Walk The Line

The Twelve Apos­tles Lodge guided eco-walk is one of the world’s great back-to-na­ture ex­pe­ri­ences, writes John McDon­ald.

Australian House & Garden - - CONTENTS -

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

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