A classic coastal track
THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD is Australia’s most iconic drive. But you may not know that one of the country’s best multiday walks is also along this coast.
The Great Ocean Walk is relatively new – kind of. The 104km trail has really only been officially open since 2006, but it’s been in the works for decades. In fact, while the idea was kicking around in the 1970s, it was over few bottles of port in 1994 that the local business community planned the walk. It took over a decade for the planning, environmental assessment and construction to be completed, but it was worth the wait.
The walk starts from the coastal town of Apollo Bay and wends its way along the coast, weaving in and out of Otway National park, taking in the historic Cape Otway Lighthouse, 19th century shipwrecks, and finishing at the lookout for the 12 Apostles.
A variety of experiences
Though much of the scenery is spectacular coastline, you also get a taste of the temperate rainforests and wattle groves. And did I mention the wildlife? The area is literally crawling with creatures. Koalas are almost in plague proportions here such that in places they’re almost eating themselves out of house and home. You’d be trying hard not to spot them – in some places researchers have found 45/100 sq.m! You will see them easily around the Cape Otway area in the manna gums, some of which are low, so the koalas are barely above head height.
Eastern grey kangaroos, black wallabies and echidnas (or evidence of them) are also around. The birdlife is also plentiful. King parrots are common and so are crimson rosellas and superb fairy wrens. You may be lucky to see yellow-tailed black cockatoos or gang-gang cockatoos, or at the right time of year, white-bellied sea eagles or migrating whales.
Be prepared for all weather! There’s a reason there were so many shipwrecks – this part of Australia can get some big storms and changeable weather. Take warm gear and wet weather gear for sudden changes – several times a day sometimes.
Because of the infrastructure in place already for tourists driving the Great Ocean Road, the walk is well placed for a step on/step off experience. There are shuttle services that can take you back to your car, or, if you’re wanting a bit more of a cruisy experience, then you can organise to be shuttled to accommodation off the trail and then returned the next day.
For the fully self-sufficient experience, there are hiker-only camp sites dotted about 10-15km apart along the trail. And the east-to-west walking direction (and relatively low foot traffic) means you rarely see another person walking on the trail, especially in the low season.
This walk is just vista after vista of rugged beauty. If you’re lucky, you can catch Bass Straight on a calm, clear day. But it’s also awesome to witness the mighty power of the Southern Ocean and up to 10m swells – it’s then you realise why so many shipwrecks (some 80-odd) are scattered along the coast.
It’s a young walk and while signage is good, some of the inland track can get muddy in parts. But it will just keep getting better as further construction and maintenence continues.
* You ned to book your hike dates a couple of weeks out with Parks Victoria and schedule dates for campsites.
* The walk is done from east to west.
* Unless Parks Victoria approved longer stays, each camp site has a limit of one night.
* Fees for each hike-in tent site is $20.