Phantom Falls was the last of the waterfalls in Victoria that we visited in the Great Ocean Road vicinity, which happened to be an area so full of waterfalls that visiting this one was almost an afterthought. But as you can see from the photo above, this 15m falls on the St George River was attractive and worth the effort to reach. Each time we've made a visit (once in November 2006 and another in November 2017), the falls had healthy flow though I've seen other photos in the literature showing the falls with even more volume and width. That said, just the fact that this waterfall was flowing on that first visit when southeastern Australia was caught in a nearly decade-long drought certainly made me think of this falls as a pretty reliable one.
It seemed like there was more than one way to hike to this waterfall, but Julie and I took an out-and-back hike from the Allenvale Road access (see directions below), which took us about 90 minutes to cover the 3.6km round trip distance. The mostly uphill track pretty much meandered alongside the St George River, including going through some private property, which made this somewhat of an unusual hike.
From the Allenvale Car Park, we crossed the unsealed Allenvale Rd and onto the signed track, which skirted the St George River before entering a grassy area belonging to a private landowner. I noticed that signage and arrows were strategically placed to minimize the disturbance to the gracious landowner enabling this route to occur in the first place. Once we were past the property or farm, the path then skirted a fenced area sandwiched between the boundaries of the private property and the well-vegetated banks of the St George River. The track would persist like this for the next 300m or so before the track started to climb in earnest.
The climb seemed like it was endless as it kept going up for the next 500m or so. The steepest part of the climb was near the apex, and it was steep enough to make me feel like each step was burning my calves. Once we got past this relentless climb, we were well above the gorge carved out by the St George River. By then, the track had flattened out and meandered alongside the southern rim of the gorge with the river rushing audibly below. Eventually, after 1.6km from the start, we reached a pair of signposted trail junctions leading to other trails and trailheads. Sticking to the waterfall route, shortly thereafter, we reached a signposted spur a short distance before the main track was about to cross over a ford (above the target waterfall).
Taking the spur track, it steeply descended a couple of switchbacks with railings to hold onto. The track was also alongside some surprising water pipes (possibly to divert some of the St George River for agricultural purposes like that private property we had passed through earlier) before reaching the banks of the river below. That was when we were finally face-to-face with the Stevenson Falls and its well-shaded plunge pool and alcoves. While this was one of the more unsung waterfalls of the Angahook-Lorne State Park (let alone the Great Otway National Park), there were still a surprising number of people sharing the falls with us on each of our visits here.
I suspect that the presence of people could be due to the fact that there were multiple ways to hike to the falls in addition to the Allenvale Car Park approach that we took. According to the maps, it appeared that the Erskine Falls Road approach near the Cora Lynn Car Park could be a slightly shorter approach distance-wise though that would involve going across the St George River ford that we avoided at the top of Stevenson Falls. In any case, despite the misleading signage at the Allenvale trailhead suggesting the hike to the falls was either 2.5km each way or 2.5km round trip, according to my GPS logs, we went 3.6km round trip (or 1.8km in each direction).
Further down the hill towards the ocean was the beach town of Lorne along the Great Ocean Road. As you can see here, on a gorgeous day, the beaches were really popular
The Twelve Apostles (shown here) was perhaps the signature attraction of the Great Ocean Road. Phantom Falls was further inland from the road near Lorne
It was less than 2 hours drive from Lorne to Melbourne, where the city had its own stretch of beach at St Kilda, which we felt was more of a place to be seen than it was a scenic beach to play at
Roughly an hours drive to the west along the Great Ocean Road was the town of Apollo Bay, which was also a busy coastal town with beaches though it was noticeably less busier than Lorne
Signage at the trailhead for Phantom Falls opposite the Allenvale Car Park
Initially, the falls track followed along the St George River as it was approaching private property
The open field through the private property from our first visit back in November 2006
The arrows and signs led us across this driveway as we were making our traverse through the private property
Beyond the private property traverse, the track was sandwiched between the well-vegetated forest surrounding the St George River to the right and the remaining parcels of private property cleared out to the left
Eventually, the track went through more conventional forest as we left the private property behind
Then, the track started to climb
Julie walking uphill on the gravel road back in November 2006
The uphill track seemed considerably narrower compared to the last time we were here 11 years ago
This was the steepest part of the long climb, which was right at the apex
After the long climb, the track flattened out and meandered along the south rim of the gorge carved out by the St George River below
Signage reassuring me that I was on the right track
Sign indicating that I was getting pretty close to the falls from back in November 2006
Looking ahead at a ford above the Phantom Falls. The track to the base of the falls from the Allenvale Car Park didn't need to cross this ford
Hard to see Phantom Falls from up here. Better do the descent to its base.
On the steep descent to the base of the falls
Water pipe seen along the descent to the base of Phantom Falls. I suspect that this was to divert some of the water from the St George River to feed some of the vineyards or crops in that private property we had traversed earlier
Back at the falls for the first time in 11 years
Another look at the secluded falls in the late afternoon
Our first look at the front of Phantom Falls as the sun was shining right on it from our first visit back in November 2006
While there are many approaches to get to the Allenvale Rd into the forests further up the hills from Lorne, we'll start off by describing what we think would be the most straightforward route. We'll then get to alternative approaches later on in this section.
The easiest approach would be from the south end of the town centre of Lorne where the Great Ocean Road / Mountjoy Parade would intersect with Bay St at a roundabout opposite the car park for the Lorne Beach at Loutit Bay. Going up the steep residential road at Bay St for 450m, we then make a right turn onto George St. In about 200m George St then entered a roundabout, where we took the first exit to go onto Allenvale Rd.
From there, we followed the unsealed road for about 1.5km until we reached the Allenvale Car Park on our left. The Phantom Falls Track began opposite the Allenvale Rd from the car park (the signs and track leading from the far end of the car park was for the Allenvale Mill Site Camping Area and not for the waterfall).
If you're coming into town from the north, it might be worth taking Otway St, which leaves the Great Ocean Road at a roundabout by the Lorne Visitor Centre. We'd then follow the Otway St for about 1km to the roundabout hooking us up with Allenvale Rd (2nd exit). Then, we'd take the unsealed road for 1.5km to the Allenvale Car Park.
Finally, there was also an alternate trail leading from the Sheoak Picnic Area to the Phantom Falls. This route didn't involve crossing through private property though the track was a bit longer than the one we took from the Allenvale Car Park. In any case, the Sheoak Picnic Area was an additional 1.9km beyond the Allenvale Car Park along the bumpy Allenvale Rd.
For geographical context, Lorne was 47km (a little over an hour drive) east of Apollo Bay, 142km (under 2 hours drive) southwest of Melbourne or 68km (over an hour drive) southwest of Geelong.
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