The Great Ocean Walk of Australia and Post-Hike Blues

Dear reader, if you are here because you are debating, just as I did, whether to hike the Great Ocean Walk, I would wholeheartedly say go for it. After weeks of unnecessary consideration and comparing it with other multi-day trails in Australia, I finally hiked the Great Ocean Walk in late April, and it turned out to be one of the finest multi-day trails I have ever hiked.

The rewarding scenery at the end of the Great Ocean Walk – May 2024.

The 104-kilometer trail, which starts in Apollo Bay and ends at the world-famous (and intentionally misleadingly named) 12 Apostles, offers a unique diversity of scenery that would be hard to find anywhere else. It roughly follows the Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s most picturesque driving routes and the world`s largest war memorial. While the main allure of the trail is the coastal scenery and its proximity to the ocean, I was pleasantly surprised by the terrain and scenery diversity that it offers.

Table of Contents

    What is the Great Ocean Walk?

    The history of the Great Ocean Road, the driving route, goes back to the First World War. The 240-kilometer road covering part of coastal Victoria—starting in Torquay and ending at Allansford—was built between 1919 and 1932 by returned soldiers in memory of those who lost their lives during the war. The road built to connect the isolated coastal communities in Victoria is today the largest war memorial in the world, highly elevates the region’s profile, and makes it one of the most visited places in Australia—for all the right reasons.

    Johanna Beach, mandatory beach walk on the second day – April 2024.

    On the other hand, the Great Ocean Walk is a much more recent initiative and offers visitors a much more intimate experience with this exceptionally beautiful coastal section of Australia. The trail, which opened in 2006, is managed by Parks Victoria, the government agency in charge of managing select nature areas and parks in Victoria. It is a very well-maintained route with signage in all the right places to guide the hikers.

    The 104-kilometer-long trail roughly follows the Great Ocean Road, and that is a very good thing. While the road has relatively limited sections offering ocean views, the Great Ocean Walk trail never wanders too far off the coast and delights the hikers each day with ocean views and the sounds of the ocean even when you cannot see it, even if not for the entirety of the walk.

    Unlike some of the official multi-day walks in New Zealand, such as the Great Walks like Milford Track, where the hikers must spend three nights on the trail, staying at each hut and following the same trajectory, there is no one pre-determined and mandatory way of hiking the Great Ocean Walk.


    Great Ocean Walk quick notes

    #1 You do not need a permit to hike the Great Ocean Walk unless you will be camping.

    #2 There are no huts along the trail but designated campsites that require pre-booking. You can book online using Parks Victoria`s booking site. In most sections, there is a special campsite for the Great Ocean Walk hikers separated from the regular campsites, which mainly cater to groups. I was told that this was to give a little more privacy to the hikers, who may favor having early nights and a quieter atmosphere at the campsites.

    #3 Along the trail, there are many access points connecting to the driving route. As a result, camping is not your only option for the Great Ocean Walk. If you can arrange your transportation, you can also—as I did—do the hike by staying in hotels/motels scarcely scattered in the region surrounding the trail. I highly recommend Bimbi Park for base accommodation – reasonably priced and very clean facilities.

    #4 Unfortunately, most of the accommodation facilities are located not within a walking but driving distance of trailheads, requiring some sort of transportation during the hike unless you are camping. Arranging the trail transportation was the most tricky part for me; you can see my notes below on how I arranged it.

    #5 Along the trail, there are no places that sell food or snacks (except for a cafe in Otway Lighthouse, which closed at 4 p.m. when I did the hike in late April/early May). Fortunately, Apollo Bay, the starting point of the hike for many, has a couple of well-stocked grocery stores, which come in handy for stocking up on food before you start the hike.

    #6 Regarding water, campgrounds have rainwater tanks, and hikers are welcome to help themselves to the extent that they can filter the water.

    #7 For phone reception, which was crucial for me to arrange my pick-up time and location at the end of each day, I was advised to get a Telstra SIM card as the only network offering partial connection along the trail. I followed the advice and had no issues connecting with my transportation provider when needed.

