A Complete Guide to the Great Ocean Walk

Great Ocean Walk trail

The Great Ocean Walk is one of the most well-known multiday trails in Australia. The incredible 104km walk stretches from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles along the southwest coast of Victoria. It offers a completely unique and unforgettable experience in one of the state’s most visited areas. The trail takes you past some of the highlights of the Great Ocean Road, and through some of the more remote parts of the Otway National Park.

From the rugged coastal scenery to the dense forest and stunning sandy beaches, the long distant walk has a variety of terrain and landscapes to admire along the way. The chance to see plenty of native wildlife is another highlight too. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner looking to take on your first overnight hike, the Great Ocean Walk offers something for everyone.

I recently completed the full trail in six days as a solo hiker and it was certainly a memorable adventure. To help others complete the walk, I’ve compiled all the information and planning tips that anyone would need to know in this guide to the Great Ocean Walk. Whether you’re planning the full hike or just a section of it, this blog should be able to provide all the details you’ll need.

Check out my trek report from the walk here, which includes my day by day personal experience from the trail.

Or, if you’re planning on exploring the Great Ocean Road by car as well, you can read my guide to road tripping the Great Ocean Road here.

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Basic facts about the Great Ocean Walk

Distance: 104km

Time to complete: 5 to 8 days

Start: Apollo Bay Visitor Information Centre

End: Twelve Apostles

Direction: The Great Ocean Walk is designed as a one-way walk heading west from Apollo Bay.

Walking options: End-to-end/full distance, shorter multiday hikes and day walks.

Great Ocean Walk trail

Sections of the Great Ocean Walk

The Great Ocean Walk is divided into eight sections, with seven hike-in campgrounds. The following walking times are based on my experience and roughly work out to be 4km/h. This might be different for different people. The trail grade mentioned below is also based on my own experience as an end-to-end hiker carrying a full pack.

Section one: Apollo Bay Visitor Centre to Elliot Ridge

Distance: 10km

Estimated walking time: 2.5-3 hours

Grade: Easy-Medium

Highlights: Coastal scenery leaving Apollo Bay and tall eucalypt trees of Elliot River.

Section two: Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay

Distance: 12km 

Estimated walking time: 3 hours

Grade: Easy

Highlights: Walking through dense forest of the Great Otway National Park.

Section three: Blanket Bay to Cape Otway

Distance: 10km 

Estimated walking time: 2.5-3 hours

Grade: Easy-Medium

Highlights: Stunning coastal scenery walking through dry coastal shrub to the Cape Otway Lighthouse. Passing through a beautiful secluded beach at Parker Inlet.

Section four: Cape Otway to Aire River

Distance: 10km 

Estimated walking time: 2.5 hours

Grade: Medium

Highlights: Beautiful views of coastal cliffs above Station Beach to a stunning lookout over Aire River.

Section five: Aire River to Johanna Beach

Distance: 14km 

Estimated walking time: 3.5-4 hours

Grade: Medium

Highlights: Undulating track along the rocky escarpments and coastal cliffs passing by the beautiful Castle Cove lookout. Final stretch includes 2km along Johanna Beach, a popular local surf beach.

Section six: Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den

Distance: 14.5km 

Estimated walking time: 4 hours

Grade: Medium-Hard

Highlights: Country roads and forested trail down to Milanesia Beach, followed by steep hills through coastal forests.

Section seven: Ryan’s Den to Devils Kitchen

Distance: 14km 

Estimated walking time: 4 hours

Grade: Medium

Highlights: Follows more hills through coastal shrubbery and forest to spectacular views from Moonlight Head and Gables Lookout.

Section eight: Devils Kitchen to Twelve Apostles

Distance: 16km 

Estimated walking time: 4-4.5 hours

Grade: Easy-Medium

Highlights: Through coastal scrub and forest down to Princetown, before following the cliff top to impressive views of the Twelve Apostles.

