Walk The Line
The Twelve Apostles Lodge guided eco-walk is one of the world’s great back-to-nature experiences, writes John McDonald.
Join an eco-walk along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and marvel at the 12 Apostles.
Saturday, about 7am. It’s the second day of our Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. “Step into my clinic,” says Mitch, our guide. He motions me to sit upon a stool for the morning Blister Service. Mitch – a friendly Tasmanian fellow with a magnificent head of red dreadlocks – applies strips of a special tape to my “hot spots”, those of my toes that had begun to chafe on the previous day’s introductory walk. (New hiking boots that haven’t been sufficiently worn in will do that to you.) This is an experience that takes place over four days and three nights, and you can walk between 40km and 56km in total. I am apprehensive at first. Am I fit enough? Am I too old? Is my outfit cool enough? How will I handle all these early starts? I needn’t have worried…
The incredible Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk ends with a helicopter ride for a bird’s-eye view of the rock formations. OPPOSITE clockwise from top left The scale of the towering limestone stacks is best experienced from the beach. The variety of landscapes along the Great Ocean Road is simply breathtaking. View to Ryans Den. Pounding waves have sculpted the formations over time; only seven remain standing. The walking kit is provided by Twelve Apostles Lodge.
Day 1 It’s a three-hour drive from Melbourne to the Lodge, near the town of Johanna, our accommodation for the duration. We stop for coffee in Winchelsea, the place where rabbits were introduced to Australia in 1895 – nice one! On checking in, we are greeted with the sight of architecturally designed timber cabins laid out along a network of boardwalks. There’s a central dining room/lounge area, and the whole place is surrounded by pristine bush. The rooms are comfortable and sweetly decorated, and can be configured for couples (a king bed) or for two singles.
After a briefing on what we’ll be up to over the next four days, it’s time to get kitted up for our initial four-hour hike and first taste of what’s to come. Everyone is issued with a backpack, a weatherproof jacket, walking poles and gaiters (the latter to prevent debris getting into your boots), and a water bottle. This first walk, from Castle Cove to Johanna Beach, is sublime, and our group of nine develops a palpable sense of excitement.
Back at camp, it’s wine time with cheese and antipasto, and something that becomes a daily ritual: a foot spa on the deck. A hot shower in my spacious travertine ensuite is welcome, dinner is full of laughter and excellent food, and sleep comes easily.
Days 2 & 3 I’ve opted for the Endurance option on both days. Three of us leave well before the others and will be walking an extra 8km on Day 2, making a total of 20.5km for the day; and an extra 4.5km on Day 3, a total of 17.5km. Mitch is like a packhorse. He carries spare water, extra snacks, first-aid and GPS equipment plus picnic blankets. What you carry is your own delicious, healthy lunch and the treats you’ve selected from the snack table. In my case, that would be trail mix, chocolate frogs, energy balls and lolly snakes.
The landscape changes constantly. There are cliffs, seascapes, meadows, boardwalks, vehicle tracks and sandy inclines, but the terrain rarely requires walking poles. The air is clean, sometimes bracing, and we see no other people, except for the morning we pass a friendly local’s house and purchase lime marmalade from an honesty box.
We learn many fascinating things as we make our way along the Shipwreck Coast. For instance, in the 1800s two shipwrecked men on the Otway Coast had to walk to Geelong and only survived because they ate the rotting remains of a beached whale. I discover sheoak is a pejorative term for casuarina trees. The pink hyacinth orchids ( Dipodium roseum) we see have no leaves; their chlorophyll is in the stems. Bush spinach is a tasty treat. The area’s highly venomous snakes (quite a few cross our paths) are very shy, and a good jump up and down will send them slithering away.
At Wreck Beach, we descend endless steps to see the anchors of two ill-fated ships, the Marie Gabrielle (1869) and the Fiji (1891). And then walk right up again.
Day 4 The shortest walking day – 8km – plunges us into the midst of the towering 12 Apostles and ends with something truly special: a helicopter ride across the coast. It’s magnificent stuff: the walk of a lifetime. #
Walks take place from September to June. Prices start at $2500 for one person and $4570 for two (incl. transfers from Melbourne). twelveapostleslodgewalk.com.au