Suitably refreshed with our first long shower for days, we were on our way in the morning mist and had gone but a few kilometres when we passed the sign to Melba’s Gully. Lorraine was wanting to push on, but I casually remarked that apparently it was quite good and suddenly there was an outburst about missing out etc. After about 30 seconds I slammed on the brakes and turned around, as quickly as I could in the motorhome, and we retreated to the exit. Melba’s is not a place that springs readily to mind when visions of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria are recalled. Easing down the narrow road it was clear that this was untouched forest, a remnant preserved, and rightly so. The carpark was crowded when we arrived; there were dead leaves everywhere but not another vehicle in sight. “Just how good can it be?” we pondered as walking shoes were donned.
Initially we strolled past what once was a café and several bench tables covered in moss, a clear sign of disuse. It seemed to foretell that this wasn’t going to be all that great, but some leafy ferns and stands of erect eucalypts beckoned us onwards. The further we ventured down the gully, the better it became. In fact, it got so good that soon Lorraine proclaimed this was, “the best fern forest I’ve ever seen”. Something I could but echo a few minutes later. It really is stunning if you’re into this type of thing. Different species were clearly delineated by their leaf shapes side by side on the forest floor and, though we’d spent time in New Zealand and Tasmania where such things abound, this was the ultimate.
Though only listed as a 35-minute stroll, it was becoming clear we would be lucky to see the motorhome before the next hour expired. In time we came upon a sign that indicated a cascade to the left or a big tree to the right. We chose the latter and ascended the staircase, mindful that we’d have to descend again to view the cascade. Still, nothing like the possibility of viewing a forest giant. At 60m in height it is far from being the tallest in Australia, but significant nonetheless... except, there’s a problem: It had fallen down in 2002! Now the big tree just lies there, the minutiae of the woods eating the last of its soul, for one day soon the remnants will disappear beneath the leaf litter and become fodder for the new.
Had we read the map at the start of the trail, we would have realised that Anne’s Cascade is only a 20m diversion off the track while the Big (fallen) Tree is right beside the trail leading back to the carpark. We trekked back down the 100-plus steps to the flowing waters where I loved the water rushing across the rocks, making noises but almost eluding the eye as they paraded beneath the ferns where light will scarcely ever touch them, dying fronds rustling while pushed this way and that by the current.
Back on the trail and up the stairs yet again, we passed by the Big (fallen) Tree and, much to our surprise, came upon an even bigger fallen tree. Lorraine could walk right into it, such had been its girth, and it is surprising that it doesn’t get a mention in its own right. Set among the dead leaves whose dew sparkled, diamond-like, when touched by the infrequent rays of sunlight, the trunk splayed out where once its roots had sought nutrients. Above were bent reminders of those that had gone with it in its downward plunge and were now stuck in an uncomfortable warp from which there was no escape.
Further along there were orchid-type plants clinging to branches and colourful fungi here and there that we found irresistible before the track wound around past a clearing and back to the base where cheeky yellow robins followed our progress. We were amazed that such an attraction receives such relatively little publicity and visitor numbers. While we reflected on just how good it had been, the only other tourist there was driving off – so unlike what was to come later down the road.