4th to 9th April, 2013
The Great Ocean Walk runs from Apollo Bay to 12 Apostles. Although not as well known as the tarmac counterpart it is equally spectacular. Much of the region covered by GOW is where the Great Ocean Road takes and inland route making the walk fantastic way to spend some quality time in the area. Since first learning of this walk I have been very keen to get out and do it. The appeal to me is not only the spectacular scenery but also the challenge of completing a multi-day hike including carrying all my gear. As well as an end to end hike there are many excellent options for day, weekend and shorter multi day hikes, stepping on and off the track. Once I discovered the GOW, I knew only way I'd be satisfied was to tackle the whole thing in one go.
I booked the camp sites with Parks Vic who mentioned that due to an unusually period of low rainfall, some of the water tanks have or were about to run dry, and that "We recommend walkers supply their own water." I wasn't too concerned about this but I did drop off some water to the 2WD accessible parts of the walk. As well as the water I cached some food and gas at the half way point, Johanna Beach. For the hike menu I stuck to dry meals consisting of noodles, rice, etc as well as mixed nuts, dry fruit and chocolate for snacks. It ended up being about 1kg per day for food. I assembled the rest of my gear, weighing in at 13kg, excluding the food and water. I was pretty happy carrying this amount of weight.
After a massive chicken schnitzel burger I set off on the walk, starting at the visitor's centre in Apollo Bay. The beginning of the walk is though the town along the Great Ocean Road which is pleasant enough. The terrain gets a bit more interesting around Marengo where the walk hits the first of many beach sections. In this part of the walk the beach sections are a combination of sand and rock platforms. There are several 'decision points' where, based on tide and sea conditions, you can choose to take an inland route or continue along the beach. The signs give an ominous disclaimer: "you must decide the best option".
On at least once occasion I didn't decide on the best option. My choice to take the sea route had me scrambling high up on the rocks, tossing my pack across the gaps in order to stay dry. Even with this bit of rock climbing I suspect this route required less exertion than taking the inland track. There are a few more beach sections and an inland track that takes you to a picnic ground before returning to sea level at Elliot River.
There are some small waterfalls as you cross Elliot River followed by a nice steady climb up Elliot Ridge to the camp site. I checked out the campsite, set-up my shelter and went back to falls for a bit of fishing. At dinner I met a couple of fellow hikers, the only other group at the camp for the night. They already seemed to be doing it pretty tough, I soon realised why when I saw their collection of no less than 9 extra large chunky soup cans they had been lugging with them. Tasty but heavy.
There was a koala in the tree next to the eating shelter, which was the main topic covered in the walkers log book. It took me a bit of getting used to going to bed at dusk, but there really isn't much to do after dark and I didn't seem to have much trouble sleeping for 12 hours, even with the rather loud snorts and grunts of the local koala population.
I was up nice and early today, which was a good thing as I had a fair hike ahead of me. The walk to Blanket Bay is a pleasant stroll through bushland on nice flat 4x4 tracks. This passed pretty uneventfully, but I did get a chance to get up close with a wallaby. I was at Blanket Bay before lunch time, I had a snack and a look around.
The next section was again in bushland, but this time the track stays close to the coast, affording some spectacular views from the track and lookouts. After a couple of hours the track descends down to Parker Beach. This was a really beautiful estuary where the Parker River enters the sea, another spot for me to try fishing and take a break. The next section heads around towards the Cape Otway lighthouse, and most importantly the kiosk where I could buy an ice cream, yay! On the way I saw a baby tiger snake, I later heard there had been a couple of other snake spottings on this section of track that day. I was starting to wish I had gaiters or long pants on.
The Cape Otway campsite is excellent, as are all the sites. The walk designers have done a fantastic job of selecting and constructing the campsites. Again I met some fellow walkers over dinner, most of them seemed to be teachers, not surprisingly since it was school holidays.
I procrastinated to fill in some time this morning as I only had a short day. There is a historic cemetery associated with the lighthouse nearby the campsite. I paid a quick visit and then continued on the walk. The track here is cut through the coastal scrub and then descends down onto Station beach. This is a fairly long section of beach walking. I tended to walk as close to the water as possible where the ground is firmer which of course makes the walking easier, however you do run the risk of getting wet feet (which I did). I didn't do the Rainbow Falls side trip, I heard a few mixed reviews, and besides I need to have a reason to come back and do the hike again one day!
