Wye River is one of the smaller coastal communities on the Surf Coast, but has much to offer the traveller, from its delightful coastal scenery to its wonderful cafe and general store. It is also the name given to the waterway which flows through the town and into the sea at this point. Steve Bracks, politician andformer premier of Victoria, has a holiday home at Wye River. Musician Mike Brady, known for writing two of Australia’s most loved sport-themed songs, “Up There Cazaly” and “C’mon Aussie C’mon’, has a beach house at Separation Creek.
Situated some 155 km west of Melbourne, on the Great Ocean Road, the Wye River township is a popular tourist destination about 15 km west of the resort town of Lorne. It became a popular place for Melburnians to holiday after the Great Ocean Road was officially opened in 1932. There are many self-contained holiday rental houses available. Wye River is an all season tourist destination where visitors enjoy beaches in summer and drives, food trails and water falls in winter.
The area is known for scenic coastal views, beautiful beaches, Otway Forest walks, wildlife including koalas and birds as well as the Great Otway National Park. Active tourism opportunities include fishing and excellent surfing with waves averging 1.4 metres. The beach breaks are popular under low swell with less experienced surfers, while bigger swell tends to close out across the bay. Wyw River beach is bordered by high valley slopes, with the Great Ocean Road winding behind, and sandstone rock platforms and reefs fringing each end. A caravan park, car park and the surf lifesaving club all lie between the road and the beach.
Wye River is a popular fishing spot with good access to the river, river mouth and permanent rip holes against the rocks. As a result, there is a choice of river, beach or rock fishing.
A number of scenic lookout opportunities exist in the area to appreciate the panoramic views and take a well-earned rest from a continuous series of relentless, steep ascents and descents. Mt Defiance lookout, a walled wayside stop, provides breathtaking views east towards Lorne. Cape Patton lookout, benched into the cliffs 90 metres above sea level, provides views over undulating country with Apollo Bay in the distance.
Cape Patton Lookout
After Cape Patton the forest gives way to rolling farmland as you ride west to Apollo Bay. In the final stages of this ride the road is bounded by rural pastures on one side and sandy beaches on the other, all the way to Apollo Bay, a charming fishing village at the foot of the Otways. It is a peaceful retreat and there couldn t be a more idyllic place to spend a couple of days, walking, swimming, and sampling the local speciality of crayfish at one of many restaurants and cafes.
Otway Canopy Walk
Some of Australia’s best rainforest scenery can be found in the Otway Ranges. Many walkways in Great Otway National Park have been created to give access to the tall trees, ancient plant life and lush ferns. You can walk among giant tree ferns at Maits Rest or experience the full beauty of the rainforest on the Otway Fly Tree Top Walk. There are many waterfalls in the national park’s narrow valleys, ranging from the impressive Triplet Falls to secluded falls over fern-fringed pools. Spot native wildlife such as glow worms at Melba Gully, the elusive platypus at Lake Elizabeth or koalas at nearby Kennett River.
Grey River Picnic Area
Grey River is one of many pleasant picnic areas to choose from in the Otways. There are toilets and picnic tables at the Grey River Picnic Area. Glow worms are often found near this picnic area. These lovely little worms are not actually worms – they are the larvae of fly-like insects called fungus gnats. The larvae prey on small insects who are attracted to the glow from their abdomen and then trapped in the sticky threads. Take a torch to find your way along the tracks after dark, but avoid shining the light directly at the glow worms. Torches, loud noises or touching them may disturb the glow worms causing these shy creatures to ‘switch off’ their light and hide away. To reach the Picnic Area, follow Grey River Road from Kennett River.
Cape Otway Lighthouse
The park is a popular area for interstate and international tourists, with companies operating tours in the region. It contains three camping areas at Johanna, Aire River and Blanket Bay. The park is accessed from the east via Apollo Bay, from the north via Forrest or Beech Forest, or from the west via Princetown. The park covers both coastline and hinterland in the Otway Ranges and so includes both beaches and forest, accessible via walking trails. The park and the Aire River campground are home to a significant koala population. The Cape Otway Lighthouse is adjacent to the park and is open to tourists throughout the week. Migrating whales and dolphins such as southern right and southern humpback, and bottlenose dolphins can be observed from the coasts.
The tiny village of Separation Creek is situated at the mouth of the Separation Creek on the Great Ocean Road to the north of Wye River. There are no shops in Separation Creek, the nearest shop and hotel is located at Wye River. The remainder of the locality, outside the township, is almost entirely covered today by the Great Otway National Park and the Otway Forest Park. On Christmas Day 2015 a bushfire destroyed at least 18 homes in Separation Creek. No lives were lost.
