We set off from Adelaide towards the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, South-East Australia. We were not going there to stop along the various lookout points and sample some of the activities along the way. Neither were we going there to admire the view from the car window. We were going there to be a part of it, and explore it from the inside. The Great Ocean Walk (GOW) is 97.1km in total and can be completed in five to eight days. Hikers can also choose to do shorter walks, over fewer days. Carrying a full backpack; with the tent, clothes, food, and supplies wasn’t easy, but I was looking forward to the challenge.
Apollo Bay to Elliot Ridge
Our adventure began at the Great Ocean Road Visitor Centre. We took an expensive taxi ride there, from the Princetown Recreation Reserve, where our car was parked. Essentially, the aim was to walk back to the car. The beginning involved walking through the town. We stood out from everyone else, as we carried our big backpacks through a small market place. It was a 9.8 Km walk in total, no major hills yet. Approaching the Shelley Beach picnic area, we decided to take the beach walk, to avoid an uphill climb. There was a scary section, where we had to cross over a gap between the rocks. This was tricky to negotiate with our heavy backpacks. We had seconds to cross before the waves hit. I crossed just as a huge wave came in, crashing against the rocks. The map clearly marks out the areas that should only be crossed during low tide. Not being experts on tides and waves, we certainly didn’t have a scientific approach to determine safety. We just went for it, anything to avoid those hills. Be cautious and refer to the map when in doubt. Walking up a hill would have been a lot safer.
The Elliot Ridge campground was our first stop. Unfortunately, just before entering the campground there was a steep uphill climb that seemed to go on forever, especially as it was our first climb. You may not feel good while climbing it, but you certainly feel good when it’s over. There were many more of these to come. Upon entering the campground we heard a strange noise. It sounded like a wild pig, I immediately wondered if they had these in Victoria. Is it alright to run from these? I asked myself, do they chase? Thankfully, one didn’t come charging out from the bushes to attack us. I thought it could also be a motorcycle engine, but we were deep into the rainforest. It was confusing to say the least. We were surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees, which created a shaded and mystic environment. We then saw a Koala half way up a tree, the first of many. Later, we discovered it was the Koala making the strange noise. We had no idea they made this bizarre sound. You usually don’t hear a peep from them at home. All night in our tent, we could hear the Koalas up in the trees, making a collective sound.
Elliot Ridge to Cape Otway
The following day was our first double day. Instead of camping at Blanket Bay, we had lunch there and continued our journey towards Cape Otway. In total we walked 22.5km. Along the way we saw Wallabies. They would stare at us for a few moments, before hopping off through the heavy shrubbery. We wondered how they managed to do that so comfortably, without getting hurt. There was one Wallaby that didn’t hop off straightaway. As we approached it, we wondered why it wasn’t scared and became a little concerned. Then he appeared to hop away in slow motion. He was an old fellow.
We passed a lot of cattle, which may have explained why we were harassed endlessly by flies. They would cling to our backpacks and fly into our faces. Fighting them off was utterly futile. They would go away momentarily, and come straight back. It was as if there was a magnetic force, pulling them towards us. We had to learn to accept them; I even took my fly net off after a while. We stopped at the lookouts at Parker Inlet to admire the stunning views of the Ocean. Stopping became problematic, as the flies took it as an opportunity to pounce on us.
We reached the Lighthouse just as it was closing. We didn’t mind because we had been hiking all day, and climbing a long flight of stairs didn’t appeal to us. Besides, we were feeling self-conscious about the flies that were following us. I took a chance and entered, to buy a drink. Thankfully, as soon as I went through the doorway, the flies left. Of course they were waiting for us outside like stalkers.
Cape Otway to Johanna Beach
From Cape Otway, we embarked on yet another double day. We felt stronger and better prepared for the uphill climbs. When hiking, the first couple of days are always the toughest, but your body gets use to it as you progress. We didn’t see any other backpackers along the trail at this point; we were alone for most of the walk. As we were doing double days, we had already gone ahead of people. The stillness, and silence was peaceful. Use to travelling to busy places, full of tourists; we experienced a quiet contrast on the GOW. There was just the two of us and an occasional wallaby, echidna or snake. Perhaps the beginning of summer was not the most popular time of year. There were certainly some hot days, but it was usually cool in the mornings and rained heavily on occasion. We were well prepared for the different conditions, carrying warm and waterproof clothing just in case. Bringing a small tripod was handy because there wasn’t anyone we could ask to take a picture of us. Our tripod had straps, so we would tie it to a tree to position the camera.
