Mar 302014
Station Beach, Great Ocean Walk

Station Beach, Great Ocean Walk

Where to stop
Do you need a map?
Logistics – where to stay and how to get to and from the track
Is the GOW difficult?
GOW: the forest’s own voice

It’s not easy to find information about the Great Ocean Walk, the 106 km track that hugs Australia’s southern coastline known to drivers on the tourist trail as the Great Ocean Road.

The Great Ocean Walk – Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles – can be walked easily in five days, though some do it in six or seven.

Where to stop

My friend Caroline and I divided our walk into five legs: Apollo Bay, Blanket Bay, Aire River, Johanna Beach, The Gables Lookout, Gibson Steps.

At day’s end, we needed road access for the car – this determined our daily destination.

The following distances are close estimates:

  • Apollo Bay to Blanket Bay – 22kms
  • Blanket Bay to Aire River – 20kms
  • Aire River to Johanna Beach – 14kms
  • Johanna Beach to The Gables Lookout – well, I took a guess at this one and by our reckoning we were 5kms out – the 20km guesstimate was at least 5kms short
  • The Gables Lookout to Gibson Steps – 20ishkms.

In hindsight, Caroline would have extended the Johanna Beach leg to Melanesia Beach, thus shortening the walk to The Gables Lookout the following day. For me, I enjoyed the short day to Johanna – and loved the surprise of a ‘plan’ going awry, tipping us from jagged hills into undulating forest at the closing of the day.

The second half of that day was the most wild and beautiful of the walk.

When planning your GOW, your daily destinations will depend on your accommodation and transport options (see below).

Do you need a map?

We didn’t carry a map – though others we met on the track did. The GOW is well marked with little blue signs along the track; it is well worn and impossible to lose.

Only once did we wonder where to go, and that was a few moments’ confusion at the Gellibrand River, where common sense told us there was no bridge at the river mouth and so we wandered up the sandy track towards Princetown, there to find a picnic spot with the little blue sign pointing us west.

Here is the Parks Victoria mud map we used to plan our walk. The red dots are the spots you can get your car in.

Great Ocean Walk mud map

Logistics – where to stay and how to get to and from the track

Here are the accommodation and transport options for the GOW – we spent a lot of time exploring the best, most efficient, most fabulous, most delightful way of doing the walk (see #4).

1. what we did

We rented a room in Apollo Bay via – and then offered our host extra cash ($250) to drive with us each morning to our daily destination (Point B – where we would leave our car) and then drive us back to our daily starting point (Point A).

This option gave us showers, warm beds, a kitchen, daily supplies from Apollo Bay – and up to three hours a day on the road.

2. camping on the track

There is a string of campsites along the GOW – some accessible by car, others out there in the wilderness. To camp ‘out there’, which would be heaven and require no driving for the entire length of the track, means carrying all your food and bedding, some water (other water can be accessed and boiled for drinking) – this option is only for those willing to carry 15-20kilos on their back.

3. boutique accommodation and shuttle transport

There’s loads of private boutique accommodation options along the GOW – and a shuttle service that will drop you off and pick you up each morning. This sounds great and possibly is – if the shuttle service timetable works for you.

In our case, the shuttle would make no commitment in advance as to where we would start walking each day – our itinerary would depend upon the destinations of other bookings. This meant we might do our last leg third, our first leg last, our second leg third, etc.

This is why we paid our Airbnb host the extra cash, so we could walk the track consecutively from start to finish. The cash we paid him was less than the cost of the shuttle.

4. the ideal solution!

Here’s how Caroline and I would do the GOW again: We would pay Josh, our Airbnb host, to set up our camp each day at pre-determined destinations – thus eliminating the need to carry camping gear and food.

Josh would also bring us daily supplies from Apollo Bay – ice for the esky, wood for the fire (Blanket Bay and Aire River), food and/or takeaway dinners and wine for sunset.

He would then return the following morning and move the camp to the next day’s destination.

This solution eliminates the need to get in a car at all, leaving the walkers free to surrender to the wilderness as they find it.

On the last day, we would organise a shuttle to collect us from the Twelve Apostles and return us to Apollo Bay, where we would pick up our gear from Josh’s (the point at which we’d left our car). This option would cost us around $500 each – all accommodation and transport covered.

Find Josh here.

Is the GOW difficult?

Like all walks – pilgrimages – the degree of difficulty will depend on your attitude on the day.

Some days or hours or minutes are hard slog whether you’re on the flat or climbing hills. Other days or hours or minutes are a breeze as you scamper up hill faces and mind your footing on the way down.

The GOW has beach walking – though surprisingly little of it. As well, there are almost always high tide options, so if wandering along the tideline is not your thing, you can (mostly) escape the sand and stay high.

Some of the track is wide and undulating, other parts are narrow and foresty, other parts are wide open hill tops, and still others a rollercoaster of cliff faces.

The last two days will put you well beyond the reach of cars, which means you are truly alive to the wilderness. It’s a glorious feeling.

Overall, the track is not difficult. It has its challenges. All that’s required are Lessons One and Two of the pilgrim’s road:

#1. Keep going.

#2. This too will pass.


Parks Victoria Great Ocean Walk

GOW: the forest’s own voice

A wilderness puts a human in her place.

Her rightful place.

A living creature among other living creatures, their world shaped by the world in which they find themselves.

There are many reasons humans choose to walk long distances. For some it is a challenge to be measured and timed and achieved, perhaps even weight to be lost and fitness expanded. For others, the destination is irrelevant, perhaps even a disappointment: it is the being out there that is the point.

A long time ago I lived with a hunter. He taught me my place in the forest.

I am the wind, carrying the secrets of the ice from the south
I am the garden, defying the odds to live on a wall of ocean rock
I am the spiked grasses, growing on the civilised track where I am not wanted
I am the path, now sand now dirt now stone now needles of pine
    now white, now red, now brown, now black, now yellow
I am the twisted gum grown ancient and not as tall as I might
I am the fossil embedded for all time in the rock
I am the blue waves crashing, slowly, elegantly, challenging the voice of thunder
I am the bare hills of golden autumn grasses
I am the woolly creek, snaking the valley far below
I am the old man’s beard and bracken and banksia
I am the bright blue cove, beautiful and treacherous
I am the seed pod cracked open and broken, ready to be scattered anew.

I am the crow calling
I am the pig rooting
I am the feral cat running
I am the bullants mating
I am the wallaby grazing
I am the deer marking the tree with my tine
I am the snake warming her shiny black skin in the sunshine
I am the echidna, hiding her face in the bracken thinking I cannot be seen.

I am the mermaid on her rock,
wind and ocean one and the same to me
water can claim me as her own, it is all same to me.

For I am the living and I am the living dead.

If I die out here, by all means lament the passing of my selfless nature and gentle wit – by no means mourn the manner of my passing.

In truth, as I stand on a hilltop returned from the deep wild to civilisation, I don’t know whether to weep for the forest and the people for whom the land was life itself, weep for the convicts once and farmers since who cleared the land or praise them for their backbreaking work – or admire as much as I can the spirits of those who built a first world nation from this land, and from whom what is left must be protected.

With the heightened senses of the hunter, soft vision, light step, connected spirit, watchful ears, I grieve for the civilised human. For the price she has had to pay for her comfort. For her inability to read the pointed toe of the deer, smell the sow beyond the wall of bracken, decipher the marks scratched into the bark of a nearby tree.

For just a few moment, the Great Ocean Walk returned all this to me.

This and the long ago shadow of a long-legged man with a sunshine smile who taught me to wait – and let the forest come to me.

footprints Great Ocean Walk