Monday, November 30, 2015

Five Days On The Great Ocean Walk

Day 1: Princetown to 12 Apostles and Marengo to Elliot Ridge camp.

In Princetown, the GOW follows the Old Coach Road across the Gellibrand River to a wetland reserve and then track resumes for the walk to the 12 Apostles. It is not very far along this track to the first views of some of the Apostles, and, after about five kilometres, the track meets the Great Ocean Road at Gibsons Steps. These steps go down to a small beach accessible only at low tide, but they are currently closed. Past Gibsons Steps, the track crosses under the Great Ocean Road and is paved for the remaining distance to the enormous 12 Apostles car park and cafe. Helicopter flights, which are continuous during daylight hours, leave from the back of the car park. We arrived in plenty of time to get the V Line bus east to the start of the walk, so we wandered around the tourist loop and admired the 12 Apostles. Although walking the site involves battling a forest of selfie-sticks carried by out of shape tourists, the rock formations and the coastal cliffs are beautiful. 

 Short scramble section

We started the walk at Marengo instead of the official start at Apollo Bay as the first three kilometres between the two towns is alongside the busy Great Ocean Road. Marengo is much quieter than Apollo Bay and the coastline has fantastic rock platforms at low tide. You can walk all the way to Elliot Creek and the track that climbs up to the first walkers campsite at Elliot Ridge on the rock platforms. Elliot Ridge campground is about 100 metres above the ocean and is set in a manna gum forest popular with koalas. As soon as we started hiking up hill to the camp we heard the distinctive grunting and growling of male koalas. If you have never heard this noise, a sort of cross between a chain saw and a dirt bike, you'll be very surprised that such a small animal can make such a large noise. The campsite turned out to be great for koala spotting as around a half dozen were scattered about in the manna gums around camp. 

 Doug on the rock platforms west of Marengo

We arrived at camp fairly early in the afternoon and wandered off to the Geary River along the track thinking that we could have a nice freshwater wash but water levels were really low and the river was all but inaccessible due to dense bush. I spent an hour in the evening puttering around the rock shelf to the southwest and, I could have taken a dunk in the ocean as the tiny bay where the Elliot River runs out is fairly calm, but, it was by then rather chilly.

 Parker Inlet

Day 2: Elliot Ridge camp to Cape Otway camp. 
We deliberated for a long time about trying to follow the coast to Blanket Bay as the track travels a long circuitous route first west then south on old forestry roads (closed to vehicles) and the distance via the coast is about half of that along the roads. In the end, as we could not tell from the map or peering along the coastline whether or not the coast was passable all the way to Blanket Bay so we took the inland route. If I were walking only to the next camp at Blanket Bay (12 km along the track, about 6 km along the coast), I would try the coastal route as time would not be problem. We, however, were walking on to Cape Otway and wanted to catch low tide for the section from Blanket Bay to Crayfish Bay so felt a bit time and distance pressured. 

Beach near Castle Cove

The inland route is not bad as the road bed is old and mossy and the forest quite pretty and we soon arrived at Blanket Bay. This is a lovely little sheltered bay with vehicle accessible camping and the walkers camp situated a short distance away. We had a break on the rocks by the beach trying to find the windiest spot where the flies might not be too bad and then set off to walk to Cape Otway.

It is 11 km from Blanket Bay to Cape Otway on the track but we followed rock platforms and small beaches as far as Crayfish Bay which I suspect is a bit shorter. There is a small sheltered beach at Parker Inlet and at Crayfish Bay a set of steps leads up to the main track. It is not possible to go any further along the coast than Crayfish Bay as the rock platforms disappear and the coast line is lined with tall cliffs. 

 Cape Otway from the west

We had a quick swim at Crayfish Bay to wash the days sweat off even though it was showery, windy and cool, and then ambled the final three kilometres or so to the walkers camp which is about 500 metres past the tourist parking lot at Cape Otway. There are essentially no views and you can only go out to the lighthouse if you take the $20 per person tour. About 300 metres beyond the campsite is the old cemetery which is worth a browse if only to realise how easy life is in modern times.