Twelve Apostles
View of the Twelve Apostles from the trail

Highlights of the Great Ocean Walk

The Great Ocean Walk is often described as ‘walking Victoria’s icons’, as it runs parallel to the famous Great Ocean Road and takes in many of its star attractions. The walk is a much more intimate and slower-paced experience of this famous stretch of Australia’s coast. For 104km, you can enjoy rugged coastal views, tall mountain ash trees, dense forest, native wildlife and sandy beaches.

There is also a long list of major attractions that the walk either passes through or offers short side trips to reach. These places are also accessible by car, but one of the highlights of the walk is being able to take in many of these spots along the way. These highlights that you can see on the Great Ocean Walk include:

  • Cape Otway Lighthouse
  • Station Beach and Rainbow Falls
  • Aire River
  • Castle Cove Lookout
  • Johanna Beach
  • Milanesia Beach
  • Gables Lookout
  • Wreck Beach
  • Gibson Steps
  • Twelve Apostles
Cape Otway Lighthouse
Cape Otway Lighthouse

A solo hiker’s perspective on the Great Ocean Walk

I completed this walk solo and I met a couple of other solo hikers on the trail too. Considering that it’s a well-worn, popular and incredibly beautiful trail, it’s no surprise that there are many solo hikers out on the track.

From a safety perspective, it’s a great walk for solo hikers, with plenty of access points, campgrounds and other walkers using the trail. It’s also quite easy to navigate with plenty of information online and at the visitor centres along the Great Ocean Road. More on the campgrounds and navigation below.

It’s a great starting point if you’re looking to get into solo overnight hiking. The campgrounds are well maintained with decent facilities and you’re guaranteed to meet other people along the way for most of the year. If you’re contemplating doing this walk as a solo hiker, I say go for it!

Read next: A Complete Guide to Solo Hiking

Hiking in the Otways

When to hike the Great Ocean Walk

You can hike the Great Ocean Walk all year round and no matter what time of year you decide to head off you should be prepared to experience all seasons in one day (or even in one hour). The unpredictable nature of the weather along the southern coast of Australia makes it difficult to pick the best time to walk. However, many people opt for the temperate conditions of autumn (Mar-May) or spring (Sept-Nov) to avoid the hottest and coldest times of the year. This isn’t always foul proof though and you’ll often still get rain, heat and freezing temperatures at any time.

You might also want to consider other factors such as crowds and snakes. Summer is not only the warmest time of year, but you can also expect more people on the trail and more reptiles sharing the trail with you too. Spring is also considered a bad time for snakes, but you really need to remain aware of them at any time of year.

I did the walk in mid-November which is late spring, and I was very lucky with the weather that I had. The first day it drizzled on and off, and there was one day of 30+ degrees, but otherwise I had pretty nice moderate conditions. However, I did see four snakes over six days on the trail, so it was not the best time for avoiding them. 

Johanna Beach
Johanna Beach at sunset

Great Ocean Walk Campsites

The Great Ocean Walk is divided into eight sections, with seven official campsites for hikers to stay in at relatively even intervals. These campgrounds need to be booked in advance through the Parks Victoria website here. How early you need to book really depends on when you plan on doing the walk. If you’re planning for a school holidays or summertime adventure, I would recommend booking well in advance. Weekends in spring and autumn can also be busy, but in general you can simply book a few weeks beforehand for most of the year.

There are eight tent sites per camping area with up to three people allowed on each site. The first four campgrounds on the trail also have a small group camping area for school excursions or walking groups. Three of the campgrounds on the trail are near other drive-in public campgrounds, while the other’s a more secluded. 

Each campground has numbered tent sites, a shelter with the GOW map inside, rain-fed water tanks and a drop toilet.

It costs $16.80 per tent site with a maximum of three people per site. This can change year to year, so it’s best to look up the latest price on the Parks Vic website here.

