Otways Link Walk
(joining the Surf Coast and Great Ocean Walks)

Mogg's Creek Reserve to Lorne (13 km)

The Surf Coast Walk was now behind us and the Great Ocean Walk lay ahead - it was time to find a way to link the two. Our first destination in the day that remained was Lorne. With a bit of help from the GPS, we picked the right trail of several options that would lead us back to the coast from Mogg's Creek Reserve. It passed beneath pleasant tall woodland; pleasant in the sense that the birds were singing on high and the morning sun filtered through the canopy to dapple the forest floor. However, all too soon we were back amongst the beach houses of Eastern View and crossing the Great Ocean Road again to continue westward along the long beach. The tide was by now well out and the wet firm sand allowed for fast progress; moreover, the soft roar of the surf drowned out the sound of traffic on the Great Ocean Road that parallelled the beach.

Across the road lay a series of beach houses built into the steep back dunes, their styles varying from the banal to the vertiginous, while beyond in the distance the houses of Lorne crept up the forested hillsides.

Soon we passed the Memorial Arch, erected to commemorate the returned WW1 soldiers who built this road between 1918 and 1932 to link the isolated coastal towns - I wonder if they ever dreamt it might turn into a world -reknowned tourist icon.

The road ahead - view down Fairhaven Beach to Big Hill and distant Lorne

Ahead, the Great Ocean Road began to wind up the slope of Cinema Point and head away from the coast. Our path lay directly at the base of the rocky point and beyond; the cliffs of Big Hill being our first potential barrier, but a much better option than climbing over the top of the steep sloped hill. Passing a few rock fishermen, we quickly rounded the point, crossed the boulder-strewn bed of a small inlet and climbed up on to the rock platform beneath the impressive grey and tan wind- and wave-sculpted cliffs of Big Hill.

Channel in the rock platform

Looking toward Cinema Point

Approaching the eroded sandstone cliffs of Big Hill

The passage was much easier than we had been led to believe, but then this was low tide! The path led us across flattish sandstone platforms, spattered with darker "cannonballs" hurled out of some long vanished volcano into the sands, or the spherical hollows of the impression they once made. At places we had to pick our way across rubble fields of jagged boulders fallen from above and strangely honeycombed by the action of the sea, or at times, working our way around the deep channels that cut into the platform and down which the ocean swells surged.

Drive shaft and wheels of a "drop-in" from
the road above

Crossing the jumble of sandstone boulders at the base of Big Hill

Volcanic cannonballs

Rusting engine block on the rocks

It was not only rocks that fell from above - the occasional rusting remnants of engine blocks, drive shafts and other bits of vehicular metal testified to the explosive impact that a fall from 80m can have on a car! Looking up the daliesque carved cliff face, I began to empathise with Chicken Little.

Finally, we emerged on to a stretch of shelly sand beach; time for a pause in the warm spring sun knowing that the incoming tide could not stop us from here. Still, as we continued on past Big Hill Creek and Cathedral Rock along a mixture of sand, flat rock platform and the odd jumble of boulders, we realised that this is definitely a low tide pathway. I would not like to be here at high tide with a strong-south westerly blowing. A gaggle of rock fisherman signalled our arrival at Lorne and all that remained was a stroll along the sandy beach of Loutit Bay, and then along the boardwalk that followed the tannin-stained Erskine River upstream to our accommodation for the night, the Lorne YHA.

The rock and beach combo shoreline near Cathedral Rock

The rock platform meets the beach

Rock-fishing in absentia

Reflections in the dark waters of the Erskine River

Suspension footbridge across the Erskine River at Lorne

Lorne YHA resident

The boys give the fair Nello a hand to pack our supplies

Our early start led to an early finish and another afternoon relaxing in the pleasant gardens of the YHA, where white cockatoos, king parrots and rosellas come down to feed out of the hands of the guests. In addition, tomorrow would be a rest day, time to restock, organise the next stage from Lorne to Apollo Bay and give our tired feet a well-earned rest.

Lorne to Cumberland River (18 km)

Light grey cloud covered the sky as set off, climbing steadily up through the houses of Lorne to reach the forested hills beyond. Some blue sky appeared, followed by another band of grey - it was to be the pattern for the day, but we considered ourselves fortunate. Yesterday had been a day of frequent drenching showers and squally winds; it had been our "shifting" day when we restocked supplies for the next three nights, dropped them off at our planned stopovers and caught the bus back from Apollo Bay to Lorne. It was a good day to be in the car - today was a good day for walking!