The walk started with an uphill climb, although it wasn’t as bad as I expected. We then reached a road that seemed to go on forever, with no bench or log to sit on. Going downhill was no picnic either; the pressure on the knees was intense at times, especially with a heavy backpack. Crossing the Aire River was a mini adventure for me; I took my shoes off and stepped into the cool crisp water. It was very refreshing. We crossed a bridge and stopped to have lunch at the Aire River Campsite. There were tourists stopping at the various lookout points, this was in contrast to the isolation we had experienced before this point.
From the Aire River campsite to Johanna Beach, we experienced what felt like the longest beach walk in history. Every step resulted in my feet getting buried in the soft sand, it was horrendous. Even the stunning views of the ocean didn’t distract me from the tedious and bitter task of simply walking on the beach. All we could do was try to find wet sand to walk on, when possible. The waves along this section were gigantic. An explanation as to why it was deserted. There certainly wouldn’t be any surfing or swimming in those conditions. Watching the waves crash was a stunning sight. Part of the beach was sectioned off to protect the endangered Hooded Plover birds. Towards the end of this stretch, we had to negotiate passing in between a giant wave, crashing on the shore. We took our shoes off and went for it.
As we approached the Johanna Beach campsite, some locals told us where the Kangaroos come out to feed at dusk. We were the only ones at the campsite so we had the pick of the plots. We chose the one with a spectacular sea view. We set up camp and took a short walk up a hill and through a gate, to see the Kangaroos. We saw three or four on the field below. That night we learned that having a sea view came at a price. Our tent was totally exposed during a very stormy evening. We thought it would be blown away, with us in it. Thankfully it held up and we survived the night.
Johanna’s Beach to Ryan’s Den
Rain greeted us the next morning. We waited before setting off and had breakfast and tea under the shelter. Then we had to reside ourselves to the fact that it wasn’t going to stop raining. Johanna’s Beach to Ryan’s Den was the most difficult hike of the trip so far. From the onset, there was a great deal of elevation. We walked up towards the Melanesia Track and had a close up view of the Kangaroos, peeping at us from behind the grass. Although this day was more difficult than both double days, it was one of the most beautiful hikes. The challenge was more mental than physical. As soon as we reached the top of a hill, we had to come straight back down, then up again. As the trail led us through the rainforest, I would have chosen walking on soft sand in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, we saw a scary snake for the third time during the trip. A distraction from constantly asking myself; “are we there yet?”
Take in the views and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, while rising to the challenge of the hike. There were nice places to take breaks along the way. Towards the end, there were a number of timber staircases. A stair lift would have really come in handy at this point. Arriving at Ryan’s Den, we didn’t make the same mistake twice. We camped behind a tree to provide a barrier against the strong winds. This was a nice campsite, with communal areas on a hilltop to admire the views.
Ryan’s Den to Devil’s Kitchen
The plan was to go to Devil’s Kitchen the next day. This certainly was the most difficult day of the hike. There were many steep climbs up to the cliffs, and downhill walks into the valleys. It was both mentally and physically challenging, but this did not diminish the beauty of our surroundings. We entered the Great Otway National Park and walked through the Moonlight Valley. There were day hikers and tourists doing the Great Ocean Road and going to The Gables Lookout. We felt really under-dressed at this point. The Gables Lookout provided awesome views of the Ocean and cliffs.
Unfortunately, due to a knee injury, we decided to stop at the Gables Car Park to call a Taxi. We had planned to walk from the Devil’s kitchen campsite to the Princetown Recreational Reserve, where our car was parked. We were going to leave our backpacks in the car and walk the rest of the way, towards the 12 Apostles. Then we would have walked back to the car. That would have been a very long day. I’m glad we drove there instead! The 12 Apostles were great, but we saw many more beautiful sites; through the rainforest, along the cliffs, in the valleys and on the beaches. Everyone told us we had seen the best parts of the walk and not to feel too bad about not doing the last day. If you want to see the area in all its glory, I would recommend doing the walk. Even a shorter 3 day hike would be worth it. Get out of the car and put your hiking boots on.
Have you done the GOW? Share your experiences below.