A multi-day hike completely immerses you and your band of merry hikers in the landscape with its moods, rhythms and all its drama. And even more so if it is a coastal trail with the contrast of wild or serene ocean against a backdrop of ever-changing topography and flora.
The iconic Great Ocean Walk (GOW) is a challenging eight-day adventure, or it can be appreciated either as many day-walks or overnight hikes over several months. The first stage from Apollo Bay includes the tallest rainforest section around Elliot River. This stage can be tackled in day hikes by camping at Blanket Bay. Using a car shuffle, a day walk from the Elliot River picnic ground leads you down to the ocean through dense eucalypt forest before crossing the river and heading back uphill surrounded by treetop birdlife.
A day trip west from Blanket Bay showcases the diversity of the Otway’s flora as the track leaves the protected bay and veers along the ridge before crossing Parker River inlet where shellfish middens of the Gadubanud – the King Parrot people – can be observed, and on past Crayfish Bay to the exposed Cape Otway headland and light station.
Stages west of Cape Otway can be hiked by setting camp at Aire River, nestled amongst the moonahs along the riverbank. This is an ideal location for families with fishing and kayaking options on the sheltered inlet. A day walk heading back east to Cape Otway can be done as a loop working around the low tide. The GOW track leaves the river campground heading along the ridge to Station Beach. At low tide, the remarkable Rainbow Falls at the western end can be accessed to witness freshwater depositing minerals on the cliff face. The return loop to the campsite is via Glenaire Beach, if the swell and tide are low.
West from Aire River is a day hike via Castle Cove with expansive views along the high cliffs to Dinosaur Cove. The track drops down to Johanna Beach past Rotten Cove and the Johanna campground is soon reached after the beach river crossing.
The next two stages of the GOW are arguably the most arduous and the most dramatic. The highest sea cliffs in Australia plunge to the ocean near Moonlight Head where the Otway mudstone rocks from the Gondwana period transition to sedimentary ocean formations. Steep forested gullies and giant ferns are negotiated and the famed Wreck Beach can be reached down 360 steps. This section is a good option for a multi-day hike leaving Johanna via the spectacular Milanesia Beach and camping at Ryans Den before staying the second night at Devils Kitchen; both GOW campsites are not accessible by vehicles.
The alternative is to camp at scenic Princetown on the Gellibrand River and car shuffle for a day walk from the Milanesia Track gate via Ryans Den to The Gable. A day hike from Princetown heading east (and geologically speaking, back in time) covers the section via Rivernook and Wreck Beach to The Gable. And heading west towards Port Campbell, the Twelve Apostles are spectacularly revealed past Gibson Steps.
There are many possibilities to experience the awe-inspiring vistas of the Great Ocean Walk. By choosing day walks, favourable weather can be selected to enjoy the experience in benign conditions, suitable for the less-experienced. And if the weather turns (and it will), there is plenty to explore throughout the Otways hinterland.