While travelling the Great Ocean Road in the end of April, we based ourselves in the Aire River West campground, which allowed us to explore the Apollo Bay area and part of the Great Otway National Park. Being by the river, the campground is a great place for water fun such as paddle boarding, kayaking and fishing. When we arrived in the middle of the week, the camp was very quiet but came the weekend and a few other campers showed up, although it was still quite calm. The campground is part of the Great Otway NP, so NP fees apply (around $17 per day) and the only facility is drop toilets.

Being a stop of the Great Ocean Walk, the campground offers some fantastic bushwalking opportunities. You can walk part of the Great Ocean Walk on each side, either towards Cape Otway (10km one way) or towards Johanna Beach (12 km one way). Alternatively, you can take a short 2 km walk along a sandy 4WD track along the river all the way to a beautiful beach that you will have all for yourself. This is where the mouth of the river meets the ocean at high tide and is quite scenic from above. There is no swimming there though as the ocean can be quite rough. On the other side, you can walk to beautiful ocean views towards Castle Cove (5.5 km one way). After about 4 km in the forest, you will be rewarded with ocean views bordered by cliffs and complete with rock formations shooting out of the ocean. You can of course drive to these locations and stop at lookouts but in our opinion, there is nothing better than the rewarding experience of walking and discovering the landscape as you go. Some of the views are also much more scenic from the walks than the lookouts.

Day trips from Aire River are not only a short distance away (the 3 options below are all roughly 30 km away) but also varied and interesting. Here are a few possibilities to try out:

Discover Apollo Bay

Go South to discover the small but lovely township of Apollo Bay. Walk up to Marriners road lookout for a nice view of the coast and the town. On your way back, stop at Maits Rest, where you will feel like you have stepped back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. Walk under giant Myrtle Beech trees, and among the lush ferns, lichen and mosses. Spot the giant mountain ash eucalyptus, one of the world’s tallest flowering plants. The short boardwalk makes it an easy walk for kids.

Tip: Cross the bridge to Aire River East Campground and take the Horden Vale road to save a few kilometres.

Get lost among Redwoods

Head North towards Beech Forest, where the winding road, bordered by giant trees, is a little bumpy but so worth it. The drive may seem long to the youngest of passengers but after about 30 km, you will arrive near a forest of Redwoods. As you park, you literally enter the forest and are among the trees straight away. Try not to lose your kids in this great spot inviting to a game of hide-and-seek. Beautiful, never-ending Californian Redwoods make us feel so small. The atmosphere is magical, with rays of sunshine emitting vapour, and also playing hide-and-seek among the trees. A mere 5 minutes’ drive away are the Hopetoun Falls, which can be briefly seen from a lookout. However, you’ll really admire them if you take the time to go down the steps. It is a short walk down on wooden stairs. Get the kids to count the steps back up. It keeps them occupied and they won’t even realise they have completed the walk up!

Step into a starry night at Melba Gully

Melba Gully can be visited during the day, but it’s at night that you can really see its wonders. It is home to thousands of glow worms. Although inconspicuous during the day, these creatures become magical at night as they glow and transform the gully into a starry night. This outing is best started at dinner time. Since we visited in autumn, the night fell around 7PM, so we took a picnic dinner and set out on the only table on a clearing near the start of the walk. Before the night started to fall, we equipped ourselves with headlights and raincoats (this area is the wetter in South Australia). It was a good idea to start the walk while it was not dark yet, because we saw the glow worms pop out as we walked, until we felt like a starry night was illuminating the rocky walls. At the end of the boardwalk we saw a waterfall, which illuminated with our headlights gave quite an impression. On our way back, we also met a few cute creepy-crawlies.