A dif­fer­ent view of one of the world’s great coast­lines

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Every long-dis­tance hike seems to have its own ver­sion of Heart­break Hill. We ar­rive at ours shortly af­ter lunch on day two of our four-day, 55-kilo­me­tre trek along Vic­to­ria’s scenery-drip­ping south­ern coast­line. Emerg­ing from a cool car­pet of ferns be­neath a stand of stringy­barks, we’re sud­denly out in the open for a climb up a long, grassy hill – one so steep that my light day­pack feels more like an Ital­ian opera singer on my back. I haven’t paid this much at­ten­tion to my boots for some time.

The as­cent is over be­fore any­thing rup­tures and with it comes a re­ward: com­mand­ing views, east and west, of a spec­tac­u­lar row of rocky head­lands thrust into the South­ern Ocean like the gnarled paws of an an­cient beast. As the gun­metal-grey water throws it­self tire­lessly against them, send­ing up a haze of sea spray, I ex­hale con­tent­edly.

A crackle of black cock­a­toos flies over­head to­wards

the west, in the di­rec­tion of our des­ti­na­tion: those iconic lime­stone stacks known as the 12 Apos­tles. “Check out the seren­ity,” I’m about to say to my fel­low walk­ers. But most are still pant­ing up the slope so I let it slide. They’ll see for them­selves soon enough.

The Great Ocean Road is a 240-kilo­me­tre

long wind­ing strip of cliff-hug­ging tar­mac that

stretches be­tween the Vic­to­rian coastal town of Torquay and Al­lans­ford, near War­rnam­bool. But, as I’m dis­cov­er­ing, the Great Ocean Walk is an­other way – a con­sid­er­ably more im­mer­sive one – to ex­pe­ri­ence the wild beauty of the same

re­gion. That it re­quires more phys­i­cal ef­fort

than de­press­ing an ac­cel­er­a­tor only en­hances the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Be­gin­ning at Apollo Bay – where the fa­mous road­way, at its mid­way point, leaves the coast for an in­land me­an­der through the Great Ot­way Na­tional Park – the full length of the Great Ocean Walk (GOW) takes hik­ers 105 kilo­me­tres to the 12 Apos­tles, through eu­ca­lypt forests, wet­lands and banks of tea-tree. Bet­ter yet, and this was ap­par­ent the mo­ment we set out in a light mist from Cas­tle Cove on day one, its path leads up and over wild sand­stone head­lands and onto and along a num­ber of glo­ri­ous all-but-de­serted beaches. Be­yond the snap of twigs and crunch of sand un­der­foot, the sound­track to this un­der­tak­ing isn’t car en­gines – which are busily en­gaged far away – but the ever-present roar of the ocean.

Any­one is free to walk, in full or in stages, the GOW (al­though des­ig­nated camp­ing sites must be booked and paid for through Parks Vic­to­ria at least two weeks be­fore your trip; park­web.vic.gov. au). But if lug­ging your own sup­plies and ny­lon­based ac­com­mo­da­tion aren’t your thing there are other, more lux­u­ri­ous ways to ex­pe­ri­ence the trail.

I find this out as a guest of the Twelve Apos­tles

Lodge Walk (twelvea­pos­tleslodge­walk.com.au),

which of­fers four-day, three-night tours along a 40-kilo­me­tre sec­tion of the GOW (or 55 kilo­me­tres if you take en­durance op­tions of­fered on the first

three days). The com­pany is one of a hand­ful

of­fer­ing Mel­bourne trans­fers, ac­com­mo­da­tion

and food on top of a guided walk; He­donis­tic Hik­ing (he­do­nis­tichik­ing.com.au) and Park Trek (park­trek.com.au) are oth­ers.

Hav­ing en­dured long-dis­tance hikes with a heavy back­pack and an evening sym­phony of tent zip­pers and snor­ing koalas, I feel al­most sheep­ish when I see the Twelve Apos­tles Lodge Walk’s eco lodge near Jo­hanna – a small, stylish and spot­less cabin with a com­fort­able, crisply made bed, a fully equipped bath­room and a bright com­mon room where they serve the kind of meals you only dream about on a walk­ing trail.

The din­ners (rolled chicken, crisp-skinned

salmon and eye fil­let, as well as canapés and

sal­ads) have us all rav­ing but, for me, it’s the lunches that seem par­tic­u­larly deca­dent. A few

hours into our easy first day of 9.5 kilo­me­tres –

it takes the 10 of us, plus our bushy-bearded guide, Jack, through a lovely grass-tree for­est and un­du­lat­ing banks of tea-tree palsied and stunted by the on­shore winds – we stop to eat.

From a high point over­look­ing the mist-dusted

cliffs, I re­move from the sup­plied day­pack (my

lug­gage is in my room, of course) a can­is­ter con­tain­ing a de­li­cious Thai beef noo­dle salad. To think my usual track snack would be a peanut-but­ter wrap. “I could get used to this,” some­one quips as, in the dis­tance, waves turn their heads to shore, throw­ing up manes of spray.

End­ing that first day’s walk with an in­vig­o­rat­ing

two-kilo­me­tre stroll across Jo­hanna Beach, we’re met by a van that takes us to the lodge, where foot spas, drinks and food await (the van will re­turn us to the same point the next morn­ing).

The writer sur­veys the rugged Ship­wreck Coast from above

(Clock­wise from op­po­site) Twelve Apos­tles Lodge Walk guide Jack; a well-earned break; day one ends at Jo­hanna Beach; the trail passes through tea-tree for­est

The path to Prince­town along the Gel­li­brand River (above); re­fu­elling with a lunch of chorizo salad

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