    #8 The Great Ocean Walk is not a particularly difficult or technical trail, but it is definitely not a walk in the park. Many sections require you to negotiate successive ascents and descents, with some particularly steep descents. The most difficult day for me was the third day when I covered the section from Johanna Beach to the Gables.

    #9 If you plan to hike sections of the Great Ocean Walk rather than the whole hike, I would recommend most of the sections after the Cape Otway Lighthouse (and even a little earlier for the wonderful cliff views featuring the lighthouse).

    #10 There is a very friendly Facebook group dedicated to Great Ocean Walk tips, which I benefited greatly from while planning my hike.

    #11 I recommend buying the Official Walkers Map/Booklet published by Parks Victoria before the hike to understand the distances, elevation profile, and overall trail conditions. I bought it a little late and had it shipped to my accommodation. However, having it during the actual planning stage would be much better.


    How long does the Great Ocean Walk take?

    The Great Ocean Walk is officially designed as an eight-day walk, with a night stop at seven different campsites. Most people would agree that eight days is a very relaxed time frame for finishing the hike, allowing one plenty of rest time each day. Along the trail, I met people who previously did the hike in two days (by running certain sections) as well as those who were taking their time with a nightly stop at each campsite, committing to a full eight days.

    The view that greeted me at the Gables at the end of the third day on the trail – April 2024.

    As for me, given that I traveled from Japan and only had a week off, doing the hike in eight days was not an option. After studying the hike map and assessing the distances and elevation profile, I settled on a schedule and itinerary that would allow me to finish the hike in 3.5 days. The fact that I did not camp and had a full pack with all my food, clothes, and camera equipment only on the first day surely helped me. At the end of the trail, I was very happy with the overall schedule, which required me to push myself a little while also having the time and energy to enjoy the outstanding scenery along the trail. Another important factor was the weather. During the four days I was out on the trail, I did not face any adverse weather situations and was blessed with sunny skies for most of the hike—an aspect that greatly helped with my average pace.

    Just to give you a little bit of background info about me in case you are assessing your situation: I am female and 43 years old. I would not call myself very fit, but I have relatively strong lower legs and experience with multi-day hikes. The month preceding the hike, I visited the gym 3-4 times weekly before work to do incline treadmill running. The steep descents during the hike challenged me (and particularly my toes) much more than the climbs.


    Great Ocean Walk sections and distances

    Source for the first three columns: Great Ocean Walk Info

    How did I hike the Great Ocean Walk?

    While I occasionally camp if it is the only available option or if the campsite is particularly attractive, I am not one of those people who would still opt for a tent even if a hut is available. The reason is very simple—I am a terrible nighttime sleeper. Following a brief deep sleep phase that starts as soon as I shut my eyes, I wake up multiple times during the night. And the situation worsens in a tent where I can barely get one or two hours of sleep. For the Great Ocean Walk, there was no hut option. And it was already late in the season with possibly cold nights. So, although it increased the trip cost, I decided to book a private trail shuttle and stay at regular accommodation facilities within the vicinity of the trail.

    I ran into many kangaroos, but luckily, no snakes.

    Trail transportation

    Unfortunately, there are not many pooling options for trail transportation. While one company offers a walk shuttle, this inevitably and understandably requires hikers to follow a pre-fixed walking itinerary, which would not work for me. After exchanging emails with many companies and service providers, I chose the transportation service offered by Lee and Jenny Bryant, who patiently responded to all my emails and commented on my itinerary. At the end of the day, I could not be happier with my choice. Jenny and Lee were both very easy to talk to (having a nice chat in the car at the end of a long day of hiking was wonderful) and knowing the area so well, they gave me wonderful trail tips. They were also very flexible in terms of the pick-up times and location. For contact: albee287@gmail.com

    Accommodation

    As for accommodation, I highly recommend Bimbi Park, which is located near the Cape Otway Lighthouse. The facilities feature different types of accommodation, ranging from fully equipped cottages to tent areas. It is a reasonably priced and very well-managed facility. They also have a small store on-site if you need to supplement your food (and drink) supply during the hike.

    Food

    Even though I did not camp, I still had to carry my own food supply. Almost all of the facilities in the area offer self-catered accommodation, where you have access to a private or common kitchen with no on-premises restaurants and cafes. I did my shopping at Food Works in Apollo Bay (open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.). As usual, I stocked up on tortillas and dry meat for lunch, pasta for dinner, and a lot of protein bars for snack time.


