The Great Ocean Walk starts in Apollo Bay on the south coast of Victoria (Australia), and ends at The Twelve Apostles, roughly 13km shy of Port Campbell about 100km further west. It's designed as an eight day walk, with the longest day being about 15km.
You can buy a special GOW annotated walk map from Parks Victoria, which is the only map you need to do the walk. In order to avoid carrying eight days worth of food, I posted a food drop to Bimbi Park, a caravan park on Manna Gum Drive, just near Cape Otway. Bimbi Park has some good walk notes too - see their website.
The walk is fairly popular, so in order to prevent the area from being trashed, you have to camp at the designated campsites, which you need to book in advance. For full details see the official website. Parks Victoria have built shelters, composting toilets, rainwater tanks and coffee tables (I'm sure that's what they were described as on the design brief - see below) at each campsite, as well as preparing a bunch of levelled tent sites. I think they've done a pretty good job.
A lot of the walk is inside Great Otway National Park, but bits of it
traverse farmland and residential areas.
Arriving at the Twelve Apostles after a week in the bush is a bit of a
culture shock - it's a major tourist attraction, buzzing with planes,
helicopters and thousands of tourists. It also presents the main logistical
hassle of the whole walk. There's a bus service to the start of the walk at
Apollo Bay, but no suitable public transport at the end of the walk. In 2012,
the only regular bus service calls in during the morning, and only on some
days. Mobile phone coverage was basically non-existent, at least on the Optus
network, and the only fixed-line phone at the visitors' centre was in the
helicopter booking office. The helicopter folks were kind enough to let me use
their phone to ring the Timboon Taxi, which will take you to Port Campbell for
$50. That's a bit steep, but understandable. I booked the taxi in advance, and
confirmed the pickup on the day.
The first few kilometres of day one are actually a bit suburban. The walk
starts right in the middle of Apollo Bay, and basically involves walking on a
footpath to Marengo at the end of the next beach south. From there the Great
Ocean Walk signs direct you to walk right through the caravan park, and only
then does it feel like it's going somewhere interesting. If you're after a
navigational challenge, this is not the walk for you - the track is almost
always pretty obvious, and just about every junction has a GOW sign indicating
From Merengo the track heads out through cleared farmland or along the
beaches (take your pick), until it hits the Great Otway National Park boundary
towards the end of the day. It's a pleasant enough walk, but not exactly
wilderness until you get to the campsite. This kelp washed up on the beach
caught my eye though.
The track finally gets into something resembling wilderness towards the end of
day one. The first campsite is in the forest a few hundred metres up a ridge
from this spot, the mouth of the Elliot River. Although it's called a river,
it's really just a creek - hardly enough to wet your boots.
As luck would have it, there was a new moon right in the middle of the walk.
The first night was mostly clear, so I got a good view of the stars through the
forest canopy at the Elliot Ridge campsite. There's one problem with doing this
walk during a new moon though - it makes the high tides higher, which can make
some of the beach walking especially risky if your timing is wrong. It also
makes the low tides lower, so it can work in your favour too. A full moon also
exacerbates the high and low tides.
Artfully arranged by Mother Nature
Day two is an inland forest walk to Blanket Bay, mostly on firetrails or old
4WD tracks. It's a really nice bit of the walk - the track winds through a few
different types of forest along the way.
I've been thinking lately that I should try to do more black-and-white photography. When I look at other people's work, it's almost always the black-and-white stuff that I find most engaging. The trouble is, with a digital camera in hand, it's all too easy to forget to put your "black-and-white eyes" on, so there's a tendency to shoot everything with the intent of retaining the colour.
As I was setting up for this shot, it occurred to me that the experience was quite reminiscent of working with my large-format Tachihara field camera, on which I've shot almost exclusively black-and-white film: I had a camera on a tripod, I was using a wide angle lens with tilt and shift movements (which are de rigueur for large-format), exposing manually, and focusing manually while looking at a magnified view on the live-view screen on my DSLR camera.
At the time I wasn't sure whether it would end up being a colour or a black-and-white shot, When I got home and started processing the camera raw file, I left it as colour, but a few days later I started experimenting with a black-and-white version. In the end I much preferred the black-and-white version.
Leaving Blanket Bay on day three, the track follows the coastline pretty
closely until it gets close to the Cape Otway lighthouse. The country is not as
damp as that on day two, and the vegetation is dominated by these smaller
eucalypts and coastal heath.
The designated campsite for this leg of the walk is a few hundred metres
past the lighthouse, but my plan was to stay at Bimbi Park, a nearby caravan
park. Before leaving home, I posted food for the remainder of the walk to Bimbi
Park, which allowed me to have an extra day at Cape Otway and meant that I
never had to carry more than five days worth of food.
Like the Elliot River, the Parker River is another creek with delusions of
grandeur. It makes a nice spot for lunch on day three though.
On day four (actually day five if you count my lazy day at Cape Otway),
there's an optional 1km side trip along Station Beach to Raindow Falls. The
falls are fed by a spring from above the limestone cliff face. The dripping
water has built formations similar to those seen in limestone caves.
The base of the falls is right at the high-tide mark, so it's best to plan
your walk to be here at low tide. I turned up at high tide of course.
Finally - a river that is genuinely river-sized.
The day four caampsite is just beyond the other end of this charming wooden
bridge over the Aire River.
On the track to Johanna Beach on day five.
There are a couple of spots along the walk where the understory consists almost
entirely of Xanthorrhoeas, commonly known as grass trees. Unfortunately,
some of these areas are also infected with Phytophthora
cinnamomi, which kills them. There are boot-washing stations at several
points along the track to try and help control the spread of the disease.
Johanna Beach forms part of the track late on day five. There's about 2km of
very pleasant beach walking, including a traverse of the mighty Johanna River,
seen here in the foreground.
A secluded fishing shack at Milanesia Creek on day six.
Most of the walk up to this point on day six is along gravel roads through
farmland and rural residential blocks. It's definitely easy walking, and the
countryside is quite pleasant, but you're not bushwalking by any stretch of the
imagination. The scenery improves in the last kilometre or so before this
Milanesia Creek crossing, as the walk down to the water is though a private
The creek crossing itself can be a bit tricky at high tide, and due to my
impeccable timing I arrived just after a high king tide. Even after waiting for
an hour or so I was lucky to escape without drenched boots.
Day eight saw a return to sunny weather and a walk through some nice coastal
heath in the morning.
Did I mention that parts of this walk are though areas that you wouldn't
exactly classify as wilderness? On day eight the track goes past the Princetown
Recreation Reserve, where you can see this large, brutally pruned pine tree.
The walk ends at a spot known as Gibson Steps, where you can walk down to the
ocean and poke around. There's a carpark there, but the actual Twelve Apostles
visitors' centre is about 800m further west along the shoulder of the Great
Ocean Road - and it's a culture shock. If the weather's good, it will be
buzzing with cars, buses, tourists, helicopters and light aircraft.