The Great Ocean Road is ground zero for adventurous souls: go chasing waterfalls, investigate eerie lakes, trek across deserted beaches, or set off on a multi-day canoeing trip through a remote and little-known area of natural beauty. These eight Great Ocean Road activities are sure to please even the most demanding travellers.
1. Waterfall spotting, Lorne
With a glut of natural attractions on its doorstep, Lorne is a hotspot for outdoors enthusiasts. And where this locality really excels is waterfalls; venture off the beaten track and into the verdant hinterland and you’ll unearth a number of beautiful cascades.
To reach Phantom Falls, with its rocky, sun-dappled plunge pool, you’ll need to drive 10 minutes out of Lorne, cross a river, skirt around the edge of a private orchard, and clear some steep sections that pass through bushland before arriving at the top of the falls. It’s a 90-minute walk (return) and the waterfall is at its most impressive after rain. Another of the region’s frontrunners, fit for the adventurous and in-shape hiker only, is Cora Lynn Cascades. Shrouded by tree ferns and mossy rocks, this series of waterfalls is reachable only by a two-hour walk (return) through a hilly rainforest full of towering gum trees, ensuring you’ll rub shoulders with few other souls.
2. Mountain biking, Forrest
With more than a dozen trails, Forrest is an overachiever when it comes to mountain biking. There are four trails graded black diamond (very difficult) to conquer, ensuring veteran bikers won’t get bored. But beginners aren’t left out either, as there’s an array of easier blue square and green circle trails, too.
Not only will you get a high from hitting the twisting technical climbs, fast flowing descents and plentiful jumps, but riders on Forrest’s mountain biking trails can also gorge on the scenery: think walls of tea tree, towering eucalypt forests, open scrubland and dense fern gullies, plus views over the Barwon River valley and Forrest township.
3. Lake Elizabeth, The Otways
This eerily beautiful perched lake, hidden away in the thick of the Great Otway National Park, is ripe for exploring. Its tranquil waters are dotted with the trunks of dead trees which were drowned when the valley was flooded more than 50 years ago, and is encircled by dense forest.
Not only is it a beautiful pitstop for photos, but those with more time up their sleeves can linger for longer, taking the scenic Lake Elizabeth Loop Walk – a grade two hike that takes around 90 minutes to complete – or by spending the night in the serene national park campground. Swing by at dusk and you may even spy glowworms and the elusive platypus. Otway Eco Tours offers a Paddle with the Platypus canoe tour of Lake Elizabeth that boasts a 95 per cent success rate for sighting the monotreme.
3. Hiking, The Great Ocean Walk
Trace this blustery and raw coastline on foot and you’ll unveil much more hidden beauty than a drive-by could ever offer. Stretching more than 110 kilometres, The Great Ocean Walk has become something of an Aussie icon.
Those game enough to have a crack at the entire stretch will need to set aside eight days, but if you’re pressed for time there’s a range of short, day, and multi-day hikes to check out instead.
Walking from east to west the hike culminates at the 12 Apostles, taking in a multitude of terrains and scenery. You’ll traverse pristine beaches only accessible from The Great Ocean Walk, pass through two national parks (Great Otway National Park and Port Campbell National Park) alive with flora and fauna, spot the rusted remains of shipwrecks that litter the coastline (some dating all the way back to the mid-1800s), cross coastal heathlands, forests and creeks, and devour panoramic views from wind-whipped clifftops.
There are seven small hike-in campsites to stay at en route, which must be booked prior to walking. If you’d rather leave the organisation to someone else, several operators offer guided hikes along The Great Ocean Walk, including the eco-certified RAW Travel.
4. Skydiving the 12 Apostles, Peterborough
Have a head for heights? Or looking to test your limits? Try jumping out of a prop plane from an altitude of up to 15,000 feet. After the initial freefall, plummeting at speeds that top more than 200 kilometres an hour, you’ll spend close to 10 minutes parachuting gently back towards terra firma. Gorge on breathtaking bird’s-eye views of this famed coastline in all its rugged green and blue splendour with Skydive 12 Apostles.
5. Helicopter rides over the 12 Apostles, Princetown
Those seeking aerial views that come with a slightly lower fear factor than a skydive should try a helicopter flight instead. As you soar through the skies above the Shipwreck Coast you can admire the contrasts and saturated colours from a whole new perspective. See foamy whitewater lashing against deserted beaches, marbled navy and turquoise waters extending to the horizon, the Great Ocean Road itself a grey ribbon carving through the green shrub and scrubland, and, of course, the limestone stacks that are the jewel in the region’s crown, standing sentinel in the turbulent waters. Flights range in length (and price) from 15 minutes up to one hour with 12 Apostles Helicopters.
6. Tuna fishing, Portland
If you’re searching for an activity that’s a bit of a break from the norm, a day spent offshore tuna fishing could be just the ticket. On a full-day trip, you’ll travel up to 40 kilometres out to sea on a boat that measures just nine metres, all in the name of a big catch. You can keep whatever you land (so long as the numbers comply with bag limits). Reel Time Fishing Charters’ all-time record for a single southern bluefin tuna weighed in at a whopping 169 kilograms.
7. Glenelg River Canoe Trail, Dartmoor to Nelson
On the cusp of the SA border, far from the well-trodden path, lies a placid river trail begging to be explored. The 75-kilometre Glenelg River Canoe Trail stretches from Dartmoor to Nelson, weaving through the Lower Glenelg National Park, and features caves, cliffs and plenty of wildlife. Those keen to tackle the trail in one fell swoop should set aside four days, though there are plenty of opportunities to sample smaller sections instead. A true back-to-basics adventure, the trail plays host to seven riverside campsites reserved exclusively for the use of canoeists and kayakers.
If you’d rather explore the furthest reaches of this river and national park on foot, look into taking on the Great South West Walk, a 250-kilometre loop that begins and ends in Portland. You’ll encounter sand dunes, white beaches, wild seas, wetlands, clifftop lookouts and petrified forests on this little-known trek.