The seven Great Ocean Walk campsites are:

  1. Elliot Ridge 
  2. Blanket Bay
  3. Cape Otway
  4. Aire River West
  5. Johanna Beach
  6. Ryan’s Den
  7. Devils Kitchen

Read next: 10 Tips for Your First Overnight Hike

Great Ocean Walk camping
Cape Otway campground

Nearby accommodation

If camping is not your idea of fun or you don’t want to carry all your overnight gear with you, then there are options for alternative accommodation. You can stay in nearby caravan parks or opt for a luxury spa cottage, depending on your budget and style. Many of the accommodation near the walk can also help with shuttles or transport to and from the trail each day. Some of the popular places to stay near the trail include:

Bimbi Caravan Park | This park is a popular place for walkers to stay on Cape Otway. They have campsites, bunk rooms and cabins to suit all different budgets. They can also help you arrange all sorts of transport whether you’re stopping for the night or doing the whole walk from there. Check their availability and prices here.

Southern Anchorage Retreat | This property offers a number of luxury cottages in a beautiful secluded setting on Wattle Hill. It’s just 1km from the Great Ocean Walk trail and is a perfect base for the final few days of the walk. They can also help arrange transport options. Check their availability and prices here.

Johanna River Farm and Cottages | A beautiful working farm near Johanna Beach that offers stunning cottages. They’re perfectly located in the middle of the Great Ocean Walk and they can help arrange transport options to and from the trail. Check their availability and prices here.

Waves at Johanna Beach
Waves at Johanna Beach

Great Ocean Walk itineraries

The Great Ocean Walk can be completed end-to-end in one hit or broken into sections for shorter overnight stints or even day hikes. There’s not one right way to complete the trail.

End-to-end

The whole trail is designed to be completed in eight days with one night spent at each of the seven overnight campsites. However, depending on your time constraints and level of fitness and experience you can technically do it in less time. 

The shortest suggested itinerary is four nights and five days which means three days of 20+ kilometres. However, this should be reserved for fit and experienced hikers. I completed the walk in five nights and six days, which meant two days of 20+ kilometres. This was perfect for me, but still quite a challenge. If you’re wondering which sections to combine together for a shorter itinerary, I would recommend any of the sections up until Johanna Beach. From there onwards, the trail becomes a little more challenging and remote. 

Majority of end-to-end hikers I met on the trail were doing the full eight day itinerary, which provides a more leisurely experience. It comes down to your own preference and level of fitness.

Elliot Ridge

Overnight walks

If you don’t have time to take a week off work and complete the whole trail end-to-end, then it’s also popular for people to tackle a couple of sections on a weekend. You can pick any section for a great weekend hiking trip, with vehicle access and car parks scattered throughout the trail. 

If you’re hiking with a buddy or group, you can arrange car shuffles between car parks and access points on the walk. Otherwise, if you’re solo, you’ll have to plan for a pickup or drop off with private transport or even the V/line bus that runs on the Great Ocean Road. 

Day hikes

Some sections of the Great Ocean Walk are easily accessible by car and are popular with day hikers. In general, the first half of the walk is more accessible with public drive-in campgrounds making it a more common place to explore. Some popular sections for day walks include:

  • Blanket Bay to Cape Otway
  • Cape Otway to Station Beach and Rainbow Falls
  • Aire River to Castle Cove lookout

Parking and transport

The biggest logistical and planning challenge you’ll have for completing the full walk is with parking and transport. There are local private shuttle providers and taxis who can organise pickup and drop offs from the start and finish of the trail. However, if you’re on a budget or going solo, then this isn’t an ideal option.

Recommended private shuttle services and taxis include Walk 91 and Great Ocean Road Shuttle.

For two or more hikers with multiple cars, there is a convenient option of car shuffling. You can leave one vehicle at the end of the walk and drive back to the start of the walk easily enough. 

For solo hikers or those with only one car, it’s recommended to leave your vehicle at the end of the walk and seek alternative transport back to the start. This gives you more flexibility during the walk. The other option is to start the walk and then find alternative transport to get back to Apollo Bay from the end.

