Just off the Great Ocean Road, Julietta Jameson visits an internationally recognised ecolodge.
It all began nearly a decade ago for Lizzie Corke and Shaun Neal, both children of the Australian bush, while the couple were still at uni studying zoology and natural resource management.
Neal had grown up in the Otway region of southern Victoria above the Great Ocean Road and brought Corke to the area for some sightseeing. Travelling down the bendy narrow road towards the Cape Otway Light Station, the pair were stopped by crossing cattle. The farmer driving his cows suggested he may be some time and perhaps they should go for a walk.
As it happened, adjacent to where they stopped was a ‘‘for sale’’ sign at a farm gate. They went for a walk and soon after bought the property, then set about creating a lodge, designing and constructing a mud brick building themselves to exacting environmental standards.
Simple, understated and remote, the luxuriousness of the resulting Great Ocean Ecolodge comes from the opportunity it affords to indulge in the rugged beauty, abundant flora and extraordinary fauna of an amazing part of the world, where the dense rainforest of the Otway Ranges meets wild Bass Strait coastline. Around it – and here’s the crucial point – the couple created the Conservation Ecology Centre, dedicated to the conservation of koalas and tiger quolls.
The lodge puts you at the heart of all this, inviting interaction and involvement with the wilderness and its inhabitants, at the same time nestling you in comfort and hospitality. It was recently named one of the best ecolodges in the world by the US-based National Geographic Traveler magazine.
For Corke and Neal, the lodge is the ultimate luxury – the place which has allowed them to fully indulge all their passions. The property thrives upon its founding principles of ecological care, using only solar power and rainwater for its operations. All of its profits are ploughed into the works of the ecology centre, which Corke and Neal still run personally.
After leaving Apollo Bay and heading towards Port Campbell through the Great Otway National Park, you turn left into Cape Otway Road towards the light station. Through a sturdy gate and up a long gravel country driveway, you find the lodge, a no-fuss yellow mud brick, weathered timber and corrugated roof structure sitting amid native trees and grassland.
It has only five guest rooms, each with a comfortable en suite, large bed and simple country antique style. In the main area there’s a big communal dining table, a big old lounge suite rescued from a relative’s attic, a roaring wood-burning heater and a vast library of books on native animals, the Otways and Great Ocean Road. There’s no TV and no recorded music, but there is Wi-Fi.
And there is the view. Big windows around the building look out to dramatic fluctuations in weather and the animals and birds that come to feed, including one or two large mobs of kangaroos.
Inside the lodge, guests pad around in their slippers or socks, curling up on couches with a book or their laptop and perhaps a local beer or glass of wine from the lodge’s bar menu. Afternoon tea is served in heirloom silver, a choice of tea or coffee and home-made cakes and biscuits.
One day during my visit Neal, towards dusk, leads a walk, past some rehabilitating koalas and grazing kangaroos to visit the real stars of the property, some captive tiger quolls which they keep here to help educate people about the endangered animal and the work they are doing to research and re-establish the local population. Once prolific, there have been no confirmed sightings for a decade. The lodge is dedicated to bringing the animals back, educating people about their place in the food chain and dazzling their guests with the amazing characteristics of the enigmatic animal.
A further stroll reveals a cul-de-sac of wild koalas, happily feasting and snoozing in trees. Neal explains the further research his team is undertaking to preserve both the koalas and the trees they inhabit. We’re accompanied by a boisterous German shepherd. She’s more than a pet, she’s the quoll-scat-hunting version of a truffle dog – trained to sniff out the droppings of the quoll (not the quolls themselves) in a do-no-harm program designed to monitor the creatures’ activities.
She bounds back to the lodge in front of us, where a three-course dinner is being prepared for guests. The meals are served by Neal and Corke – and there’s plenty of chat about wine recommendations.
The night is a wild one and the rain pelts the tin roof above us as the wind howls in the trees outside. But the lodge is eco-sealed – there are no draughts or chills in our cosy confines.
The morning brings a delicious continental breakfast. We bask in the lodge’s sunny lounge with more books before hitting the road. It’s a simple, restful stay that connects us to nature and opens our minds and hearts to new aspects of it.
The writer was a guest of Great Ocean Ecolodge and Great Ocean Road Marketing.
Cape Otway is just under 220 kilometres from Melbourne via the Great Ocean Road.
If you’re travelling from Sydney and short of time, consider flying with Jetstar directly to Avalon Airport near Geelong, which is close to the Great Ocean Road, and bypass Melbourne. See jetstar.com.
Great Ocean Ecolodge, 635 Otway Lighthouse Rd, Cape Otway, Victoria; phone (03) 5237 9297; $370 a room a night; room with a sundeck $400 a night. Continental breakfast is included. Cooked breakfast is $15, a picnic lunch $25 a person and dinner $55 a person. (Alcoholic drinks are extra.)
MORE INFORMATION greatoceanecolodge.com.