Adventure Journal - Great Ocean Walk: Perfect combination of walking and unwinding!
Great Ocean Walk 2013
It would probably be true to say that after summiting Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro, most other walking trips could be considered tame by comparison. This had crossed my mind when I signed up to travel to Victoria, Australia to do the Great Ocean Walk (GOW).
The blurb sells it as an opportunity to take in the spectacular scenery of an unspoiled, largely uninhabited coastline while completing 104kms in five days. The appeal lies in the fact that after eight hours of solid walking a day, one gets to return to a Zen-like lodge where warm showers, mouth-watering food, comfortable beds and foot spas are the order of the day.
Planning for the GOW trail began in 1994 but development did not begin until
2001 with the trail finally being opened in 2006. It traverses the Otways, a fossil-rich area, littered with shipwrecks. The walking track was constructed by hand using mattocks, shovels and crowbars.
Organised by the trek-training outfit Wild Women on Top based in Sydney and planned in conjunction with World Expeditions, the GOW 2013 trip was aimed at those women who wished to attempt a multi-day trail without the rougher aspect of carrying a full-pack and bedding down in seriously basic camp-sites.
Eight of us rendezvoused in Melbourne on April 6, where we were driven three hours into Victoria and our home for five days - bothfeet walking lodge, nestled in a tranquil forest a couple of kilometres from Johanna Beach.
Bothfeet is a testament to good management, stylish but simple decor and warm hospitality. Marie, hostess and knowledgeable guide, briefed us every day on what to expect on our walk and Ha, our Vietnamese chef, produced wave upon wave of delicious, fragrant dishes made with fresh produce either grown on the property or sourced within 100kms of the lodge.
I could ramble on indulgently about the variety and textures of the meals:
salads of rocket, beetroot and goat’s cheese with fresh figs; main courses of lentil and corn fritters atop perfect mash and seared salmon on polenta; desserts consisting of crème brulee with homemade raspberry sorbet and melt-in-your-mouth tarts.
Our host, Gavin Ronan, briefed us extensively before driving us down to our starting point at Apollo Bay. Beginning just after 1pm, our first day was a mere warm-up leg of 8 kms straight out and across the beach with loads of rock-scrambling and a late lunch of salad and roasted almonds with dried fruit. Ending at Shelley Beach, we had time to ensure all our gear was in order and packs were comfortable.
Day Two was our first 25kms, stretching from Shelley Beach to the famed Otway Lightstation. We traversed beautiful bays and coves with lunch at the idyllic Parker’s Inlet being the most spectacular stop. We then climbed back up through forests of mountain ash and manna gums, once magnificent giant trees that have been somewhat decimated by the over-population of the koalas. We finally arrived at the impressive Lightstation which is built on the point where the Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean collide.
The lighthouse has been standing since 1848 and is 18 metres tall. Cape Otway was, for most immigrants, the first sight of land after many months at sea. Hundreds of ships were wrecked off this coast prior to the erection of the lighthouse. It’s quite a thrill stepping out onto its balcony suspended way above the crashing surf below. We could see for miles along the trail we we’d walked with never-ending sheer cliff-drops and gorgeous ocean.
The following day (24 kms) took us inland and away from the lighthouse to the highest point of the walk at the end of a long uphill through a forest; we then headed down to the beach and Aire River and a long, steady climb to a lookout where blistered toes were patched and a rest was savoured.
A steep, winding descent took us down to the marvellous Johanna Beach – a wild and desolate stretch of sand where boots were abandoned in favour of bare feet. The beach was named after the Joanna vessel that ran aground there on its maiden voyage from Tasmania in 1843. A single crewman was lost with the survivors taking an entire week to travel on foot to Geelong.
We wearily climbed into the van, desperate for those mineral salts foot spas and a hot cup of tea. Ha surprised us with fresh scones complete with jam and cream, bliss…
Day Four (25,5 kms), rated the most difficult, lived up to its name but rewarded us with the most superb views. Walking away from Johanna Beach through farmland and pasture, we moved into magnificent coastal forest and jaw-dropping viewpoints above cliff-tops. A series of technical switch-backs took us relentlessly up and knee-jarring down but lunch at one of the highest points gave us a brilliant clear sighting of the lighthouse far in the distance and the coves below.
Several snake-encounters later, we emerged rather rattled but all in one piece through a glorious dappled forest up to the Gables lookout point.
Another magnificent day completed.
Our final day (19,5 kms) began down at Wreck Beach – massive anchors are forever trapped in the rocks, eerie reminders of all the shops and lives lost to the ocean so many years ago. A big climb up to the cliffs took the trail on a winding, fairly flat traverse until, with 10kms to go, we could see the first of the Twelve Apostles – rising out of the sea, these massive pieces of rock were formed by erosion; the soft limestone eroded to form caves in the cliffs, which then became arches which in turn collapsed.
Some of the rock stacks are 45m high and stand like sentinels while the waves roar and crash around them. The entire area is a heritage site and meticulously preserved and maintained. On our arrival at the very busy Visitor’s Centre, which marked the completion of our 104km journey, we were whisked into helicopters for a glorious spin right over the Apostles and the ocean. It was really amazing to view them from above.
The trip provided a perfect combination of really, hard physical endurance walking with comfort and time to unwind and relax at bothfeet in good company. I’m still dreaming of the fascinating history of the area and can smell that fresh ocean air while my feet will never forget those foot spas…
- Tammy Ballantyne
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