Walking Victoria’s stunning Shipwreck Coast

By Gregg Haythorpe 28 October 2014
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It might be called the Shipwreck Coast but it’s a walk that can be done in style and comfort.

Some people are keen to try trekking but all the walks you suggest are knocked on the head for one reason or another.

They don’t like the idea of carrying heavy packs, sleeping on hard ground, even with a good sleeping mat it is not for them, they can’t go more than 24 hours without a shower and as for toilets in the scrub… well you get my point.

The Great Ocean Walk is quite simply a great introduction to walking or trekking for that special partner, friend or family member. It offers a relatively easy and comfortable bush walking experience whilst still exploring and discovering a truly stunning part of this great southern land. Most of you would be familiar with one of Australia’s great drives, The Great Ocean Road on the west coast of Victoria.

It has a reputation that is fully deserved and is a road trip with stunning coastal scenery at nearly every turn, but the Great Ocean Walk is an even better trip, albeit tackled on foot with a very special sense of place in both history and geography.

Trekking Victoria’s Great Ocean Walk

One trip operator who has this particular destination well and truly nailed is Raw Travel, headquartered in Melbourne. What Raw offers makes trekking life very easy for first timers. Firstly, the walk can be tackled in a choice of three trip durations, three, four or seven days, so depending on your available time and fitness level you can pick a journey that works for you.

I did the three-day walk starting on a Friday and back home Sunday evening, which works really well when you have work commitments.

Secondly, the nightly accommodation is in comfortable four-star en suite cabins – there is no sleeping rough, in fact quite the opposite. Your dinner and breakfast meals are prepared for you and lunch, which is taken on the track, is prepared fresh each morning.

So with accommodation and meals sorted you only need to carry a light daypack for your basics, such as sunscreen, wet-weather jacket, water etc.

Our accommodation on the three-day walk was at Bimbi Park on Cape Otway, which is a great set-up with new modern cabins, and dining room with an open fire place which is most enjoyable and relaxing at day’s end.

The four- and seven-day walks also use Bimbi Park, plus motel accommodation to save on travel time. All transfers are done via a private minibus with a Raw Travel driver at the end of each day’s walk.

Trekking the Australian icon

The physical rating of the three-day walk is a Grade 3, which means you just need a reasonable level of fitness to complete it. Most days you will walk between four to six hours with plenty of regular stops along the way. The track’s terrain takes in forest trails, sand walking on beaches and some wet or muddy sections depending on recent weather conditions.

Yes, there are some ups and downs and a few good hill climbs, but nothing too extreme; this iconic Australian walk has been completed by people of all ages. One piece of advice, however, is to make sure that your chosen footwear is well worn in and comfortable. Raw Travel recommends that you walk with boots that offer full ankle support and it makes sense.

The three-day walk is by far the most popular of Raw Travel’s Great Ocean Walk trips, and offers a great taste of the joys of bush walking and the stunning beauty of this coastline. Day one starts with a pick-up in Melbourne in the minibus and a three-hour drive down to Apollo Bay.

After lunch it’s boots on, and the day’s walking starts with an eight to nine kilometre section from Blanket Bay to Cape Otway. Our group was 12 strong, plus two guides from Raw Travel, and consisted nine girls and three guys from all over Australia, plus two UK visitors, which was a fairly typical mix according to our guides.

Being just a half-day walk, it’s a nice easy way to get your legs up and going and gives you a taste of the sights and scenery to come, not to mention wildlife, such as kangaroos, echidnas and loads of koalas.

This section of the track meanders along cliff tops and through coastal scrub down to Parker Inlet where Raw Travel adds one of its nice additional touches, with a local guide who joins the group for the walk to Cape Otway.

Our local, Mick, was full of jokes and local folklore, but he also gave us a great introduction to the region and in particular the shipwreck history along this wild and rugged coastline. We had the tide in our favour and walked past many old shipwreck relics and, with Mick’s guidance, even tasted some of the local bush tucker.

