When planning a weekend getaway in Victoria, it’s easy to think of Wilsons Prom, the Yarra Valley, Daylesford or The Grampians. But tucked away in the back pocket of The Great Ocean Road is the unassuming but up-and-coming little sister, sporting breathtaking views and forests for days. We were lucky enough to spend a wintery weekend in the Otway Ranges, or “the hills” according to our host Brett at Otway Escapes.
Our cabin for the night was Otway Escape’s Love Shack, located outside of Deans Marsh, just an hour and 40 minute drive from Melbourne. It’s a Japanese-inspired luxury farm stay in the foothills of a working cattle farm. But to clarify, the words “shack”, “farm stay” and “cabin” could easily give the wrong impression of this lavishly designed accommodation for two.
View from the Love Shack.
Cleo the dog escorts us to the Love Shack via a beautifully built boardwalk, which winds through a landscaped garden. Two things strike us when we walk inside. Firstly, the heating had been turned on prior to our arrival (a very important and welcoming touch on a cold winter weekend). Secondly we were slapped in the face by stunning views over green rolling hills, framed neatly by almost wall-to-wall windows. A kookaburra sits perched on a fence post outside, native parrots fly by and cows grace in the nearby paddocks.
The studio accommodation is warm and welcoming. A huge king bed with designer linin face the valley views, there’s a sitting area by the window for sipping on your freshly brewed tea or coffee (coffee and machine supplied – always a huge tick), and a second sitting area outside on the private balcony.
The space keeps to its Japanese theme with carefully chosen furniture and fabrics. The bathroom is cozy with pebbled floors, a beautiful Japanese’s plunge bath and separate toilet. There is a mini-kitchen that provides everything you need for a short stay – microwave, kettle, fridge and a Webber BBQ for al fresco cooking.
If you are looking for a little more space or perhaps a longer stay, Otway Escapes host two other nearby options – Otway Number 5 and Otway Valley Views. Both suited for couples, they provide the same views, hospitality and eye for detail and design as the Love Shack.
From the shack, it’s a couple of minutes stroll down to a Japanese teahouse which sits on the banks of a duck filled dam. On the walk we pass sculptures, water features and outdoor art. The small well-designed hut is a draw card for regular guests here. Its windows are homemade stained glass and inside it’s filled with cushions and teacups. It is the perfect place to relax…how’s the serenity, huh?
View from the Japanese teahouse.
We came to stay at Otway Escapes, but what we discovered was a remarkable but quiet region filled with natural beauty, local produce and five-star eateries. The Otway Ranges might very well be the next big thing on Australia’s food and wine map, dotted with enterprising wineries, craft brewers and fine dining restaurants. Not to mention a pick-your-own berry farm and a newly planted orchard of cider apples – watch this space.
A 15-minute drive will take you to township of Birregurra, which has recently received a spike in visitors from the 18-month old fine dining restaurant, Brea, ran by Dan Hunter who was awarded three chefs hats at his prior. Hunter’s formula for Brea is a degustation menu built from local produce, some of which is grown in the kitchen garden of the1860s cottage that the restaurant is housed in. With Brea sadly closed for the night, we found plenty of elegant and affordable local food, wine and craft beer elsewhere in the region.
Oysters at The Royal Mail Hotel, Birregurra.
The renovated Royal Mail Hotel on the main street of Birregurra which has recently featured in numerous food guides. It is a sophisticated place to dine, with the charm and hospitality of a country pub. We indulged in a plate of fresh oysters, perfectly cooked Porterhouse and succulent pork belly. The drinks list was carefully curated of Otway Ranges beers and wines.
Great Otway National Park.
On day two, we had the gift of time so we took ourselves the long way home on winding roads through towering rain forests. We stopped for brunch at the Deans Marsh Store serving ham and three cheese toasties or “crusty rolls”, pulled pork rolls, great coffee and most famously, a variety of piping hot homemade pies.
Forrest Brewing Company.
We are making our way to Lake Elizabeth, but we couldn’t resist a stop over at the award winning Forrest Brewing Company, nestled in the quant town of Forrest. We sip a on a pint of their finest boutique beer by the open fire, and order some sirloin sliders served with crispy hot chips. In addition to their all-year-round brews, their specialty is there seasonal beers which are often flavored with ingredients foraged from the forest.
Lake Elizabeth in the rain.
A short, steep and truly breathtaking mountain drive from Forrest takes us to the car park and camping grounds of Lake Elizabeth, a lesser known gem of this district. We walk an easy 20 minutes to the secluded water hole that was formed more than 50 years ago when the valley was flooded. A soft fog lingers over the lake, and the stretching trunks of dead submerged trees make it an eerie sight. On any other day, the lake is a favorite for kayakers and canoers, but today not another soul is seen. We sit quietly to look out for the illusive colony of platypuses who call the lake home, but no luck this time.
The windy forest roads take us to Stephensons Falls then through the town of Beech Forrest. Along the way we marvel at beams on sunlight subtly poking their way through the huge trees.
Near Beech Forrest.
Rainbow near Forrest.
Food, craft beer and views aside, the Otways showcase some of Victoria’s best Mountain Biking trails, check out www.rideforrest.com.au for more information.
All this and only a 2-hour drive on the freeway back to city life.
Photos by the author, except where mentioned.