“Now, let’s just give you a go on this little bike,” Nathan says. “If I’m satisfied and your parents are satisfied that you can do it, we can head off. Otherwise, I’ll hook up the trailer and you can just kick back while we do all the work.”
Nathan’s our awesome guide from Otway E-bikes. We’re at John Gardner Reserve in Beech Forest, the meeting point for our tour, and we’re just trying to figure out if The Fairy Princess will be safe riding an e-bike herself.
She starts off pedalling, a bit wobbly, but keeping it together. Then she does a lap of the sculpture in the middle of the park, but as she turns to come back to us she hits the accelerator and I can tell straight away that she’s out of control. Her little hands struggle to reach the breaks and, realising she’s headed straight for a tree, she bails. Luckily the tree’s branches catch the bike gently and she’s not hurt.
It’s time to hook up the trailer.
Nathan is nice enough to offer to tow her for us, but I kind of like the idea of doing it myself. He hooks the trailer up and straps her in, and we’re off.
“Look at you little Princess, in your throne where you belong,” I laugh.
We quickly reach the Old Beechy Rail Trail, but Nathan stops at an area that looks to have had some recent re-vegetation work.
“This used to be a bit of a dump for the town,” he explains. “There were car parts and building rubble everywhere. It was awful, but we got in here and had a bit of a working bee.”
He tells us that he wants the tours to be a true ecotourism experience, so they have a close relationship with the local councils and “friends” groups, and make it a priority to help with the re-vegetation and beautification of the trail and the improvement of its access and facilities.
“We even get the local kids in on the clean-ups,” he says. “We’re hoping if they’re involved that they’ll learn some respect for the area and help keep it nice for everyone.”
A few hundred metres further along the trail, we’re suddenly surrounded by tree ferns and remnant rainforest vegetation.
“Hey look at this,” Lori says to The Fairy Princess. “This is where fairies would live.”
Nathan turns back, looking puzzled. “Have you seen the sign?” he asks.
“No, what sign?” Lori asks.
“It’s just up here,” Nathan says. “I’ll point it out.”
We ride a couple of hundred more metres, ducking our heads under the tree ferns, and Nathan stops again. There’s the sign on our right, that says “Fairyland”.
He explains that this section of the trail has been looked after by a lady that owns a property on its border.
“She’s kept it nice and natural,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of people say that this is their favourite part of the tour.”
Continuing on, the track ascends up again into a more rural landscape, but that’s when the views start. To the north-west, we can see for miles, across the rolling hills.
“On a good day you can see as far as the Grampians from here,” Nathan tells us.
It’s not long before we reach the 5-kilometre mark, where it’s time to turn around and head back toward John Gardner Reserve.
The ride back is quicker, since there’s not much Nathan hasn’t already told us. Lori hangs back and has a good chinwag with Nathan while The Chop and I have a chance to give our bikes a real test run. I let him go in front and I can barely see him for most of the trip, never mind catch up to him. The trailer is slowing me down but his bike is also just as powerful as everyone else’s, whilst obviously carrying much less weight. He stops from time to time and lets us catch up. We can see how much fun he’s having, so each time we usher him off.
“I love that massive smile on your face, young man!” Nathan exclaims.
Soon we’re back at John Gardners Reserve, so we take the chance to do a few more laps. We’re all having far too much fun on our e-bikes to give them up. Unfortunately, I notice the time and have to usher everyone back in the car to get to Forrest for our dinner booking. We’re sad to give up our e-bikes and to say goodbye to Nathan. As we drive away, we chat about how awesome the tour (and Nathan) were.
“That was the best fun I’ve ever had,” The Chop exclaims. “Can I get an e-bike?”
I suggest that he might be able to save up his Christmas and birthday money for a few years, but that’s likely his only hope. As we drive away, Lori and I do have a quiet chat about replacing our second car with one, though.
The platypus is a creature that’s always fascinated me. How could it not? Even the British Museum naturalist George Shaw wrote in 1799, when he received a specimen from Australia, that it was “impossible not to entertain some doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal, and to surmise that there might have been practised some arts of deception in its structure.”
Despite my interest and despite having spent years living 100 metres away from an inner-city Melbourne creek they strangely call their habitat, I’ve STILL never seen one in the wild.
