Victoria, Australia, December 2020
This post covers the essential overview of this hike – when to go, what to take, etc – it is like an overview to see if this hike is right for you.
The Great Ocean Walk is one of the epic hikes in Australia. In the book ‘Unforgettable walks to take before you die’ by Steve Watkins and Clare Jones, this walk was included – only 30 walks across the world were featured and this was the only one for Australia. Having done many hikes in Australia, I am not sure this would be my absolute favourite, but it is certainly stunning and iconic and will give any visitor a great taste of Australian bush, coast, beaches, rivers and a stack of wildlife.
The walk is not for the very feint hearted – there are snakes, but the reality is that if you keep an eye out and give them time to move on, they will eventually get out of your way – the skill here is patience. Also a pair of gators (we have no alligators in Australia and no Crocodiles this far south) but they are thick and can prevent a snake from accessing your skin and at worst will prevent a deep wound which will prevent the amount of venom entering your system. But the good news – I have completed plenty of hikes, seen lots of snakes – have never been bitten. So try not to let them put you off – it truely is a fantastic walk. The other wildlife is amazing – we saw kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, koalas, yellow tailed black cockatoo and all manner of birds.
The walk is 100km from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles. You must go in this direction. Apollo Bay is about 2.5 hours from Melbourne.
Most people – you need to have good fitness and be able to walk 15km over about 6-7 hours with a pack of 14-20kgs. The gradients and the hills are pretty good, it is not too slippery but could be muddy and boggy if very wet. The sand bits are tough as it is hard to find solid sand, so it is a bit of a work out. But really most people could do this, just take your time, take the full 8-9 days and enjoy it.
Definitely try and get some walking practice in of about 3-4 hours with a pack weighing about 16kgs. If you do this a few times especially on a circuit that has hills, you will be well prepared for this walk.
This walk is really well maintained (though some of the grass needed a mow), so it is easy to follow. There is nothing too strenuous if you stay on the main path. Some of the beach options involve rock scrambling and the tracks back to the track or to the road may be overgrown as they are not as well used.
8 or 9 days:
- Day 1 – Apollo Bay Visitor Centre to Elliot Ridge Campground – 10km
- Day 2 – Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay Campground – 12km
- Day 3 – Blanket Bay to Cape Otway Campground – 11km
- Day 4 – Cape Otway to Aire River Campground – 10km
- Day 5 – Aire River to Johanna Beach Campground – 14km
- Day 6 – Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den Campground – 14km
- Day 7 – Ryan’s Den to Devil’s Kitchen Campground – 13km
- Day 8 – Devil’s Kitchen to Princetown (10km) or to Twelve Apostles Carpark – 16km
6 Days (but you could group day 3/4 or day 4/5 to make it 5 days)
- Day 1 – Apollo Bay Visitor Centre to Blanket Bay Campground – 22km
- Day 2 – Blanket Bay to Aire River Campground – 21km
- Day 3 – Aire River to to Johanna Beach Campground – 14km
- Day 4 – Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den Campground – 14km
- Day 5 – Ryan’s Den to Devil’s Kitchen Campground – 13km
- Day 6 – Devil’s Kitchen to Twelve Apostles Carpark – 16km
You also do not need to do the whole track there are good road access points at:
- Marengo (approx 3km outside Apollo bay)
- Shelly Beach Picnic Area (about 1-2km from Elliot Ridge)
- Blanket Bay Camp Ground (about 2min walk from the Blanket Bay hiker’s camp)
- Cape Otway Lightstation (about 500m from Cape Otway hiker’s camp)
- Aire River West Camp Ground (about 200m from the Aire River hiker’s camp)
- Castle Cove Lookout (approx 7km from Aire River and about 7km from Johanna Beach hiker’s camp)
- Johanna Beach Camp Ground (approx 1km from the Johanna Beach hiker’s camp)
- The Gable Car Park / Wreck Beach Car Park (approx 2.5-4km from Devil’s Kitchen hiker’s camp)
- Princetown at either the Gellibrand River Car Park or the the point where the road crosses the river (approx 7-9km from Twelve Apostles).