Considering I was a solo hiker, I opted to leave my car near the end of the walk and then took the V/line bus back to Apollo Bay to start. This was a popular option and there were other hikers doing the same thing that I did. Here’s a rundown on how to organise this:

Princetown
View of Princetown

Parking options

Some people decide to leave their car at the Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre car park. This is open 24 hours and is convenient once you finish the walk. However, it’s not a designated long term parking area and it’s not secure overnight. At the same time, if you inform the police that you are leaving your car there for a week, many hikers have done this with no problems.

For a more secure alternative, Princetown Recreation Reserve offer parking to hikers completing the full walk. It costs $5 per night and must be arranged ahead of time by calling them. I went with this option because of the added security for my vehicle. The only downside is that the Twelve Apostles is a further 7km on the trail from the reserve, which means once you’ve finished, you need to back track at the end to pick up your car. Of course, there is the option of dropping your pack at your car on the way through and finishing with just a day pack. 

V/line bus service

If you’re opting to park your car at the end of the walk and need to head back to Apollo Bay to start, then there is a public bus service that runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It leaves the Twelve Apostle car park at 10.40am, passes through Princetown at 10.45am and arrives in Apollo Bay at 12pm. The bus stop in Princetown is on the Great Ocean Road, just down from the General Store, or about a 1.2km from the Recreation Reserve via the boardwalk.

It costs $11.20 per person and must be booked and paid for in advance. You can pay for it online here, but you still need to pick up the ticket from an outlet. An alternative is to book and pay for the ticket at an outlet like the Apollo Bay Visitor Information Centre.

Leaving Apollo Bay
Leaving Apollo Bay

Safety

The Great Ocean Walk is one of the most popular multiday walks in Australia. However, it still comes with a few safety considerations and precautions that you need to take. You should always carry a Personal Location Beacon (PLB) or satellite phone with you so that you can communicate to emergency services if something happens.

Remoteness 

Most of the trail is not as remote as it feels when you’re out there and you will never be too far from a road, car park or campground. However, this does not mean that you can be complacent about safety and there are still large stretches where you may not come into contact with another person or road for hours. Still, if you need to exit the trail there are a variety of access points along the way. The official Great Ocean Walk map is the best way to check for all the access points on the trail.

Phone signal and reception

You should never rely on phone signal on any multiday trail and this is certainly true of the Great Ocean Walk. Although it does offer more reception than I originally thought it would. Depending on your provider this will vary, but in general, I found signal at these spots:

  • Leaving Apollo Bay through Marengo (strong)
  • Blanket Bay campground and picnic area (weak)
  • Viewpoint 1km west of Blanket Bay (strong)
  • Cape Otway near the lighthouse (weak)
  • Between Cape Otway and Aire River (intermittently strong)
  • Around Johanna Beach (weak)
  • Milanesia Track (weak)
  • Ryan’s Den campground and lookout (strong)
  • Devil’s Kitchen campground (weak)
  • Princetown (strong)
  • Between Princetown and Twelve Apostles (strong)
Koala in the Otways

Snakes and other animals

Snakes are one of the few dangers on the Great Ocean Walk. They are very common in the area and you should remain vigilant of the trail around you as you walk. They are significantly more prevalent in summer and spring and any other warm days. Some of the dangerous snakes on the trail include tiger snakes and brown snakes. You should carry a snake bite bandage with you and also make sure that you know how to use it properly (if you don’t, check out this YouTube video here). 

Other animals and insects include leeches, ticks, spiders, ants, and wasps. If you’re allergic to any stings you will need to carry appropriate first aid and medication with you. 

On a more positive note, you’ll also have the chance to spot kangaroos, echidnas, koalas and wallabies around the trail.

Heat and weather conditions

The coast can experience some intense heat waves, which is more common in summer. However, even in November (spring) I had two hot days, with one day over 30 degrees. You need to be extremely careful of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Some sections of the trail offer very little shade or coverage, meaning you will feel the brunt of the sun in the middle of the day. Make sure that you carry ample water (4+ litres per day) and sip frequently throughout the day. You should also carry some electrolyte tablets or rehydrating solution for the days that you sweat a lot. 