So I’m excited to find a platypus tour from Otway Eco Tours where they give you a 90% chance of seeing one, and even offer a discount if you don’t.
We’re handed our life jackets and we spend 20 minutes walking through a ferny gully to Lake Elizabeth, the kids nervously chattering away about whether or not we’ll see a platypus. Then we pile into a couple of canoes tied together and set off onto the lake as the sun starts to dip behind the surrounding hilltops.
We paddle for ages in a complete silence that’s pierced only by kookaburras laughing, the warbling of distant magpies, the screech of the occasional black cockatoo, and the unbelievable warthog-like grunting of the koalas in the surrounding tall forest.
The Fairy Princess looks puzzled at the grunting sounds, so I remind her of an earlier conversation where I told her they don’t sound as cute as they look.
“I can’t imagine a koala making that sound,” she whispers. I’m not sure she believes me.
Bruce, our tour guide, explains that there’s at least six platypus living at Lake Elizabeth and, although they’re pretty shy, he knows what to look for so we’ll at least catch a glimpse. I can see that he’s intently looking at all corners of the lake, seeming frustrated that the platyupus’ aren’t coming out to play.
Then he sees something, and I can sense is excitement. Bruce is a pretty hands-off guide. He’s had very little to say until now, but this probably adds to the experience. The serenity of paddling around such a beautiful lake at sunset would be ruined with a more in your face guide, and no doubt his silence increases our chances of seeing what we came here to see.
We paddle closer and see a platypus in the distance. It’s probably 50 metres away, but we can make out its silvery outline swimming around on the surface of the lake. It’s almost like it’s teasing us, swimming belly-up, scratching and playing.
When we move closer, it dives under the surface, reappearing before long on the other side of us. We give chase and he stops from time to time, resurfacing to tease us some more. While we paddle around, Bruce quietly gives us a brief natural history of the lake and the strange creature we’re chasing.
At some point the platypus we’re chasing disappears, but we soon find another, then another, and another. Throughout the tour, we’re pretty sure we see most of the six Lake Elizabeth platypus residents. It’s not until darkness is looming that we get within 10 or 15 metres of one, though, and when we do it carries on in the same way the first one did – rolling around in the water, scratching and splashing. I haven’t brought my zoom lens so I can’t get a decent photo, but I comment to Lori that somethings are best experienced without a camera in your face.
With that under our belt, Bruce paddles us back to the boat ramp, and we hop off while he ties up the canoes.
“You guys can go ahead if you like,” he says. “Just make sure you keep an eye out for glow worms in the dark sections of the track.”
A couple of times along the trail back to the car, we stop in stunned silence at the little galaxy of glow worms that appear alongside the track. With the brightness of the moon, we’re lucky to not even need a torch, so our eyes are finely tuned when they come. It’s well past the kids bedtime, so we don’t dwell for too long, eager to get them home to bed.
It’s mid-afternoon on Sunday and we’re all utterly exhausted, but I insist on one more stop on the way home. Carisbrook Falls is a quick and easy walk, starting right on the Great Ocean Road, to a pretty impressive waterfall that I can only imagine will be even more impressive after the recent rains.
Lori has decided to sit this one out, so I offer for the kids to do the same. They’re just as sad as I am that our Otways adventure is coming to an end, so they jump at the chance to join me.
Leaving Lori at the car, the kids bound up the short but steep trail to the viewing platform, while I struggle to keep up. I wasn’t wrong about the falls. They can be little more than a trickle some summers, but now there’s a flood of water gushing down the rock crop at the end of the valley.
I point the valley floor to the kids, where we can see Carisbrook Creek continue. They seem impressed that, from way up here, we get a better picture of how the waterfall fits into the landscape. They never cease to amaze me with their inquisitive little minds.
Length (km): 750 m
Time (hrs/min): 20 min
Grade: Easy. Grade 2 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Return / Circuit / One-Way / Partial Circuit: Return
Park: Great Otway National Park
Closest Town: Apollo Bay (14 km)
Car Access: From Apollo Bay, follow the Great Ocean Road east for 14 km until you see a brown and white tourist sign pointing to Carisbrook Falls. Turn left into a small carpark.
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.