Otways National Park, Victoria
180 km / 3000 m
Words by Dr. Stephen Lane
The Otway National Park has to be one of Australia's hidden off-road cycling gems. With a world-famous coastline known as the Great Ocean Road and patches of dense deep unexplored rainforest, it has the makings for gravel riding heaven. I grew up in Beech Forest, an old logging town formed in the late 1800s. Geographically it sits atop the ridge line that extends from one end of the Otway National Park to the other and from there you can see glimpses of the coast and ocean that forms the Great Ocean Road. Head up there in winter and you might even get some snow. The local saying goes that it rains 9 months of the year and drips off the trees the rest.
There are so many ride options I usually can’t choose which direction to head. My favourite loops usually leave from where I live now in Barongarook just outside of Colac and head up toward the ridge, down to the coast and back. Colac makes for a great starting point for most people as it has a V-Line train station that runs on the Melbourne to Warrnambool line.
To experience everything that the Otway’s has to offer I usually recommend a loop like this one that starts in Colac, Heads out towards Gellibrand on the Old Beechy Rail Trail then follows the Gellibrand river out to Lardner’s Track that climbs up to the ridge.
From there you drop down towards Apollo Bay then after a short section along the Great Ocean road climbs back up the ridge and down again finally weaving its way towards Colac. This loop has so much to offer. Pristine gravel roads, rivers, waterfalls, plantations, wildlife and views. For this loop a gravel bike with around 40mm tyres is perfect. If you are like me and like a bit more of an ‘unplanned’ explore a bigger tyre will help when you hit a bit more of the wet stuff.
The key attraction along this route is the Aire Valley which contains Beauchamp and Hopetoun Falls as well as the massive Californian Redwood plantations. They are some of the best-hidden gems in the Otway’s. If you are there all by yourself they proved a magical experience.
The descent down into Apollo Bay on Old Bay road is awesome, especially as you start to catch a glimpse of the coastline. Many times down here I have bumped into the friendly wildlife. They never really seem too worried.
Along Old Bay road there are patches of old-growth forest that have trees that are hundreds of years old. They are hard to find but when you do you can’t miss them!
Apollo Bay makes for a great lunch / re-stock point or stop-over for the night depending upon your ‘going long’ abilities. From here you head back up one of my favourite climbs called ‘Sunnyside’.
You get to experience a bit of the Great Ocean Road on the ride out from Apollo Bay. It is always amazing seeing the power of Bass Straight smashing into the coastline before you head back up deep into the Otway rainforest.
Once back up the top of the ridge you follow one of the most picturesque gravel roads you could ever find - Kangalang rd brings you into the township of Forrest. Time it right and here you have a general store, brewery, pub and caravan park. It is a great place to stop for the night. Otherwise, you are just a few hours ride back to your starting point.
Get too adventurous and many tracks look great at the start then slowly turn into tracks that you can barely get through.
There are plenty of spots along the route to pitch up for the night. Check out ‘Dando’s Camping ground. It is one of my favourite spots of all time. However, there are minimal re-supply points in the Otway’s so you may need to brush up on your bush tucker.
The Otway’s even has Euro-style drinking troughs! Keep an eye out on the bitumen part of Bins track and you might find it.
If you are willing to explore a little off the planned route there are so many hidden gems. Often I think I’m just following a kangaroo track into the bush then it turns into a legit nature tour!
This loop is perfect for everyone. If you are strong and experienced you can knock it off in one day. If you want to take your time you can break it down into multiple days. Gellibrand at 40 km and Beech Forrest (just off the route) at 60 km make for good overnight bikepacking stops where you might get a meal if you time it right. Apollo Bay really is the major stop and is at the halfway point. The loop has plenty of climbing but has nothing that is too crazy steep.
Enjoy the Otways! Don’t steal any of my Strava KOMs
You can ride this route HERE https://ridewithgps.com/routes/39708731