Taller Otways forest

We were now in the Otways proper and the trees were much taller here and were filled with the sounds of forest birds - chirps, twitters, the odd harsh cry and lots of sweet whistling. Reaching the Allendale campgrounds, we left the road and followed a well-marked footpath that flanked a small stream, ambitiously called the St George River, in the direction of Phantom Falls. In contrast to the Surf Coast Walk, all tracks here were clearly signed, but then this is a popular day-walking region.

The bowerbird lurking behind his bower

Black wallaby watching us pass by

More magnificent forest flora

A low chirring noise at the side of the track alerted the fair Nello to our first "treat" for the day - a few metres away was the sleakly dark blue form of a male bowerbird tending his bower, decorated with the requisite objects of blue to attract his next lady love. Passing by a small farmlet in the forest (someone's little bit of paradise), we climbed steeply up a 4WD track for a comfortable stroll to Phantom Falls (the Otways are reknowned for the large number of small waterfalls and cascades hidden away in its deep valleys).

Passing by an old cottage in the forest

The 20m high Phantom Falls

St George River below the falls

At Phantom Falls, the stream dropped 20m down a sheer rock face into a small plunge pool, before flowing off down a lushly vegetated valley. It was a good spot to spend a bit of time exploring the top and bottom of the falls.

Leaving the falls, we climbed back into the the drier more open forest of the ridgelines along a wide track. This led us to The Canyon, a narrow rock-walled gully guarded by a small natural tunnel entry. Climbing down and through, we meandered along a muddy path between moss-covered boulders and tall tree ferns, and past the giant eucalypts that grew in this dim and humid environment.

Nello entering the tunnel to The Canyon

Tree fern in black and white

Ear fungi

Inside The Canyon ....

... where the trees grow tall ..

... and treeferns abound

After a while, we crossed the stream, climbing steadily out along the far edge of the fern-filled gully, the stately trunks of giant eucalypts emerging from the green fernery to reach for the canopy and towering over the mid-layer of tall myrtle and other temperate rainforest trees.

The trees grow tall in an Otways gully ...

... as do the tree-ferns

In the mossy trunk of an Otways giant

On reaching a junction in the track, we took off our packs and headed up a short detour in yet another dimly-lit fern-filled gully to the Henderson Falls, smaller than the Phantom Falls, but still magnificent in their shady grotto, lined with tall ancient tree-ferns. Here we had our second treat - a cluster of small and delicate epiphytic orchids clinging to a tree fern trunk. It was a good spot for a break.

Reflections in a rainforest pool

Henderson Falls in their ferny grotto

A cluster of epiphytic orchids


The tiny delicate bloom of the orchid

Out of the rainforest and into the tall sclerophyll

Retracing our steps, we picked up our packs and headed southward, passing the Won Wondah Cascades and gradually entering a dryer and more open vegetation as the gully widened out. The microhabitats of the Otways change quickly. Crossing the ridge, the track led us down again to the She Oak picnic area for lunch. Refuelled, we continued our southward push towards Castle Rock.

Purple pea-flower in full bloom

The currawong who came to lunch

A long and steep climb took us up to the top of a dry ridge, where much shorter eucalypts emerged from a sub-canopy of wattles in bloom. Leaving our packs at the junction again, we made a long detour out along the ridge to the lookout of Castle Rock, with its impressive views over the Cumberland River mouth and the ocean. Below us (only 400m away) lay the cabins of Cumberland River Reserve, our home for the night.

View over the Cumberland River mouth and
camping reserve

Wattle understorey in bloom


Our first koala sighting

Sadly, this was as the crow flies and the sheer cliff face prevented any shortcuts, so it was 2km back to the track to pick up our packs and head further west along the ridge, before a narrow footpath led us steeply down into the river valley. Again the vegetation changed quickly, becoming lusher and taller. On the way down, our third threat awaited - we spotted three koalas perched sleepily in their gum trees, one only about 20m away and low enough for us to sit and watch each other for several minutes.

The beautiful valley of the Cumberland River


Reaching the valley floor, we entered a beautiful world of giant eucalypts and fern-filled flats, with the babbling waters of the Cumberland flowing down over its rocky bed - the sun emerged again to make the setting perfect.

Crossing the river back and forth several times on stones or logs, we followed it down as the rock walls of the canyon closed in, before finally emerging into the grassy setting of the camp grounds.

