Day 5 on the Great Ocean Walk – Moonlight Head to Wreck Beach

A cooler day so we decide to walk from Moonlight Head to Wreck Beach. While it’s only 10 km, it’s tricky working out start and end points that work. Literature says it’s a difficult but rewarding walk involving 333 steps down to Wreck Beach, with the anchors of the Marie Gabrielle (1869) and the Fiji (1891) wedged in the rock – a reminder of how treacherous and dangerous the sea can be along this sweep of coastline.

Fortunately we sleep well despite the heat. The fan cooled the hot box cabin a little, a cool shower just before retiring, wet bath towel over the body, and life is good. A cooler wind smashed leaves, nuts and twigs onto the roof of the kitchen during breakfast, and a teeny bit of rain ramped up the humidity.

BOOT NEWS

The great thing about today is Kim spoke with a lady who owns a shoe shop. She suggested to loosen the laces around the toes, tie a knot below the ankle to keep these loose, then tighten the laces above that point. This enables the toes to move freely, but keeps the hiking boot firmly in place. I did this and it worked a treat …no more toe pain for the rest of the trip. Such a simple remedy!

OFF TO MOONLIGHT HEAD

The usual drive to the end point with both cars begins, then a trek to the start of Moonlight Head with one car. It’s taking up a lot of time to do this each day so I can see why others hike and camp the entire route – it certainly saves a lot of commute time.

To get to Moonlight Head is a little weird and wonderful. You need to travel about 15 kilometres past Lavers Hill towards the 12 Apostles, then take the turn off for Moonlight Head Road. After 10 minutes along an unsealed road, you arrive at a car park.

The start point is the edge of a farm, which the owners have managed to denude of any living thing other than a few interested cows. Love to know why farmers continue to feel the need to completely strip the land. And we wonder why the climate is changing.

A climb over a style, a wash of the boots to prevent cinnamon fungus, and off we tramp into the forest.

My goal today is to take creative photos – whatever takes thine fancy. Kim likes the idea too, so the pair of us dawdle along in a happy fashion photographing ferns, flowers, sticks, rocks, dead sea creatures, shells etc.

Near the entrance to Wreck Beach, we deviate to look at the 1905 Moonlight Head cemetery. It’s nicely done with a lovely entrance, but not too many graves to peruse yet. One could take that as a good thing!

WRECK BEACH

There’s a degree of conjecture about the number of steps down to Wreck Beach. We counted and got 333. Other websites say 366, 322 etc. The steps themselves weren’t that bad – just take your time. Happily, coming back up didn’t seem to take as long as going down. However, you want to do this walk during low tide otherwise you can’t see the anchors.

A cuppa and lunch on the rocks, then off on our separate ways for a good fossick – Aileen for sea glass (she makes beautiful jewellery with it) and the rest of us for shells and other titbits. Very cloudy, trying to rain, lovely cool temperature though. Eventually we reach the section of the beach where old anchors are embedded into the rock.

A LITTLE SHIPPING HISTORY …

Information taken from the 12 Apostles website:
The Marie Gabrielle, a large steel hulled French registered and crewed barque ran aground at 1am on Wreck Beach, just west of Moonlight Head. The crew waited until daylight and all got to shore safely in the ship’s boat. Four crew members stayed with the boat with the remainder heading west along the coast bound for Cape Otway.

Without water and food and faring badly by the third day, the crew came across the lightkeeper’s children on a beach below the lighthouse. The frightened children, not understanding French and alarmed by the crew’s dishevelled appearance, ran off and got help from the lightkeeper Henry Ford.

A rescue party was sent to recover the remaining crew and all were hosted locally for over a month until the twice yearly lighthouse supply boat could return them to Melbourne. Mystery surrounds the fate of South Pacific islanders that were also crew on the boat.


You do have to watch where you walk on Wreck Beach. There’s lots of holes filled with water and creatures, but it’s a pleasure to wander around and see what’s in them. Photographing the anchors against various backdrops and in different lights would be delicious.

Back up the 333 steps, into the car and off to Port Campbell to check out Sow & Piglets, a local micro-brewery and backpacker’s lodge. Clean as a whistle, a kitchen to die for, not a single fly in sight – be great to stay here. Interesting spot for a drink with quirky decor which Kim and I loved. Sadly I’m not into beer, so a strawberry stout did the trick … it was pleasant enough and a sure-fire way to relax.

Back late at Bimbi Park and its ubiquitous flies in the kitchen and dining areas. Daryle cooked a staggeringly good pasta with zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, cream and Worcestershire sauce. We were in heaven … what a way to go!

Read about Day 6 …

Day 4 on the Great Ocean Walk – Castle Cove, Johanna Beach et al

Another extreme weather day so hiking is suspended due to high fire danger. It’s already hot at 5.30am so we decide to watch the sun rise at Castle Cove.

Castle Cove is where we were supposed to have finished the previous day. Turns out the surfers are more interesting than the sunrise. It’s very pretty though, and a bevy of humans come and go as they check out the surf from our lookout.

Later we head to Johanna Beach for breakfast and arrive to find the main camping ground overflowing. A couple of young ladies say they’d booked and paid for the campsite, only to arrive and find someone else was in it. Personally I’d have chucked them out but they were too polite and found another site which was windy and unpleasant.

