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I know it's famous to drive the 'Great Ocean Road', but did you know you could walk it too?

Before I began frolicking around the globe and creating a proper trekking obsession, I checked out my own backyard in Victoria, Australia.


While many people have heard of the 'Great Ocean Road', a scenic drive along the South Coast of Australia (our very own Amalfi Coast, if you will), what many people don't know is that there is also a stunning trek that you can do with even better views, and without the same crowds!


The Great Ocean Walk is a 110km trek beginning in Apollo Bay and ending at the 12 Apostles. It is said to take between 6-8 days to complete and, if done completely independently, requires you to carry your own gear / food / etc. on your back the whole way.


Jess and me on day 3 of the Great Ocean Walk

With a growing trekking obsession, I set my sights on this walk at the end of 2021 and asked Jess to come along on the journey with me. Despite having university and sporting obligations, Jess was a trooper and set things aside to join me on this adventure.


NB: Jess has also since TWICE flown over to Asia to backpack with me for short periods of time and I just burst with pride and joy when I think about these huge acts of courage from someone who hadn't done a tonne of hiking (but was in very good shape) prior to joining me for the Great Ocean Walk and someone who had never been out of Australia prior to seeing me in Thailand in January 2023.


Setting off on the hike just after my birthday, this little adventure was considered my 22nd birthday celebration in March 2022. This blog will hopefully give you a better idea of what this trek entails, but also acts as a bit of a journal about our personal experience. Here's what you'll find in this blog:



The journey

We decided on a six-day route, combining days one and two and days three and four before continuing with the recommended eight-day route. Here's what it looked like (10-15 March):


Day 1

  • Apollo Bay to Blanket Bay, 22kms

The trek:

As we decided to cover off the first two-days of the recommended eight-day walk in one day, our first day was a good challenge. The initial 10km were pretty tough as we got used to the 20kg packs on our backs, but was an interesting walk with different paths and beautiful views through the Otways, up until you arrive at Elliot Ridge Campsite (which, in the 8-day route is recommended as your first camping spot / the end of day one). We treated Elliot Ridge Campsite as our lunch spot, before heading on to Blanket Bay. This second part of the walk was less interesting - more like an outback ranger road than a walking path.


We had a scorcher for day one, so enjoyed a swim at Blanket Bay when we arrived at 6pm (having set off at 10am and taken plenty of breaks). Day one also saw our first snake encounter (don't be scared - just stop and let them pass), and had a good number of inclines that had the body feeling sore come bedtime.




Day 2

  • Blanket Bay to Aire River, 21kms

The trek:

Night one of sleeping in the tent was roughhhh. We brought only thin and light yoga mats for our mattresses (to save weight) but this was a big old mistake as it honestly felt like we were sleeping on the solid ground - do not do this. I highly recommend investing in a good mattress!.


Day two was a toughie, walking from Blanket Bay to Aire River via Cape Otway (which is where they recommend you camp for a night). Though a similar distance to day one, our bodies were certainly feeling the soreness from the previous day, so it felt like quite the slog. The day was a little more overcast but we were treated with stunning ocean views as we walked along the clifftops.


We had to take off our boots to cross some water early on in the day, and were preparing for an apparent river crossing we would reach just before Aire River... but this never came (there was a bridge!). There is quite a large sand dune to face before you reach camp that certainly tests the mind, body and spirit after a long day of walking and a body filled with sore muscles.




Day 3

  • Aire River to Johanna Beach, 14kms

The trek:

Day three was a highlight! Walking from Aire River to Johanna beach and a shorter distance than the days prior, we were met with a different ocean view at every turn. The day was hot which meant for a stunning lunchtime swim at Castle Cove. We saw another snake friend and had a period of very slow hobbling as my knee decided to give way (despite being a keen hiker, I have the knees of an 80 year old woman).


The final 2km for the day are along the beach, which is quite the challenge with your heavy backpack. We attempted walking both with and without our boots on and I'm afraid I can't recall which worked better / also don't think either was easier... it's a slog! But it's worth it as Johanna Beach is seriously one of the most beautiful campsites I have seen, but was incredibly busy, as it is accessible by car.


Here is a quote I pulled from my day three journal entry, which accurately represents both the horrific pain I was feeling in my knee and also the pure euphoria and wonderful energy Jess and I were feeling. Johanna Beach was wonderful.

"our bodies may be battered by the end, but our souls will feel alive (more alive than ever)"



Day 4

  • Johanna Beach to Ryan's Den, 14kms

The trek:

Day four felt a little like a walk away from civilization, as Ryan's Den campsite is only accessibly by foot. The first half of the walk went through rolling hills and on back/ranger roads. There was a gorgeous house along the way with a free water refilling station which we made use of, and we saw an impressive tiger snake too.


