OUR GREAT OCEAN WALK BLOG
Walk 91 have decided to create a blog on the ‘Great Ocean Walk’ having been lucky enough to have had many years experience running assisted walks in this spectacular National Park.
Parks Victoria are continually maintaining and improving the Great Ocean Walk. We will be walking the track, observing the changes and talking to the rangers involved in maintaining this beautiful environment.
For those about to enjoy a walk with Walk91, we hope that this blog will provide you with accurate and up to date information and photo’s.
Meet your hosts at Walk91. Mark and Nancy Kininmonth operate Walk91. Mark is a former Ranger for Parks Victoria in Apollo Bay and has local knowledge regarding the walk. Mark worked for Parks Victoria in the National Park here before the ‘Great Ocean Walk’ opened. On your arrival in Apollo Bay you will meet with Mark for a detailed briefing prior to commencing the walk.
When the Great Ocean Walk was first opened in January 2006 it was shorter than it’s now 105km. ‘Walk 91’ was named for the 91 kilometres of distance of the original Great Ocean Walk.
Meet your blogger. Sam is 36 years old and also works for Walk91’s sister company Apollo Bay Surf and Kayak as a guide. Sam will be introduced as your guide or may even be transferring you to different locations on the walk.
In winter he enjoys back country ski touring and hiking.
Short history of the Great Ocean Walk
The ‘Great Ocean Walk’ enables you to experience coastal heathland and forest scenery including rocky platforms, sheltered beaches and rivers. The track takes you through the Great Otway and Port Campbell National Parks and blends beautifully with its surrounding environment. This is largely due to the way the track was constructed. The track alignment for the ‘Great Ocean Walk’ was decided after comprehensive environmental, landscape, heritage and cultural assessment. From there nearly the entire track was constructed by hand with basic tools such shovels and crowbars.
You will pass over 1500 hand built steps, produced from stone that has been carefully moved from around the track.
Whilst some people choose to complete the entire walk others choose a tailored itinerary that suits their time frame. For most people approximately fifteen kilometres a day is a pleasant but challenging distance to walk.
The Great Ocean Walk by Sam
I leave Marengo Holiday Park at 8.30am and head west on the first leg. I’m aiming to arrive at Cape Otway some thirty kilometres away by evening. However I have the option of getting picked up earlier if I become fatigued. I’ve done quite a bit of walking over winter so I’m hoping I’ll be fit enough to make it! It’s great to be only carrying a small day pack with just lunch and water and a few other small items such as an ‘Epirb’ (safety location beacon) and map.
I’m excited to be walking. Part of the attraction of the Great Ocean Walk is that there is so much diversity in the coastal terrain that the walk follows. The path starts from a small gate at the back of the Marengo Holiday Park. It’s an abrupt contrast to leave behind the town and head straight into the raw coastline on a cool November day. The surf is huge from one of the last winter storms and the first few kilometres features huge grey waves to my left and rolling green countryside to the right. The path then goes up briefly through some coastal shrub, near a spot called Moo Cow Bay by local surfers, before returning to hug the coast until Shelly Beach.
At Shelly Beach the path heads up into rainforest of tree ferns and tall mountain ash. There is the earthy smell of the Otway’s rainforest and the sound of many birds replaces the booming of the surf. The path returns briefly to the coast at a river mouth. As I’ve walked six or so kilometres I stop for morning tea on a smooth rock.
The path then returns upwards and inland slightly and the rainforest gradually changes to a cool temperate forest of tall Mountain Ash and Manna Gum trees. It feels quite isolated at this point and I’m aware of being deep in the National Park far from any houses or roads.
The track however is quite wide and smooth, so without having to watch for rocks or tree roots I can gaze into the forests as I walk. The path continues in this way for the next ten kilometres or so. Settling into a rhythm of walking I start to really notice the loud calls of the birds and the strange noises koala’s make. I haven’t seen another person yet and the path starts to head downhill. The tall forest is replaced by coastal shrub and tea trees and I arrive at Blanket Bay.
By this point its early afternoon and I’ve walked about fifteen kilometres. I’m quite tired and I realise that this is an ideal distance to walk per day through this sort of terrain. But I decide to push on with my original plan to walk to Cape Otway. From Blanket Bay the path heads through a unique forest of contorted coastal gum trees for a few kilometres before arriving at Parker River. Parker River is a wide cove with the creek that comes out of the hills flowing straight into the ocean over a white beach. The Cove is flanked by huge cliffs to each side. The path then heads steeply up a hill. At the top is a plaque describing the shipwreck of Eric the Red in the 1880’s with a cargo of futuristic machines bound for the Great Exhibition in Melbourne. Apparently the beach at Parker River was strewn with debris and at times the skeleton of the ship can still be revealed by the changing of the sand.
As the path approaches Cape Otway there is a distinct change in the environment. The forest becomes slightly sparser and the trees are bent by the strong westerly winds that roar through unimpeded. The path varies from dirt to sand. The Cape Otway lighthouse stands tall and is back lit by the sun getting lower over the ocean to the west.
Part Two. Cape Otway to Castle Cove.
Cape Otway is the furthest point south on the Great Ocean Walk and there is a definite change in the geography and climate. As the coast bends it is exposed to the predominant westerly winds and swell. With nothing but the wild Southern Ocean between here and Antarctica three thousand kilometres away. This dramatic coastline is molded by the fierce weather.
The historic Cape Otway Lightstation has been in continuous operation since 1848. It is now a popular, busy tourist attraction as a part of the Great Ocean Road. Again it is a stark contrast to step onto the walk and find yourself in peace and quiet as the walk is enfolded by coastal shrubs. After a few minutes of walking I find a small cemetery next to the path.