    Notes from the trail

    Apollo Bay to Cape Otway Lighthouse (32-kilometers)

    There are two things that I passionately dislike about hiking multi-day trails. First is the logistics part: most multi-day trails require you to spend a substantial amount of time sorting out the logistics (where to buy the food, how much food, transportation, accommodation/camp booking, water supply locations, etc.). And Australia`s notoriously difficult immigration control also adds another layer of complexity if you are traveling from abroad, as it, for understandable reasons to protect the country’s unique bio-diversity, discourages anyone from bringing food from abroad. I arrived at Apollo Bay at 6 p.m. and had two hours to do my food shopping before the stores closed.

    First day on the trail, approaching the end – Cape Otway Lighthouse.

    The Great Ocean Walk, especially if you are not camping, requires a lot of planning due to the lack of a centralized transportation and accommodation booking system. Sure, there are companies that will take care of all that burden off your shoulders, but for a very high price (I got quotes above 3.000 Australian Dollars, whereas my overall cost ended up being just a little above 1.000 Australian Dollars). Living in Japan, getting to the trailhead also required some effort, as in one long, one short plane ride followed by a train and then a 3-hour bus ride. So, by the time I was standing in front of the Apollo Bay Visitor Center at 7.30 a.m. on the first day of the hike and watching the hiking groups joyfully posing in front of the Great Ocean Walk sculpture, I was sure ready to charge ahead and forget about everything else for the next four days.

    The first day on the trail was a perfect introduction to the variety of the trail ahead. The hike started with a road walk (but nonetheless with ocean scenery) followed by a beach walk, a long forest section (which was as lovely as the coastal sections on a sunny day, thanks to tall trees) that eventually led to Blanket Bay reuniting me with the ocean scenery. I had my longest break of the walk at Blanket Bay, with its gorgeous campsite facing directly to the ocean, where I chatted with two friendly hikers from Australia who kindly gave me some trail tips. One of them hiked the trail once in two days (by running parts of the sections), so I think he needed another visit actually to enjoy the scenery.

    The first day was my longest day on the trail—and I was understandably and gently advised against it. But I had my reasons. The weather forecast was very promising, with sunny skies all day. I wanted to experience as much of the trail, particularly the section with the Cape Otway Lighthouse views, as I could in sunny weather. With the thrill of being out in the wild after 20 hours of travel from Japan and thanks to the sunny weather, I arrived at the Cape Otway Lighthouse at around 4 p.m., leaving me with one hour to kill before the pick-up time. I strolled around the lighthouse, which is unfortunately closed to visitors at the moment, and enjoyed the company of kangaroos happily jumping around. My accommodation for the night was Bimbi Park, where I had the luxury of a hot shower and a comfortable bed.

    Cape Otway Lighthouse to Johanna Bay (25.3-kilometers)

    The second day on the trail started at around 8.30 a.m. with some inland forest walking, soon followed by a ridge walk offering fantastic ocean views. One of the things that I most enjoyed about the Great Ocean Walk was the intensity of the ocean sounds, even at those sections where you could not see the ocean, reminding you it is right there and you will soon see it.

    During my morning ride, Lee mentioned that I could either walk on the beach in the section covering Station Beach or follow the cliff section overlooking the ocean. Knowing that I was already going to do beach walking at the end of the day at Johanna Beach, I decided to follow the trail that goes over a cliff, offering views of the ocean but not of the beach.

    The second day on the trail was fairly easy, again offering a mixture of inland, cliff, and beach walking. The last section was a 2-kilometer walk on Johanna Beach, which was beautiful, dramatic, and felt, due to not being able to see the exit signs from afar, endless. I had the entire beach to myself until I ran into a colony of seagulls looking at the ocean as it was the most mesmerizing thing they had seen. Agreeing with them, I decided to join the party and watched the roaring waves, all the shades of blue, and the seagulls who occasionally took off to enjoy the beauty of all of it from above (those lucky birds) for more than ten minutes.

