Forage and feast

When things turn gloomy at the beach, Clare Barry sets out on a quest to find fresh local produce.

The sweet thing about a beach holiday on the edge of the Otways is that if the weather isn't doing its bit for the ideal sun-and-surf combination, there's the freshest of food for the foraging in the hills.

We mope down a drizzle-soaked beach on day one of our week-long Apollo Bay holiday, ignore it on chilly day two and wake to indifferent skies the next.

Plan B is a meander along the Great Ocean Road, a left turn at Lorne and 20 minutes up and over into the sheltered valley that cradles Gentle Annie Berry Gardens. On this side of the Otways the sun beams on neat rows of berry bushes and with a one-kilogram punnet and ''gobbler's passes'' for the kids (allowing them to eat as well as pick as you go) we hit the dirt.

Strawberries first, then we trawl the blackberry department for fat black fruit, followed by the smaller, sweeter silvanberries. Blueberries top off the punnet before Devonshire teas with wholemeal scones and jam from the farm and we drive back with a $13.50 punnet that keeps us in pudding for three nights.

Three sunny days and a shark alert later we're all beached out and on the forage again. This time Otway Herbs is the destination - perched above Apollo Bay along the romantically named Wild Dog Creek Road. Here Ken Forrester snips sea fennel to accompany our Friday fish dinner and I buy pungent potted marjoram and Sicilian thyme for a city herb garden that isn't a patch on this cultivated profusion of flower, foliage and showy-offy summer seed heads.

A scamper back down the hill gets me to the Apollo Bay Fisherman's Co-op shortly before closing time. The cold cabinet holds snapper, flathead, monkfish, prawns and fresh and cooked lobster, and the bloke behind the counter tells me that apart from Atlantic salmon and a couple of other items it's all ''fresh off the boat this morning, love, just out there''. He indicates the Apollo Bay fishing fleet bobbing in the harbour outside the window. He recommends pink ling for fish-fussy kids and I choose thick trevally fillets for the grown-ups. Both are firm-fleshed and utterly fresh and barbecue up a treat.

At Apollo Bay community market the next morning Dick Dawes weighs out new potatoes into brown-paper bags while advising on the Otways's waterfall viewing sites. He grows the spuds himself in Kawarren, near Gellibrand, and explains that these hard-to-find favourites from my childhood have such delicate skins they're not considered a viable commercial crop so are usually left to mature for a hardier harvest. Boiled, buttered and seasoned, they are sweet and floury on the dinner table that night. I also buy a big bulb of local organic garlic and other stallholders sell blueberries and buckets of local honey.

We head home the next day along the magnificently rainforested Turtons Track, deeply green from the summer rain, and halfway between Gellibrand and Colac stumble across the Otway Estate Winery and Brewery. The brewer, we're told, is ecstatic about the aforementioned rain as he brews with the stuff, collected from the roof above our heads. The Prickly Moses label adorns a dozen or so beers from a light to the 8.2 per cent Belgian Strong Ale. We tuck into a tasting paddle of the more avant-garde offerings and declare the Belgian-styled saison and seasonal organic raspberry ale favourites in a strong field.

It's late Sunday afternoon and the kids are scratchy as we pull into the charming main street of Birregurra, where the pizza oven at Birregurra Farm Foods is still smoking from lunch service. This is a one-stop shop for everything from Western Plains pork to Otway shiitake mushrooms and Irrewarra biodynamic ice-cream. But we're here for the shop's (justifiably) sought-after Birregurra bangers and leave with a dozen of the beef and wholegrain mustard. I've never visited a working olive grove and Birregurra Estate Olives is ''three stones' throw away'' but home beckons and we settle for a bottle of their rich, grassy first cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil instead. And the perfect excuse to come back.



Gentle Annie Berry Gardens and Tea Rooms: 520 Pennyroyal Valley Road, Deans Marsh, phone 5236 3391, see Open 10am-5pm, Friday to Wednesday, until the end of April. Gobbler's Pass: $3.50/$5. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and orchard fruit are in season now.

Otway Herbs: 155 Biddles Road via Wild Dog Road, Apollo Bay, phone 5237 6318, see Open 9am-5pm daily.

Apollo Bay Fishermans Co-op: Breakwater Road, Apollo Bay, phone 5237 6591. Open 10am-4.30pm weekdays (until 5pm on Fridays), 10am-3pm weekends.

Apollo Bay community market: On the Apollo Bay foreshore, open Saturdays 9am-1pm.

Otway Estate Winery and Brewery: 10-30 Hoveys Road, Barongarook, phone 5233 8400, see Cellar door open 10am-5pm daily.

Birregurra Farm Foods: 43 Main Street, Birregurra, phone 5236 2611, see Open 9.30am-5.30pm Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm Saturday, Sunday 10am-4pm.