://traffic.vicroads.vic.gov.au).
• For road and track closures in the park, check the Change of Conditions section of the Great Otway
National Park page at Parks Victoria (www.parkweb.vic.gov.au). Seasonal road and track closures are in force from the Queen’s Birthday long weekend (mid-June) to the Melbourne Cup Day weekend (1st weekend in Nov). This includes most of the 4WD tracks branching off the tour route.
Where to stay
• There is accommodation all along the Great Ocean Rd. From the main tour route a number of sealed roads, unsealed roads and 4WD tracks give access to the towns to the S and E. Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Lorne, Cumberland River, Separation Creek, Wye River, Apollo Bay and Cape Otway all have caravan parks. There is also accommodation and a caravan park in Forrest to the N of Lake Elizabeth. Wildlife lovers should not miss Bimbi Park – Camping Under Koalas (Ph: (03) 5237 9246 www.bimbipark.com.au) at Cape Otway, where koalas reside in the manna gum trees.
• Parks Victoria operates numerous camping areas throughout Great Otway National Park. Facilities vary and may include picnic tables, BYO-wood fireplaces and toilets. Camping fees may be required at some camping areas and are payable at self-registration stations. Along this tour route and on side tracks, camping areas include Hammonds, Big Hill, Sharps Track, Lake Elizabeth, Beauchamp Falls, Blanket Bay and Aire River West and East.
• It would be best to set up camp at a caravan park in Anglesea and do the tour route from there. Otherwise, leave your caravan or camper-trailer at any of the other Great Ocean Road caravan parks, and then access sections of the tour route via the many sealed and unsealed roads or 4WD tracks.
• There are dump points at the Torquay Foreshore Caravan Park, the Anglesea Beachfront Family Caravan Park, the Lorne Foreshore Caravan Park and the Pisces Holiday Park in Apollo Bay.
What to take
• Plan to be self-sufficient with food and drinking water from Anglesea on.
• Be sure your 4WD (and your spare tyre) is in good order; you do not want to break down along these mountain roads and tracks as help is hard to come by.
• Bring a first-aid kit, prescription medication, personal items and clothing, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. If it is summer, bring swimwear. If you enjoy bushwalking, bring your hiking boots.
• Fuel should not be a problem as long as you fill up in Anglesea. Fuel is not available along the tour route; you would have to exit the route for fuel.
• Bring a gas stove and all your usual camping gear to be self-sufficient. Most of the camping areas have fireplaces where you may build a campfire unless it is fire-ban season. You must BYO wood (not to be collected in the national park).
Permits and fees
• Entry fees to the national park are not required.
• Camping fees are charged and must be paid at self-registration points at each camping area. All camping area are first-come, first-served, except for the Blanket Bay campsites which are allocated by ballot during summer and Easter holidays.
• Bookings can be made at the Bimbi Caravan Park (Ph: (03) 5237 9246 www.bimbipark.com.au) in Cape Otway (fees apply, of course).
• The highlight of this getaway is simply the drive. To twist, turn, climb and plunge through the saturated, emerald forests of the Otway Range is perfection itself. As if that was not enough, the return drive along the Great Ocean Rd is considered one of the most scenic in Australia.
• For the more serious 4WD enthusiast, there are endless 4WD tracks splintering throughout the park. Try a few and as you become familiar with the terrain, try more!
• If time allows, explore more of the Otways from Lavers Hill, Gellibrand and Forrest.
• While your wheels will get you to many splendours, your feet will get you even further. Do not miss the walking tracks at Erskine Falls, Kalimna Falls, the Grey River picnic area, Lake Elizabeth, Beauchamp Falls, Maits Rest and at least a bit of the Great Ocean Walk along the coastline of Cape Otway.
• Sections of the 91km trek from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles, called the Great Ocean Walk (www.greatoceanwalk.com.au) that can be done from Cape Otway include a wander along Station Beach and along the coast to Blanket Bay. standing at the northern point of the ‘Eye of the Needle’, a passage between Cape Otway and King Island where ships under sail, screaming across Bass Strait, had to navigate through to land in Victoria, safely or not: that is, without motors, radios, electronic depth sounders, weather forecasts or satellite navigation systems.
• Cape Otway presents numerous opportunities to see koalas in the wild along Lighthouse Rd. Find a safe pullout and look up, or look for people who are looking up and pull over safely to join them. The Bimbi Caravan Park has resident koalas in the manna gum trees.
• Play a round of golf with the kangaroos at the Anglesea Golf Club (Ph: (03) 5263 1582 www.angleseagolfclub.com.au).
• You will be sharing mountain roads and tracks with hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Never travel so fast that you cannot come to a sudden stop when one of these appears before you. Always drive taking account of the conditions and with other road users in mind.
• Check the weather forecast before leaving home and do not go if the area is wet.
• A number of tracks and roads bisecting the Otways are not open to vehicles; they either are closed for revegetation or are only used by rangers as service tracks. In addition, tracks can be closed at any time for any reason; this is usually after extended wet weather. If a gate bars access, it means you should not go there!
• Rubbish bins are not provided in the camping areas; you must take your rubbish with you.
• Generators are not permitted in the national park camping areas.
• If you have no other means of communication and become stuck, you can try using your mobile phone even if you are out of range. Dial 112 then press the YES button; this is the same as 000 so it should be used only in an emergency.