Just North of the Great Ocean Road lie the Otways, a forested region that is heaven for a foodie. Its fertile soils produce some of the finest food in Victoria and each little town seems to have its own unique something to offer. Most visitors, following the stunning landscape of the coast on a tour of the Great Ocean Road, miss this gem of country Victoria. If you love good food and wine and a relaxed adventure off the beaten path, the Otways are the place for you.
I have Tom Neal Tacker of the Naked Hungry Traveler to thank for introducing me to the Otways. Tom organized a work outing to the Otways that was a gluttonous heaven. I’ve highlighted below a few of lovely places he introduced to us in hopes that others will go beyond the Great Ocean Road and enjoy some of the treats that the Otways have to offer.
37 Roseneath Rd
Warncoort, Victoria 3243
(03) 5233 6241
Tarndwarncoort is a working sheep farm that has been growing wool from the same flock, by the same family (the Dennis family), on the same farm since 1840. That flock has the honor of being Australia’s first breed of sheep: the Polwarth. Polwarth sheep were developed by the Dennis family at Tarndwarncoort in 1880, by crossing Saxon Merino sheep from Tasmania with Victorian Lincoln sheep. Unfortunately, I wasn’t taking notes. But if you would like to learn more about the history of the breed, Tarndwarncoort is the place to learn it. The homestead has beautiful craft wool yarn and visitors can arrange to stay overnight on premises. I learned so much while I was there and appreciated the care that the family took in explaining the history of the family, sheep and location. I left wanting to take a class on shearing and wishing I could stay the night. (Anyone have any good sheep dude ranch recommendations?!)
4285 Cape Otway Road
Birregurra, Victoria 3242
Sunnybrae was chef George Biron’s and Diane Garrett’s kitchen and garden. Open only on weekends for lunch, Sunnybrae featured an ever changing menu based on what was in season in the garden (Sunnybrae was doing garden-to-table long before it became fashionable). And, for the select few, a class could be arranged.
The leisurely three-hour lunch was typically punctuated with a stroll on the grounds to aid digestion and enjoy the scenery. If one was adventurous, one could hop the fence and visit the country cemetery next door. Spelt bread made in a woodfired oven is a specialty. On our trip, we got to collect yabbies from the farm dam on premises.
Why am I writing in past tense? Because this June, George sold Sunnybrae. All good things must come to an end. I will be keeping my eye on what becomes of Sunnybrae and any new endeavors for George.
14 High St
Inverleigh, Victoria 3321
(03) 5265 1111
Gladioli is chef Matt Dempsey’s mark on the Victoria food scene. Like Sunnybrae, it is one of those restaurants that begs you to make more than the casual effort of going to dinner. Gladioli sits in the little country town of Inverleigh. It serves contemporary food that is high on presentation. The décor is simple, the service is good, and the food is divine. Matt is one of the chefs to keep an eye on and is worth a trip out of Melbourne.
Photos courtesy of Peter Chang.
Pennyroyal Berry Farm
Division Road (between Birregurra & Barwon Downs)
Murroon, Victoria 3242
(03) 5236 3249
Pennyroyal is a working organic berry farm and B&B. We visited Pennyroyal when the berry season had just finished. Mike and Katrine Juleff showed us incredible hospitality. On a whim, I purchased a jar of Katrine’s jam. Some months later I opened the jar and was blown away. I couldn’t believe we had bought only one jar. The jam is made using only natural pectin and as a result is a bit more like what one would expect to find as a fruit topping. My husband liked the jam so much, that he made arrangements to purchase the rest of Katrine’s stock the next time she was in Melbourne. If you are looking for delicious jam, berry picking or a secluded place to stay—Pennyroyal is it.
Gosling Creek Winery
495 Murroon Road
Murroon, Victoria 3235
(03) 5236 3229
Gosling Creek is a winery that epitomizes the cellar door atmosphere of the Otways. The winery is the estate of Peter and Jan Greig, who left their jobs in Melbourne to make a go of it in the wine business. Peter is the winemaker and quite a proficient one at that. Interestingly, the wines have notes of eucalyptus from the forest nearby.
Apollo Bay Road (Forrest is a small town, you won’t miss it)
Forrest, Victoria 3236
(03) 5236 6170
In the town of Forrest is a microbrewery/restaurant/mountain-biker-hangout run by the Matt and Sharon Bradshaw, a brother and sister team. The two converted the old general store into a no fuss stop. The food and beer is excellent and they are passionate about what they do.
You may be wondering why mountain bikers frequent this brewery. Timber was logged in the Otways for many years and the town of Forrest was the end of the line for the timber train. A regular train ran from Colac to Birregura but from Birregura to Forrest (1937 to 1952) one would ride a 10 passenger converted Dodge sedan that had been painted with tiger stripes. Today, the rails have been converted into a mountain biking trail.
If you are planning to tour the Otways and would like to more about the region’s food and wine, the Otway Harvest Trail is a good resource.
It should also be noted that the area is an excellent place for ecotourism. If you would like to see koalas in the wild, one of the best places to see them in Victoria is the koala colony that is roughly halfway down the road to the lighthouse at Cape Otway. And, Lake Elizabeth is one of the rare places you can see a platypus in the wild (book a paddle with the playtpus tour at night).