Melba Gully State Park is 1.5 km off the Great Ocean Road, 3 km west of Lavers Hill. The access road is narrow and steep in places, but quite suitable for conventional vehicles. (Melway ref: 526 H10P)
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The animals of Melba Gully are not often seen, being shy or nocturnal. Possums, Platypuses and native bush rats are some of them and there are many birds including the shy Australian Ground Thrush, Suberb Blue Wrens, Yellow Robins, Grey Shrike-thrushes and Rufous Fantails. Perhaps the most unusual inhabitants are glow worms, seen at night along the walking tracks. The larvae of a species of small fly, they make sticky threads that trap tiny insects attracted by the glow. In wet weather, you may find a glossy Black-shelled Snail along the track. Named Victaphanta compacta, this carnivorous species is found only in the Otways.
Settlers began to take up land in the Otways and clear the forest in the 1880s. Transport was a major problem, so a narrow-gauge railway was built from Colac to Beech Forest in 1902 and extended to Crowes in 1911. Sawmills were established in the forest and timber tramways built to carry logs and timber to the narrow-gauge line. There were two such mills and a tramway in Melba Gully. The Melba Gully was purchased for Mrs Jessie Fry in 1921 and named by her after Australia's famous singer Dame Nellie Melba. Through the 1930s and 1940s Melba Gully was a popular picnic and lunch stop for bus tourists, but business came to an end in 1948 when a length limit was imposed on buses using Otway roads. The picnic area is on the site of Mrs Fry's tearooms. The large open area was established as a farm; it is being gradually revegetated with indigenous species such as Mountain Ash. The property was sold in 1958 to Mr and Mrs Axel Madsen, who generously offered it to the Victorian Conservation Trust in 1975. It is now managed by Parks Victoria.
Madsens Track Nature Walk, starting in the picnic area, is an adventure in a world of ancient mossy trees and cool fern gullies. The large trees in this rainforest gully are Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii) and Blackwood (Acacia melanoxlon). Many plants grow on trees here, including Kangaroo Fern, Weeping Spleenwort and Shiny Shield-fern. They are not parasites, but epiphytes, surviving on decaying leaves and bark. Hard Water-fern and Mother Shield-fern cover much of the forest floor. In all there are 33 species of fern in the Park. Higher up, the Park's vegetation is exposed to more sunlight and drying winds and is quite different from that in the gullies. Young Otway Messmates are dispersed among Hazel Pomaderris, Musk Daisy-bush, Christmas Bush and Satin Box. The "Big Tree" on Madsen's track is a highlight of the walk through the fern gully. This Otway Messmate is around three hundred years old and is a reminder of the giant trees that once covered the Otway ranges.