Melbourne is overflowing with accessible off-road destinations. Here is pick three of our five favourites: The Otways.
NOT much more than an hour from Melbourne, via one of the world’s best coastal drives (the Great Ocean Road), you’ll find the Otways, comprising Great Otway National Park, Anglesea Heath and Otway Forest Park.
This area borders Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean to the south, and pushes north from the rugged coastline and its many beaches into mountainous forested terrain that contains lush rainforest, a number of waterfalls, lakes, plenty of tracks, great campsites (both coastal and forest; camper trailer access at most) and brilliant viewpoints.
As well as touring and camping, there are a number of bushwalks in the area (including the beautiful Great Ocean Walk), beach fishing (make sure you have a recreational fishing permit, see vfa.vic.gov.au/recreational-fishing/fishing-licence), cycle touring (the 45km Old Beechy Rail Trail, from Colac to Beech Forest Ridge, is a family-friendly ride that can be broken into shorter sections) and loads of mountain biking opportunities at the township of Forrest, which has a 60km MTB trail network.
A number of vehicle tracks in the park are closed seasonally (most tracks close at the start of June and reopen November 1 each year; check parkweb.vic.gov.au), with most tracks being relatively straightforward (barring Denham Track). For those looking for a spring-through-autumn destination that is super close to the city, the Otways is up there as one of the best weekend getaways in Australia.
The Great Ocean Road town of Anglesea is the most popular access point and also allows you to stock up on any last-minute or forgotten supplies before heading to the hills. You can do this virtually straight from town, heading slightly northwest to join Coalmine Road, or you can access the popular Denham Track via Mt Ingoldsby Road. Denham Track is the more challenging route into the park and we’d recommend a vehicle with low range, owing to this track’s sandy ascent early on.
This track winds its way up and northwest for around 12km from the gate, eventually joining the No.2 Track. If you are heading for Hammonds Campground, turn right here and continue along No.2 Track before coming to a junction. Hammonds Campground is further northwest from here, along Bambra-Aireys Inlet Road (with a short turn onto Hammonds Road just before the campground), or turn left (south) if you want to have lunch or just check out Distillery Creek Picnic Area.
Some of the park’s bushwalks leave from here, too. The Hammonds Campground is first-in, best dressed in terms of grabbing a site, but it is a large cleared area (Parks Vic estimates room for 20 ‘sites’) that has toilets, fireplaces (bring your own wood) and picnic tables. However, there’s no available water, so remember to bring your own. If you’re keen on making a full weekend of this park but want to explore as much as you can, there’s the option to loop onto Hammond Road northwest to Deans Marsh-Lorne Road to visit Big Hill Campground. This campground can also be reached from the Great Ocean Road via Big Hill Track, another dirt-road climb that also closes over winter.
Big Hill Campground offers 12 to 20 sites (depending on how many camper trailers vs tents), is free, and is another first-in, best dressed scenario. Both Big Hill and Hammonds are very popular in-season. For those looking for a touch more remoteness and fewer campers, your best bet is to head south from Big Hill campground to Jamieson Track Campground via Deans Marsh-Lorne Road and the Great Ocean Road. This small bush camping area has minimal facilities and is 4x4-access only.
It is in between Lorne and Wye River, inside Great Otway NP, and just north of the Great Ocean Road and beside pretty Jamieson Creek. The track of the same name also offers access into the middle section of park, so if you’re keen for a ‘quieter’ first night, aim for this pristine campsite on the first day from Melbourne.
For those with an extra couple of days, it’s worth continuing from the middle section of the park to its western borders. There are spectacular waterfalls (Triplet, Hopetoun and Beauchamp Falls) in the north and great camping at Aire River in the south, just inland from the coast and along both sides (east and west; close to 100 sites all-up) of the river.
Canoeists and kayakers can explore this waterway, and the fishing is great. Aire River Beach is a short drive (or long walk) from the campsite, too, so beach fishing (or boat; there’s a ramp at the east campground) and swimming are also popular activities.
To do the Otways justice it’s best to divide the east and west sections into two different weekends away. The bonus is you are guaranteed a mix of landscapes (forest, beach, waterfalls and rivers), campsites and driving conditions on both occasions, and you’ll see something new each time. Not bad at all.
Want more Melbourne City 4x4 escapes?