    The second day on the trail ended at around 2 p.m., leaving me with plenty of time to relax at Bimbi Park and get ready for the third and the hardest day of the walk.

    Johanna Bay to the Gables (24-kilometers)

    I knew that the third day would be the hardest of the walk. The day started with a climb up on the old coach road, which soon joined a gravel road open to car access (but I only ran into one vehicle) before very steeply descending to Milenasia Beach. Looking back, I would say that – not the climb but the endless descent down to Milenasia Beach on very muddy and soft ground was the least pleasant part of the hike for me (and the only section where I pulled out my hiking poles). Fortunately, the view at Milenasia Beach, offering a combination of endless ocean on one side and Scotland-like greenery (even featuring a picture-perfect stone house), very much felt worth the trouble.

    The rest of the trail leading all the way up to Moonlight Head was the section that made me appreciate that the Great Ocean Walk is not a walk but a full hike. There were endless ups and downs for a good 3-4 hours, with very few short flat sections. I was glad I decided to pack only one camera and one lens for this section instead of the two-camera and four-lens set that I carried on the first two days.

    In terms of the terrain variety, this section, starting at Johanna Beach and ending at the Gables, was the most interesting section of the hike. Offering a combination of road walk, deep forest walking, and cliff walking with an end at the Gables viewpoint kept me not only quite tired but also very entertained all the way. This was also the section where I encountered some actual rain, which luckily came only after I arrived at the Gables and finished the hike, with a big reward of a gigantic rainbow over the roaring ocean.

    Gables to 12 Apostles (19-kilometers) and post-hike blues

    Having covered the most difficult section of the trail the day before, my final day on the trail covered mostly easy and flat terrain, leaving me plenty of time and energy to enjoy the last day of the hike and the (truly) iconic scenery.

    The day, which started at 8:30 a.m., mostly required me to walk through thick bushes with no ocean views. But I had no complaints. Starting the day with bushwalking made the anticipation for that first view of the 12 Apostles grow gradually stronger, leading to a crescendo moment (as in jumping around joyfully) at that first sight.

    There is a debate among the hikers and service providers on whether the hike should actually be done in reverse order (you are welcome to do that, by the way, and I ran into a few hikers who started at 12 Apostles with plans to finish at the Apollo Bay) as Apollo Bay is a wonderful town to finish the hike, with many dining, drinking, and accommodation options for a celebratory and relaxed few days after the hike whereas there is not much around 12 Apostles unless you travel further to Princetown. But now, having done the hike and experienced the euphoric joy of that first view of the 12 Apostles from afar, I am fully in favor of doing the hike with a start at Apollo Bay and ending at the 12 Apostles. Nothing can beat the excitement and joy of finishing a 100-kilometer walk with the rewarding and truly iconic scenery of the 12 Apostles. Despite the name, there are not 12 rocks making up the 12 Apostles; there are now only six, and there have never been 12 rocks. But the name was obviously too catchy to ignore, so they went with it, and it seems to have worked.

    Knowing the offerings available at Apollo Bay, I decided to book transportation to take me back after the hike. I stayed for two nights, enjoying many showers, good food, and some wine and occasionally taking my legs out for a test run to see if they still worked. And this is also where I experienced the second thing that I passionately dislike about multi-day hikes: the post-hike blues. After days on the trail chasing and experiencing good scenery and continuously getting the dopamine rush triggered by physical activity, the post-hike blues—my old friend—soon came to visit me. I have already experienced the post-hike blues before (and I am no stranger to depression). So, knowing the cause helped me not fight against it but let it wash over me and then gently leave me alone after a few days.


    But the whole thing was sure worth the post-hike blues, and I would happily do it again if presented with the opportunity. Having done a few multi-day hikes in some of the world’s most beautiful nature locations, I would not hesitate to call the Great Ocean Walk one of the finest multi-day hikes in the world.


    For more multi-day trails, I last year wrote about the three Great Walks of New Zealand: Milford Track, Routerburn Track and Kepler Track.

    For multi-day trails in Japan, the pilgrimage routes offer a perfect blend of nature and cultural experiences for those who want to see a different side of the country.

    For those looking for shorter options, I have another post that lists some of my favorite hikes in Japan, including both day and multi-day ones.