The almost completed Great Ocean Walk will take you closer to the bottom of Australia than you can get by car. By Breg Clarke
In the somewhat curious manner of drivers who slow to gawk at car accidents, visitors have been flocking to Victoria’s Great Ocean Road following the recent death of one of the 12 Apostles. For the most part the Ocean Road, from Torquay to Warrnambool, is as spectacular as its reputation. However, the fact remains that out of Apollo Bay the road becomes decidedly short on ocean as it cuts inland to Lavers Hill. Visitors will soon be able to consider a newly etched trail, one that will take them considerably closer to the wilds of the Southern Ocean.
The 91km Great Ocean Walk is to open at the end of the year. Beginning at the western end of Apollo Bay, it will end at the Glenample Homestead, not far from the 12 Apostles. Only the first 33 kms of the trail to Cape Otway has been officially opened at this point, but the entire route is mostly complete and winds along beaches and old coach and horse routes, as well as through forest and wind-ravaged, cliff-top scrub.
Walkers will be following in the footsteps of one of Australia’s most celebrated trampers. George Earnest Morrison, “Morrison of Peking”, was a Fleet Street correspondent during the Boxer Rebellion, but the Australian also had a penchant for foot slogging and (somehow) walked alone from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne only 21 years after Burke and Wills perished attempting the feat. In 1880 Morrison, just 18, walked along the coast from Queenscliffe to Adelaide. The absence of roads and trails was of little consequence and Morrison, legs of roast lamb stuffed in his backpack, followed cattle tracks through the scrub.
The Great Ocean Walk, which will closely follow the Morrison route, was originally expected to open in June and the delay means locals have been having their way with the walk for some time. Neil Lovett, who lives near Glen Aire, has completed most of it. “Once you get around Cape Otway the coast becomes more and more fascinating,” says Lovett. “There is unfettered power in this ocean [hence the collapsed Apostle]. And the diversity along the coast is incredible. Driving in a car, people aren’t experiencing it.”
Explorer Matthew Flinders reportedly wrote, after rounding Cape Otway: “I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline.” Here shipwrecks are plentiful and the survivors of splintered tall ships were some of the first Europeans to set foot in these parts.
The walk ends on the Ocean Road by the Glenample Homestead, a remnant of an era when the first white settlers acquired vast holdings by the simple method of claiming land for as far as they could see. Glenample came to prominence in 1878 when the only two survivors from the wreck of the Loch Ard found refuge here.
Sprinters could perhaps complete the walk in four days, but eight days will be recommended. That would allow plenty of time to sit out high tides as well as to venture off the trail and explore other designated walking tracks. In some parts the trail narrows to a mere sliver, and it’s recommended you only hike it from east to west.
Great Ocean Walk Details
More details are available from The Great Ocean Road Visitor Information Centre at Apollo Bay.
Phone: (03) 5237 6529.