Sunday, 24 March 2019

The Canyon & Phantom Falls (Great Otways National Park)

A short walk in Great Otways National Park, the Canyon and Phantom Falls walk explores a series of waterfalls near Lorne. Starting at Allenvale Rd, the trail passes through a rural property before following the St George River through the dense eucalypt forest the area is famous for. Visiting Phantom Falls via a short side trip, the trail then enters the stunning Canyon before returning via Allenvale Rd to the car park

Distance: 8 km (loop)
Gradient: A mix of gentle, undulating terrain with some steep sections, particularly near the start and end of the walk
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and straightforward, with largely well maintained tracks
Quality of Signage: Good quality trailhead, with clear markers at trail junctions. The circuit is not overly clear towards the end as the road must be followed and there are no clear markers between the Sheoak Picnic Area and Allenvale Rd car park
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 2-3 Hours
Steps: Several formal and informal steps
Best Time to Visit: All year round, but would be uncomfortably hot in the middle of Summer
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: From Great Ocean Rd in Lorne, head south-west on Otway Rd and then take the second exit onto Allenvale Rd. Follow the road 1.5 kilometres to the Allenvale Rd car park. Trailhead is on the other side of the road

After having completed the Werribee Gorge Circuit Walk, I immediately set out to my accomodation for the night in Torquay before heading out early the next day to do a fairly lengthy walk in Great Otways National Park. The plan had been to follow Glenn Tempest's Erskine Falls Circuit from Daywalks in Victoria by starting in Lorne. After wasting a lot of time trying to find the start of the track (the book lists a car park that is no longer there and Google Maps erroneously has the track starting on the other side of the river), I decided it was too late to tackle such a long circuit and then drive back to Melbourne. Instead, I decided to do the much more accessible circuit to Phantom Falls and the Canyon, starting from the easier to find Allenvale Rd car park.

Starting on the other side of the road from the car park, the trail immediately crosses a small creek and then runs along its banks. The pleasant creekside walking brought back memories of the home stretch along the the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia as it leads into to the town of Balingup.

Similar to the Balingup area, the track passes near farmland, and in fact the trail literally passes through a private property before running alongside the St George River.

At the time of my visit in March after a hot, dry Summer in Melbourne, the river was flowing very gently over what I'm sure would be a spectacular series of cascades in the wetter months. These cascades again brought back memories of the Bibbulmun Track, specifically the Cascades side trip that can be reached off the Bibbulmun just outside of the town of Pemberton.

The trail runs just above the river and provides excellent views of the cascades. While less spectacular than if the river was seriously flowing, this was nevertheless a lovely stretch of track.

The trail became a wider vehicle track as I continued along, with the trail rising up a moderate incline through quite pleasant forest. Given the warm weather, the shade was a welcome relief.

Breaks in the forest provided some excellent views down to the river below, and it became clear just how high up the trail had taken me. Again, the river was a mere trickle compared to what it would be after some serious rains, but I nevertheless found myself really enjoy the forest scenery so far.

The massive trees along the walk, which I presumed to be Mountain Ash, looked a lot like the giant Karri trees of the Southern Forests back home in Western Australia. Bibbulmun Track memories were once again brought to the fore as it felt a lot like walking the Bibb between Boarding House and Beavis campsites.

Following the vehicle track along with fairly minimal signage, a well signed trail junction indicated that Phantom Falls were only 100 metres to the left.

The low flow of the St George River served as a fairly obvious sign that the chances of seeing Phantom Falls in peak flow were next to nothing, and I was unsurprised to find the falls were not even a trickle at the time of my visit. In a way, it lived up to its name of Phantom Falls! Knowing this now, I was kind of glad that I didn't do the longer full circuit as it would have been a bit disappointing to have undertaken a lengthy waterfall walk and seen no waterfalls in flow at all!

Given that the waterfall was not flowing, I was able to walk into the creek bed above the falls and could see that there was plenty of water in a pool just below the falls that just needed a bit of rain encouragement to get going.

While it would obviously have been better to see the falls in flow, it was kind of cool being able to walk to the end of what was ostensibly a steep cliff overlooking the valley below.

After leaving the falls, I returned back to the trail junction and followed the vehicle track up across the hillside to the Canyon. This was another pleasant but otherwise uneventful section before leading to what was the highlight of the entire circuit.

After the forest walking, the canyon appears suddenly as the track seemingly descends into a hole in the ground.

Once through the 'hole' I found myself in a beautiful narrow and lush canyon. Although less epic or as beautiful as the Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains, the scenery was nevertheless impressive, and I slowed to a snails pace as I constantly snapped photos of this interesting feature of the walk.

The trail through here appears to rise repeatedlt and you begin to think you're heading out of the Canyon, only to find that it continues for a bit longer. These false endings create a bit of drama as you think it is about to be all over and then you end up having a bit more canyon to enjoy.


All good things do come to end however, and after fifteen minutes of snails pace walking I was out the other end of the Canyon as I made my way through a section of particularly lush and dense forest.

The trees here were again of the massive Mountain Ash variety with a strong resemblance to Karri forest.

A tell-tale difference however was the massive shield ferns found throughout the forest, with one section filled with a staggering number of these Gondwanan relics.

The forest grew less dense and lush, ironically as it crosses a creek. On the other side of the bridge, a signed side trip led to Henderson Falls, however with the lack of heavily flowing water through the park I opted to ignore the side trip and continue along the trail to Won Wondah Falls, which is just a short lookout point off the main track.

While water was definitely flowing over Won Wondah Falls, it was far from impressive given that the lookout point does not provide a very clear view of the falls at all. This photo was taken by dangerously climbing down under the lookout platform, and I still got barely a glimpse of the water cascading down the rock.

Continuing along, more pleasant forest walking led to a road crossing. Had I turned left here, I would have been able to cut out a bit of the walk as it led to the Sheoak Picnic Area and then had me rise up again along the road, but I didn't know this at the time.

Descending to another creek, the trail crosses a suspension bridge as it leads into the Sheoak Picnic Area.

While I would discover I didn't need to visit this area, the side trip to the Sheoak Picnic Area was ultimately worthwhile as it is a very lovely spot for a picnic with a swathe of excellent facilities including barbecues, undercover picnic tables and toilets. It is a picnic area I would happily return to again.

After checking out the Sheoak Picnic Area, I began my ascent along the Garvey Track and followed the road as it became Allenvale Rd and led back to the car park.

The Canyon and Phantom Falls Circuit was a worthwhile consolation prize after running out of time to tackle the longer circuit walk I had originally intended to do. It was of course a bit of a disappointment to head out this way only to find that the waterfalls were not really flowing, but I feel the forest walking was pleasant and enjoyable enough that it was at least worthwhile. Ultimately however, the similarity of the scenery on offer to what I've regularly experienced in Western Australia did make it less unique an experience as some other walks I've done in Victoria, and I probably wouldn't bother heading out this way again unless I knew that the waterfalls were reliably flowing. 


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