The 104km journey along the Great Ocean Walk is one of Victoria’s most iconic multi-day hikes, especially with a final destination like the 12 Apostles. Brooke had been stinging to tackle this hike for ages and finally hit the trail earlier this year.
- Journey 104km to the legendary Twelve Apostles on two feet
- Explore a more intimate side of Victoria’s popular Great Ocean Road region
- Walk beneath towering eucalypts and through mystical manna gum forests
- Spot wild koalas, kangaroos, echidnas and Southern Right whales from the trail
- Walk across golden beaches to the soundtrack of crashing waves
Getting to the Great Ocean Walk
It’s a slow-paced exploration of the region’s towering eucalypt forests, secluded beaches, and impossibly rugged headlands. From Apollo Bay in the east, the walk is officially broken up into eight stages, with the first seven stages finishing at a designated, hike-in GOW campsite and the final stage culminating at the incredible Twelve Apostles.
After several years of pining after the Great Ocean Walk from a distance, I recently moved back to Melbourne and was provided the perfect opportunity, courtesy of COVID19: my work was remote and very flexible, both the state and national borders were closed, and winter meant I could book campsites the night before I intended to depart.
My plans came together quickly, and before I knew it, I was setting off solo to complete the Great Ocean Walk in a whirlwind 5 day adventure.
Day 1 – Apollo Bay to Elliot Ridge
Hopping off the V/Line bus at the Apollo Bay Information Centre, I follow small yellow arrows through a park, along the road, and finally onto the sand in Marengo. Despite being the middle of July, I’m stripped down to a singlet, beaming like it’s my first time outside and reflecting a blinding amount of pasty chest to unsuspecting passersby.
The next few hours pass incredibly quickly, parading past a long string of secluded beaches, each more beautiful than the last. The trail is a dirt path adjacent to the water, gently undulating up and down with the coastline, but trail markers often lead straight onto the beach, taking me right up against the gentle waves or over rock platforms.
I see only one other couple all afternoon, lounging on the sand and pointing me up to a nearly-missed trail marker leading off of the beach and towards the cool, shaded forests of the Great Otway National Park.
The final stretch of today’s walk climbs gently up to Elliot Ridge, through thick ferns and a dense eucalypt forest, bathed in an almost ethereal golden light as the afternoon sun descends low over the horizon.
I’m pleasantly delighted to arrive at the Elliot Ridge GOW Hiker Camp moments later and find myself the sole inhabitant. The excitement increases 50-fold when I hear a nearby scratching noise and look up to see a koala climbing one of the trees directly in front of my tent. Slowly and with heavy lids, he looks over at me and seems to accept that I’m just part of the scenery. I’ve never missed other humans less.
Day 2 – Elliot Ridge to Cape Otway
Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay: 12km / 2.75hrs
Blanket Bay to Cape Otway: 10.5km / 3.75hrs
Most of the second morning on the trail is spent navigating through enormous stretches of muddy trail that either threaten to swallow my boots whole or send me sliding in all directions.
For all the unpleasant trail conditions, I still find myself really enjoying the walk, entirely alone again this morning. That enjoyment only increases when the clouds suddenly break apart to reveal blue sky, just in time for the descent into picture-perfect Blanket Bay.
The rain returns sporadically over the next few hours as I navigate the steep trails up and over headlands. I descend to the beach at Parker Inlet to cross the narrow river and then head straight back up into the trees on equally steep stone steps.
Although the path is anything but direct, and I find myself (and my knee) getting a little bit frustrated by all the steep, slippery descents as I approach Cape Otway, there’s no denying the journey’s been worth it. Low shrub gives way to expansive views of the wild coastline, surf whipped into a frenzy by the wind and clouds swirling ominously overhead. Rugged and insanely beautiful and precisely the kind of drama one wants on a trek.
Just when I feel my feet beginning to ache for camp, Cape Otway Lighthouse comes into view down the coast. Just 600m from the GOW camp, it’s a fitting beacon for the final leg of today’s walk.
DAY 3 – Cape Otway to Johanna Beach
Cape Otway to Aire River: 9.6km / 2hrs
Aire River to Johanna Beach: 13.8km / 4hrs
The first part of the morning en route to Aire River is incredibly wet and very cold, but otherwise uneventful. By early afternoon though, that wild Victorian coastline is back, making countless appearances as the trail skirts the waves on clifftop boardwalks and beachside trails. Breaks in the clouds reveal golden sand and perfectly turquoise water at Castle Cove, inviting if not for the hulking whitecaps.
Even the forest along this section of the walk is beautiful, winding on narrow boardwalks (an attempt to slow the spread of Cinnamon Fungus, which is contributing to plant rot in the area) through a tangle of spindly manna gums and overflowing grass trees. The light filtering in through the leaves transforms the whole scene into something out of a fairytale; think Brothers Grimm.
In no time, I’ve descended all the way down the headland onto the most perfect crescent beach yet, and I know I must be at Johanna. This is one of Australia’s best loved beaches, renowned for its impressive surf (and therefore not the place you want to hop in for a casual swim, although I’d otherwise be very keen).
After traversing a few kilometres across the sand and around rock platforms, I finally come to Johanna River, flowing quickly from between the dunes out into the sea. I parade up and down the bank several times in search of a narrowing. When no such section appears, I eventually strip my boots off and blaze my own way right through the flow. It’s freezing, but surprisingly refreshing on tired feet.
Boots hung from my shoulder by the laces, legs dripping from the rain, and feet caked in mud, I arrive at the Johanna Beach campsite (which is actually on a bluff some 600m above Johanna Beach) looking like the hot mess I truly am. But smack me if I’m not having the time of my life.
Day 4 – Johanna Beach to Devil’s Kitchen
Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den: 13.8km / 4hrs
Ryan’s Den to Devil’s Kitchen: 12.8km / 4hrs
There’s no doubt that day four is going to be a challenge, but I’m reassuringly joined on the first few hours of my walk by countless Eastern Grey kangaroos hopping through golden hills and turning to appraise me with reluctant curiosity as I come round corners.
The next section of the walk is a bit less pleasant, leading up and down a rollercoaster of paved or gravel roads. Even back on a trail, the sharp ascents and descents are unlike anything I expected on a coastal walk. So it’s with great pleasure that I arrive, about an hour later, at the secluded Milanesia Beach. From here, the forested ascent to Ryan’s Den is short and sweet.
The next 4 hours to Devil’s Kitchen fly by in comparison to the morning’s slow-going. The elevation gain is far more manageable for the climb up Cape Volney, Moonlight Head, and the towering Gables Lookout, all the while offering dramatic views back towards the Cape Otway coast.
The final stages of the walk wind through farmland, where I’m delighted to find a little echidna digging under a fence, and an endless stretch of forest. I’m finally delivered to Devil’s Kitchen just in time to set up my tent in the final minutes of daylight. Be sure to bring your camera to the toilet, this is a loo with a view.
Day 5 – Devil’s Kitchen to Twelve Apostles
Enjoying the freedom of a short final day on the trail, I move with absolutely no sense of urgency along the cliffs towards Princeton, soaking in the salty air and the sharp whip of the wind with every step.
Eventually descending off the cliffs to cross the Gellibrand River and then slowly winding back up through coastal scrub, the morning passes incredibly quickly.
I feel I’ve hardly even left camp when I catch my first glimpse of the Twelve Apostles in the distance. By that trick of the eye, they seem about 100km away and I spend a split-second wondering if I’ve made some terrible miscalculation – but they loom closer and closer with every step, providing a fixed point and a tangible goal to hike towards.
Less than 4 hours after leaving camp, I’m standing at the official Twelve Apostles viewing platform, soaking in the epic prize for all those wet kilometres. A handful of tourists cast furtive glances in my direction, possibly wondering why I’ve brought a full pack for the 1km walk from the Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre, or why I’m smiling with so much intensity at a bit of eroded cliff, but I’m too happy to care.
It’s my third time at the Twelve Apostles, and while the rocks themselves haven’t made a lot of movements (and the weather’s certainly not doing the view any favours), it is without a doubt the best of my visits. I’ve been on a real journey to get here, and something about the sharp sting in my boots, the storm-frizzed hair, and the saturated 17kg backpack make it all the sweeter.
- 50-70L pack with rain cover
- Hiking clothes (plus some cozy layers for camp)
- Rain jacket
- Sturdy hiking boots and wool socks
- Tent, sleeping bag and mat
- Stove, bowl/cup, cutlery
- 5x days of food (recommend a mix of dehydrated meals & supermarket goodies)
- Water filter
- First aid kit (including anti-inflammatories, bandages, antiseptic, etc)
- Mobile phone and/or PLB
How To Get There
The Great Ocean Walk begins at the Apollo Bay Information Centre, about 2.5hrs west of Melbourne via Geelong, and ends at the Twelve Apostles, a further 30min west along the Great Ocean Road. For those driving, it’s recommended to park at the Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre and organise a shuttle or local taxi back to Apollo Bay to begin the walk.
If you’d rather use public transport, you can also catch the V/Line train from Southern Cross Station to Geelong (1hr) and then catch a V/Line bus towards Warrnambool (2.75hrs), hopping off right at the Apollo Bay Information Centre. All up, this journey will take around 4.5hrs from the city (including transfer time) and tickets are $30.80; book in advance on the V/Line website.
The trail isn’t overly demanding, but given its length and the weight of a 5-day pack, some overnight hiking experience is recommended.
Distance Covered / Elevation Gain / Duration
104km / 3300m gain / 5 days