[Australia] Great Ocean Road Part 1: Queenscliff to Johanna and Great Otway National Park

First 2 days of our 4-day road trip on the Great Ocean Road. Queenscliff to Lavers Hill via Apollo Bay, with short hikes to the great forests and waterfalls of Great Otway National Park.

Day 1 on the Great Ocean Road/ Day 3 on the road

Continuing where we left off at Sorrento, we arrived at Queenscliff after about an hour sailing across Port Phillip. Disembarking was smooth, and we drove off the ferry and towards the Great Ocean Road.

Cafe Narana/ Narana Aboriginal Cultural Center

12:00pm – We made our first stop at Cafe Narana, at the Narana Aboriginal Cultural Center. It was a nice place to try aboriginal food and appreciate aboriginal art (at the adjoining gallery).

Point Addis/ Start of the Great Ocean Road

1:30pm – The start of the road named “Great Ocean Road” began rather unceremoniously after a roundabout in Torquay. Nonetheless, the change of road name was sufficiently exciting for our first time on this famed road. Our first stop was Point Addis, a panoramic viewpoint perched on a coastal cliff. The view was magnificent, and the weather was perfect.

This part of the trail is part of the 44km Surf Coast Walk, which starts from Torquay and traces the coast to Aireys Inlet. We made it just down to touch the sand then headed back to the car. Not a day for that much walking.

Split Point Lighthouse

2:30pm – Next up, Split Point Lighthouse. The road leading up to the lighthouse was lined with cute looking houses. We had a quick look around the lighthouse but did not go up for the tour.

Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch at Eastern View

3:00pm – 33km into the Great Ocean Road (from the east), a monument to mark the start. This arch commemorates the efforts of soldiers who built the Great Ocean Road after World War I.

Teddy’s Lookout

3:30pm – At Lorne, we made a slight detour inland to head up to Teddy’s Lookout. The roads up were so steep that we thought the houses along the roads were slanted, when it was us that were leaning hard. From Teddy’s Lookout, there were sweeping views of the ocean on one side, and endless hills stretching inland on the other.

Sheoak Falls

By then it was starting to get late (the sun sets early in May). We skipped Erskine Falls as it was quite a detour in and required some hiking time, and headed for Sheoak Falls instead as it was much less of a detour inland. We made it to Erskine Falls on the way back to Melbourne, more on it in the next post.

4:00pm – The carpark and start of the trail to Sheoak Falls is just a turn off the Great Ocean Road. The trail starts parallel to the Great Ocean Road then heads inland on a peaceful walk among tall grass. For those looking for something more, there’s a trail that extends to Swallow Cave along the way. Sheoak Falls isn’t a particularly large or spectacular waterfalls, but it was a tranquil and calming spot. Far enough from the traffic and just what we needed on what had been a pretty packed day so far.

Mount Defiance Lookout

4:50pm – This was a small lookout perched on a cliff next to the Great Ocean Road. There didn’t appear to be much to see here though, and we had some fun having some group shots with the car here.


6:20pm – It was too dark after that so we headed straight through Apollo Bay to our Airbnb at Johanna. We were slightly apprehensive on the drive in as it was unpaved and pitch dark. All our apprehension disappeared as we stepped into our home for the next few days and open the door to the balcony. There was hardly anything left to see, but that last bit of light was enough to leave us in awe.

Johanna, Great Ocean Road. Victoria, Australia.

The Perch at Lavers Hill

7:30pm – After we settled down and started to get hungry, we did a quick search and found that there was only one place nearby still available for dinner. We weren’t sure what to expect on the short drive up to Lavers Hill. We seemed to be the last diners for the day and it felt almost like a private dining experience with us almost outnumbering the staff. The service and ambience was great, and we enjoyed our first round of food so much that we added another round of mussels, despite being almost full. The menu at The Perch appears to be seasonal, and prices was slightly on the high side, but in my opinion good value given the location, quality and service.

