The Great Ocean Walk is a 108-kilometer trail that covers much of the coastline associated with the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road was built after World War I by returning soldiers. It was conceived as both a monument to the soldiers who served in the war and a civic works project for them during the depression that followed the conflict. Initially the road was funded with private monies and local funding as the state government was not interested. We missed most of the Road, as we were walking, and while we expected the trail to follow the path of the road, it really didn’t, we had very little interaction with the road.
We did have a lot of interaction with the coastal areas though! Not really knowing what to expect, we were constantly surprised by the variety of terrain and landscape. We walked on beaches, along cliffs, on rolling hills, in rainforests and areas full of coastal bushes. Every time we turned a corner it was a new view. The coastline never disappointed and we saw new and different things every day and in every section.
We stayed in a lighthouse keepers cottage dating from the 1860s, a gracious guesthouse that started life as a farmhouse in the late 1800s, and several small hotels located in charming small harbor towns. We used an outfitter who provided the logistics and lodgings, directions and arranged not only for us to have our meals, including way too much lunch on the trail, but to move the rest of our luggage each time we changed lodgings. The company we used was www.auswalk.com. They do walks all over Australia and if you have the time and inclination, it is a great way to see parts of the country.
Australians joke that the coastal area we were walking in can get all four seasons in a day. Well, we certainly had a lot of weather during the seven days we were there, and usually we had variety each day. Early on the walk there was fog and low clouds and we spent a lot of time one day deciding if we should put the rain gear on, or if it was safe to take it off. The coastal views were neat because we could see the cliffs, but often not the tops. The waves were crashing and we had that as the soundtrack even when we had taken turns inland.
Besides the different terrains, we also saw or heard a lot of wildlife, mostly birds. We had heard there were black cockatoos and came across them during a sunny period on the second day. This bunch had bright yellow highlights on their tails. There is a bird call that sounds like a slower version of Woody Woodpecker’s laugh with some vaguely jungle sounding call inserted. It is a sound you might associate with the noises Hollywood inserts for jungle scenes in movies. Well, we heard that sound. Dan’s initial reaction was “what’s that? Is that real? I thought that was a fake move sound.” We were informed by the nice couple who was also staying at the guest house that it was the sound of the Kookaburra. The Kookaburra is a member of the Kingfisher family of birds and does migrate around the South Pacific, but I think some Hollywood types have been playing fast and loose with reality in most cases. Alas, while we heard the bird, we didn’t actually see any.
Another animal we didn’t see were Koalas. They are in the area, but can be tough to spot. Between the cloud cover, rain and so many new things to see, we weren’t able to spot any. When the shuttle driver asked if we had seen any, I admitted I didn’t really know to look or even when I should look. She said you can hear them, and when asked what they sounded like she made a little “grrrrrr – uuooff” noise. Her husband, also in the vehicle, let out a laugh and some minor ribbing ensued. When we asked for a refresher on how they sounded the next morning, she laughingly refused!
We did come across our first Kangaroos which are larger and lighter in color than the wallaby’s we had seen (and continued to see). They move in larger packs than wallaby’s called Mobs, so when you see one, there are plenty more. On one section of the trail, we came around the corner and started up the rise and there were 4 or 4 Kangaroos just standing there about 10 yards up the trail. They weren’t going anywhere and Dan decided to serenade them with the University of Akron fighting song. He also referred to several as Zippy because they do bear a resemblance to the Zips mascot! The animals continued to stare at us completely unimpressed with his rendition of the song and the fact that he remembers it from his time there.
Our wildest weather day was also the toughest terrain on the walk. Described as “steep up and down followed by undulating sections with more steep climbs at the end” they weren’t kidding. There had been heavy rain overnight so not only were the hills steep, they were muddy and slippery. We persevered and about an hour in to that day’s walking it started to rain again and the wind was picking up. There was plenty of thick vegetation though, so the wind wasn’t too much of an issue. When we started to get pelted with hail, though…. Fortunately, the hail remained pea sized and didn’t last too long. We stopped for lunch at one of the campsites and were joined by a group on a guided walk. As we all huddled under the picnic shelter located along the cliffs on the coast, the wind really picked up and howled around us. It was really cool! We ran into one of the guides the next day and while we caught up on how we had all fared the previous day she tried to sell the weather with “it’s great that you get that kind of weather, makes you appreciate the s even more!” I told her she was overselling it, but we are always happy to get a story, had proper gear and weren’t really complaining, but if you can’t complain about the weather, though.