We had our lunch down on the beach where you then have an option of either continuing the walk along Station Beach, or heading up and walking along the cliff. We opted to walk along the beach as we had time before the tide came in (make sure you keep the tide in mind with all the beach walking elements of this trek). At the end of the beach section of the walk we had a super sketchy incline up onto the main path again. There was a group of women a little way ahead of us who stopped and waited / watched us successfully get up the sketchy part before they continued walking (ahhh, the kindness of strangers!!).


We got to Ryan's Den campsite quite early, so had a 'shower' (we poured water on ourselves and used some soap), before reading and writing in the sun for the rest of the afternoon. While our little camp spot was tucked away, Ryan's Den campsite has a gorgeous table on the top of the hill with phenomenal views.




Day 5

  • Ryan's Den to Devil's Kitchen, 13kms

The trek:

Day five was probably the most physically challenging day, with a seemingly ridiculous number of inclines and declines... we felt like we were on a rollercoaster path. It is also an incredibly scenic day. We started off walking along the cliff face as we went up and down and up and down, before circling a beautiful farm at the top of the hill, then walking through a gorgeous bush area, before heading down to Wreck Beach for the final section of the day. Wreck Beach is really cool, you can see old anchors and various shipwreck bits and bobs still lying around on the beach.


As you finish the day walking along Wreck Beach, it's important to be aware of tide times for day five. We set off nice and early and therefore arrived at Devil's Kitchen quite early, which was lucky as a storm rolled in just as we were walking into the campsite. It was Jess' knees that felt the brunt of the task this day, so we rested the bodies and hid from the rain as soon as the tent was set up, settling in for our final night!



Day 6

  • Devil's Kitchen to Twelve Apostles, 16kms

The trek:

The final day starts with a gorgeous stroll along the coastline for about two hours before you meet Princetown Recreation Reserve. We had parked one of our cars here prior to starting the hike, so were able to dump our big bags and switch to smaller packs filled with snacks that we had prepared when we parked the car there. It was really rainy on our final day, so our waterproof pack covers certainly came in handy.


While you feel like some champagne shower or confetti would be appropriate as you complete the 6km of walking from Princetown Recreation Reserve and walk your final steps up to the Twelve Apostles, you are instead met with the usual hubbub of tourists admiring the popular attraction. As it was such a rainy day, we were able to take in the view and soak in the feeling of achievement without too much busyness, and enjoyed a scorching hot chocolate from the cafe.


As our car was 6km BACK at Princetown Recreation Reserve, and we simply had no interest in walking back in the rain, I got chatting to a lovely guy called Robert and, upon sussing that he was heading in the direction we were after, asked if he would mind giving us a lift to our car. He said yes, and even stayed parked and waited to make sure the car would get started successfully after sitting quiet for 6 days before heading on his way - once again some wonderful kindness from strangers.



Different options for completing the trek

  1. Do-it-yourself --> do it like we did. Carry everything you need with you on your back / complete the walk unsupported.

  2. Get some help --> there are quite a few companies that collect your bag / gear and drop it at the next campground for you, so you still camp and cook your own food, but you don't have to walk each day with all your gear.

  3. Do it glamorously --> get picked up at the end of each day and go and stay in some lovely accommodation along the Great Ocean Road, before picking up the hike again the next day.


Pre-hike tips & recommendations

Campsites

  • Book ahead. Many of the campgrounds are accessible by car so are often full during busy holiday periods / on weekends.

  • Note that campfires are not permitted at most campgrounds along the Great Ocean Walk. Your small gas cooker is fine.


Car parking

  • If you're doing it with a friend, drive in separate cars up to Princetown Recreation Reserve and leave one car there (we got in contact prior to arriving to confirm this would be ok, and paid $5 a night to leave the car there), then drive in the one car together back to Apollo Bay, where you can easily find free parking to leave the car for the week. Once we had done this, we then stayed a night in Apollo Bay so we could then start the walk nice and early the following day.

  • If you're doing it solo, there are shuttle services available to take you back to Apollo Bay after dropping your car near the Twelve Apostles / even potentially at Princetown Recreation Reserve itself.

  • If you do park at Princetown Recreation Reserve, be clever about what you leave in the car. We left 2x smaller backpacks, dry, clean clothes and some snacks, so that when we arrived there on our final day we could switch to smaller bags and eat some new snacks to get us through the final kilometres.


Safety

Phone service

  • Carry a physical map, as phone service is not very consistent.

  • If you do need to contact someone, go to the last spot in which you had reception (which is usually found at high points with little overhanging vegetation). During my research these were some of the places listed as good-reception spots: - Blanket Bay beach area - Station Beach inland walk section - Ryan's Den campsite - Moonlight Head - Devil's Kitchen campsite ocean-view areas

  • You can dial either 000 or 112 from your mobile in the case of an emergency. 112 connects you to any carrier's service in the area, regardless of if you have any signal with your carrier. Note that if there is no signal or coverage for any carriers, neither 000 or 112 calls will go through.


Personal Locator Beacon

  • If you are wanting to be diligent about your safety and are wary about the lack of phone service, you can hire a Personal Locator Beacon (PBL), which are designed to give out a distress call to emergency services with your location.


Snakes

  • You're almost guaranteed to come across Tiger or Brown snakes on your walk. Keep your distance and stop moving if you do spot them, and just wait for them to pass.

  • Doubt it really needs to be said but DON'T try to kill them and DON'T try and get close for a photo. While you shouldn't be stressed about snakes on the hike, it is definitely important to remember that both Tiger and Brown snakes are incredibly venomous. Just stay clear.

  • Give any visible snakes a nice wide berth if you do need to pass them. Wearing trousers, ankle-high boots and gators all help protect you in the worst-case scenario of a bite.

  • Check logs and rocks before you sit down and avoid walking through long grass - just stick to the path.


Tides and ocean surges

  • Carry a tide timetable.

  • Keep at least 10m away from the water as some of the beaches are known for being subject to rouge waves (namely Station Beach, Johanna Beach and Wreck Beach).

  • There are high tide alternatives at Station Beach and Wreck Beach which you should take if you are unsure of tide movements. Always err on the side of caution. This is especially important on Wreck Beach where there is a real danger of being cut off by the water and stuck on the beach.

  • Beach access points are marked on maps and are also signed with yellow flags to show you where you should be accessing and departing the beach.

  • Note that there are no inland walking options at: - Storm Point - West of Bald Hill - Johanna Beach (2km of beach walking required) - Milanesia Beach (300m of beach walking required)

  • For tide times, refer to Port Campbell tide times (subtract 4 minutes from Portland tide times) for west of Moonlight Head to the Twelve Apostles (including Wreck Beach), and refer to Apollo Bay tide times (subtract 28 minutes from Port Phillip Heads times) for east of Moonlight Head.


River crossings

  • There is a possibility of some wet feet at Elliot, Parker Inlet, Johanna, and Milanesia river crossings.

  • It is your responsibility to assess depth and flow before you cross. If there has recently been high rainfall then the chances of a river crossing are higher.


Food and water

  • There are rainwater tanks at all the campgrounds, but the quantity and quality of water is not guaranteed. It is worth topping up your water whenever you get the chance, and it's wise to have water filters or purification tablets on hand.

  • The only place to buy food along the way is at Cape Otway Lightstation. You will need to carry your own food.


Packing list

The essentials:

  • Backpack (I had 65L and Jess had 55L)

  • Waterproof pack cover (the weather is very inconsistent and unpredictable along the Great Ocean Road)

  • Three seasons sleeping bag (we got the smallest, most compact ones we could find, then slept in thermals for extra warmth)

  • 2L worth of water bottles

  • Water purification tablets (there are rainwater tanks along the way but the quality and quantity of water is not guaranteed, so it's good to be prepared)

  • Small cooker

  • Fuel

  • Matches

  • Head torch

  • First aid kit (especially things to help with blisters, I got a RIPPER on my big toe)

  • Tent

  • Yoga / sleeping mat (we took lightweight, thin yoga mats but then felt like we were sleeping on the solid ground each night... maybe get something a little nicer if you can).

  • Pillow (this was a bit of a luxury item we both brought ourselves - we slept on tiny thin yoga mats so the small pillow helped with comfort overnight!)


Clothes:

  • Worn-in hiking boots

  • 3x woollen hiking socks

  • 1x quick drying long-sleeved top

  • 1x bike shorts

  • 1x trousers

  • 1x fleece

  • 1x sunglasses

  • 1x wide-brimmed hat

  • 1x beanie

  • 1x set of thermals

  • 1x quick drying towel


Toiletries:

  • Wet wipes

  • Antiseptic hand gel

  • Insect repellent

  • Sunscreen

  • Lip balm

  • Toothbrush / toothpaste

  • Moisturiser

  • Toilet paper

  • Plastic bag for wet or dirty clothing


Other:

  • Phone & charger (I had our map downloaded on AllTrails)

  • Camera & charger

  • Go Pro & charger

  • Portable charger

  • Book

  • Playing cards


Food:

  • Trail mix

  • Breakfast x5

  • Lunch x6

  • Dinner x5


NB: we cooked and dehydrated our dinner meals prior to setting off on the hike to save money, but you can buy plenty of dehydrated meals from outdoor shops. They're lightweight and easy to carry and just need heat and water to prepare and enjoy!


Cost

I'm afraid I don't have the specific cost breakdown like I have provided for my other trips (as I wasn't quite so vigorous with my tracking back then), but I know that I spent $573 in total. This figure includes one night in Apollo Bay prior to starting the walk, buying a tent, sleeping bag, and other bits of gear I didn't yet own, the cost of all the food (my share only - Jess and I went halves), and the cost of staying at each campground. If you own a lot of gear already and are smart with your food (like by dehydrating it yourself, like we did), this trip would honestly be super cheap! Don't let my figure scare you, I had to get a bit of gear!




It's a beautiful hike and one I would happily do again - probably in fewer days too! If you're a keen hiker then this one is certainly doable in 4-5 days.


-N

xxo







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