Melba Gully

8:45pm – After the amazing dinner we headed slightly further down the Great Ocean Road to Melba Gully for the legendary glow worms. The road in and carpark were unlit, and all that was visible was the limited range of our torches. We were the only ones down to Melba Gully that day so everything was dead quiet. This was emphasized when our car’s engine was switched off. While the entrance to the trail would normally be very visible from the car park, we took minutes to locate it in the dark, at times even losing sight of each other. Good thing we had our torches with us, but unfortunately that was the only thing we had prepped for the night ahead.

Not for the uninitiated

It was like one of those orientation night walks where you pretty much have no idea where you’re heading, except this time there’s no one to watch out for you and no one to call out to for help. Or at least we hoped there was no one watching. We didn’t see any glow worms with our torches on most of the time, as we didn’t dare to keep our torches off long enough to spot any. It was a memorable experience though, fumbling our way through the dark, seeing nothing much beyond what was immediately ahead, yet still hearing and feeling the forest all around. The limited use of our sense of sight brought the forest a lot closer to our other senses.

We completed a round of our night walk uneventfully in about an hour. Exhausted from the adrenaline, we decided to call it a night. still excited and just a little disappointed.

Back at Johanna

Our Airbnb was a cozy house in a clearing of the forest, completely dark all around. However with the comfort of the house just steps away and the owner in the adjoining house, we felt more at comfort in the dark and I managed to get some shots of the Milky Way above the trees. The day and night didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but it was nonetheless filled with plenty of good memories.

Night sky above Johanna, Victoria. Great Ocean Road, Australia.

Day 2 on the Great Ocean Road/ Day 4 on the road/ Chasing waterfalls at Great Otway National Park

We woke up to this amazing view of the forest and mist over the ocean at sunrise. This view we had every morning would have been enough reason to return to Johanna, not to mention the coziness of the house and the hospitality of our host.

Apollo Bay Bakery

9:30am – Our first stop of the day was Apollo Bay, a slight backtrack from the previous day. Top priority was scallop pies from Apollo Bay Bakery. The weather, coffee and pies were on point. In fact, they got us so excited that I didn’t manage to get any pictures of our food. Since we were in Apollo Bay, we grabbed snacks and sandwiches for lunch and groceries for a cook out that night.

Moonlight View/ Evans Track

We then headed back to our Airbnb to freshen up a little before starting on our day in the forests and waterfalls.

Triplet Falls

12:30pm – First of the falls, Triplet Falls. It felt amazing just being in the forests again, surrounded by tall trees and lush carpets of fern. We went for the shorter route which was about an hour for a return hike.

The walk to the falls is not difficult but there were steps at some parts. Unlike the other waterfalls on this trip, Triplet Falls doesn’t end at one tall, straight drop. Rather, it spans three falls over several levels. The (relatively) expansive Triplet Falls was also partially hidden from the viewing platform by the thick foliage, creating a slightly different scene from the other waterfalls.

Along the way, other than the tall trees, thick ferns and fallen trees, there were other interesting sights. Such as this log oozing with sap and an incredibly large trunk, inadequately captured here.

There were also some abandoned equipment from when a timber sawmill operated in the forest, over a hundred years ago.

We took our time and completed the loop in about an hour an a half, though the expected time indicated at the entrance was an hour.

Californian Redwoods

2:30pm – Next, the Californian Redwoods of Great Otway National Park. We were getting hungry when we arrived so we had our little picnic at the picnic area next to the carpark of the Californian Redwoods. The picnic area here was also much more inviting than the one at the Triplet Falls carpark. With our lovely picnic done it was time for taller tales. From the carpark/ picnic area there were no trails in, just some signs in the general direction.

From just beyond the redwoods area, everything didn’t look too different from the rest of the forest around it. I might even have missed it if not for the sign indicating Californian Redwoods – Sequoia Sempervirens by the edge. As I stepped past the first few trees, I got slightly concerned about whether the trip all the way there would be worth it. The trunks, while incredibly tall, were nowhere near the girth of those these species was known for.

