Aire River view

Day 3 on the Great Ocean Walk – Cape Otway to Aire River

One of Victoria’s stifling hot 40oC days begins. Our plan is to hike about 20km from Cape Otway lighthouse to Castle Cove, but the lethal north wind may stuff that up.

After the usual time spent getting one car to the end point (Castle Cove) and the other to the start point (Cape Otway), four of us start our hike around 08:30. Daryle went back to the campground and picked up our Irish pals to save them a 6km hike before they’ve even started. The plan is they’ll catch us up. For such a hot day, 08:30 is much too late but it’s difficult to get ourselves going in the morning.

THE START

Fortunately the start of the walk is through ti-tree which provides a good bit of shade. Today I’ve added heavier items to my backpack to see how it handles – no problems at any time so I’m thrilled.

At the start of the hike, there’s an old cemetery to peruse. Here we chat to an older couple on an organised self-guided tour. They’ve hiked a lot in their lives, despite a list of health issues. Other than our group and them, we see no-one else on the track today.

Cape Otway lighthouse cemetery – many died quite young

Daryle and the others quickly catch us up. Walking above Station Beach, we take some stunning pics at a high point. It’s incredibly hot so we’re conscious to keep up our liquids. A hot tip – take a wet towel and drape around your neck. It’s incredible how it keeps you cool.

We spot a few interesting bugs and beetles along the path but other than that, no critters or birds are abounding in this heat.

Approaching Station Beach – stunning views

OH BUOY

Along the way, we spot an abandoned buoy by the path. I rather coveted it, but there was no way I was going to carry it in the heat. Daryle, the most adventurous and crazy of us all, decides it’s just the thing for her micro-brewery so she ties it onto her backpack and there it remains bouncing about for the rest of the day.

Oh buoy oh buoy

On Station Beach, Jen finds a welcome spot in the shade and a late morning tea erupts – plums, shortbread, nuts and sweet treats. Daryle carries a trangier cooker (along with the coveted buoy) and she’s our Chief Water Boiler at every stop. At this point, we have quiet concerns that James and Aiofe don’t have enough water for this very hot day because they don’t have enough to spare for a cuppa – something they both love.

My boots still cramp the toes so they’re promptly removed and on go my hiking sandals – oh sweet relief. We ask the older couple to join us, but they turn us down and continue walking.

ONWARDS

The north wind blows fiercely by this stage, and a walk into the wind along the steep sloping beach is far from pleasant. If there’s one bit of our hike I’d happily cut out, this would be it. Aiofe is particularly suffering with the heat and it’s not going to get better.

Death on the beach

At the end of the beach, we climb up into a fairly shady overhang of trees. We gave Rainbow Falls a miss figuring no rain = no water = no waterfall.

By early afternoon, everyone is struggling with the heat. My wet towel is a saviour but others are dizzy and nauseous at times, no matter how much water we imbibe. I can safely say we all look wrecked.

SPOTTING THE RIVER

On and on we trudge, until eventually Aire River is spotted sparkling in the distance. It’s a beautiful view but all anyone can think about is putting bodily parts into that cool wet stuff.

The downhill run to the river is pure sand, made molten hot from the heat. While my sandals are great quality, they aren’t good enough to withstand molten. Daryle also wore sandals so we ended up literally jogging down, backpacks and buoys rocketing around on our hips, feet burning all the way.

ARRIVAL AT AIRE RIVER

Feet straight in the water. We wait for the others to catch up, while James and Aoife head across the bridge to a pier on the other side. And there they sit. In the sun. We’ve explained to them that with their fair skins, they need to stay out of the sun as much as possible. Aoife already has a nasty dose of sunburn, and she’s burning up in today’s heat. But they dangle their feet over the side of the pier into the water and that seems to create happiness. Who are we to argue!

Oh heaven …

In due course, everyone’s sizzling feet are adequately cool and across the bridge to the camping ground we tramp. Chatting with the helpful chap cleaning the facilities, he advises we’d be right royally stupid to continue – the next section runs into a valley and without the sea breeze, the temp will be over 50oC. He said we wouldn’t be able to drink enough water in the heat to stop heatstroke and would potentially require rescue by helicopter (tempting, if it didn’t cost so much).

We’d already decided it’d be irresponsible to continue, so that settles any concerns about missing the next section because, after all, we did want to walk the whole damned thing. Hiking the whole way is now out the window and up the creek.

By this point the older couple, who should’ve arrived shortly after us, still haven’t turned up. The tour operator arrives in a van and we tell him of our concern. We find out next day that he walked an hour back up the track to discover them overheated, disoriented, stressed and struggling. The heat can be unforgiving, even with experienced hikers.

Our new facility-cleaning-friend drives Aileen to Castle Cove to pick up the car, and drops off James and Aiofe. While that happens, the rest of us enjoy a cool swim in the river with its muddy squishy bottom, but the temperature is magnificent and one feels vaguely alive again.

A late picnic lunch consists of melted cheese, melted hummus, hot tomatoes, hotter carrot sticks, and warm crackers. Finally some bird life appears – blue wrens, pukekos (purple swamp hens), white herons, shags and the usual motley array of birds you see everywhere.

Gear dumped, straight to the lake

END OF DAY

Back at Bimbi Park, we enjoy a three minute shower (all you get for $1), and eventually tootle into Apollo Bay for fish and chips. Don’t buy them from the boat ramp folks – they weren’t good. A poor night’s sleep for all in the stifling hot and airless cabin.

P.S. A text from James later in the day advised they hitchhiked further north and would hike a little more before heading into South Australia. Bet they have a bazillion stories to tell at the end of this!

Read about Day 4 …