The Aire River campsite in situated about 1km inland on the river and is another popular camping spot for families. I took the opportunity for a swim in the river which was very welcome as I really needed a wash by this time. I had another crack at fishing from the bridge but was unsuccessful. This is a really beautiful spot, although you do feel slightly cheated when you camp so close to the drive-in campsite having done the hike. Being able to hear music being pumped out late into the night didn't help either.
Got up early today to fish, the early morning sky was worth it. I boiled up some water for some gas-less companions and set off for today's walk. Turned out to be a brilliant day and the colour of the water was sparkling blue. The track first traverses through the coastal scrub and then down onto Johanna beach for a plod though the sand. The biggest highlight was location of the walk-in campsite. I reached the camp fairly early in the day and picked an awesome site overlooking the beach on the top of the cliff. Only one other hiker camping here tonight, a Yank who was raving about Tim-Tams, easy macs and Melbourne hook turns. I spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach.
Today I decided to skip past the Ryans Den campsite and make it to all the way to Devils Kitchen. This was a pretty big day walking wise, depending on which sign, map or route used to calculate the distance, it added up to about 27km. Since I was feeling nice and fit I thought this would be a good challenge, the past two days having been really quite easy. I was also getting fitter as I went on. Not everyone I met would share this sentiment but I think anyone who has done a bit of pack hauling before wouldn't find any of the individual legs too taxing. Of course it helps if your pack weight is kept to something reasonable!
Having mentally committed myself to reaching Devils Kitchen I got up at 6am and was away by 6:30. The days walk starts along 4x4 tracks, the route tracks a few km inland before returning to the coast. The early morning start was good for roo spotting and the track conditions made for covering ground very quickly. Once the road section ends the track then takes you down to Milanesia Beach. There is a private cottage down here which is in a pretty sweet location. Some more beach walking and then back on the cliff-top coastal tracks. There are a fair few ascents and descents as you pass each valley of the tributaries entering the ocean. This type up and down walking is manageable as you alternate in stressing your heart (up) and knees (down).
Although most of the creeks were dry there were some nice mossy and ferny areas to enjoy. This part of the walk was far less popular but was my favourite part of the walk, with a much more rugged and remote feeling to it. I reached Ryans Den just before 11am for some lunch. Bumped into two workers clearing the tracks, I have to say Parks has done a good job keeping the tracks maintained, almost flip-flop spec.
Leaving Ryans Den with a full belly I hit the track again, similar waking conditions on the cliff top coastal track, with some truly breathtaking views of sheer cliffs and the deep blue sea. Back onto the road and briefly though some farmland, cows completely unfazed by my presence. The next section cuts through some bushland with taller timber than near the coast. I had now been walking for 6 hours, definitely got myself into a rhythm and doing a good pace. Being in this focused state, it came much to my surprise when I walked right past a tiger snake. The snake was sitting just off the track and I really was quite surprised to see a reptile out on such a cool, overcast day. I stopped to take some pics, making good use of the cameras zoom feature. From this point on every stick, rock, shadow, pile of leaves looked and sounded like a potential snake to me.
The approach to wreck beach is a seemingly never ending, solidly built staircase. I had to visit the beach today as tomorrow morning the tide would be high, and I really didn't want to miss this highlight of the trip. On the beach there are some anchors from wrecked ships, I got some good photos, although these things won't be going anywhere soon (they are massive). Now for one final climb back up to the campsite - Devils Kitchen. Sadly when I arrived the Devil hadn't even started cooking my dinner, in fact I had the camp to myself. Of note is the toilet at this site, which has a view overlooking the sea.
I'm on my last day now, I messaged Bec to pick me up 1pm at the visitors centre. The walking today is a pleasant stroll out of the woods and along the track carved through the coastal scrub. You also visit Gellibrand River which is very picturesque, a wide body of water with cliff faces on the western side of the river. The whole area is a wetland that comes up to Princetown. I avoided the temptation to visit the store and pushed on. The track now enters Port Campbell N.P. This area is mostly sand dunes that are covered with vegetation. This part is fairly uneventful, but eventually you start getting glimpses of the 12 Apostles. Finally the end is in sight! Curiously I found a mouse, fast asleep, propped up again a large pebble right in the middle of the track. Nothing much I did seemed to affect him, let's hope this playing dead acts works on snakes.
The walk officially end at Gibson Steps, there is also lookout nearby, complete with camera stands and a metal plaque to signify the end of the walk. I did the extra 1km to reach 12 Apostles and enjoyed a coffee, ice cream and clean shirt.