Hiking the Great Ocean Walk (GOW) was an amazing experience. Full stop!
It was not easy and I am the first to admit that it was much more physically demanding than I expected. That doesn’t mean it is not worth doing, it just means that you need equal amounts of solid training, packing preparation and gritty determination.
Seriously steep climbs and heartbreakingly soft sand provided endless challenge, but Oh, the beauty. Wherever you gaze is a scenic wonder and most of that landscape can only be accessed on foot. A fair reward for all that effort.
Don’t let me put you off. This is a true adventure and here are my Top Tips for the Great Ocean Walk…
- Training: Yep, training can get pretty boring sometimes, but every kilometre beforehand will pay dividends out on the trail. Train early, train often.
- Training Schedule: Depending on your base level of fitness, it may be a good idea to start six to eight weeks out. I started out focusing on distance, clocking multiple weekly walks on a 13km and 19km route. Then I loaded my backpack with three bricks (a standard house brick weighs around 3.2kg) and added a brick each week up to about 15kg. My pack weighs an additional 2.2kg, so this was a good goal weight for me. Yes, maybe I need my head read!
- Hills, Hills, Hills: Make sure you train on hills – even if it is only for short distances to start with. The GOW path is constantly up and down so you need to be used to that with a fully loaded pack on your back.
- Before you leave Apollo Bay, pop into the Visitor Information Centre and talk to the friendly staff. They printed out a list of the tide times for us and this list was very useful as we navigated the beach sections. Alternatively keep an eye on the Bureau of Meteorology website when you are in mobile range.
- Be careful when walking near the ocean. They don’t call this region the ‘shipwreck coast’ for nothing and the water can be pretty wild with strong and unpredictable waves.
Distances & Waymarking:
- Flexible Distances: As I mentioned in my daily posts, the distances in the guidebook, on the Vic Parks signs and recorded by my Garmin watch rarely matched up. Be prepared to walk an additional +/- 1km every day.
- Signage & Waymarking: You could easily undertake this walk with no map, compass or guidebook. The path is clearly marked and generally very easy to follow. We found the guidebook to be very useful when it described alternate routes or what they call ‘Decision Points’. It also provided some excellent background information on the history of the region, native flora and fauna.
- Ascents: Each day features a number of lung-busting climbs. They may be short, they may be long and your GOW campsite is virtually guaranteed to be at the very top of yet another $#@ hill at the end of the day.
- Descents: If it has been raining, be very careful on downhill sections. Some paths feature loose rock and others would be incredibly slippery after a storm or shower.
Where to Stay:
- Day Walks: There are a large number of companies who provide daily shuttle services, so if the thought of a tent and sleeping bag makes your blood run cold, I am sure that these companies would happily shuttle you to/from the path and your luxury accommodation. It would take a little more coordination, expense and time, but would deliver a very enjoyable walking alternative.
- GOW Campsites: The official GOW campsites are excellent, with simple facilities such as a composting toilet, 3-sided shelter and rain water tanks. Sometimes it is quite a walk to the toilet, but at least you are not carrying a fully loaded backpack to get there. If you are walking on weekends or during holiday periods, then I really recommend you book a site ($17.10 per night).
- Other Accommodation: If you prefer a real bed, then do an internet search. We noticed signs for cottages at Johanna Beach and a shower at that point would have been heaven. Check out AirBnB etc too.
Hygiene & Waste:
- Bathing: There are no showers at the campsites and the rain water in the tanks is a precious commodity. A waterfall at Blanket Bay does deliver a refreshing birdbath. Pack a small microfibre cloth (light and dries quickly) and a small hotel-size tube of shower gel to rub yourself down. It does make you feel much fresher at the end of a sweaty day. NB: be careful not to get any soap in any waterways.
- Washing: I had visions of being able to rinse out a few clothes at the end of each day, but that just didn’t happen. The air was so full of moisture that things just did not dry.
- Rubbish: Whatever you carry in, you must carry out. There are NO rubbish bins for the entire length of the walk. Minimise as much packaging as you can before you leave home.
- Furry: You will be blessed with huge numbers of kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos, especially in the second half of the walk. We didn’t see any koalas, but apparently they are about. Gorgeous birdlife is also plentiful.
- Slithery: Yes, this is snake country. We only saw one Black snake and one Tiger snake and both disappeared very quickly. Give them time and space to depart, and they will.
- Hungry: I really recommend you put all your food inside your tent at night. We spotted many bush rats and other potential pantry raiders.
What to Pack:
- Footwear: Whatever style of footwear you like to walk in, make sure the tread is new and has excellent grip. You will cross slippery stones and trippy terrain, and you want to stay upright.
- Poles: Hiking poles are essential in my opinion. They help push you up the steep bits and brake on the down bits. Don’t leave home without them.
- Water Treatment: Vic Parks recommend you sterilise the water in the tanks. On the whole, we found the water quality to be excellent, but we used a Steripen to be on the safe side. You certainly don’t want a case of the runs out there.
- Toilet Paper: Pack your own just in case the composting toilets have run out. This may be more of a problem during busy weekends.
- Emergencies: Mobile range/service is patchy to non-existent the entire length of this walk, especially if you are not with Telstra. The digital detox is enjoyable, but consider taking a PLB in case of emergencies. Some parts of this path are VERY remote.
- Sun Protection: A good, broad-brimmed hat and sunscreen are essential. Many sections of the path are exposed to the full blast of the sun and wind.
I hope I haven’t turned you off this walk. As I said, it is not easy and certainly not a doddle along the coast enjoying the bracing sea air. What it is is a gloriously natural, unspoiled and undeveloped stretch of Australia that is a sheer privilege to experience.
Don’t miss it!
Is there anything I have forgotten to tell you? Happy to answer any questions.
For a daily review, see my posts describing:
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