The strange leg pain only really lasted two days after we’d finished our hike last weekend. It was certainly bad, but its gone now, and it kind of felt good to have worked that hard anyway.
We made it about 28km in two days, carrying everything we needed for that time including an overkill of water, and by the end of it I was struggling to stay upright. But it was totally worth it.
Dan and I hiked the section of the Great Ocean Walk between Parker Hill and Johanna Beach, staying at Aire River overnight. We didn’t actually know anything about the GOW until I started Googling for options after we decided the Grampians were too dry and recently fire-stricken to visit at this time of year. The walk’s been open for seven years next month and it basically follows the coastline between Apollo Bay and Port Campbell. You can do it in about 8 days or, like us, just pick a section.
We drove to Johanna Beach camp ground and stayed Friday night with the car, then had the Great Ocean Road Shuttle pick us up and drop us at Parker Hill where we started walking. When I booked the shuttle I was informed that Aire River’s water tanks were empty so late on Friday night we hid a couple of bottles of drinking water in the bush. That was a confusing experience in the dark!
We walked about 15km on Saturday in the scorching heat (it was about 36 degrees in Apollo Bay), along the coastline and through heathland. Towards the start of the day we dropped into Crayfish Bay for a much-needed splash in the cold water (I wet my hat and let it drip all over me – so refreshing). We also passed the Cape Otway Lightstation ($18 entry – no thanks!) where we stocked up on water and cheated a little by indulging in icy-poles.
We were pretty relieved to finally make it to Aire River and have a quick swim then set up our tent in the awesomely secluded GOW walk-in camp site we’d booked. The rest of the camp ground was full of families with big trucks, caravans and loud country music so we enjoyed the quiet of our bush site.
On Sunday we hiked the 13.5km back to Johanna Beach, definitely having a more enjoyable day. The scenery was stunning, with the walk including coast, forest, heathland and beach (the last stretch of soft beach was tough). We spent some time on the beach at Johanna but wouldn’t dare go in the water above our knees because it was so rough. It’s definitely more of a fishing (or hardcore surfing) destination than a family swimming spot.
On Monday we leisurely made our way back to Torquay via Apollo Bay for a swim and first lunch and Lorne for second lunch.
Here are a few dot points on things we learned along the way. Some of this stuff might come in handy if you’re thinking of heading to the area for some walking, or maybe we can inspire you to do so!
– The Great Ocean Walk is well-marked. You don’t NEED a map but it’s a great way to know where you’re going and where you’ve been. $15 from information centres (we got ours at National Wool Museum in Geelong).
– Call someone before you arrive to check whether the water tanks are full (we would’ve ended up drinking river water if we didn’t know – probably fine but I’m glad we didn’t have to).
– This coastline is very rugged and there are very few beaches safe to swim.
– Make sure you check the tide times – the beaches are rough so high tide comes right up to the cliffs. Some parts of the walk are on the beach.
– Booking the Great Ocean Road Shuttle to drop you somewhere at the start of the trip allows you to walk in one direction without backtracking as the path is linear. It’s the best way to make the most of it.
– You don’t actually need to book or pay for camping at Aire River or Johanna Beach. BUT I would highly recommend the Aire River walk-in site for less than $30. Don’t bother with the Johanna Beach walk-in site – it’s so far up the hill we gave up walking, meaning its miles from the beach.
– The road between the Great Ocean Road and Cape Otway Lightstation is AWESOME for koala spotting – I saw about 15 in two minutes of driving.
– The walk between Parker Hill and Cape Otway Lightstation is nothing special – the walk goes alongside a road and on 4WD tracks with soft sand without much shade.
– Between the Cape Otway Lightstation and Aire River you walk either on or above Station Beach which makes for pretty spectacular views – but both routes require walking in soft sand which can be tough.
– The walk from Aire River to Johanna Beach has great scenery, solid, well-made paths and a few challenging hills. If you want a nice day walk, park at Castle Cove lookout and walk in either direction.
– Seeing Aire River camp site from the cliff before you descend into it makes that arrival all the sweeter.
Tricks we learned:
– Camping next to a river or a beach is the greatest – even if you can’t swim at least you can wash!
– Camping somewhere with a water supply makes life much easier.
– We drank about 2.5L of water each while walking and about 3.5L total each per day.
– The first hour of a hike is always painful and yucky – then it gets good once you’re warm.
– 15km in one day was too much!
– 13.5km in one day was a pretty good amount.
– We NEEDED a rest day after doing 28km in two days. Next time we’d spread that distance out over 3-4 days or make sure we rested for a day.
– You’re going to get wet hiking no matter what. If it’s hot, you might as well start off wet. I swam in the river on our second day and loved starting the day with wet hair.
– My hair survives remarkably well in plaits without being touched for 3 days.
– Mini spray-on Rexona deodorant (only!) lasts 4 days.
– A mini roll-on sunscreen only lasts 3 days when you’re with Dan. If he wears a long sleeve top next time we might save some.
– Both of us got blisters. Dan got sore legs, back, shoulders and neck. My quads and hamstrings fared alright but I had pain in my glutes, calves and hip flexors and weird bruises and blisters at the front of my hip bones from my pack’s straps.
– For breakfast 1-2 cereal bars is enough.
– In the mornings the easiest way to get our caffeine fix was to eat coffee granules and wash them down with some water. Horrible but effective.
– Dan ate too much on the first day (he had two packets of tuna!). All we need for lunch is one tuna sachet and a wrap. Scrog can fill the rest of the hole.
– We took too much scrog – probably double what we needed.
– Saturday dinner was AWESOME! And we didn’t need the extra mashed sweet potato.
Gear we liked:
– Our little hiking tent is great and its size is comfortable enough, even though it’s actually narrower than a bed! Both our packs fit snug under the fly perfectly.
– Dan loves his hardcore pants that zip off into shorts.
– I loved my non-quick-drying hat because it stayed wet and refreshing in the heat.
Gear we want:
– Head torches
– Thongs for some campsite relief from boots
– A clean outfit to wear around camp after washing off the day’s sweat. Gross.
We’re already preparing for a second trip in the next couple of weeks. Do you think we’re on the right track? Does anyone have any more advice for us?