Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to head to one of Victoria’s most spectacular coastlines, packed to the rafters with winter woollies (it’s cold down here!), canine tech toys, and of course your panting fur kids in the back seat.
It’s everything you’ll need for the doggy holiday of your dreams, in one of Australia’s most picturesque pockets – the Otway Ranges.
The lush rainforest is perched just above the ruggedly beautiful cliff tops of the Great Ocean Road, making this place a photographer’s dream.
If you’ve got a DSLR, a point-and-shoot, a smartphone with top camera specs or an action cam GoPro, this is definitely the place you want to be with a camera at the ready to capture mother nature in all its glory: the ferns in the mist, the sunset at sea, and your smiling mutt giddy from all the fresh air.
Stay and Play
One of the most recent additions to the array of dog-friendly accommodation in the Otways is Otways Loft. It joins the ranks of more than 30 pet-friendly properties in this lush region as a great place to stay and play with your four-legged friends.
Situated in Forrest, which is 30 minutes from Apollo Bay on the coast and 30 minutes inland to the country town of Colac, it’s the perfect meeting point between the rainforest and the sea.
What’s quirky about the Loft is that it has a vintage train on site, which kids and dogs will love exploring, a huge rambling fenced garden along a laneway, a timber fort playground, and a wrap-around verandah that has a secure dog enclosure.
Fur kids are welcome to cosy up inside around the wood heater, or snuggle up in their dog beds in the romantic loft bedrooms upstairs – one has a claw bath, the other a balcony looking out over the leafy town of Forrest.
This place is really unique – a mixture of Victorian train features, local timber and salvaged materials. The builder lived on-site in the E car train carriage (built between 1910 and 1915) while constructing the home, which is a fascinating framework of tree poles in a triangular pattern – like a giant forest tepee.
Just outside of Apollo Bay, Marengo Beach is a wonderful flat stretch of beach that lets your dogs run off leash from between the rocks at the Apollo Bay breakwater, around Point Bunbury and south through to the carpark opposite the Heathfield Estate/Ocean Park Drive.
You’ll know you’ve hit the right part of the coast when you see the Apollo Bay Pony Club over from the Barham River estuary.
It’s mighty windy here, not surprising given that the next stop south is Antarctica, but it’s also a superb stretch of sand, very clean, and loads of fun if your dog likes frolicking in the surf.
In Apollo Bay itself, you can walk the bustling main strip with your dog on leash, with many of the cafés offering outdoor seating and water bowls.
Johanna Beach is also dog-friendly all year round and lets you camp with your dog. Nestled among the sand dunes, it gets biting cold over winter so rug up. Toilets are provided but no drinking water.
Walk this way
Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed in the National Park areas of the Otways, including many of the beautiful rainforest and waterfalls walks, to protect native animals and the delicate forest floor.
There are a few exceptions: the Stephensons Falls walk, which is an easy grade one-hour return; and the Beauchamp Falls which is a more moderate grade walk for those with more stamina.
You can also get amongst the magnificent scenery on popular pathways including the Tiger Rail Trail, which starts in Forrest and goes all the way though to Birregurra along the original train line. The 7km gravel path takes you over a restored bridge incorporating the original pylons of the train line, and across Yaugher Road to a recreation reserve if you want to let your dog run free.
Where to eat
In Forrest, the three restaurants are all dog-friendly, and you can walk to each of them from Otways Loft.
The Wonky Donkey is a traditional pub serving good old-fashioned counter meals like Chicken Parmigiana. Most of the town’s dogs hang out at this place, waiting patiently for their owners on the verandah, or taking the opportunity to have a stroll around the streets when tourists and their own fur kids head out for dinner.
The Guest House is a gorgeous renovated weatherboard set up much like the homely lounge of an old aunt – with fresh flowers, board games for the kids, and some really impressive fare from the hole in the wall.
The look might be retro, but the menu is very contemporary, calling on local produce and fresh herbs to deliver delicious tapas-style dishes.
The owners have two Kelpies who like to hang around outside, which makes for great company for your own dogs if they’re happy for a play date while you wine and dine. There’s virtually no traffic on the service road so unless you’ve got a bolter, there’s probably no need to tie up your dog.
Lastly, there’s the very hip Forrest Brewery, which makes its own fabulous range of craft beers and serves up a mighty fine breakfast. Spend the afternoon on the sawn-off log tables out the front imbibing ales, and then migrate inside when the sun goes down.
Weekends are bustling at the hipster hot spot, so book ahead for dinner at the brewery.
Get smart gadgets
Action cameras are an awesome way to capture the way your dog sees the world. If you’ve got one of the popular GoPros, which can go underwater and take a bit of a bashing, there are now dog harnesses to cradle the camera.
Kurgo make one in several sizes that securely mounts cameras on your dog’s back so that it can record all the crazy footage and sounds of your dog running free, or splashing through the surf.
In the age of wearable tech, which has seen the rise of fitness bands like Jawbone UP24 and FitBit, dogs are coming on board with their own activity devices like Whistle, which is a small tracking device on their collar.
The app on your phone lets you measure your mutt’s daily performance, comparing their stats based on breed, age and weight, and recording when they’re active and idle – which makes for fascinating reading when you’re away at work and want to know exactly what buggerlugs is up to.Love dogs? Why not visit our DOGSLife Directory