Great Ocean Walk History
The Traditional Owners
The Gadabanud people’s traditional Country transcends what is known today as the Otway coastline – The Great Ocean Walk trail. Today the Gundidjmara people are the traditional custodians of the Gadabanud lands. This area, rich and diverse in plant and animal life, has been a gathering, ceremonial and feasting place for thousands of years. Many sites and spiritual links remain today. Local Gadabanud & Aboriginal people are closely involved with Parks Victoria in the protection, restoration and management of significant sites.
How did the ‘Great Ocean Walk’ begin?
The Great Ocean Walk (GOW) launched in January 2006, is located between the Great Ocean Road and the sea. It is three hours and 200km west of Melbourne Australia. The Great Ocean Walk, originally 91km, now a 104 kilometre track, stretches from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles, and passes through the Great Otway and Port Campbell National Parks.
Members of the local business community developed the concept for a Great Ocean Walk trail in 1994 over bottles of port in a shed near Cape Otway. Initially known as the Great Ocean Road Walk Track, it was refined to be known as the ‘Great Ocean Walk’. (For more details see ‘The Conception’ below).
The original establishment cost for the Great Ocean Walk was $2.3 million which created an integrated, linked trail system from Marengo to Glenample Homestead (and eventually the 12 Apostles).
The alignment of the Great Ocean Walk was originally designed after review of the extensive environmental, cultural, risk and cost investigations spanning five years, referring to past track marking and involving hundreds of hours of fieldwork. 22km of new walking track was built between 2002 and 2005 by expert track builders.
Geological and geo-technical investigations were also completed to assess coastal stability and erosion issues. The track surface is predominantly made of natural soils or sand, however boardwalks and crushed rock have been laid to protect areas from erosion.
Nearly the entire Great Ocean Walk trail was constructed by hand with basic tools such as mattocks, shovels and crowbars adding greatly to the natural feel of the walk and ability of the track to blend into the surrounding environment. Over 25km of track previously built was repaired and cleared. Over 1200 rock steps were laid in the new sections of track from local and imported stone. Rock steps were hand built with stone moved around the track by power carriers and Tirfor winches. Rocks weighing over 300kg were moved by the crews.
Two major elevated sets of steps were constructed at Ryans Den (2 flights 45 steps) and Cape Volney (7 flights 131 steps). Rock stepping stones and small rock bridges were used to cross small water courses and a timber bridge was built to cross a creek near Cape Volney. Four hundred and fifty four timber on-ground and elevated steps were built in steeper terrain along the Great Ocean Walk. Timber was carried in by hand and power carrier for up to 1.5km. Harnesses have been used by the crews to work safely in steep areas.
In 2007 over $1.2 million dollars was spent on the construction of tracks / trails along the walk. 300 volunteer days have supported track clearing and construction work from Conservation Volunteers Australia, international volunteers, Greencorps, Deakin University and the Regional Employment and Education Program.
More than 300 new signs were installed along the Great Ocean Walk. Fallen logs were repositioned and re-used as low boardwalks. Two hygiene stations were built at Blanket Bay and Parker Inlet to reduce the potential spread of Phytopthora cinnamomi. (Walkers are asked to clean down their gear and footwear at these points.)
1km of informal Great Ocean Walk tracks were closed and rehabilitated around station beach to protect sensitive sand dunes and cultural sites. Sections of disturbed land were revegetated with indigenous species along the walk. The track crews spent over 100 nights camping out in and nearby the park.
Near The Gables lookout walkers can experience some of the highest sea cliffs in mainland Australia. The walk was designed to go from ‘mild’ in the east to ‘wild’ in the west. As walkers hike west the The Great Ocean Walk trail becomes more remote and challenging.
The conception dates of the Great Ocean Walk
1974 – The idea for a coastal walk along the west coast of Victoria was first mooted in 1974.
1989 – A feasibility study for the South Coast Track between Portland and Anglesea incorporating the sections between Apollo Bay and Port Campbell was conducted by the Department of Conservation Forests and Lands, in 1989.
1990 – In 1990 reference to a long distance walk between Peterborough and Princetown was included in the Port Campbell National Park Management Plan as a medium priority.
1994 – Members of the local business community developed the concept for a walk in 1994 over bottles of port in a shed near Cape Otway. Initially known as the Great Ocean Road Walk Track / The Great Ocean Walk trail, it was refined to be known as the ‘Great Ocean Walk’.
1994/5 – A Great Ocean Walk Management Committee was formed in 1994/5 including community, representatives from the Shires, National Parks Service and Shipwreck Coast Tourism. A bid to the federal department of tourism for the first stage of works was submitted with support from the then Victorian Minister Hon. Mark Birrell.
1996 – In 1996 Parks Victoria commenced a Values and Risk assessment project to look at potential impacts associated with the walk. The Regional Tourism Development Program funding bid was approved for Stage 1 in 1996, valued at $229,000 including in-kind contributions. Parks Victoria commenced construction shortly after using people employed through the Department of Employment Education and Training New Work Opportunity Program.
The Otway National Park Management Plan includes the Great Ocean Walk as a significant increase to walking opportunities.
1997/8 – A Greencorps program was engaged by Parks Victoria to carry out further on ground works to link earlier construction.
1998 – The Port Campbell National Park and Bay of Islands Coastal Park Management Plan includes Great Ocean Walk as an increase in walking opportunities in the park.
1998/99 – Parks Victoria engaged Ballarat University’s Centre for Environmental Management to undertake detailed values and development risk assessment for entire walk.
2000 – Luebbers and Associates commenced the heritage study of indigenous culture of the walk study area for Parks Victoria with support from Framlingham Aboriginal Trust. How Woodhouse Graesser commence geotechnical investigations.
What you will I see on the Great Ocean Walk?
Wildlife includes Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Black Wallabies, evidence of echidnas on the ground and koalas in the trees around Cape Otway. At vantage points along the trail walkers have the opportunity to see dolphins and, from June to September, migrating whales.
A variety of birds may be observed including King Parrots, Rufous Bristlebirds, Crimson Rosellas, Singing Honeyeaters, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos and Gang-gang Cockatoos. Wedge-tailed Eagles and White-bellied Sea-eagles are also seen. Along the beach flocks of Crested Terns, larger Pied or Sooty Oystercatchers and occasionally Little Penguins, can be seen.
At night campers may hear the Boobook and Powerful Owls in the forests or the unusual screaming sound of the Yellow-bellied Glider or the puppy-like yaps of Sugar Gliders.
Cape Otway is renowned for its shipwreck history and evidence of this can be seen at Wreck Beach where walkers can visit the anchors of the Marie Gabrielle and Fiji, embedded in the sand.