Australia has an abundance of natural beauty that has to be the envy of every lucky sod that gets to visit our shores.
For me, regional Victoria is right up there in the Aussie beauty stakes. I love the rolling green hills on the way from Melbourne to Ballarat; the historic towns of the Victorian Goldfields like Castlemaine and Clunes; the dusty aridness of the Mallee and Wimmera; the age-old splendor of the Grampians; and the sweet subtleness of the Macedon wine country. But the jewel in this sparkling tiara is without doubt the incomparable Great Ocean Road.
Officially, the Great Ocean Road stretches for some 250 kilometres from surfer’s paradise Torquay all the way to the renowned 12 Apostles — a series of majestic rock sea-stacks timeworn by the Southern Ocean. In between you have a truly mind-blowing stretch of coastline — alternating between stunning golden sandy beaches, rocky promontories and dramatic towering escarpments.
Thinking about doing the Great Ocean Walk? In this segment from the Tour the World travel TV series, we join Park Trek Walking Holidays on a four-day short-break hiking the Great Ocean Walk in regional Victoria. We experience the amazing beaches, coves and spectacular cliff-top vistas this walk is famous for, before ending up at the wonderful 12 Apostles.
Thousands of visitors to Melbourne choose to do the Great Ocean Road as a day trip. However, if you have the time, it’s possible to ditch the daily convoy of tourist buses and Winnebagos altogether. That’s exactly what I’m about to do by joining a Great Ocean Road walking tour with Park Trek Walking Holidays.
OK, so let’s clarify one point: you don’t walk along the road. You walk a coastal trail known as the Great Ocean Walk. It’s maintained by Parks Victoria, and you actually get to see far more of the coastline than you do from the road itself. It takes seven days or so to do the entire trail — a distance of 105 kilometres. We’re doing a four-day option — where you’re accommodated in one spot and do different sections of the walk each day.
There are always two guides on this Great Ocean Road walking tour — in our case, the indomitable Cindy and Alistair. In addition to leading the walk, these guys cook our food and generally make sure everything runs smoothly. They’re amazing and the food is superb. I keep justifying the extra large helpings with a reassuring note to self: ‘It’s OK. I’m doing lots of exercise.’ In reality, I’d need to walk from here to Perth to even come close to burning all these extra calories.
We ease into day one with a six-kilometre stretch from Marengo (just outside the quintessential Victorian resort town of Apollo Bay) to Shelley Beach. The walk is very pleasant — and for the most part — reasonably flat. The track meanders along the coast and through a section of the beautiful Great Otway National Park. It’s a gentle introduction to the trip.
At the end of the walk we transfer to the Cape Otway Lightstation by mini bus where we’ll spend the next three nights. There’s a fascinating collection of colonial buildings — some of which now operate as a bed and breakfast. The lighthouse itself dates back to 1848 and overlooks where Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean collide. The 80-metre climb to the top reveals jaw-dropping views of the dramatic coastline and far-flung horizon.
Day two on this Great Ocean Road walking tour is a 16-kilometre walk from the Cape Otway Lightstation to Castle Cove — and a day of extraordinary contrasts. The walk starts with sweeping vistas across pristine Station Beach and down the hazy, windswept littoral as far as the eye can see. The vegetation is low, dense and supremely hardy. It must be a particularly unforgiving place in the depths of winter. There are Echidna diggings everywhere on the track, but sadly no sightings of the diggers themselves.
As we take a right turn inland along the Aire River to our lunch stop the landscape quickly changes to lush emerald-green pastoral land. This spot is popular with campers, and understandably so; it’s idyllic. There’s a large koala in residence in a tree by the loos. He regards us with just the merest hint of a passing interest. This guy has clearly seen it all before.
By the morning of day three my legs are protesting big time at all this extra curricular activity. And we have a big day today — 14 kilometres from sweeping Milanesia Beach to Moonlight Head. We’ve been warned to expect some big hills on this section of the walk. It’s head down, tail up as most of us trudge along in determined silence, lost in our own thoughts or simply focused on getting to the top of the next incline.
There’s quite a bit of traffic today. It’s a popular stretch and the serious walkers who pass us with a perfunctory nod seem to be lapping it up. There’s an immense sense of achievement as we reach the top of the final hill.
Day four rolls around and we throw down our cornflakes with an extra sense of expectation. Today’s the day we’ll see the much-anticipated 12 Apostles for the first time. We’re doing eight kilometres from pretty Princetown’s ‘Do Duck Inn’ to the 12 Apostles Visitor’s Centre. It’s easy-going and very pleasant.
Finally the majestic sea-stacks come into view. The first two are Gog and Magog. While not officially part of the Apostles, they’re spectacular enough in their own right and a delicious looking honeycomb yellow.
On to the visitor’s centre which is surprisingly modest for such a tourist mecca. I’m expecting a whiz-bang presentation of interpretative boards and geological gobbledygook, but no. This is very low key — just a kiosk, toilets and a couple of modest signs.
Leaving the centre you pass under the Great Ocean Road itself and along a boardwalk, which leads you down to the various viewing areas. And viola! The sun comes out right on cue, bathing the rock formations in a golden glow. It’s breathtaking.
If you only have a day to visit the Great Ocean Road, then by all means do a day trip. If you have more time, this Great Ocean Road walking tour is a superb way to see everything the region has to offer — off the beaten track.
Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.