Close encounter at Lake Elizabeth

Friday 22 January 2021. FLYING SAUCER PHOTOGRAPHED OVER LAKE ELIZABETH. That at least might be the headline in the Fortean Times, but the mysterious image in the photo below, somewhat resembling a disc in profile or a cigar (both classic UFO shapes), and which I first noticed as I was downloading the day’s photographs following our walk around Lake Elizabeth, is probably a speck of dust on the lens. Curiously, though, it didn’t manifest in any other shot…

UFO over Lake Elizabeth?

We had returned to Lake Elizabeth, a shining jewel in the heart of the Great Otway National Park, after an absence of eighteen months. As usual we had driven via Winchelsea, a medium-sized town lying midway between Geelong and Colac on the Princes Highway (which rather unfairly cuts the pleasant town in two). In Winchelsea we routinely visit the hospital op shop. To our dismay we discovered that it had burnt down in November. No trace of the building, an ex-Masonic lodge, remained. After a few moments of staring in mild bemusement at the empty space we continued on our way. Our route took us through the lovely, rolling countryside around Dean’s Marsh, Pennyroyal and Barwon Downs, and we arrived at the Lake Elizabeth picnic ground, delightfully sited along the left bank of the Barwon River East Branch, in time for lunch.

Barwon River East Branch

Geologically speaking, Lake Elizabeth was formed very recently. In 1952 heavy rainfall in the Otway Ranges caused a landslide that blocked the flow of the Barwon River East Branch. The river spilled out into its valley, drowning trees, which can still be seen, and creating a lake. The river resumed its flow after two months when the lake overtopped the blockage. A year later the lake was greatly reduced in size following a partial collapse of the landslide dam. Thus was Lake Elizabeth born.

Drowned trees

From the picnic ground a lovely, undulating, kilometre-long path goes to the lake, more or less following the course of the river. En route it passes by a billabong, whose silent water presents a perfect mirror image of the forest.

The path to the lake
The billabong

The path emerges at a little jetty where kayaks are sometimes moored. The jetty affords a marvellous view of the lake in its stunning forest setting. We paused to admire it.

View from the jetty

Leaving the jetty behind we began our circumambulation of the lake. As usual we walked counter-clockwise, heading east along the more open southern bank, with clear views of the beautiful scenery. The route is straightforward with just a little scrambling here and there. Today the path was dry; on other occasions, and in winter especially, it can become muddy. After a kilometre or so we passed the lake’s quaint little beach; we have occasionally seen people bathing there. Soon we emerged from the forest and entered a reedbed at the eastern end of the lake. The reeds are very picturesque, presenting a pleasing palette of colours, and the views back towards the jetty at the western end of the lake are lovely. It was here, among the reeds, that I managed to capture my UFO. The path wound through the reedbed via a boardwalk, then plunged back into the forest.

Reedbed at the eastern end of the lake

We walked west now, heading back towards the jetty along the darker, denser northern side of the lake. Avenues of tree ferns hemmed us in and occluded broader views; only the water’s edge could be seen clearly. Many years ago we briefly watched a platypus swim among the tree roots by the bank. We have not seen one since. Midway along the northern bank the curtain of foliage suddenly parted and an outstanding vista opened; we were presented with a glorious scene of the lake and its dead trees, remnants of the drowned valley. Then it closed again as abruptly.

Avenue of tree ferns along the northern bank
Through an opening in the forest curtain

We arrived back at the jetty, turned onto the path to the picnic area and were soon back at the car. Deciding to return to Torquay via Lorne, we took Kaanglang Road to Wye River Road, which reaches the Great Ocean Road on the Lorne side of Separation Creek. We stopped in Lorne for some afternoon tea then proceeded to Torquay. What a top day out!

The path back to the picnic area
Beautiful Lorne


  1. Ah, I can hear the old “Twiglight Zone” theme tinkling along in the background.
    Have not been to Lake Elizabeth in oh, so many, years.
    Used to go quite regularly as part of our summer on the coast.

    The old dead trees help to tell the story in such a poignant way.

    Perhaps the mark is a small piece of fibre that was on the sensor at the time. Not sure of the camera, but on SLR’s we see such things regularly and have a cleaning regime, (but to be honest, hardly ever keep to it! )

    Good to be out again after the short lockdown.

  2. It was rather spooky! My camera is a cheap (and old) Fujifilm Finepix S1800, and I have to admit I have never cleaned it… Lake Elizabeth is always beautiful but I prefer it in winter, when it’s cold and damp (and the Otway Black Snails are out). Magnificent!

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