MOST TRAVELERS WHO make their way to the Australian state of Victoria (most commonly Melbourne) eventually find themselves heading to the Great Ocean Road. It’s a stretch of coastline in Victoria’s south that runs around 155 mi/250 km from Torquay to Warrnambool, and which includes the famous 12 Apostles.
What many visitors don’t bother to do though, is to hike any part of the 56 mi/91 km trail that hugs the coastline and gets you right down to the beaches. This is where Mother Nature is, away from the cars and buses, and into the bush with the kangaroos, wallabies, and echidnas.
Lots of options
You don’t have to hike the whole thing. You don’t even have to hike half of it. There are many points of entry and exit which facilitate short and long day hikes, and which many visitors explore while using a B&B or hotel for accommodation.
Shuttles can be hired to drop you off and pick you up at agreed-upon spots and times, and they’ll even do bag drop-off and food delivery (although, many purist hikers take major exception to this practice). We used GOR Shuttle to get taxied back to our van — I personally recommend them.
Tours are also available, if that’s your cup of tea.
For the overnight hikers
The Great Ocean Walk (GOW) starts at the Apollo Bay Visitor Information Centre and ends 90+ kms later at Glenample — within viewing distance of the 12 Apostles. For the hardest of the hardcore, this is a suggested 7-night, 8-day walk.
All the campsites on the walk are hike-in only. To minimise the environmental impact, Parks Victoria keeps the number of overnight hikers low, so each campsite has only eight spots for pitching a tent.
The campgrounds are very basic and have composting toilets, one or two untreated rainwater tanks, and a small 3-sided shelter. Open fires are not allowed and if the fire hazard is extreme, you may not even be allowed to cook with an open flame.
Pick and choose your itinerary
Overnight hikers can opt to do one-night/two-day hikes, two-night/three-day hikes, and so on. There are many starting and ending points but you must obtain a camping permit before spending the night.
For a detailed list of possible itineraries, read this very helpful PDF of FAQs.
A popular itinerary
Probably the most popular stretch of the walk is from Johanna Beach to the end at Glenample. This takes in roughly half of the trail — but from all accounts this is the better half. It is three nights, so is doable over a long weekend, which explains why it was booked solid when my wife and I tried to reserve sites over the Labour Day long weekend (early March in Australia).
But you’re a traveler, and you don’t even know what a weekend is, right? Perfect. We backed it up for one night (starting Thursday instead of Friday) and found ourselves almost completely alone for the whole walk, sharing each campground with only one other couple.
Johanna Beach to Glenample
If you’re driving in, you have two options: park at Johanna Beach and arrange a shuttle at the end to drive you back to your car, or park at the end and get shuttled to Johanna Beach to begin. The latter is better in my opinion, but we were forced to do the former due to time constraints.
The Johanna Beach hike-in campground is around one kilometer from the carpark, although it is all uphill. This is good though as it puts you at the top of the cliff overlooking Joahanna Beach and the coastline beyond. Brilliant view to wake up to the next morning.
Note: the drive-in campground here is free, so if you want to save yourself one night’s costs, keep this in mind.
The remaining two campsites you would use are Ryan’s Den and Devil’s Kitchen, in that order. The campgrounds are spaced around 9 mi/15 km apart from each other, so it is an honest day’s hike, especially packing full gear (including your trash — carry out what you carry in).
It’s an undulating trail as you follow the topography of fingers of land that reach into the sea. The vegetation is colourful and varied, and you’ll even pass some blackberry bushes — make sure to pause and fill up on some berry goodness.
When sunny, the ocean to your left is a rich blue, reminiscent of the Mediterranean but with the wildness of the Oregon Coast.
Things to consider
*There are some stretches of beach walking (e.g. Milanesia and Wreck Beach) that are inaccessible at high tide. Check tide times before you start, otherwise you will have to take the less scenic high routes.
*You must reserve your campsite at least two weeks in advance, and you are only allowed to stay a single night in each one.
*It pays to reserve early. As we were the first to book, we were awarded with site #8 at each campsite. The sites are numbered 1-8 from the entrance, with 8 being the closest to the cliff’s edge, meaning the best views.
*When planning your itinerary, keep in mind that you are only permitted to walk in one direction: from Apollo Bay to Glenample. Booking campsites in the reverse direction is not allowed.
*As stated previously, each campground has rainwater tanks, but they are untreated. Make sure to pack some sort of filtration system or purification tablets. At the very minimum, if you don’t have these, boil the water for 10 minutes.
*I’m a big fan of telescopic hiking sticks as they help to distribute the weight of your pack to your arms too. They can also be extremely handy on tricky downhill sections. Highly recommended.
*The toilet houses are quite nice and one of them even has an ocean view. Toilet paper is provided, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to bring a bit extra, just in case.
Trips co-editor Hal Amen witnesses our changing world while Hiking the Chacaltaya Glacier. If you want to get philosophical about the ethics of hiking, read Nature for Sale: The Growing Trend of Wilderness Consumption.
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