“Mum, you and I are gonna be tree top fairies!”
We’re about to walk through the doors of the Otway Fly Visitor Center and we’re resigned to the fact that The Fairy Princess isn’t tall enough to zip line. Lori has offered to take her to the treetop walk and the playground instead, while they wait for us. She was disappointed about the zip lining at first, but now she’s excited about the treetop walk and a couple of hours alone with mum.
I hold my breath as the team at the check-in desk ask to measure her, still secretly hoping that we can do this as a family, and I’m relieved when she just scrapes in. Having already accepted her fate, The Fairy Princess literally jumps with joy when we tell her.
We all pile into a room, where the awesome zip line guides Jessie and Billy take us through a safety briefing and get us strapped into our harnesses.
Then we step outside into a stunning Spring morning. The air is crisp and fresh but the dappled morning sunlight beaming through the thick rainforest canopy is enough to warm us. Soon we reach a clearing where there’s a giant mountain ash with a platform wrapped around it, about 20 metres up.
A spiral staircase leads to the platform, so after some discussion about the order we’ll go in, we start the climb. We haven’t even reached the top when The Fairy Princess starts to show signs of distress. She’s normally a daredevil, but I can see her psyching herself out.
“Neil, we’re so high already,” she says, her voice shaking as she looks down to the forest floor.
I reassure her gently and tell her not to look down. She doesn’t listen, of course, but we make it to the top and one-by-one, Jessie hooks us on to the line.
“This is one of the safest zip lines in the world,” Jessie says, noticing that The Fairy Princess looks unsure. “Most zip lines have separate lines, so you have to disconnect and reconnect at each platform, but ours is one continuous line.”
“Has anyone ever died here?” asks The Chop, grinning at his sister cheekily.
Jessie laughs. “We might have had a few bruised shins from people being silly on the bridge,” he assures us, “but aside from that we’ve never even had an injury.”
I look at The Fairy Princess and notice she has tears streaming down her face.
“Awww honey,” I say, holding her close. “You can back out now if you want, but I’m absolutely one hundred percent sure you’re gonna love it if you give it a go.”
She puts her brave face and fights back the tears. Before long the rest of our group is on the next platform, and it’s her turn to fly. Expecting her to pull the pin at any moment, I watch as Billy gets a tight grip on the back of her harness and coaches her to sit down and lift her legs. There are some whimpers of hesitation, but they quickly turn to giggles as he lets go and she flies through the treetops.
“Mum, I did it!” she screams excitedly as Jessie catches her and pulls her onto the next platform. The group erupts into cheers and a round of applause.
I’m next, but after watching the 7-year-old flying before me, I’m more excited than worried. When Billy lets go of my harness all I feel is free. The distance between the first two platforms doesn’t appear that far, but I’m relieved to find time to look enjoy the spectacular forest around me, from the massive blackwood and mountain ash all round, to the ferny forest floor.
Once at the second platform, it’s time to do it all again. There are nine platforms in total, with six zip lines and two bridges in between. While we wait on each platform, Jessie chats with us about the natural history of this section of the Otways and the construction of the zip line itself. He involves the kids and makes everything educational and engaging for them. As usual, The Chop impresses with his knowledge, answering questions about the different tree species around us and the reasons for their being. I couldn’t be more proud.
The excitement builds with each platform we reach, and we all get a bit more adventurous every time we fly. By the final zip line, nearly everyone in the group has a (mostly unsuccessful) try at flipping upside down, and even The Fairy Princess lets go and flaps her arms.
“Look, Neil,” she screams. “I’m a fairy!”
When we cross the rope bridge from the last platform to the end of our zip line adventure, we’re all a bit bummed that it’s over. It’s not that the zip line isn’t long enough – we’ve been going almost an hour and a half – but I think it’s more that we’d all be happy to do this all day, every day. I find myself considering moving here to try for a job as a zipline guide.
“I wish I could zip line to school,” The Fairy Princess yells excitedly.
“I want to find more zip lines to go on,” says The Chop, a little more realistically.
“You might be onto something there, Chop,” I concur. “Let’s see what we can do about that.”
OTWAY FLY TREETOP WALK
After some lunch at Black Snail Café, we stroll back down the rainforest track to check out the original Otway Fly attraction – The Treetop Walk.
The team at the check-in desk have provided the kids with a “Rainforest Ranger Trail” booklet each, so we stop along the way to complete the challenge. Scattered at intervals on the trail to and from the treetop walk are information boards revealing the secrets of the rainforest, and at each stop, the kidlets have to do a pencil rubbing from the sign of a native creature. It’s educational, but more importantly, it’s a great way to break up the walk and keep the kids more engaged.
Soon we’re on the boardwalk, climbing our way up into the treetops. There’s 600 metres of boardwalk to explore, including the cantilever section, which is suspended above Young’s Creek.
Most of the boardwalk is 25 metres above the ground, but the part I’m most looking forward to is the 45-metre-high tower. We climb the spiral staircase to a platform at the top of the tower. The views are incredible.
“Neil, why is it moving?” asks The Fairy Princess.
I can hear that fear in her voice again. I try to calm her but she doesn’t want to be there anymore. Lori takes her and The Chop back down, leaving me to revel in my lack of fear. Having been horribly scared of heights only a few years ago, I’m proud and happy to have overcome it.
Next, we head out onto the cantilever but when the kids notice that it also wobbles, they’re having none of it, so we make for the end of the boardwalk.
With our feet back on solid ground, the kidlets focus on finishing the “Ranger Trail” so they can get their badge at the end. We’ve loved every minute of our visit to Otway Fly Treetop Adventures. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.