From any of these points you can start the walk to make it shorter. See ‘Getting there’ below to get the name and phone number of shuttle services to get you back to your car.
While you can do the walk without the guide book, it is a handy reference point, especially for knowing where you are and if the worst happens being able to exit to a road point / car park. It is called ‘Great Ocean walk – Official Walker’s Map Booklet’ and you can get it from the Apollo Bay Visitors Centre and some online book stores.
Before you go – you need to book – it can book out with only 8 sites at each location. To book online go to Parks Victoria’s booking site. You need to start with the location of your first night and it will then open up the option of booking the next two camp sites in the correct direction. Complete each one and pop it into your ‘basket’ then when you get to the end and you confirm you have each site booked for the right days, then you can purchase them all in one go. Print out your booking receipt and carry it with you – it is unlikely you will need to show it to a ranger (we didn’t see anyone on our trip) but just in case and also if you decide to enter the Cape Otway Lightstation, half price is worth carrying a sheet of paper.
You will need to carry your tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, all your food (and all your rubbish out), first aid, toiletries and your clothing – see my post Preparation for a full run down.
The Walk can be done at any time during the year – I would probably avoid the hottest and coldest months – but that said I did it in December and it was fantastic. Be prepared for hot days and quite cool nights. Also as you are exposed on the cliffs, the weather can change quickly and the wind can be quite strong so ensure you have enough tent pegs and ropes to secure your tent. You will also notice when you walk that the bush is rainforest in a lot of areas – so be prepared – it is likely to rain on you and sometimes it can totally bucket down!
Make sure your tent is waterproof before you go – it is so not cool and not fair to camp under the only shelter which is there to provide a dry spot to enable all campers to cook their dinners.
If travelling in summer you will likely want to swim in Blanket Bay, Aire River and some of the other little bays and rivers – so pack swimmers or shorts. In winter – make sure you have a really warm sleeping bag, lots of warm layers and dry clothes for night.
In summer the track is well used – we had 3-8 groups of 2-3 people walking in front or behind us, so we were not worried about having a personal location beacon. There is patchy phone coverage – so I wouldn’t rely on this, but generally access comes and goes so someone would be able to call for assistance. In winter, it is probably much less used so I would consider having a beacon.
Every Hiker camp site has at least 8 campsites (which take 1-2 little tents) and sleep up to 3 people. The first sites also have a group camp area. All the sites have two or more water tanks (though you cannot rely on these being full) – we filled up at every opportunity including the fast flowing rivers (though it was never a problem on our trip). You need to treat the water (to be sure) so make sure you have purification tablets or some other form of doing this. If you are relying on boiling water – make sure you have enough gas.
There are no fires allowed at all on this walk in the hiker camp sites. On occasion the hiker camp site may be near a ‘road access’ camp site and these may have fire pits (such as Aire River). You can only light a fire in one of these designated pits and then you must make sure it is fully extinguished before you leave it. So you will need a little gas stove!
Each site has one three sided hut/lean to with a large table in the middle. These will sit about 10-16 people so are cramped if it is raining and everyone wants to use it. In these times, try to be courteous of others and only use it when you need to. When it is not raining this is a great spot for catching up on the days events with other hikers and getting to know different people. It is also great to check out the gear others have.. I had JetBoil envy on this trip!
Each camp site also has about 2-3 extra benches. On the nice days these allow you to have your own private cooking and sitting area. These go pretty quickly to the first hikers into the camp each day.
Toilets are drop toilets and are all really well maintained. They all had plenty of toilet paper when we visited, but it is worth taking your own just in case. The toilets are ONLY for human waste and toilet paper. If other objects are thrown into these they will not decompose properly and a Parks Victoria Ranger has to get into the waste and pick the bits out. Carry in – carry out. There are no rubbish bins along the route, not even at the car parks or Lightstation.
