The Barham Backwater Restoration Project

The perfect little detour on the Great Ocean Walk

There are lots of little detours on the Great Ocean Walk, but some of the best are the less well-known. Whether you’re on our 3-day Cape Hike Tour or our full 7-day Great Ocean Walk Tour, we can customise your experience to include detours that are meaningful to you and your group. If this sounds ideal, take a look at our Custom Great Ocean Walk Packages. As locals, the Barham backwaters is one of our favourite locations for a quick daily walk, as you never know what you might see.
You might be lucky enough to spot a koala resting in the trees, spy a swooping plover or a kookaburra, or if you are really lucky, a platypus popping its head out of the water.

A lone platypus swims through still, reflective water, creating ripples around it.

So, if you are heading back into Apollo Bay after doing a tour, why not take a mini detour and relax by the river for a while.

Day one of a 7 day walk with us is only 8km, so you have time to stop and sit back and relax whilst on your walk back into town. Although we can’t guarantee you will see a platypus, as they are pretty shy little fellows, you will always see lots of birds and ducks enjoying the river backwater. If you opt for the 4-day Full Great Ocean Walk, however, there is so little time to stop and smell the roses that you won’t be able to include this detour. So, choose your experience carefully — or just ask us for some expert advice.

A Local Apollo Bay Hang Out Near the Great Ocean Walk

As you can see from this old photo, the Barham river has always attracted locals for not just a beautiful relaxing fishing spot, but also for lots of fun. The river was a popular swimming spot years ago (way before Apollo Bay dreamed of having their own swimming pool). This photo was taken in 1918 and you can see locals jumping off the bridge, enjoying swimming races.

Local kids have always enjoyed swimming here over the years, but we would not recommend swimming or diving in as there are lots of snags in the water and the stormwater drags quite a lot of large branches along the river towards the river mouth opening and ocean.

Here is the bridge today….

The Apollo Bay Recreational Reserve Caravan Park

The recreational reserve caravan park (circling the footy oval) is a great place to stay if you are looking for an alternative to a motel in Apollo Bay. If you book early and feel like camping, it’s really nice to book a site overlooking the Barham River. (The sunsets over the river are really pretty).

If you are looking for secure car parking on the Great Ocean Walk talk to the staff at the Recreation Reserve.  They usually charge a small fee.

The Estuary of the Barham River

The Estuary of the Barham river is of state significance. It consists of the largest abandoned tidal backwaters of any stream in western Victoria. This map by the Southern Otway Landcare Network (SOLN) outlines the backwaters:

Going back into the history books, this area was completely cleared for farming with the majority of the estuary being open to stock grazing. Over the years the lack of vegetation and livestock grazing caused the degradation of riparian areas along the Barham River.

Sadly, SOLN has reported the loss of species habitat and a decline in water quality. However, SOLN continues to clear the area of weeds and has been awarded $80K  from the Wild Otway Initiative to combat weeds in this catchment area.

The Baron backwaters is an Estuarine wetland. Wetlands are where water forms pools or flows that last long enough for plants and animals to base a significant part of their year in wetlands. They are a habitat for flora and fauna, they recapture and recycle nutrients, reduce the risk of floods and help control erosion.

The Otways’ Swamp Scrub Ecosystem

Swamp scrub is a threatened ecosystem. It is dominated by dense thickets of blue/ grey Woolly tea tree and Scented Paperbark. Swamp scrub is home to many rare and threatened plants and animals such as the Swamp Antechinus, Swamp Skink, Late Helmet Orchid, and Swamp Greenhood Orchid.

Since European settlement, 95% of swamp scrub areas have been lost. Many areas that would’ve supported Swamp Scrub are now on private land. However, farmers and private landholders here in the Otways play a large role in protecting this threatened community by limiting stock access, controlling weeds and allowing research and monitoring on their properties.

Thousand of plants have been donated to SOLN towards revegetation works on the Barham River. These plants are Indigenous to the Barham River’s riparian zone, which will help improve the river’s health. Thirty-one ha of low-lying land has been fenced off from livestock access, and the community (and local schools) have undertaken weed management and re-vegetating in the area.

Cultural Heritage Sites in the Otways

The Estuary of the Barham river also contains important cultural heritage sites. Middens found around the Otways suggest that Gadubanud (the King Parrot people) had a varied diet that ranged from fish and shellfish to seals, eels and ducks. Animal protein came from native rats, snakes, lizards, frogs, birds and possums. The Barham and Gellibrand Rivers were possible territorial borders with other traditional owners — the Wada Wurrung , Gulidjan and Girai Wurrung people.

Waterbirds in the Otways

Wetlands support a large number of water birds that depend on them for food shelter and breeding. Many of these birds are migratory and link us to other parts of the world through the flyways they use and the wetlands they rest along the way. Ducks, Grebes, Herons, Swamphens, Ibis, Spoonbills Brolga and plovers all use wetlands.

So, remember, the Great Ocean Walk is extremely special, but there are some little gems here and there along the way which are well worth a little detour if you have time. If you want to discuss how a walk can be best designed to suit you, please just contact us for a chat :).

Leave a Reply