Whether you’re a fresh hiker looking for advice, or feel like re-living the early days, here are some things Zoe learned while doing the Great Ocean Walk.
New to the world of overnight hiking, my partner James and I rummaged through our family’s camping supplies, excitedly collating mismatched gear. We grabbed our parents old hiking boots, bought hiking pants on sale, packed our packs and headed off to Apollo Bay for the Great Ocean Walk. For months we’d been hankering to get out of the city and do a multi-day hike, keen to disconnect from the world and carve out this space to just be.
We walked along well-trodden paths, thoughts keeping pace with our steps. New ideas ruminating, we fell into a rhythm and escaped elsewhere, coming back to discuss some fresh idea or weird notion, ‘Wait, where do Welsh people come from again..?’, before falling into contemplative silence once more. These are some things I learned along the way.
When people tell you hiking boots are important, they mean it!
Yep, day one and we were already experiencing the wrath of hiking boots that weren’t properly moulded to our feet.
Rain had been pummelling the Otways for days leading up to our adventure, making the track as pudgy and gluggy as cold porridge. Wet shoes are not fun, although squelching through the mud definitely fulfilled my Peppa Pig dreams.
After hours of trudging through thick clay, the laughs of the morning began to fade into alarm… Would the track be like this every day? Will my boots dry by tomorrow? What if one of us slips and dies?! Catastrophising much?
We also felt the first niggle of blisters. Like the subtle darkening of the sky before a storm, the signs began to show. My pinky toes squished and rubbed against the side of my boots, as if the shoes had been designed for someone with only four toes (or maybe they were just perfectly fit to my mum’s feet, not mine – that’s a pretty valid call too).
Grimacing ever so slightly with each step, James admitted that his achilles was rubbing and not super comfortable either. His Achilles heel.
So, lesson number one from day number one; listen to what people tell you! Get your own hiking boots, break them in properly before you go on a longer walk and enjoy a less painful experience. In saying that, it did make for more of a mental and physical challenge.
Walking with packs, especially on sand, is hard work!
Used to doing heaps of day hikes, we thought we were pretty fit. 24km, easy. No sweat!
That’s before packs were added into the equation. Carrying your world on your back is liberating, but it’s also a slog. Now add sand into the equation and that’s when you feel the real burn.
Packs add a lot of weight, making a once-breezy-hill a nightmarish-struggle (okay, not that bad, but it’s a lot harder!).
A few months before this walk, we’d done an overnight hike to Mt Feathertop, bringing pasta sauce, baked beans and three jumpers each. Our packs were ridiculous. This time, having learned from past mistakes, we packed light. If something wasn’t essential, it didn’t make the cut. One jumper, thermals, and dehydrated, lightweight food. But the sand walking was still hard.
People are sick, talk to them
We crossed paths with a few other hikers along the way, talking about the beautiful things we’d seen and whether we’d all walked past the same Brown snake.
Chris, a teacher and an experienced walker from Gippsland, was doing the walk in four days. He was so passionate about life and had the best attitude. We picked his brain, inspired by stories of his past trips. Dinner-time convo flowed. We chatted about his work teaching, our own experiences studying, the education system and how young people’s attention spa- have you seen this TikTok? -ns are worse than ever before.
We also lamented our blistered feet and were stoked when he offered us some tape that he swears by (just white medical tape). We had been given a second skin! Thank you Chris!
Read more: 20 Outdoor Hacks We Bet You Aren’t Using
Walking through eucalyptus forests, rocky headlands, gullies of rainforest and pristine beaches, James and I began tossing around the idea of studying outdoor ed and sharing our passion for nature with young people. As if sent to answer all our questions, we met Jarrah, a wonderful outdoor ed teacher!
People are amazing. Talking about writing and playing music, politics in Australia, the climate crisis, outdoor education, good books, and hiking tips left me feeling so full. The outdoors definitely attracts a likeminded crowd of nature-lovers, so you’re bound to meet epic people along the way.
You’ll get into a groove and want to walk forever
Waking up at sunrise and going to bed not long after dark, we adjusted to the rhythms of nature and walking became the most natural thing in the world.
A bit sore, but feeling great, I began to feel like I could walk forever. We began brainstorming what other hikes we could do. How long is the Australian Alps Walking Track? 655km, let’s do it!
I fell in love with the simplicity of this life, reverting to basic human needs. I also fell in love with the stimulation and the challenge.
Living with less is more
I’ve alluded to how liberating it is to carry your whole life on your back, but I really cannot stress how good it feels.
All of life’s essentials contained in a small pack. Anything superfluous is just added weight. One spoon, one mug, one pot, two people. Minimalism at its finest.
It was so fun thinking about what we needed and what we could go without. It really puts our materialism into perspective. ‘Because we are liiiiivingggg, in a material world…’
Packing also taught me a lot about my priorities. Two blocks of chocolate, essential. Two sports bras, no way!
What it really highlighted for me is just how little I actually need. Less is so much more.
Dreams do come true
We saw whales!
I’d been talking whale the entire length of the walk, like Dory in Finding Nemo. Begging the whales to come and say hello. At every opportunity I scanned the sea, straining to see a tell-tale splash.
We saw dolphins, kangaroos, Wedge-tailed eagles, a Brown snake and so much beautiful birdlife over the six days. All that was left now was whales.
On the sixth and final day, our excitement grew, like the Twelve Apostles getting larger and larger, closer and closer, around every bend. Almost there!
Arriving at the lookout, there was excited chatter and people pointing out to sea. Whales! James and I couldn’t believe it. Smelly, sweaty, and smiling, a whale breached 200m from us. 104km later, the whales had finally heard my calls! What a way to end one of the best weeks of my life.
So, what did I really learn?
The power of manifestation! No, not really. But I did learn that nature is absolutely insane and getting out there hiking is one of the best things I’ve ever done. You’ve got to take the plunge to experience it.
So grab an old pack, source some (of your own) hiking boots, pack lightly and get out there!