Forest walking

Day 3: Cape Otway to Johanna Beach.

We skipped Aire River camp which is close to the vehicle accessible camping and went on to Johanna Beach camp. From Cape Otway the track is along the coast with occasional good views to near the southeast end of Station Beach. I took the track down to the beach and followed the beach and rocks all the way to Aire River while Doug took the slightly longer inland track. Both require about the same amount of time as I arrived at the Aire River day use area only minutes behind Doug. Station Beach is soft sand so it is a bit hard going. I managed to stay on the beach all the way to the Aire River but this required a bit of gymnastic scrambling among big boulders below Escarpment Lookout before I reached Glenaire Beach and the last section would not be possible at high tide. 

 The view from Johanna Beach walkers camp

It is all very pleasant walking on to Johanna Beach. Lots of views and lookouts with conveniently placed benches and a nice track that winds through forest and coastal scrub. At Castle Cove, the track briefly meets the Great Ocean Road and the amount of discarded toilet paper increases. Just past Castle Cove there is a lovely view point with a bench good for an afternoon break and the vehicle tourists do not make it this far so it is very secluded.

Dramatic light over the ocean

This was our longest day walking and our third day out which I often find is the most tiring day and the 2.5 kilometres along the soft sand of Johanna Beach into a strong head wind felt like a bit of a struggle at the end of the day. You can avoid the short road section by staying on the beach and climbing directly up to the best campsite of the trip just before Slippery Point where the campsites overlook Johanna Beach. At this campsite we met a bevy of other walkers and discovered that we were the only people actually carrying a full pack along the walk. Everyone else was using the pack shuttle service.

Rock pool on Milanesia Beach

Day 4: Johanna Beach to Ryans Den.

For a change, we did not combine two days into one but had an easy day along to Ryans Den campsite. The day starts out well hiking up farm land with lovely views to the east but another section of road walking is ahead. The track becomes old road, the old road becomes gravel road and soon there is another big detour away from the coast and around private land. It's not all bad, however, as the locals are friendly.

Friendly locals

Past the last house, the road deteriorates again and quickly leads down to Milanesia Beach which is wonderfully remote feeling and enclosed between cliffs at east and west. As we had lots of time, I wandered right along the beach to the eastern end before following the beach back to the west and taking a rock platform around to another small beach and an overgrown set of steps that climbs up and meets the main track.

Isolated Milanesia Beach

Pleasant walking through coastal heath and melaluca forest leads to Ryans Den campsite where there is a wonderful lookout with benches and seats above the campsite. I followed an old track down to Ryans Den, a rocky little cove, but had trouble getting right to the water as the track became overgrown with stinging thistle. We hung out at the lookout until evening and were very surprised that most of the other walkers did not manage to stagger up from camp despite the fact that the lookout was only about 10 metres higher than camp! 

 Lookout at Ryans Den walkers camp

Day 5: Ryans Den to Princetown.

It is all good track from Ryans Den to Princetown starting out with a fair bit of climbing and descending into and out of drainages. Nothing too hard, but enough to get you sweaty on a humid day. The forest is quite lovely in the creeks and the coastal heath gives way to scenic views along the way. There is a short side trip to Gables Lookout - close to the road, toilet paper alert - and then a series of steps leads down to Wreck Beach where the remains of two ship wrecks, mostly just large anchors, lie on the rock platforms. The beach passes under a big scooped out cliff and, as you climb up to regain the track at the far western end of Wreck Beach, you can see the Devils Kitchen campsite above the scooped out cliff. 

 Rock platform strolling

The final half dozen kilometres is much flatter as you follow the heath covered dunes down to the Gellibrand River and, we were back at our caravan, which we left at Princetown, in time for a shower and a late lunch. 

 Morning sun above Ryans Den

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