GREAT OCEAN WALK: A ROLLER COASTER IN NATUREby LAUREN DOOLAN
The name ‘Great Ocean Walk’ describes only part of what lays ahead. It really should be called ‘The Great Ocean - Rainforest - Hinterland Walk’, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Jess, Georgia and I (Lauren) are work buddies from Melbourne. We spent two days walking the sandy beaches of the wild Southern Ocean, and under the canopy of ancient rainforests. We walked over the rolling hills of centuries old farmland, and followed the windy path through aromatic tea tree bushland. We traversed creek crossings and stood in awe under towering Australian giant eucalypt trees. From a window of a car you’d have no idea any of this was here.
Day 1: Arriving at our accommodation
We left the work week behind as we piled into the car to set out for Moonlight Head, one of Australia’s highest coastal cliffs on the Great Ocean Road. By sunset we arrived at our accommodation By Moonlight. Walking out onto the open air deck to be greeted by 180 degree views of The Great Otway National Park and the 12 Apostles coastline was breathtaking. Add a glass of local wine, and we had instant relaxation.
Day 2: Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den
7.45am - We started the day watching the sunrise from the deck; coffee in hand and observing four grey kangaroos - one with a baby joey.
Coffee done, Sam from Walk 91 whisked us off in their shuttle bus to the starting point for day one of our trek - the beautifully windswept, raw and untamed Johanna Beach. It’s a view you could admire for hours but with a five-hour trek ahead we needed to get moving inland.
Within the first steps on the rolling green hills of Old Coach Road it felt like we’d walked through a portal into Tuscany. This was our first taste of how diverse the landscape and micro climates along the Great Ocean Walk were.
The Johnana River winds through the farmlands, merging rural with wild. Whilst Johanna Beach was ferocious with its relentless waves, these pastures were calm and tranquil, having been cared for by farmers for centuries. Now, it’s home to a permanent group of kangaroos, who nonchalantly watched us.
We continued along Hiders Access Road to the Milanesia Track. Whilst walking through the ancient rainforest, the imagination begins to wander too, going back 105 million years to when dinosaurs roamed the area. As we turned left into the gravel road of the Milanesia Track, it became clear that we were off the beaten track. When five large grey kangaroos quickly overtook us we realised this wasn’t just a tourist trail.
Milanesia Track led us through lush rainforest and Australian eucalypts before a small creek crossing landed us on the isolated and hidden Milanisia Beach, complete with old beachcomber’s cottage; the perfect rest stop before the most difficult part of the walk begins.
From Milanisia Beach it was up and down, again and again as you walk along the high sea cliffs to Ryan’s Den. This part of the track rightfully earns its title of ‘the rollercoaster of the The Great Ocean Walk’. My little tip is to pretend you just have to take a photo of the spectacular views of Cape Otway or Cape Colley when you need to take a little breather.
2pm - Walk 91 met us on the track and we took a moment to admire Moonlight Head, the last coastal view of the day before Sam shuttled us the short distance back to our accommodation. There was a hamper full of delicacies from the Timboon Corner Store waiting for us, so we rested our weary feet, enjoyed wine with some incredible cheeses and the view from our deck.
Day 3: Moonlight Head to Wreck Beach
9.15am - We had a leisurely start to our morning before Susie from Walk 91 picked us up to take us to our starting point, Moonlight Head. You do need to be reasonably fit for the Parkers Access Trail, it can be a little difficult as it winds its way downward through coastal shrub and tea tree forests to a newer section of the walk - The Gables Lookout. You’ll definitely want to get your camera here. The Gables is one of the highest clifftop viewpoints in the country - a great spot to watch for whales in the winter.
We headed to Wreck Beach, famous for...you guessed it, shipwrecks. The suspense builds as you make your way down the 500 plus stairs, catching glimpses of the wild ocean that claimed so many of these ships - the most famous of which is the Fiji (1891).
You’ll find it’s anchor and pieces of other shipwrecks when you reach the deserted sands below. Wreck Beach brings out the explorer in all of us. You could spend hours discovering the clear blue rock pools, climbing the scattered boulders, admiring the golden sandstone cliffs and paying tribute at the shipwreck memorial. Keep an eye out for the tides too, it’s a long way up to take the cliff track.