The boulder-strewn river bed

Small cascade on the Cumberland

The gorge walls close in

Final crossing of the Cumberland River

Here we could relax on the deck of our cabin, sipping a Cascade Green, while looking back up to Castle Rock. It had been a long way down to get here from there, but to experience the superb landscape of the Cumberland River made it well worthwhile. The day had been a great introduction to the waterfalls and majestic forests and valleys of the Otway Ranges.

Cumberland River to Kennett River (26 km - a hard day at the office)

Every long walk has its one "off" day; where weather or events don't go quite as planned or the body rebels from the continuous demands placed on it. Such was today. A front had passed through in the evening, bringing showers and squally wind. That was no problem as we were sitting cosily in front of the heater of our cabin and by next morning the rain had passed. The dark mood lingered, however; the sky was overcast and the air heavy with unfallen moisture.

Our plan was to head up the Cumberland Track, indicated on our map as a 4WD management track. Perhaps 20 years ago, but apparently it has been "decommissioned" by The National Park authorities and is now almost completely overgrown. The campground manager told us that members of the Geelong Bushwalking Club had spent time clearing the track last autumn and marking it with ribbons - it sounded good so we set off, climbing steeply out of the campground. The track was certainly narrow, but relatively clear and the regular appearance of eye-level red tape allowed us to proceed with confidence. Fallen tree-trunks had been chain-sawed, if small, or steps cut in, if large; the track was tight but smooth, so thanks, Geelong bushwalkers - your efforts are appreciated!

Dense forest of the Cumberland Ridge

The welcome sight of a red tape track marker

The fair Nello beneath the wattle

The "track" along the ridgeline

The odd bird sang and a low growl in the canopy alerted us to the fact that this is koala country, though we weren't to see any till we had finished the day's walk. On reaching the ridge, the track began to follow the line of undulating knobs and saddles deeper into the interior of the Otways; far out to our left we caught the odd glimpse of the ocean through the trees, while to the right we looked down into the wooded depths of the Upper Cumberland Valley. However, as we picked our way along the ridge, our attention became increasingly focussed on the track itself; the red ribbons became rarer and it was clear that that track maintenance had ended. The undergrowth and vegetation became increasing dense and the actual path fainter - we seemed to spend as much time walking crouched over to avoid the overhanging branches as walking upright, or clambering over obstacles and detouring past fallen limbs. Our pace slowed and at times we needed to stop to hunt out the next red ribbon in places where physical traces of the actual track had been obliterated.

Our walk was rapidly becoming a bushbash - our clothes and packs being snagged by intruding branches - but kept on line by the trace of the GPS and the regular and gratefully spotted ribbons - the red by this time joined by the occasional yellow ribbon (and not an old oak tree in sight). We were gradually climbing and the forest floor was becoming wetter and thicker - tree-ferns became more common and the eucalypts were taller.

At one stage, the ribbons seemed to vanish, but we kept on the course of the faint and overgrown pathway using the GPS. When we did spot red tapes again, we happily started following them, only to realise that they were taking us northward and away from our route. Retracking our steps using the GPS, we found the "true" Cumberland Track, now marked by the occasional orange tape, and pushed on westward.

A little bit of bush-bashing

At last a clear run on an old forestry road

Great was our relief to suddenly emerge onto an old 4WD vehicular track and be able to walk at a normal pace with heads held high. It had taken 4 hours to push through 10 km of dense forest undergrowth, and for the first time we could look around as we walked and appreciate the beauty of the Otway Forest, with its magnificent tall eucalypts, sub-forest of tall wattle and myrtle and dense understorey of ferns and woody shrubs.

Now where was that track?

The track took us quickly to the junction of the dirt Wye Road, at 450m our highest point in these rugged mountains (which rarely rise above 500m). Feeling fairly energy -depleted we stopped for some lunch, but could not dally too long. We were already an hour behind schedule, a schedule determined by the incoming tide that threatened to block the last phase of today's walk.

So began a relentless fast walk for the next 2 hours down the winding Wye Road, passing through the different forest ecotones as we lost altitude and moisture on our approach to the coast. Finally, we emerged in the holiday village of Wye River, passing through the beach houses to step onto the sand just before the mouth Separation Creek.

