Day 1 on the Great Ocean Walk – Apollo Bay to Blanket Bay

A huge day involving a 23km hike and we’ve got to get the tides right – there’s a river crossing to take into account. It’s a beautiful day – 24oC and perfect for hiking/tramping. 

GETTING GOING

We’re supposed to start the hike around 9am. In reality, by the time we get up, do the ablution thing, have breakfast, sort equipment and backpacks, drop a car off at the end point and get coffees for the addicted, we start the hike around 10:30.

Departing from the Apollo Bay Information Centre, we soon reach the Marengo camping ground – to the amusement of a camper lounging outside her caravan.

“Wow” she says “how long have you been hiking”. “Oh, about half an hour” I reply. She was quite deflated – obviously hasn’t come across five women in their 50s trying to get going in the morning.

Around this area, the scenery is incredibly beautiful. You walk along flat beaches and rocky outcrops rich in seashells. If you hunt hard enough, there’s also sea glass to be found.

We all love the morning – climbing, jumping and clambering over rocks, hunting for beach treasure, marvelling at weird and wonderful rock formations, admiring (OK, maybe a little envying) the stunning homes dotted around, enjoying the sunshine and blue skies.

However, despite the attractions, we need to keep going because of a river crossing at Elliot Ridge. It has to be crossed at low tide. We imagine taking off our boots, holding our backpacks above our heads, struggling against the tide, sinking into the sand, stepping on a stingray or toadfish, possibly falling and getting everything wet. I even have my swimsuit in case the water is deep, and debated bringing a rope to ferry backpacks from one side to the other.

We arrive at Elliot Ridge and what a crushing disappointment. We forgot … there’s a drought in progress so no water at all flowing down the river to the sea. It’s merely a huge pile of rocks – not a skerrick of sand, stingrays or toadfish. Not even the hope of high tide reaching up that far.

What a non-event. We climb over the rocks to the other side and that was that. Pah!

The ‘flowing’ river at Elliot Ridge …

WHO’S HAVING TROUBLE?

Kim’s backpack was donated by a kind male friend and it’s a good size. However, males don’t tend to have breasts (OK, so I know a few males with breasts but this is due to overweightedness). A male backpack has a breast strap right across the nipples whereas female straps are located higher up the chest. If you’ve got breasts, a man’s backpack just plain doesn’t work.

So while Kim can get the backpack to sit on her hips, she can’t do up the breast strap to pull the backpack away from her shoulders. If she tries, she ends up with her breasts cut in half. As a result, her shoulders are aching.

As for me, my boots are giving the toes some serious pain.  I’ve laced the boots up nice and tight to prevent movement and strapped up my toes for a cushioning effect, but it’s not working.  I tolerate the pain because I’m not sure how to resolve, other than buying another pair of expensive hiking boots.  (In case you’re not aware, shops of the useful kind are in exceedingly short supply on the Great Ocean Road).

AFTER THE RIVER CROSSING …

Once our epic river crossing, we begin a 200m climb up a steep path.  It’s REALLY steep.  My backpack is proving to be a dream (brand new Osprey) and I bounce up the path, as do Jen, Aileen and Daryle.

Climb up – doesn’t look too bad from this angle though!

However Kim, with her badly fitting backpack and feeling unwell, struggles with the climb.  She and I stop, sit on the side of the path and eat liquorice all-sorts to get the sugars up for energy.

Along come a couple of young French guys with no equipment or water, shirts off and literally leaping up the hill. They turn out to originate from a small village in France which I visited in the dim dark past, and they’re really rather easy on the eye. Sometimes it’s seriously cr*p being old.

Eventually Kim and I continue our slow straggle to the top where a superb picnic area awaits, billy on to boil and a very welcome lunch.

Lunching on a hike

For those who’d like to know what we devour for lunches when hiking, here t’is:

* Boiled eggs
* Laughing Cow cheese wedges (lasts well out of a fridge)
* Small tin or sachet of salmon, sardines or tuna (personally very fond of sardines)
* Carrot sticks with hommus dip
* Fresh fruit
* Dried fruit and nuts (mostly eaten en route for energy)
* Sweet biscuits

THE IRISH WAY

Back in Apollo Bay, we noticed a young couple heaving ENORMOUS packs on their backs, and carrying day backpacks along with pots and pans and other miscellaneous equipment.  She looks distressed and hot.  They both have lean and tiny frames, and we comment the load is much too big for them.

After lunch, these two suddenly catch up with us.  James and Aoife (pron. ee-fa) are from Ireland, and they’re carrying their day packs and bounce along as a result.

They’ve dropped their large backpacks off at a place which hold your luggage, then deliver it to a destination of your choice along the Great Ocean Road on a given date.  The price charged for this service seems massive and it reiterates our experience that anything touristy along this stretch is hugely overpriced – accommodation and transport in particular.  It doesn’t seem to be understood there’s a huge backpacker market along this stretch, and they need to provide cheaper and more reliable options.  In particular, there’s an almost negligible offering of public transport stopping at major hiking exit and entry points that work for backpackers (which is why it worked out cheaper for us to hire two cars).  The buses that do operate only run three days a week.  Unbelievably pathetic, makes me embarrassed to be an Aussie.

James and Aoife arrived from Ireland a few days ago and their plan is to hike some of the Great Ocean Walk and camp along the way.  They have a tent and sleeping bags but no sleeping mats, no cooking equipment, no stove and their water supplies seem inadequate.  They’ve packed a heap of tinned food (very heavy) and THREE jars of manuka honey.

James is wearing ankle socks and consequently he’s reaping the reward of blisters on the back of his feet.  Aoife already has a heap of blisters.  Neither have hats and don’t seem to understand how vicious the Australian sun can be.  Consequently they’re given a bucketload of free advice from us all, whether they wanted it or not.

Of course we regale them with stories about our poisonous reptiles, spiders, snakes and other creatures abounding in the Australian bush – although in reality you rarely see them. Having said that, snakes are abounding in plenty this year due to the drought.  Suspect they’re getting desperate to find moisture.

James and Aoife

ARRIVAL AT LAST

James and Aoife stick with us through the long hours to Blanket Bay campground.  It’s a huge walk.  Conversation helps pass the time and enables you to not think about all the sore bits.  My right hip and knee are playing up from a slip with my bike a few days before, Kim continues her struggle with feet shoulders and backpack, and the others also discover sore feet and exhaustion.

Scenery walking to Blanket Bay

We arrive at Blanket Bay at 18:30 and leave our newfound Irish friends to sort out a camping spot.  Because we have to return to Apollo Bay to pick up a car, we buy them good quality bandaids (no Compeed or blister packs available thank you) and Daryle found an old pair of socks for James which we plan to drop off to them the next day.

You can imagine how well we slept that night – comatose in minutes.  Can’t say the same for our Irish compatriots …

Apollo Bay VIC 3233, Australia