There is very limited ability to get extra supplies along this route. Apollo Bay has stores and you can buy all sorts of food and equipment. Other options are:
- Cape Otway Lightstation – the lighthouse has a store at the front (where you purchase entry tickets) this has soft drinks, chocolate, chips and other snacks. A great tip is to ask if you are to buy and consume these here on the premises (especially soft drinks in cans or bottles) whether they will take the rubbish (to avoid you carrying it). There is NO cafe or access to ‘real’ food here, unless you pay to visit the Lightstation. If you do decide to visit, show your camping receipt and you can access 1/2 price for $10. The cafe is ‘okay’ it has pies, paninis and its specialty is scones, jam and cream. Then on the way out, buy another chocolate bar for desert.
- Castle Cove Lookout – this is the closest you get to the Great Ocean Road and about 200m down the road is a Kiosk – it wasn’t open when we did the hike in December 2020 and I cannot find any information on what it is called, so definitely don’t rely on this one!
- Between Johanna Beach and Milanesia Beach you walk past some properties, one of these had water available for hikers and also had marmalade for sale – but given we had no bread and no want to carry a glass jar we didn’t partake, but we did have a long discussion about the things they could sell to get us excited – like a Bunnings Sausage Sizzle – but probably not practical.
- Princetown – is a very small town – it has a pub and a general store. The pub is also a takeaway fish and chips / pizza place. The general store is attached to the camp site. Ring ahead to see if these are open prior to diverting to them! Both were shut in December 2020. I am not sure why the General Store was closed, but the Pub apparently didn’t survive Covid and is changing owners. This means if you are staying in Princetown you might need to organise your own food for this night as well.
- Twelve Apostles Visitors Centre – Coffee and snacks along with lots of tourist souvenirs. I recommend the Timboon ice cream! Seriously yummy!
- Car – by far the easiest and fastest – 2.5 hours drive inland route or a bit longer if you take the Great Ocean Road from just outside of Geelong. Park near the YMCA and let the Police know you have left your car there.
- Bus – There is a 9am bus that leaves Southern Cross Station. At Geelong you change for the connecting Apollo Bay bus. The journey is about 4 hours getting in just after 1pm. This allows time to buy some lunch and start the trip given the first day is a very accessible 10km. The PTV website has details and will allow you to book.
- Car – if you have two cars you can drive out from Apollo Bay the 100km or so and leave a car at the Twelve Apostles car park. Alternatively you can arrange a shuttle. Options are: Great Ocean Road Shuttle (0428 379 278), Timboon Taxi (0438 407 777), Christian Bus Co (03 5562 9432) and Walk 91 (03 5237 1189).
- Bus – There is a bus that runs from the Twelve Apostles Car Park back to Apollo Bay – but at the time of writing it is just once per day and leaves at 10am. Given there is no where to camp at the Twelve Apostles and the last day is 16-17km, this means a super early morning on your last day and to be honest, I wouldn’t rush this day – it is stunning.
- Alternative 1 – Stay in Princetown – this town is about 10km from Devil’s Kitchen (the last campsite) and 7km from the Twelve Apostles – there is camping here. When we went through the Recreation Reserve had camping (which can be booked in advance or on the day if not in peak times such as anywhere near Xmas or Easter). Sites here are $10 per person and similar to the hiking camp sites do not have showers, but do have flush toilets. One thing to not is that they only take cash. More info can be found on their website. Also in Princetown had a camp and cabin site in town. – these must be booked separately to Parks Victoria campsites. If you do this, you could either do a big day to get here – skipping Devil’s Kitchen (making it a 23km day) or adding a day to your trip. Then the next morning take your time to walk the last 7km arriving in time to catch the 10am bus back to Apollo Bay – then for a bit of brunch before driving home.
- Alternative 2 – Either get up super early OR stay at Apollo Bay on the night before your hike, then drive your car to the Twelve Apostles and park it there. Because the bus runs at about 10am, you will be in Apollo Bay by 11am, for a coffee and maybe brunch before setting out.
Ask me or check out these sites: