Ben Spencer is our guest blogger. Images by Grant Hawkins.
Day 1 – Milanesia Beach to Ryans Den
With much anticipation we were finally bound for the Great Ocean Walk – a 90km snaking trail along the Victorian coastline from Apollo Bay to The Twelve Apostles. Our crew comprised of my dad and three mates and we intended to tackle the last 40km stretch of this famous trail, linking Milanesia Beach to the Twelve Apostles. After about 3 hours driving from Melbourne, we turned off the Great Ocean Road onto a steep dirt track more suited to four wheel drive vehicles. Our two-wheeler managed okay, but I wouldn’t recommend trying it in the wet! The rough track abruptly ended with breathtaking views over imposing sea cliffs that dropped into an expansive blue ocean.
Eager to crack onwards, we shouldered our heavy packs and hit the trail, which almost immediately got really steep as it descended to secluded Milanesia beach. It was quickly obvious that the only way onwards was up and, once again it was very steep! A pattern was quickly forming and the lads pondered aloud what they’d got themselves into. The hot sun was beating down, the climb was arduous on untrained limbs, our packs were heavy and we’d only just started! After an extended and challenging ascent, we struggled to the crest of a hill and found the perfect vantage point for lunch. The outlook was spectacular and was everything I had envisaged when dreaming of the walk. Most definitely a ‘lunch with a view’. Note to self – stow food in an accessible place to avoid unpacking the whole rig whenever I got hungry.
With lunch done and plenty of sunscreen applied, we headed off again knowing it was only a short day of walking. The remainder of our hike through to camp was as steep as it had started and we were very pleased to drop our packs on arrival. We’d been told the camp was booked out but contrary to this we found it empty except for one other party. We chose a great campsite screened by shrubs and within a few steps of stunning outlooks over cliffs and ocean.
Having set-up camp without too much issue (I feared my tent looked a bit small for two lads) we went about the next order of business; dinner. Pizzas were on the menu and in no time at all we were enjoying our feast and soaking up the amazing vistas surrounding us. The remainder of the evening was spent boiling water from the tank to kill potential bacteria, waiting for it to cool and filling our drink bottles. This process took a considerable time because we needed a fair bit of water.
Day 2 – Ryans Den to Devils Kitchen
Sleep had been hard to come by, probably due to a few factors – the hard ground, the warmth of the night and the unfamiliarity of sleeping in a tent. Rain had swept through at 4am and we had to rescue some items that had been left outside, including my bag – another lesson learned. We were up at 6am and away by 8am. We needed to get away early so as to arrive at the beach section of the walk at low tide. The day’s walk started much the same as yesterday with lots of ups and downs but with amazing views as the reward for having gained the top of each climb. The notes listed this section as the hardest of the walk so we knew a big day was in store. Dad got his pack sitting better so that his hips were taking the weight, which he said felt much more comfortable than the previous day. Everyone was in good spirits and we made good time as the landscape varied from cliffs to paddocks to bush and back to cliffs again.
The trail was well worn and there was no chance of getting lost but it resulted in a lack of wildlife – animals seemingly knew to stay well away. Eventually we arrived at a set of stairs that lead to the beach segment of the walk – we had timed things perfectly as low tide was reported to be at 11:47am and we had arrived at 11:45am. The map listed the staircase as 364 steps but I didn’t let the lads know because a few were fading with at least 12km of territory already covered for the day. Arriving at the beach, we could see why it was necessary to traverse it at low tide – there was very little sand between the cliff and the water’s edge and high tide would leave no sand uncovered. Waves crashed over exposed reefs and we explored the rock pools as we ambled along the beach – losing our haste and enjoying the moment. Remains of two old ship wrecks, including an anchor, were a reminder of how devastating and unforgiving this wild coast could be.
We continued along the beach until spotting the trail heading back up the slopes. At this juncture, we stopped for lunch on the beach, satisfied that we’d broken the back of the days walking and had only a short section until camp. A liberal coating of repellant warded off the march flies and allowed us to soak up the serenity of this isolated beach. It was also an ideal place to tuck into a big lunch. The last tiring climb was a steep one and we were relieved to finally reach our campsite, a place we all agreed equaled the previous nights ‘wow’ factor.
We took our time setting up camp as we had arrived mid-afternoon and there was little else to do except relax, take pictures and get cricket updates – Clarke made over 300 runs against India. Dinner time came around and I happily cooked the grub I’d been carrying for two days. The meal was well received by the boys and all the food was polished off (next time I’ll bring more noodles!). With dinner done, we set about boiling more water for the following day, which fortunately didn’t take as long as the previous night. As the sun sank low in the sky we ventured down to the beach for a quick dip, though the ever-present reef stopped us from venturing too far out.
Day 3 – Devils Kitchen to The Twelve Apostles
We were up at 6am again and away by 7:30am. Faster this time and keen to walk in the coolest part of the day. The route was much flatter and the troops enjoyed this style of walking a lot more. We left the cliff-tops behind for a period as we moved into the typical Aussie bush that I’m more accustomed to. This change in vegetation necessitated the cleaning of our boots in a washing station to stop the passing of cinnamon fungus (phytophthora cinnamomi), a nasty pathogen that attacks tree roots. Soon afterwards we reached the exposed cliff-top again and encountered a person at one of the view points, which was the first sign we were nearing the end of the walk. At this point, foliage was growing over the track, making things difficult – for some reason the rangers had neglected to maintain this section. Long pants would have been beneficial but it was too hot to wear them so we endured. Eventually we pushed through into a clearing to be greeted by superb views of the Gellibrand River snaking past Princetown Recreation Reserve – our finishing point.
Before long we were back at the car with plenty of back-slapping and congratulations. It was a further 6km to the Twelve Apostles and we decided to complete it on foot – leaving the packs in the car of course! The views walking towards the Twelve apostles were memorable and provided a totally different perspective when compared to the usual driving approach.
Arriving at the first apostle we ventured down to the beach to look up at the massive rock tower. Strangely the track petered out at this point, despite the map saying it went for another kilometre to the Twelve Apostles Information Centre. Not to be deterred, we finished the last little bit along the road and made it to the end! It was an amazing trip where jaw-dropping views became the norm – I certainly recommend this walk to anyone considering it.