Finally we reach the coast at Wye River

Silhouette of a rainforest tree

Wye River road - our route to the coast

The surf was up and the tide had already been on the rise for 3 hours, forcing us to push on quickly, with little time for a rest. Passing Wye River itself, we picked our way around the rocks of Point Sturt for one final 5 km push along the shoreline - partly on flat rock platforms already running with tidal surges, partly on sandy beaches, driven high by the incoming waves, and partly crossing jumbles of dark tanl-coloured and strangely etched sandstone boulders that had fallen from above.

Old pier stumps at Wye River

Boulder-strewn headland near Point Sturt

Big seas at the rock platform

Pacific gulls

Kennett River mouth

The peaceful setting of Kennett River

Sooty oystercatcher

Our feet were sore and aching by the time we reached Kennett River and our cabin for the night, some 8½ hours and 26 km since leaving Cumberland River. The greeting committee of koalas, several with joeys, plus king parrots, crimson rosellas and wood ducks hoping for a hand out, welcomed us in.

The welcoming committee at Kennett River

We certainly had variety today, from picking our way through dense undergrowth to picking our way along a narrow rim of hard-edged boulders on a fast-incoming tide. Still there was a strong sense of achievement and we now have a good feel for the deep interior of the Otways. Tonight we would sleep very well - if the koalas that live in and around the camp ground don't carry on too much with their grunting and growling foreplay in the trees, that is.

Kennett River to Skene's Creek
(18 km)

We had spent virtually all of the last two days exploring the interior of the Otway Coast. Today was to be devoted to a walk along the the beaches and rock platforms of its rugged shoreline - and so it almost was. We had a late start, bidding farewell to Kennett River's koalas and heading on to the sandy beach at 10am - no point setting out when the tide is too high. It was a pleasant walking day, warmish with quite a bit of cloud and enough sunny breaks to warrant walking in shorts for the first time.

Big surf at Kennett River

Curiously etched and weathered sandstone rocks near Point Hawdon

With a final glimpse back at the Otway hills plunging into the ocean, we rounded Point Hawdon and began our walk across the soft sand beaches and curiously channelled and tesselated rock platforms beneath Mt Meuron to reach the mouth of the Grey River. The river was not much more than a trickle across the intertidal zone, flowing through a bed of tumble-rounded boulders covered in bright green algae. This was to be the signature of many of the small creeks flowing out into the ocean.

Algae-covered rocks at the mouth of
the Grey River

Crossing a wide rock platform ...

... dotted with old volcanic "cannon balls" .....

.... and their imprints

Rounding the rock face of Cape Patton ....

Blue heron

After watching the big surf roll in for a while, we headed due south along a pleasant sandy beach, where a lone surfer was getting ready to try out the big waves, to reach the wide rock platform at the foot of Cape Patton.

Aaah, Cape Patton, so deceptive you are - from the east a gentle slope leading to a wide flat band of rock, but once round the bend, you constrict to a sheer 50m cliff face with nothing but the ocean waves crashing against you. We were blocked - a 10m wide gap in the platform, filled with the foaming maelstrom of surging waves that broke against the cliff face, not passable now, at low tide or ever, unless you have spiderman capabilities. The only alternative was to walk the Great Ocean Road over the top of Cape Patton.

Fur seal at full speed

Frustrated we retreated, only to disturb a fur seal basking on the rocks, who dashed madly for the safety of the wild ocean swells. It was the first of two such close encounters.

.... only to reach an impassable gap

Little pied cormorant

Our map showed that a 4WD track led up to the road from above the platform, but it hid from us so we simply bashed our way up, through and under the dense coastal heath to reach the road. The one advantage of walking on the verge of the road was that our pace picked up, the other was that we got a chance to see a convoy of vintage cars pass by. With no earlier escape, we followed the road down for 2km to beach level at Orchard Creek.

View of our path westward from Cape Patton

Enough said!

The asphalt track - descending from Cape Patton

It was pleasant to be back on the sand again and, for a while, we were able to walk down a longish beach in a quasi-meditational state, accompanied by the steady roar of the surf as the big swells rolled in from the Southern Ocean. However, beaches in in this part of the world are relatively short and rounding Sugarloaf Hill, we began a procession of passages across broad strangely etched flat rock platforms, pockmarked with hollows of varying sizes, and where the tidal waters followed curious pathways along narrow and shallow cross-linked channels to return to the sea.