There is a short 20 minute walk – Paddy’s Path – between Wye River and Separation Creek where a tramline once ran. This path is often closed for extended periods after rain due to landslides. Remnants of the old 3ft gauge tramway, that was laid beside the coastal road, are visible among the rocks. Work undertaken for Hay’s Mill included laying a tramway 2km up Wye River and a tributary, crossing and recrossing as the flats changed sides, via thirteen bridges, the longest of which led to the mill across the swampy flats at its rear. A second tramline, never used, ran for 2.4km towards Monash Gully. Remnants of tracks can still be found.
The 250 metres long beach here has forested bluffs and rock platforms bordering each end. The creek drains across the southern end of the beach. Continuing around the southern rocks is a second platform beach. The main beach has permanent rips at each end, as well as boulders in the surf around the creek mouth. The south beach there are some relatively safe tidal pools at low tide but otherwise the water is more suitable for surfing than swimming. There are beach breaks at the main beach that work best in a low to moderate swell.
Between Separation and Jamieson Creeks to the north of Wye River, the Great Ocean Road hugs the lower parts of the 300 metre high, forested slopes. The shore is predominantly resilient sandstone, which produces rock platforms along the base of the slopes and reefs further offshore. In amongst the 2 km of winding road south of Artillery Rocks are four pockets of sandy beaches. All four are less than 100 m long, and are exposed to waves averaging up to 1.5 metres. All four have sandy surf zones dominated by the rocks and reefs, with usually one strong, permanent rip draining each beach. Swwimming and surfing is not recommended here, however at Bog Alley, just south of Boggaley Creek, there is a right hander that works in a big outside swell for surfers.
The Otway Coast is one of the best places in Australia to see Koalas in the wild. Around 1800 koalas populate the many big colonies in and around the Otway Coast towns so you will be guaranteed close sightings. Because they are now a protected species Koalas are fearless and snooze and eat on manna and blue gum everywhere. They also inhabit trees in gardens in the villages and they cross the road occasionally and sit on people’s balconies. Koala Cove Cafe and Kennett Caravan Park at Kennett River are popular spots. Turn into Grey River Road and you will are almost guaranteed to spot koalas in the gum trees adjacent to the Cafe. If you stay at one of the holiday houses in these villages and you may be able to get close to Koalas in the trees surrounding the houses.
Although resting during most of the day, by late afternoon they become more active, eating leaves, grooming or seeking new food trees. If you are lucky you may spot some at lower levels and in the spring, mothers with their babies. A good pair of binoculars will help to both locate koalas and be able to watch them more closely. It needs to be remembered that koalas are wild animals, and can become stressed or even aggressive if they are cornered or an attempt is made to touch or handle them.
The Gadubanud people lived in the Cape Otway region till the mid 19th century. Middens along the Otway coast reveal the remains of shellfish collected by the women while the men fished. There were also ducks, eels, seals and Cape Barren Geese. A huge variety of bush foods included Warrigal Spinach, seen trailing down the cliffs. Their houses were constructed from slabs of sandstone. There are no surviving members of the Gadubanud.
The first European settlement in Wye River was made by Alexander and Donald McRae who established a fishing camp in the valley in 1882, while their cousin, Alex McLennan, made camp at Kennett River. They cut a 6ft wide track to Forrest 17 miles. In 1895 Edward ‘Paddy’ Harrington travelled down this track to Wye River, where he selected 1000 acres in the valley to grow potatoes and onions and took out the first grazing lease. He built a homestead in the valley and later built for his brothers, John and Patrick. The Harrington selection later incorporated the McRae land, giving the Harrington family possession of most of the land in Wye River and Separation Creek. The names of these pioneers are preserved in local street names.
A stone cairn beside the creek near the exit from Paddy s Path stands where the road opens out to a flat space. At this point the old Great Ocean Road once crossed the creek. The cairn was erected by a resident of Separation Creek to mark the place where Paddy Harrington lived during his final years. Having once owned all the land stretching from the Wye Valley to the land behind what is now the Separation Creek settlement, he was content to pass his final years in a caravan here beside the creek.
In 1923 a camp was set up on the flats near the tram bridge at the rear of the mill, for the 60 workers engaged in construction of the final section of the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Wye River. This section was opened in 1932 by Lt. Governor Sir William Irvine at a ceremony in Lorne, after which the vice-regal cavalcade travelled to a very festive welcome at Wye River.
Wye River Post Office opened on 19 January 1914 though before 1945 it was reduced to just a Telegraph office for considerable periods of time, mail being delivered from Lorne. A school was established in the local hall in 1920, but closed in 1921 after the closure of a sawmill resulted in a loss of population. It was re-established in a converted residence in 1931, operated part-time with the Aireys Inlet school from 1935, and closed permanently in 1942.
On Christmas Day 2015 on the town’s darkest day in history a bushfire destroyed at least 98 homes in Wye River. At nearby Separation Creek another 18 homes were destroyed. No lives were lost at either town.