It seemed that in no time we had completed our first day’s track section and were on the minibus for the short ride back to Bimbi Park and a nice cold drink before dinner.

Despite only meeting each other that morning, we were already bonding and enjoying each other’s company. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people become mates on the track; what may take weeks back in the real world seems to accelerate while out hiking.

Cape Otway Lighthouse and Johanna Beach

With nearly 17km to cover, day two was the longest walking section, starting at Cape Otway and then through to Johanna Beach, so an early start was the order of the day.

We kicked off with a couple-of-kays stroll down to the Cape Otway Lighthouse Station where a real cup of coffee could be purchased from the on-site café. After some time spent exploring the station, including a climb to the top of the lighthouse, it was time for a little more serious walking.

We passed the local pioneer cemetery just a kilometre from the lighthouse and looking at the grave headstones one was struck by the very young age of many of those buried there. Medical help back then was a very long way away.

The track mainly follows the cliff tops offering tremendous views over beautiful beaches and rocky headlands. Some of the beaches are walked depending on tidal conditions. After a couple of hours we then descended to the Aire River estuary for a well-earned lunch stop.

After lunch it was short hop in the minibus to the start of our afternoon leg at Castle Cove. This section of the walk with its towering cliffs gained a strong reputation for its archaeological importance as many dinosaur fossils have and continue to be found here. From Castle Cove you encounter the best and most spectacular coastal views of the entire walk, and on the clear blue-sky sunny day that we were lucky enough to score, it was just magnificent. Given the track hugs the coastline you also have the opportunity to look back to the morning’s start point at the Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Johanna Beach, held in high esteem within the surfing fraternity, is a beach that has not only great natural beauty but scores some of the most consistent quality waves in Australia. Dropping down the track from the headland at the beach’s eastern end is special and it takes quite some time to walk its length to the carpark at the western end. The soft sand at the end of a big day’s walking is a little challenging but there’s respite in the form of the waiting minibus.

Dinner and a few drinks after a solid day walking were very well received and with the longest section of the walk for us completed, the famous Twelve Apostles were to be our final destination.

Twelve Apostles

Day three consists a walking leg of 11km finishing at the world-renowned Twelve Apostles, although now their number has dwindled as some of these sea stacks have fallen into the mighty southern ocean. The weather forecast for our trip in late-2013 was for very hot conditions in the high 30s, so our guides suggested we cut some distance with the minibus and thus avoid the hottest part of the day.

Thus our 11km leg became only about 8km and, although very warm, it was fun. With hidden beaches, sea cliffs and caves, whether looking forward or back towards Cape Otway we were greeted by truly amazing vistas.

This section of the walk is one of its wildest, but by day three you are into a rhythm and before you know it the Apostles start to come into view, and you’re on the home stretch. The big visitor centre was heaving with humanity – it was a warm Sunday after all – and having just enjoyed the splendid isolation of the track it was rather a shock. There is a great viewing platform and lookout about a kilometre or so before the visitor centre and for me that was the place to call it quits, with my newfound friends and the stunning view.

Although our walk was over we still had a four-hour minibus commute back to Melbourne with a fish and chip stop en route.

The Great Ocean Walk is not long in duration or in the middle of nowhere, and the team at Raw Travel have put together a very pleasant package that nearly anyone could tackle. There’s some truly stunning scenery and the history of the region is enthralling.

One of the Raw guides summed it up thus: “The Great Ocean Walk is a walk that takes you from mild to wild, but always with a soft bed at days end.”

The essentials

The adventure: Raw Travel offers three, four and seven-day Great Ocean Walks and minibus transfer is provided from and return to Melbourne CBD.

Difficulty: The three-day walk is rated Grade 3. Weather conditions can have a big impact on the level of difficulty.

Accommodation: Accommodation is in deluxe cabins and most meals are included in the price, so daypacks only.

Group size: Maximum of 14 walkers with
two guides.

More info: Raw Travel can be contacted at
www.rawtravel.com or on 1300 208 245.