The Great Ocean Walk: 104 Kilometers of Stunning Variety in Victoria, Australia
The Great Ocean Walk is the hike where I fell for thru-hiking. Starting in Apollo Bay and ending at the Twelve Apostles, this coastal trail packs a lifetime of experiences into four to eight days. Trek through Great Otway and Port Campbell National Parks, sharing verdant hills with cows and kangaroos alike. Wind through thick forests and catch a glimpse of a koala clinging to a eucalyptus tree, and marvel at the Southern Ocean in action as it carves out jagged seaside cliffs.
The Great Ocean Walk At-a-Glance
- Length: ~ 104 KM (65 miles)
- Location: Victoria, Australia
- Trail Type: Shuttle
- Scenery: Coastal cliffs, dense eucalyptus forests, sandy beaches, lush agricultural zones.
- Terrain: Moderate. Mixture of tread with some steep climbs and sandy stretches.
- Navigation: Trail is very well marked and easy to follow. Pick up Great Ocean Walk Information Guide and Map from the visitor center, or visit the Parks Victoria website.
Getting There From Melbourne
If you rent a car, you can drive the 198 km ( ~123 miles) in about two to three hours. However, there is limited long-term parking in town, and you have to arrange a shuttle before or after your hike.
The cheapest and easiest option is using public transportation. From Melbourne, take the V/Line Train from the Southern Cross Station to Geelong Station (~one hour). Then take the connecting bus from Geelong Station to Apollo Bay, stopping right outside the Great Ocean Road Visitor Information Centre (two hours, 45 minutes). Check in there, and your hike begins from the trail marker right outside the door.
Once you reach the end: The Twelve Apostles are still 11 km from Port Campbell. You can walk to town, or call a taxi from the visitor center. This option is more expensive (~$50 AUD), but after a long hike ending in a storm, we were happy to get to the hostel. You may be able to arrange pick-up from the hostel for cheaper. From Port Campbell, you can take the same bus that dropped you in Apollo Bay back to Geelong via The Great Ocean Road.
Hikers must walk east to west, according to Parks Victoria.
Why Hike This Trail
For those who don’t have the luxury of living down under, the Great Ocean Walk (GOW) is the best way to connect with the terrain and wildlife in a short time span. You’ll have the unique opportunity to explore some of the most beautiful places in Victoria rarely seen by the average tourist.
I learned the hard way that Australia can indeed get cold. I highly suggest the use of a real sleeping bag over an undersized cotton blanket. Bring your basic spring/fall setup, including rain layers and light-to-mid warm layers.
The climate is a bit of a wild card on the aptly named “Shipwreck Coast.” Most people hike between spring and fall, although the summer temperatures can be significant. I hiked mostly in supportive trail runners and intermittently in sturdy sandals. As always, bring more socks than you think you need.
There are a few unbridged river crossings. Water flow varies with seasons, rainfall, and tide, so bring a waterproof bag just in case you need to protect your valuables.
Water is available on trail, but untreated. Be sure to bring your water purification method of choice and bring more water than you think you need each day. In the summer, temperatures can soar to over 40ºC (104º F)!
Some portions of the trail are impassible at high tide, so stay aware and bring a tide table and/or visit this site to check the weather and tides. There are signs marked “Decision Points” to alert you to areas and beach crossings where you may need to stop and assess the conditions before proceeding. It is not recommended to swim at the unpatrolled and remote beaches along the GOW due to strong riptides as well as limited cell service and rescue vehicle access.
Camping Along the Trail
There are seven hike-in campsites along the The Great Ocean Walk: Elliot Ridge, Blanket Bay, Cape Otway, Aire River, Johanna Beach, Ryans Den, and Devil’s Kitchen. They are spaced every ten to 16 km. You must use these sites, as “bush camping” is not allowed. Your proximity to the Great Ocean Road and tourist stops varies greatly throughout the walk, so some sites you might be sharing with day hikers/tourists as well as other multiday hikers. You must book these campsites in advance through Parks Victoria. Campsites include three-sided shelters (excluding Blanket Bay) and pit toilets. I had the best poop of my life at sunset at the Devil’s Kitchen campsite.
It is illegal to start a fire at the hike-in campsites at any time, so plan accordingly. Be sure to educate yourself on bushfire safety. As always, be respectful of other campers, and keep your campsite clean to avoid tempting foxes and other wildlife to sample your camp food. Pack it in, pack it out.
The Great Ocean Walk truly has to be experienced directly—there is no combination of words that could suffice. However, here is what to look forward to once you decide to take the leap.
Camping on the coast, many kilometers from cities, you will have the opportunity to experience complete darkness without any pollution from artificial light. Stargazing along this coastline is some of the best in Australia. Crawl out of your tent and look for the smoky band of the Milky Way across the sky.
The diverse landscapes host a variety of flora and fauna. This hike had me constantly wondering aloud, “What is that? What is that?!” If you are a lover of nature and a fellow clueless North American, pick up a wildlife guide before you depart. You’ll be able to identify that suspicious-looking spider that sneaks into your tent. Spend time looking at different wrens, parrots, or eagles that sweep across your line of sight. If you don’t nearly bump into a wallaby or kangaroo on your walk, you’re in the wrong place. Also, keep an eye out for koalas while walking through the eucalyptus and mountain ash forests. If you’re visiting Australia, you will have opportunities to see koalas up close at wildlife parks and tourist destinations, but it is a rare and gratifying experience to see them in the wild. One of my favorite wildlife encounters was getting acquainted with lumbering short-beaked echidnas on the picturesque Milanesia Beach.
Untreated rainwater tanks are available at the campsites. Blanket Bay Campground has an untreated tap. Be sure to carry extra water at all times, and as always, don’t get lazy. Drinking untreated water can ruin your whole trip, and get you into some hot water (pun intended) if you get ill too far from town. Carrying a filter or treatment drops is imperative.
Bring everything you need. There are very few options once you are on the trail unless you pre-arrange a shuttle service. The Cape Otway Lighthouse between Blanket Bay and Aire River has a small cafe offering light meals.
It’s easy to forget about potential danger lurking nearby when placed in the way of these volumes of beauty. For as many cute wallabies and echidnas you may encounter, you will also see a fair amount of potentially venomous snakes and spiders. This is not a reason to avoid the trip. Simply keep an eye out for snakes sunning themselves on the trail, keep your tent zipped, and always check boots and socks before putting your feet inside. Always carry a first aid kit, and an EpiPen if you are allergic to bee stings or bug bites. Awareness is key!
This is the hike of a lifetime, and you’re guaranteed to make some friends along the way; just don’t pick up any hitchhikers. The kind that attaches to your boots, that is. The deadly cinnamon fungus can stick to your shoes, and is an unwelcome guest. The fungus destroys root systems and kills native plants. Stop the spread by staying on trail and always thoroughly washing your footwear at the provided boot wash stations.
Cell signal will be unreliable along the walk, but it is important to keep a few numbers and websites on hand in case of emergency.
Here are some important numbers and websites to help you plan your walk:
- Great Ocean Walk FAQ
- V/Line Train and Bus
- Great Ocean Walk
- VicEmergency Warnings and Incidents
- Parks Victoria
- Parks Victoria Campground Bookings
- Bureau of Meteorology: Extreme weather events
- Tide times: Marine and coastal
- Apollo Bay Visitor Information Centre: +61 3 5237 6529
- Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre: +61 1300 137 255
- Timboon Taxis (Port Campbell): +61 438 407 777
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