View over the big ocean swells back to Cape Patton

The solitude of the long-distance beachwalker

Occasionally a jumble of rounded green-algae covere d boulders marked another creek mouth and occasionally we were forced to pick our way carefully around headlands barred by stacks of jagged-edged sandstone boulders, as the waves crashed onto their bases. Both of us ended up with cut hands or fingers, from momentary periods of disequilibration while crossing these sharp obstacles. The tide had now turned and at times chased us up to the soft sand of the higher beach or forced us to wait between surges when crossing a wider channel in the platforms.

The intense green of algae

There were easy sandy sections, but we often found ourselves ...

.... crossing yet another jumble of jaggedly eroded rocks

Another rocky spur to get around

Our second fur seal encounter

Almost at Skene's Creek

So, between periods of zen on the sandy stretches and intense focus on the sharp rocks we made our way westward on this wild and isolated coastline of southern Australia - how strange to be doing this as the world financial systems melt down around us! Despite the fact that there always seemed to be another small headland, we finally reached Skene's Creek and its beachfront caravan park. It had been a tiring but satisfying walk - there is some primal attraction to the ocean and its power. That night we celebrated with a quiet candle-lit dinner - what else could we do, the power supply to our on-site van had blown!!

Skene's Creek to Apollo Bay (11.5 km)

It was the perfect spring day - blue skies, light breeze and a few billowing white clouds drifting across. It was also a short walking day ("about time" says the fair Nello!) so we had the luxury of a sleep in and a late start. It was back on the beach for a quick stroll down the sand and flat rock platforms at the northern end of the bay, crossing Skene's Creek in two quick leaps with the aid of a carefully lobbed rock. The hills to our right were a rich pasture green and, on reaching Wild Dog Creek, we turned inland to explore this new landscape by doing the reverse route of a walk described in the Geelong Bushwalking Club's well-written guide to "Walking the Otways".

Wild Dog Creek carves its way across the sand to reach the sea

"Binnawee" homestead

Tranquilly green

Wild Dog Road was tarred, but quiet, and we made quick progress up the creek valley to reach the entry to "Binnawee" property. The landscapes were largely transformed from the natural bush to grazing pastures and, on crossing the bridge over Wild Dog Creek, we found ourselves walking across a paddock of shin-high, dew-covered, lush green grass - a rare sight in drought-stressed south-eastern Australia.

Ascending the shady grove of Old Tuxion Road

Lush pastoral landscape north of Apollo Bay

In fact we were also walking on what was the Old Tuxion Road, which upon crossing a gully and passing through a gate, led us steeply up a ridgeline. It was a hot and sweaty climb in the lee of the breeze, but the track passed beneath the welcome shade of honey-scented myrtles, tall daisy bushes and other flowering trees that once formed part of a dense forest. In fact, across the gully to our left, the slopes still had the native vegetation, a rich tapestry of shades and textures of green as the vegetation changed from gully floor to ridgeline.

A little bit of bush restoration in the hills of Binnawee

The rich tapestry of an Otways forest

Reaching a flattish area, we stopped to take a break and admire the sweeping panorama of inland forest, green pastured hills and the deep blue ocean. We also admired the fact the the local landholder had been restoring the native vegetation on this exposed hill top. Passing through another gate, the track faded a bit as it traversed a dense thickets of flowering wattles and other woody shrubs, before re-emerging into the open grasslands and climbing to the the high point of 345m, The Crow's Nest Lookout, with even more sweeping and spectacular views of forest, pastured hills and ocean. We didn't see any crows but a wedge-tailed eagle did soar past high above us.

Looking eastward from the Crow's Nest

The road from here was all downhill and well-formed gravel. On the way, we stopped to chat to a pleasant bloke who showed us through the old woolshed that he was transforming into very comfortable accommodation with panoramic views to be pitched at the bushwalking fraternity. A great idea and good luck to him.

Halfway down the Old Tuxion Road, we took a steeper shortcut, directly down the ridgeline with sweeping views over Apollo Bay township and the surrounding coastline and country - what more pleasant spot to stop and have a slow lunch in the spring sunshine.

Overlooking Apollo Bay and the town of the same name

From here, we quickly descended to the town and headed through its streets to the very modern and "green" YHA Ecolodge, which sets the standard for the next generation of youth hostels. Our linking stage was complete; hard in parts, but rewarding with experiences of the coastal and interior landscapes of the Otways, both rugged and both beautiful in their own ways. It was time for a day's break to recuperate spent energy before at last tackling the Great Ocean Walk itself.