Most Melburnians (and most visitors to Melbourne) have been to the Great Ocean Road, and it is justifiably one of the best known tourist areas in Victoria. A road trip is a must-do but often involves a lot of time in the car rushing from one crowded highlight to another. Hiking the Great Ocean Walk, or part of it, is a fantastic way to explore the area in more detail and get away from the crowds.
Great Ocean Walk route
The Great Ocean Walk starts 195 kilometres, or about 2 and a half hours drive, from Melbourne in Apollo Bay. From there it goes through the Great Otway National Park, mostly following the coast around Cape Otway and eventually finishing at the famous Twelve Apostles. Hiking the entire way would take 8 days (unless you do multiple sections in a day. Tough going, but we did meet some people doing it.) and there are campsites roughly equal distances apart. Each section is between 10 and 16 kilometres and some include optional additional side trips.
There are plenty of options besides hiking the full trail, from short walks to day or multi-day camping and hiking. With a small group of friends, I covered 2 and a half of the 8 sections over a long weekend. greatoceanwalk.com.au has a list of possible hikes.
Map from www.greatoceanwalk.com.au.
Day 1 — (part of) Blanket Bay to Cape Otway
On the first day we drove to Cape Otway Lighthouse, where we had planned to meet some friends who had done the previous section that morning. The road from the Great Ocean Road to the lighthouse is incidentally one of the best places in the area to see koalas. Don’t be surprised to see groups of mesmerised tourists pointing high into the trees and paying little attention to oncoming traffic. Do feel free to stop and join them (but watch out for the traffic).
A sign before reaching the lighthouse makes the strange and extremely vague claim that it is “Australia’s most significant lighthouse.” We met our friends in the car park and went straight to the nearby campsite. After leaving our bags at the campsite, we realised there wasn’t much to see near the lighthouse without paying the $20 entrance fee to get into the area surrounding it. So unfortunately, we didn’t find out what made it so “significant”. Instead, we decided to explore some of the previous section of the Great Ocean Walk. We had already planned to continue towards Aire River the next day, so this seemed like a good warm-up without our heavy bags.
We walked back past the entrance to the lighthouse and along the unmarked (from that direction) trail. The trail is meant to be one-way so the trail signs only faced the opposite direction. As it was late in the day we didn’t encounter anyone else and it was nice to have the whole place to ourselves. The trail wound through a wooded area for a while with the odd clearing allowing for a glimpse of a cliff overlooking the sea. Eventually it opened up and the landscape stretched out in front of us. Looking back towards the way we had come we could see some great views of the lighthouse.
We continued on and reached a beach with some waves crashing onto the rocks. On the way back, we saw a swamp wallaby in a nearby field.
Then the sun started to set, lighting up the surrounding landscape in a warm glow and providing an incredible backdrop for the lighthouse.
Day 2 — Cape Otway to Aire River
The next day we set off to hike the 10 kilometres to the campsite at Aire River. It wasn’t long before we reached a small cemetery that contained, amongst others, the graves of people who died in shipwrecks along this coastline. I have since found out that more ships have been wrecked along the western coast of Victoria than any other stretch in Australia.
From there the path goes uphill and along some more cliffs. After a while there is a junction, with a path leading left down to a beach and Rainbow Falls, and right to continue to Aire River. We went down to the beach. Access to Rainbow Falls depends on the tide, as you have to walk along the beach and across a section of rocks to reach it. Unfortunately for us, the tide was coming in, making the rocks difficult to pass and raising the possibility of being stuck for a few hours on the other side if we could get through. We decided against it, happy just to explore the beach and continue on. It’s also possible to continue on along the beach, but that too is tide-dependent.
We eventually reached Aire River, walked alongside it and crossed the bridge to the campsite. The GOW campsite is up a hill behind the main campsite. The main campsite was quite lively and a lot of people seemed to be there to fish in the river, some from boats and others from the bridge.
The river continues alongside huge dunes to the nearby beach. We strolled down to the beach after setting up our tents in the campsite.
Day 3 — Aire River to Johanna Beach
The next section was longer, at about 14 kilometres, but was also my favourite of the sections we saw. It had a lot more variety of landscapes than the previous sections and contained some amazing lookouts with sweeping vistas.
About halfway along this section we reached Castle Cove, where the trail briefly rejoins the Great Ocean Road and there is a lookout accessible from the road. It was strange that, having walked for hours through the wilderness to get here, there were a lot of people hopping out of their cars to take photos and see the view.
Continuing on, there were some more cliffs before the scenery changed again. We were surrounded by gum trees and spiky green plants.
At the end of this trek we got to Johanna beach. We walked along the beach and then had to cross a small river. After hours of walking, crossing the cold stream barefoot was quite refreshing.
Campsites & other facilities
The campsites generally have one cold water tap, decent toilet facilities considering their locations, and wooden tables useful for eating meals, sorting bags and generally hanging out on. The water is not potable but can be treated with tablets or by boiling. The campsites also usually have good shelter from the wind. It’s possible to book single sites (which are numbered) or a place in the group sites.
What to Bring
Food — There is not really anywhere to buy food along the way, unless you count the small café at the lighthouse (and bear in mind it costs $20 to get to it).
Water — Bring plenty of water. Untreated rainwater is available at the campsites (but not guaranteed as the tanks can run out) so it is a good idea to bring water sterilisation tablets. Parks Victoria has more information on making water safe to drink on their website.
Wet weather gear — We were lucky that it didn’t rain at all during our trip, but the weather can change quickly in the area so it’s a good idea to be prepared.
A plan for transport — It is a good idea to park at the end of your walk and hitchhike or avail of the shuttle service to get to where you want to start. You won’t want to have to figure out how to get back to your car afterwards. If you are a group with two cars, you could park one where you plan to finish and drive to the start.
Your campsite booking — The campsites have limited spaces and it is necessary to book ahead. You can see prices and book here.
A camera — The scenery is amazing.
For more information on planning your walk, you can visit the Great Ocean Walk FAQs at greatoceanwalk.com.au