The area around Orbost was first settled in 1842 and originally used for cattle grazing. A township began to develop in the 1870s and it eventually became an important service centre for what has developed into a major cattle and agricultural district. The surrounding mountain forests produce hardwood timber, most of which is milled locally.
The commercial centre is along Nicholson Street. As Nicholson Street heads northwards, it becomes a wide boulevard with lawns and trees along its central strip. A memorial clock tower marks the northern end of the commercial centre at the Salisbury Street roundabout.
The Orbost Visitor Information Centre is situated in Forest Park on Nicholson Street. The centre is housed in the historic Slab Hut. The hut was an original family dwelling built in 1872, on a site about 3 km upstream from the junction of the Buchan and Snowy Rivers, and about 40 km from Orbost on the Yalmy Rd. No nails were used in the construction; it was all wired together. After a period in storage, the slab hut was relocated to its present location in Orbost as the Information Centre in 1987.
Located in the attractive Forest Park is the $2 million Orbost Exhibition Centre (OEC) built by Orbost woodworkers and artisan. Designed to showcase local timbers, the OEC is the permanent home of the National Collection of Wood Design which features wood art. 1-3 pieces are added to the collection every year though an Acquisition Prize. As of 2008, the collection has 35 outstanding wood pieces – mainly from Australian timbers and recycled timbers.
The OEC has a large retail area full of wooden and other artworks – sculptures, bowls, boxes, furniture, jewellery and other unique craftwork all made by local artists. A gallery features different monthly art exhibitions and the Talking Wall Project (since Nov 2008) painted by local artists – a visual story of the Snowy River from its beginnings, thousands of years ago, to modern time.
A number of rainforest walks also begin in the Forest Park.
Good views of Orbost, the Snowy River and the bridges across its flood plain can be enjoyed from Grandview Lookout, located south-west of Orbost in the small community of Newmerella.