Another few more steps in, and perhaps upon the arrival of the right hour, something magical started to begin. It was as if we had stepped through a portal to another world, past the trees at the front. Despite the crowds that had gathered just outside, the space inside felt different. Sacred, where everyone treaded carefully. The setting sun streaked through the gaps between the trunks, and the forest air created a dense, almost tangible atmosphere. It would take much more than words and pictures to replicate that experience. Nonetheless, I hopefully these unedited photos might give a hint of it.

About the Californian Redwoods of Great Otway National Park

These trees were planted as an experiment in the 1930s, and were abandoned when they didn’t grow as quickly as hoped for. Left to their devices, they grew, and grew. Some day, they might reach the size of their Californian siblings. Though it wasn’t a large area, we spent almost an hour soaking up the magic. Stepped right back to reality just beyond the woods. Slightly off schedule, but worth every minute.

Hopetoun Falls

3:45pm – Just a short drive away from the Californian Redwoods of Great Otway National Park is Hopetoun Falls. There’s an upper viewing platform just 20m from the carpark, and a lower viewing deck about 200 steps below. It’s about a half hour round trip to the bottom and back. The setting of this 30m tall waterfall was perfect, nestled among fallen trunks and dense foliage. As the rays of the setting sun had long faded by then, the subsequent shots are pretty washed out.

Beauchamp Falls

4:45pm – It was getting dark by then and we were contemplating skipping Beauchamp Falls, our last waterfall for the day. However, as we had to pass it to get back, we decided to stop for a quick look. A pair of helpful hikers informed us that the falls were not too far away, and so we did a fast walk to Beauchamp Falls. At approximately 20m, Beauchamp Falls is shorter than Hopetoun Falls, but the trail to get there is significantly longer. Similar to the other forest walks, the trail to Beauchamp Falls was beautiful.

The viewing platform was close enough to the waterfall to feel its magnificence but far enough to stay dry. The soaring trees at the top of the waterfall contrasted with the deep green ferns covered cliffs over which the waterfall hurtled. It seems possible to head down to the bottom for an even closer view, but we were happy to turn back at the viewing platform as it was getting late.

After another fast hike out we had a quick toilet break before all became dark. The carpark at Beauchamp Falls appeared to be also a campground. Its position on top of a hill provided a panorama to the hills beyond. We completed our hike in about 45 minutes. Not exactly a fast timing but fast relative to the pace at which we were enjoying the earlier stops that day.

As it got dark, we headed back to our accommodation at Johanna for a barbecue on the balcony under the stars. The cooking didn’t turn out so well as we had to improvise with equipment, but the location and company was perfect.

Melba Gully revisited – Glow worms galore

10:30pm – We did some reading up on glow worms earlier that day and sought advice from our host. After dinner we felt confident at a second shot in the dark. Literally. The carpark was no less creepy, and so was the trail, all being in total darkness. Just beyond the start of the trail, where mud walls rose to the left, we decided to turn off our torches, and wait. Not for the glow worms to start their show, but for our eyes to adjust. At first, a weak twinkling that was hard to be certain of. And then another. And another. Soon there was no doubt, that the glow worms were all over the gully walls.

It was nothing like we saw in the pictures where the worms were so bright and distinct. More like tiny little land stars waiting for those with enough patience. The rough camera settings camera brought out their brightness a little more (mostly longer exposure), but I would suggest not to expect anything close to a Instagram worthy view with just your naked eyes. We didn’t move further down the trail and had lots of fun and awe just from the spot we first saw them. With our curiosity satisfied and limbs starting to feel the cold, it was time to call it a night.

Halfway along the Great Ocean Road

There was so much I had came to Australia to see that was done this day – scallop pies, forest walks, waterfalls (lots of them), witnessing Californian Redwoods, and seeing glow worms up close. I don’t think there could be any more that I could ask for, but the company with which I made those amazing memories with was what made everything perfect.

In the next post, we continue on our Great Ocean Road road trip, heading for the coastal formations all the way down the coast, then a couple more stops on the way back to Melbourne.

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