We arrived in the Otways early enough to explore a bit after the boring drive down the Hume freeway. Liz spotted an area by the road that was full of grass trees all in flower as the area had been burnt previously. It was an impressive sight to see such a mass flowering. We also visited Stephenson Falls which were flowing nicely. Apollo Bay gave us a greasy fish and chips dinner to get us ready for the walk and an after dinner stroll around the harbour.
Day 1 Marengo to Elliot Ridge 7km
We elected to skip the first three kilometres through Apollo Bay and began at Marengo. Ray headed off in the car to leave it at Princetown and then catch the bus back to meet us at lunchtime at Shelley Creek. After a walk past the sheep we came to a point where the track was along the foreshore or over the hills if the tide was high. The tide times worked out well for us so we walked the next three kilometres on the beach and rocks. This made the walk very interesting due to the fascinating rockscape, a mixture of smooth rocks with straight cracks and intriguing holey rocks, and a scramble past the blowhole which was thankfully not blowing. Lunch saw us reunited with Ray after delivering the car to the end point and was followed by a short but steep walk down to cross the Elliot River and up the ridge to the campsite. Our peaceful idyll in the forest was shattered by the sound of a dreaded school group arriving but we discovered they were not loud as we expected and they were cheerful and enthusiastic in the drizzle. We also shared our camp with a koala slumbering in a nearby tree who woke briefly to climb out onto narrowing branches and eat the delectable new growth.
Day 2 Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay 12km
We woke to mist and drizzle which seemed to match the dark forest atmosphere. And so it stayed all day as we strolled along the old four-wheel drive tracks. Arriving at Blanket Bay the creek was up but low enough to mostly keep the feet dry(for those of us with boots) though the school kids ploughed through. We had elected to use the free car camping area and missed the use of the shelter provided at each GOW camp. Unfortunately the school group also missed out due to a mix up and an officious ranger.
Day 3 Blanket Bay to Cape Otway 10.5km
The drizzle started easing and we began our day off by cleaning our boots at the station. This is to keep cinnamon fungus from spreading into untouched parts of the Otways – a fungus that particularly attacks and kills grass trees and other native plants. The bent and gnarled eucalypt forest was reminiscent of a haunted forest but beautiful. One of the well placed benches gave us a view down onto Parker Inlet. (Unfortunately the benches were always built for 3 not 4!) The track notes warned about the river crossing here after rain and it was certainly high. We couldn’t see the bottom and Ray was quickly thigh deep after two steps. We decided to go as close to the in coming tide as possible and some of us judged it better than others. Tony was only thigh deep while I managed to go waist deep and almost dunk my camera! It was a steep climb up steps on the other side and then through the scrub to Point Franklin, a side trip that gave us our first views of Cape Otway lighthouse. The next four kilometres to the lighthouse was just on tracks and by the road and seemed longer than it was. The $18.50 charge to visit the lighthouse and other buildings put the others off but I went in as I felt it was part of the walk; besides the helpful shop keeper was charging my camera battery and it would take half an hour. It was then a short stroll on to the campsite.
Day 4 Cape Otway to Aire River 11.6 + 3 km
We had to judge the tides again for a beach walk so were away early. We dropped our packs on Station Beach and then walked back one km to Rainbow Falls, a small flow that has created an amazing build up of coloured algae down the cliff side. The sand after this walk was unfortunately much softer but we still enjoyed the walk along the beach, dodging waves and admiring the extensive vistas (though restricted by low cloud). It was then back up the cliff and along to the Aire River estuary where the weather was again closing in. We planned to use the free camping but it was all waterlogged and the shelter was very appealing at the GOW site. Ray and took a walk to the mouth of the estuary when the drizzle stopped.
Day 5 Aire River to Johanna Beach 12.5km
The coast was starting to look more rugged from our viewpoints and we passed through an area wall to wall with grass trees thankfully untouched by the fungus because of our and other walkers boot cleaning. We also passed by the only place we saw the Great Ocean Road, at Castle Cove, until we reached the end of the walk. Just after this the track started to look less manicured and more like a real walking track complete with mud. We headed down onto Johanna Beach for a two km beach (softish sand again) and another river crossing. Again the tide was coming in and it was a juggling act to get across the river mouth between waves. Again I lost and was caught by the waves but kept my camera up high this time. We found a sheltered though sloping site with a table in the free camping area and settled in to dry belongings, wash hair and clothes and enjoy our afternoon. For some it was gentle strolls on the beach spying dive bombing peregrine falcons while others ran up and down the road to visit the impressive (though unmarked) Johanna Falls. It was also an opportunity to chat to campers experiencing the Otways in a very different way to us.
Day 6 Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den 15.4 km
I enjoyed sunrise over the ocean before we headed up and checked out the GOW camp on the way past. It had a great view but we preferred the easy access to the beach that we had at our camp. We continued up with great views down on the Johanna river winding through the green valley below us. The track turned into a road as we ascended to our turn off down yet another road but luckily with no traffic at all. A friendly householder provided water for walkers which I’m sure would be very appreciated on hot days. We ended on a four-wheel drive track which deposited us on remote Milanesia beach, flanked by towering cliffs. The low tide again gave us an opportunity to browse the fascinating seaweed shrouded rock-pools and walk the beautiful beach. Lunch on the beach was followed by five kilometres of ups and downs as we headed for Ryan’s Den campsite on a ridge overlooking the ocean on both sides. A close encounter with an aggressive tiger snake gave me the jitters and the campsite seemed to take forever to arrive. We could then relax and take in the rugged view of Cape Volney and cliffs on one side and the vast spread of the shoreline and beaches back to Cape Otway on the other. We were joined by three other walkers and all sat at the point to watch the sun set behind the adjacent ridge.
Day 7 Ryan’s Den to Devil’s Kitchen 14km
This day gave us a lookout each kilometre each with their own unique view of the ocean and cliffs. A big climb onto Moonlight Head and then more road walking and dry bushland before we emerged once more onto the grand view at The Gable, looking down to azure pools and green rock shelves in the sea flanked by sheer, rocky cliffs. A brief walk took us to the 366 steps down to Wreck Beach, an easier walk down for us than the diver coming up with his load of rock lobster. Again with low tide we could enjoy the sight of the rusting anchors of the Marie Gabrielle resting in the circular rock pools and another lunch on the beach. We climbed gently up the cliffs for our final campsite again with a view over the ocean. We did miss having a beach to explore for the afternoon but watching the sun set into the ocean helped make up for it.
Day 8 Devil’s Kitchen to Gibson Steps 14.8km
The longer days all came at the end of the walk where hopefully we were fitter and certainly our packs were lighter. As we walked we gradually got view of The Twelve Apostles and their accompanying orange cliffs. Point Ronald signalled Princetown and the Gellibrand River where we got to leave our packs with the car. Surfers were out in the small swell visited by an inquisitive seal. Three of us then headed off on the last 6 kilometres, unfortunately with no views or sea breeze for the first 3 km in the increasingly stifling heat. After that it was an almost constant view towards our end point and a return to cars, crowds and humanity. Our final lunch on the bench at the bottom of Gibson Steps provided the dramatic view of two eroding sea stacks standing defiantly against a broody sky. Fittingly END was marked out on the beach but unfortunately made with dead mutton birds which had been a constant sight for us along the walk.