Tucked away amongst the hills behind Aireys Inlet, in one of the less visited sections of Great Otway National Park, the Currawong Falls Walking Track leads hikers through diverse forest types, from lush gullies dotted with tall tree ferns to tall Ironbark forests that give way to incredible ocean views.
I have a confession to make… Since the pandemic turned life upside down and put a few extended pauses on my thirst for outdoor adventure, I’m out of the habit of planning hikes. It’s not that the thirst is gone, but like many of my more positive habits, those lockdown years kind of sucked away the motivation and put a stop to well-formed habits. It’s time to start changing that.
So, when the opportunity arises for a rare weekend away with some of my closest mates, I jump at the chance. We’re staying at Fairhaven and, although I haven’t done many of the Aireys Inlet walks, I make the executive decision to kick off our fresh winter Saturday morning with Currawong Falls Walking Track.
The 11.5-kilometre Currawong Falls circuit is a trail I would’ve considered easy in pre-pandemic times, but as someone who’s had an extended hiking hiatus, let’s just say I’m not on the trail for long before I’m reminded why Parks Victoria labels a lot of the trails that I used to find easy as ‘Moderate’.
The trail departs from Distillery Creek Picnic Area, named after an illicit distillery that operated near Painkalac Creek in the late 1880s. We start in an anti-clockwise direction along the creek and spend the first hour or so of the walk theorising and joking about what the character who ran a hidden distillery in the hills would have been like and what it would’ve been like to live here in those times.
Apparently, the distillery operations were supplied by barley crops grown alongside the creek. We’re thankful that it’s now been mostly revegetated and rich in biodiversity. As we stroll along the gently undulating trail, we hear chirping and rustling in the undergrowth. Occasionally, we catch glimpses of Yellow robins and other tiny birds as they take flight, startled by our presence.
Need to Know
Length: 11.5 km
Time: 3 hrs
Grade: Moderate / Grade 3 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System)
Park: Great Otway National Park
Closest Town: Aireys Inlet
Car Access: From the Great Ocean Road in Aireys Inlet, turn inland onto Bambra Road. You’ll come to an intersection after 2.4 kilometres, where you need to turn left to stay on Bambra Road. From here it is only 350 metres to the Distillery Creek Picnic Area. If walking in an anti-clockwise direction like we did, take the trailhead on your right.
Further Info: Note that this is a shared path for walkers and mountain bikes. Parks Victoria encourages mountain bikers are encouraged to ride the trail in a clockwise direction, though nearly all of the bikes we came across were riding anti-clockwise. Both walkers and mountain bikers should ensure they pass each other courteously. When riding, take care not to take corners too quickly and politely announce yourself to walkers as you approach.
It isn’t long before the track starts climbing steadily, and I start to feel the burn in my 40-something-year-old under-exercised legs, knees, and hips. Fortunately, I have plenty of distractions to keep my focus elsewhere, from the conversation to the trail’s striking and diverse vegetation and birdlife.
Having long been a visitor to Great Otway National Park and Great Ocean Road region’s many incredible waterfalls, I suspect that I haven’t heard of Currawong Falls for a reason. My suspicions are confirmed when we eventually reach the Currawong Falls Lookout – while we can hear the trickly of the creek dropping into the gully below, we can only theorise on where we might be able to see it if we’d visited right after heavy rainfall.
“I’ve noticed a couple of spots along the way that would probably be waterfalls after heavy rains,” I theorise. “But we’re so lucky with this weather in June. I wouldn’t trade it to look at a waterfall.”
We pause momentarily at the lookout to appreciate the grandeur of the ancient forests, dense with bracken fern, tree ferns, wattles and Ironbark, and let the eucalyptus aroma fill our nostrils. After a few quiet seconds, we press on, the gentle crunch of dirt beneath our feet ushering us further into the hills, unsure of what surprises await around the next corner.
As we approach the trail’s highest point, the vegetation changes with altitude. The drier, open woodlands here allow impressive views back over the valleys we’ve walked through and their surrounding hills. I start to notice more and more Grass trees dotting the landscape, and I’m amazed to find that there doesn’t seem to be any signs of the characteristic dieback caused by cinnamon fungus – which, interestingly, isn’t actually a fungus but a soil-borne Phytophthora ‘water mould’. As a result, these are some of the most beautiful Grass trees I’ve ever encountered.
Soon we round a corner and let out a collective “woah” at the view over Split Point Lighthouse and the surf coast. We stop to enjoy some lunch and just sit, soaking up one of Victoria’s most picturesque sections of coastline.
Sometimes a lunch break can make it challenging to start walking again, but we’re approaching the end of the circuit before we know it. The Currawong Falls Walking Track isn’t quite finished serving up highlights, though – soon, we come to a pretty granite outcrop overlooking Ironbark Gorge. Despite feeling like we’ve only just started walking again, we’re drawn to this spot and can’t help but take a seat on the rocks overlooking the gorge.
When we eventually get back on our stiff, tired legs, it’s just a short downhill stroll back to the car park. With the expected post-hike soreness creeping up on us, we skip the usual post-hike stretching routine and jump in the van to head straight for Fairhaven Beach for the perfect remedy – an icy mid-winter swim. It sweeps away any fatigue, replacing it with a rush of exhilaration, the perfect preparation for dinner and drinks at the Aireys Inlet Pub.
Currawong Falls Walking Track might not provide the waterfall crescendo its name suggests, but the views, birdlife and vegetation will certainly impress.
Have you hiked Currawong Falls Walking Track? Got it on your bucket list? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.
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