Old stone tombstones tell the stories of the European settlers of the 1800’s with many dying at a relatively young age. After some reflection I continue walking. I am rewarded with the sight ahead as the path emerges from the coastal shrub. Ahead I can see the walk snaking it’s way along a giant plateau high above the beaches.
I can see my destination at Castle Cove some fifteen kilometres away. I enjoy the feeling of openness and exposure. Before I continue I read a small plaque written by Parks Victoria. In November 1940 at 7.45 pm an American freighter the “MS City of Rayville” was struck by a German mine 6 miles off the coast of Cape Otway.
Unbelievably the explosion was heard in Apollo Bay some thirty plus kilometres away. Fisherman from Apollo Bay subsequently rescued the 37 crew members. I stride ahead on the walk and it’s great to look around as I walk at the big waves below and the dark cliffs of distant Moonlight Head. Wallabies are eating grass next to the path and I get within metres before they bounce away. After seven kilometres the walk swings down into the green Aire River Valley and camping ground. I cross a bridge and then the walk heads back up onto the plateau. I continue walking as the sun starts to set in the west. This part is gorgeous as the red sunset lights the cliffs to my right and the beaches below. The path is mostly sand and occasionally a boardwalk. There are rock pools and small lagoons at the waters edge. As the light fades I reach my destination of the pretty Castle Cove beach above which the Great Ocean Walk briefly meets the Great Ocean Road.
Part Three. Castle Cove to Milanesia Gate.
From Castle Cove the path begins by meandering through twisted eucalypts and convoluted terrain above Castle Cove. Soon after the soil becomes distinctly sandy and I see multiple echidnas with their snouts jammed in the ground snuffling for ants. There are a lot of symmetrical Grass Tree plants with their unusual kangaroo tail’s pointing towards the sky. The path then levels out and I can see huge Johanna Beach a few kilometres ahead.
Abruptly the path then descends through a pretty keyhole onto the western end of the famous surfing region of Johanna Beach. The surf is too wild today however and the beach is deserted apart from a lone Fur Seal that looks at me before waddling into the shore break and swimming away. I walk east and foam from the wild seas blows across the beach. After a few kilometres I reach a rocky outcrop that divides the beach into two halves. I continue until the walk heads up into the Johanna Beach car park.
Resuming the walk in the morning I head westwards from Johanna. The walk makes it’s way uphill along the side of a steep valley on the inland side. After a few minutes the ocean appears below to the south. There are dozens of kangaroos grazing on the grass at the bottom of the valley. After a few kilometres the walk joins a rural lane. It continues in this fashion past farms and tree plantations. An adobe rendered cottage has a sign saying “WATER free for all” and ice water with cups next to a mannequin of a sailor and a small shelter. A nice gesture from a resident who approves of walkers sharing his beautiful views. A few more kilometres brings the end of the country lane at the locked Parks Victoria gate at Milanesia track.
Here the walk descends back into the forest with abundant creatures and birds. There is an occasional glimpse of Milanesia beach below and to the south west. A steady decline and after a few kilometres the walk emerges onto Milanesia Beach. There is no vehicle access to Milanesia and it is deserted of people. There are cliffs at each end and a small creek divides the beach. An old stone house sits back from the creek in a grassy valley. The empty house is the only sign of humans. The beach is littered with driftwood and debris from the ocean.
The weather is cool which is fortunate as this section of the walk is perhaps the most challenging with another steep ascent up from the western end of Milanesia beach. The ocean is wild and batters the rocks below. In turn the cliffs seem steeper and wilder. The path clings to the side and winds through rain forest and tree ferns. It feels raw and spectacular.
I stop at Ryan’s Den to check out the walk in campsite. There is a toilet that faces the ocean. I lock eyes with a lady standing outside who says something in Spanish. We drop our packs and kiss for at least two hours. She then walks away and I never see her again.
I continue along the walk to the West as it hugs the cliffs. With the low light and rainy weather the green colours of the ferns and trees seem enhanced. Rain squalls pass over from the stormy ocean. I finish walking for the day at The Gables car park.
Part Four Wreck Beach to…. THE END
From the Gables I head west towards Wreck Beach. There is a decision point where you can walk down the steps onto the beach or alternatively continue along the higher path if it’s high tide or a large swell. It’s an incoming mid tide but I don’t mind scrambling over rocks if it comes to that. Also it’s the morning and I can always backtrack to the higher path. So I head down the 350 steps to the beach. A partially submerged reef runs parallel to the beach with an old anchor from the 1891 shipwreck of the “Fiji” standing upright five metres off shore. There are periodic mounds of clay pushed from the lush inland gullies onto the beach.
At the Devils Kitchen the walk heads uphill and the vegetation is markedly drier. From here the walk undulates easily through the coastal forest towards until I see Rivernook beach over the trees to my left. I continue until I am walking alongside the wide Gellibrand River and pass the Princetown football oval. To the right is a wetlands adjacent to the river. There is a 300 metre boardwalk which takes you over it to Princetown. A cool little place to the side of The Great Ocean Road with a cafe and a small pub.
Shortly after the boardwalk the walk passes over the bridge of the Gellibrand River and up a big sand dune. From here it’s the last clifftop wander towards the sun over to the west and the famed Twelve Apostles.
Since finishing the Great Ocean Walk and speaking to many other people from around the world who have also completed it, the diversity of the terrain and forest is one aspect that everybody loves. Within the 90 kilometres lies a multitude of micro climates and geographical changes. You rarely see another person, instead lots of birds, kangaroos and wallabies, echidna’s, snakes, seals, whales and then the famous Twelve Apostles.