We find The Perfect Spot at the hiker’s-only camping area with splendid views over the beach, a wooden shelter, toilets (with a view) and picnic tables and it’s out of the hot northerly wind. When you’re hiking, that’s perfection.

Fooling around at Johanna Beach

After scoffing muesli, yoghurt, berries and coconut milk, we debate our next move. The thought of returning to the hot box cabin at Bimbi Park is seriously unappealing, so we decide to visit the 12 Apostles, even though we weren’t planning to see this until the last day.

It’s extraordinarily hot, my wet towel around the neck comes to the rescue again.

The centre at the 12 Apostles is sheer tourist rip-off territory … A$3.95 for a bottle of water. There’s a queue of people buying, although there’s nowhere else to buy foodstuffs around here. They really need an Information Centre and reasonably priced cafe.

Even though I’ve seen the 12 Apostles in recent years, it’s still a thrill to see it again, particularly as the air is clear and the sky a beautiful blue.

Section of the 12 Apostles

There’s hundreds and hundreds of tourists from all nations. After the serenity of the bush, it’s hard to reconcile the crush of humanity here. We enjoy strolling about in our own time – it’s extraordinarily beautiful when that sky is so blue.

At Port Campbell, we check out the beach and shops. It’s a lovely spot, well worth a visit. The lifeguard suggests we visit Timboon for icecream … “the best in the country” he pronounces. So we do. $8 for 2 scoops (nothing is reasonably priced where tourists wander). Yes, nice icecream but for me it’s no different to anywhere else. Still, in 40oC heat, it’s bliss to sit in air conditioning and slurp.

Daryle, being the owner of a boutique brewery, feels a visit to the whiskey distillery is in order. Eventually we depart the distillery with a bottle of limoncello (go figure), and head back to Port Campbell where a swim has become a necessity. No swimsuits or towels on-board so we make do with underwear and the power of drip dry.

When we get back to Bimbi Park, the power is out so we munch cheese and wine on a table outside the kitchen. The rubbish smell is fairly ghastly and the flies are even worse, but it beats being inside. The owner of Bimbi delivers a fan to our hot box so that helps move the stale hot air around. Hopefully a better night’s sleep will ensue.

Read about Day 5 …

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 …

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 …

Tramping the Great Ocean Walk

Take five women in their 50s, throw them a 100km hike, then stand back and see what they’ll do.  The outcome rather surprised us too!

Collectively known as the Tramping Sisters, five pals living around the Sunshine Coast (Kim, Jennifer, Daryle and Aileen and myself), figured a long hike would be just the ticket on our annual February hiking pilgrimage.

We picked the Great Ocean Walk – a 100km trek along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.  We’d tramp it in stages over six days.

Great Ocean Rd hiking map

Because hiking with camping gear is an art a few of the Tramping Sisters have yet to master, we elected to stay at Bimbi Park in Cape Otway for the duration. To get around, we hired two cars to get us to/from the entry and exit points.

ABOUT THE ACCOMMODATION

Bimbi Park was cheap – a teeny tiny cabin to (allegedly) sleep 9, which is great provided you’re all children, don’t have any luggage whatsoever, and the temperature never goes above over 16oC at night. 

Summing up:

  • There’s limited ventilation in the cabin, which is great if you’re 10 year old boys who view farting as serious fun, and consider breathing fresh air to be an optional extra. When the temperature starts to climb (as it did for 2-3 days of our trip), air flow becomes an important factor.
  • No space at all to store luggage or foodstuffs. We had a couple of spare beds to put things, but it was messy and awkward.  Recommend they ditch a bunk bed and add cupboards – that would make it worthwhile staying again in the future.  However, it was cheap – you get what you pay for.
  • Kitchen facilities fairly good, providing no morons are staying with the expectation their mothers will miraculously turn up and clean up after them (surprising number of young folk who act this way).  
    TIP: Clean up after yourselves and do your dishes.  Kitchen did need more bench space to prepare food, and to wash and dry dishes.  Plus a freezer would’ve been mega useful.  Also like to see management put in fly-screens – the flies were dreadful.
  • Bathroom facilities spacious and very clean. Showers cost $1 for 3 mins (they’re on tank water so this helps limit overuse). However, no benches available to place gear after exiting the shower. And what’s with women who fling toilet paper and sanitary bags around the cubicle?  Why?  

ONWARDS WE GO

After hiring two cars at the airport and doing a big grocery shop in Geelong (yes, we bought far too much), we arrive quite late at the campground.  Hence a mad dash to sort out backpacks, buy shower tokens, locate the kitchen and toilets, put away groceries, and chow down on a 10pm dinner while swatting flies.

Through the night we hear koalas grunting – they sound like snorting grunting pigs.  If you haven’t heard it before, it’s a very startling and possibly terrifying noise … particularly if you’re in a tent.  Between the koalas and various noises inside the cabin, no one slept terribly well.

To cap it off, Bimbi Park have a chicken run.  I actually like chickens – they’re fun to draw – but roosters crowing at some ungodly hour before dawn see me fervently dreaming of a shotgun.  Those foul fowl would’ve been roasting with sweet potatoes the next night if I’d had access to something lethal.

See next post for day 1 of the Great Ocean Walk.