8 DAYS, 91km
The Great Ocean Road is justly renowned as one of the world’s great scenic drives. Now there is an even better way to see this spectacular part of Australia. A new walking track parallels the coast, visiting beauty spots that you can’t see from the car window. The trek does involve some road walking and some beaches are shared with kids eating ice-creams, but the best places are the ones you have all to yourself. Note: Some sections of the route described below are underwater at high tide. Alternative inland routes are available; info provided to hikers by Parks Victoria has more information on these “decision points”.
Day 1: Apollo Bay to Elliot Ridge (10.3km, 3.5 hours)
Pleasant coastal walking leads to Shelley Beach, just west of the town of Marengo. From this pretty cove the track drops to cross Elliot River on stepping stones then climbs steeply up the opposite ridge to the first hike-in campsite, fitted with modern toilets, campsites and a three-sided shelter.
Day 2: Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay (13.3km, 5 hours)
Walking is mostly along four-wheel drive and management vehicle tracks, through attractive forest with lush ferns and tall gum trees, before a winding descent to the beach. The hikers’ campsite is adjacent to the popular drive-in camping area.
Day 3: Blanket Bay to Cape Otway (11.4km, 4 hours)
The track climbs out of Blanket Bay then drops again to the attractive Parker Inlet. A steep, direct track heads west from the inlet and then leaves the coast for the final 4km to Cape Otway, which are negotiated are on a combination of management vehicle tracks, loose sand and, for the last section, a rough path beside the bitumen road. Relief is found at the campsite, about 15 minutes’ walk past the lighthouse. Set up camp among the koalas and return to the lighthouse for a look around and a snack at the kiosk (bring some pocket money!)
Day 4: Cape Otway to Aire River (9.8km, 3.5 hours)
A pleasant day’s walking above the beach and along the sand, passing Rainbow Falls where water trickles over a cliff covered with different coloured mosses. The campsite is above another drive-in camping area.
Day 5: Aire River to Johanna Beach (15.3km, 5.5 hours)
After walking for an hour or so through coastal scrub the track emerges above coastal cliffs and the Great Ocean Walk starts to shine. The track traverses the cliff edge, in places clinging to the steep hillside, to Castle Cove, where rock stacks are pounded by the surf below.
From here the track leaves the coast and explores coastal forest dominated by grass trees before dropping to the beautiful Johanna Beach. It takes about an hour to walk the length of the beach to reach a car park – keep walking for another 1.3km up a dirt track to a campsite perched high on the hill-tops behind the beach.
Day 6: Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den (14.8km, 5 hours)
The morning is spent walking through farmland on roads which eventually deteriorate into a rough walking track on the steep descent to Milanesia Beach, the most spectacular of the hike so far.
The beach is dominated by the cliffs of Lion Headland and is a hint of things to come – this section is all for hikers only. If the tide is out walk to the western end of the beach and climb on a new track that hugs the sea cliffs. It is spectacular but hard going, crossing a series of headlands. From some wooden steps it is less than a kilometre to the campsite, perched on a wild headland with outstanding views along the coast in both directions.
Day 7: Ryans Den to Devils Kitchen (15.3km, 5.5 hours)
The up-and-down walking continues for about two hours before the track crosses an open, grassy hill where it is possible to see the previous night’s campsite perched on a headland (watch for snakes here). More climbing is required before climbing a fence and intersecting with the main road to Moonlight Head. Follow the road to the coast and the lookout at The Gable, then take the steps down to Wreck Beach. One of the highlights of the track, the beach has reminders of this dangerous stretch of coastline – the rusting anchors of the Marie Gabrielle (1869) and Fiji (1891).
At the western end of the beach a steep climb leads to a superb campsite perched on the clifftop at Devils Kitchen. If the tides aren’t co-operating there is an inland route from the top of the steps above Wreck Beach to the Devils Kitchen campsite; the winding track through pleasant forest takes about an hour.
Day 8: Devils Kitchen to Glenample Homestead (14.1km, 5 hours)
A gravel road leaves the coast and leads to Princetown, 7km away. Cross the river on a bridge and ignore a junction with the Great Ocean Road, heading left up a rough vehicle track that becomes a walking track as it follows the coast. Unfortunately scrub obscures most of the views until the final section where the walking is excellent and the 12 Apostles come into view. The track leaves the cliffs to end up a bitumen road at the historic Glenample Homestead.
NEED TO KNOW
A permit is required to undertake the track, which must be walked from east to west. This involves a fee which depends on how many nights you plan to stay out; a seven-night trip costs $145. The walk has been designed to be easily split up into shorter sections.
There are several “decision points” marked along the route where the route depends on the tides – make sure you download the Decision Points Fact Sheet provided on the Great Ocean Walk website (see ‘more info’) so you can make these decisions appropriately. Tide times can be accessed at http://www.bom.gov.au/australia/tides/#!/vic – select Apollo Bay for tides east of Moonlight Head, and Port Campbell for any points to the west (including Wreck Beach). Needless to say, if you are in any doubt take the inland route.
This is a multi-day walk and you will need appropriate equipment and supplies; make sure you check with the rangers that you have everything you need before you head out.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO
The Great Ocean Road winds around the coast and there are plenty of spots to pull over and admire the outstanding coastal scenery and go for a walk, swim or surf. There is a great selection of rainforest walks inland around Cape Otway. Click here for track notes to a selection of great walks in the forest and along the coast.
ACCOMMODATION AND SUPPLIES
Towns along the route offer endless accommodation options from caravan parks to five-star hotels. There isn’t a lot in the way of camping gear, though – best to bring everything you need with you.
Book online at www.parkstay.vic.gov.au or with Parks Vic on 13 1963.
These descriptions are a guide only. While we have made every effort to make them accurate, we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained while using them. Make sure you use an up-to-date map and consult rangers before heading out.