NEED TO KNOW – OTWAY FLY TREETOP ADVENTURES
Opening Times: Otway Fly Treetop Adventures is open every day from 9am to 5pm. Last entry to the Treetop Walk is 4pm.
Address: 360 Phillips Track, Weeaproniah (may be listed as Beech Forest on some GPS units or Google Maps) or just search for Otway Fly Treetop Adventures.
Black Snail Café: The biggest surprise at Otway Fly is the Black Snail Cafe. Food at these kinds of attractions isn’t usually much to write home about, so we’re impressed when they serve us up delicious parmigianas and fish & chips for the kids. The coffee isn’t bad either. They use organic seasonal local produce and, in case you feel like a beer, they’re licensed too.
Bookings: Bookings can be made online via Explore Oz + NZ.
We stroll down two hundred steps into a rainforest gully and follow a boardwalk to a glen lined with giant tree ferns.
The waterfall is absolutely raging after all the recent rain. Even the kids are silenced by its awesome power. We sit for a while, taking it all in, and then Lori decides to start heading back to the car with the kids.
“I’m just gonna take some photos,” I say. “See you guys at the car.”
I join the twenty or so other photographers in their hunt for the perfect shot. Most of them have climbed over the rail to get a different perspective, but I elect to do the right thing and stay on track. It’s hard to take a bad photo of this waterfall anyway.
After a few minutes, I pack up my tripod and make my way back to the stairs and up. It’s not long before I catch up to the others.
The kids find the climb out of the valley pretty tough, but the consensus when we reach the top is that Hopetoun Falls was well worth working for.
THE CALIFORNIAN REDWOOD PLANTATION IN THE OTWAYS
We hear about an old Californian Redwood plantation not far from Hopetoun Falls, so we’re keen to check it out. It was planted in the 1930’s as an experimental plantation but, for some reason, it was never logged.
It doesn’t look like much from the car park but when we step past the first couple of Redwoods, it’s like stepping into another world. Hundreds of giant tree trunks stretch impossibly high. Their thick canopy lets in so little light that nothing grows beneath them.
The plantation sits on the bank of the Aire River, its edges lined with tree ferns. It’s jarring to see the Redwoods alongside the native rainforest vegetation but for some reason, it works.
We stroll around and explore for what seems like ages. The kids play and I take photos. There’s something magnetic about this place. It’s like a secret garden and once we’ve found it, we don’t want to leave.
Eventually, the wind picks up and a branch falls, narrowly missing The Fairy Princess. We don’t have all day to spend here, so this is probably the prompt we need to head back to the car.
NEED TO KNOW
Length (km): 1 km
Time (hrs/min): 30 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: Beech Forest (7 km)
Car Access: Head east from Beech Forest on the Mount Sabine Road, turning right onto Binns Road after about 2 km. After a further 5 km, turn right again into Hopetoun Falls Road and follow it to the carpark.
THE CALIFORNIAN REDWOODS
Length (km) & Time (hrs/min): There are no official walking tracks here but you could stroll around enjoying the plantation for anywhere up to an hour.
Park: Great Otway National Park
Closest Town: Beech Forest (8 km)
Car Access: Head east from Beech Forest on the Mount Sabine Road, turning right onto Binns Road after about 2 km. Continue for 6 km, passing the turnoff for Hopetoun Falls, and park at the car park next to the bridge over the Aire River.
FOOD & DRINKS AT FORREST BREWING COMPANY
After a long day, there’s nothing more I want than to sit in the sun and drink a delicious beer. Forrest Brewing Company provides.
The kids play in the beer garden while we peruse the food and beer menus, ordering complementary beers to go with our food. We go with safe options – the Irish Red and the Pale Ale. They’re amazing.
After a yummy meal of pan roasted chicken with sweet potato chips and chimmi churri, I elect to try a beer that’s a bit ‘riskier’ – the Silvertop. It’s the perfect sunny beer garden beer. All the meals are incredible, and The Chop loudly announces to the waitress (and the entire beer garden) that his fish is “soooo much better” than anything he gets at home.
FOOD: BREAKFAST AT BESPOKE HARVEST
Like the hotel that it’s attached to, Bespoke Harvest is the perfect place for couples. We sit down to breakfast with a set menu of orange, apple, carrot and ginger juice, roasted quinoa, walnut and barberry muesli (with optional honey, organic yoghurt and rhubarb), sourdough spiced fruit toast with butter, and scrambled eggs, leg ham and garlic chive hollandaise. It’s absolutely incredible, particularly the muesli (and I don’t even usually like muesli).
But there’s just one thing… If my family was a band we’d be called Neil & The Fussy Eaters.
Lori loves almost everything on the menu, despite her fussy eating tendencies, but no matter how hard Emma (one of the owners) tries, there’s no pleasing the kidlets.
This is no problem, though. We’ve got enough fruit back in the hotel room to keep them sated. After getting them to give everything a try, we send them back to the room to play their iPads while we finish our breakfast and an incredible coffee in peace.
We can see how romantic it would be to stay here as a couple, so we make plans to revisit when the kids are with their grandparents.
Bespoke Harvest is also open for lunch from Monday to Thursday and dinner on Friday and Saturday. It’s at 16 Grant Street, Forrest. For bookings call (03) 5236 6446.
ACCOMMODATION – FORREST GUESTHOUSE
The Forrest Guesthouse itself is really well set up, with well-designed rooms that each have their own name and their own character. Unfortunately, we’re on such a tight schedule that we really don’t have time to enjoy the place. We arrive late at night and sit on the verandah overlooking the gardens while we sink a few beers and make plans (as I’ve mentioned already) to return when the kids are with their grandparents.
Forrest Guesthouse is at 16 Grant Street, Forrest. Bookings can be made via their website or by calling (03) 5236 6446.