The coastal and Otway National Park are also a high bushfire risk, especially on hot days and in summer. You should check the latest warnings on the Vic Emergency website here, before you go and while you’re out on the trail. The trail and national park areas are closed on Code Red days and you will need to know your escape routes and trail access points in case you need to vacate the trail. 

Johanna Beach
Johanna Beach

Tides and river crossings

The Southern Ocean is a notoriously unforgiving sea with unpredictable weather, large ocean swells and strong currents. Swimming is not recommended at any of the beaches on the Great Ocean Walk with no patrols at any of them. However, a couple of the beaches are popular surf beaches so if you’re an experienced swimmer and surfer, it’s up to you whether you deem it safe.

There are some sections of the Great Ocean Walk which offer alternative beach routes. The official trail always follows the inland option, with the beach route recommended only at low tide and calm conditions. I didn’t meet any other hikers on the trail who actually chose any of the alternative beach routes – mostly because none of us wanted to do anymore walking on sand than we had to!

There are two spots on the Great Ocean Walk where you have no option but to walk on the beach and you have to plan accordingly. Johanna Beach requires a 2km stretch of beach walking and Milanesia Beach requires a short 300m on the sand. You need to plan ahead and know the tide times so that you can time your walk at low or normal tide. There are a number of different websites about tides, but the most accurate is BOM here. You should check Apollo Bay and Port Campbell tides, with anything east of Moonlight Head considered to be closer to Apollo Bay tide times.

There are also a couple of small river crossings at Elliot River, Parker Inlet and Johanna Beach which are usually quite easy to cross. However, after heavy rainfall, these can become difficult when combined with high tide. 

GOW signposts

Navigation

For any multiday hike, navigation is one of the main safety and logistical considerations. However, being one of the most popular and well-known trails in Australia, this walk is extremely well signposted and marked

There are large yellow arrows along the way, as well as, green signposts with estimated walk times and kilometres. You will also find the official map at major trail junctions and inside the shelter at each campground. It’s one of the easiest hikes I’ve ever navigated with clear trails and plenty of signs. 

If you want to refer to a proper map, there is an official Great Ocean Walk Map which you can purchase from the visitor information centres on the Great Ocean Road. Otherwise, a GPS app like Maps.Me or AllTrails can also be useful to have for added safety. The trails, lookouts, campgrounds and roads are all marked accurately on Maps.Me, which is a free offline map app that is easy to use.

The trail is well looked after and maintained for much of the way. The only section that was a little overgrown when I did it was some stretches between Devils Kitchen and the Twelve Apostles. Otherwise, it’s a very easy trail to follow. 

Camping food

Food and water

You need to carry enough food for the entirety of your walk. There are no shops along the way, except the café at the Cape Otway Lighthouse which has very limited opening hours. I carried all six days of food with me from the beginning, which is what most people do. 

There are no official spots for food drops or resupplies. However, I met a group of four hikers who had left a resupply in a car parked at Johanna Beach, if you think that you need to have additional food. 

If you’re staying in alternative accommodation or using shuttles, then obviously you have more flexibility to reach some towns along the way for resupplies. 

Each campground has rain-fed water tanks for hikers. They are unfiltered and Parks recommend additional filtration or purification by walkers. It’s not overly dirty water and it’s up to you whether you decide to filter it. I simply boiled most of my water for drinking and also carried a LifeStraw bottle. It’s also important to note that rangers do not fill the water tanks on the trail, so in summer you may need to be wary and carry additional litres with you. 

Read next: How to plan your food for hiking

Walk Victoria's Icons
Walk Victoria’s Icons Lookout

What to pack for the Great Ocean Walk

You need to be prepared for all weather conditions on the Great Ocean Walk and pack accordingly. Here’s my list of essentials that you’ll need to pack:

Gear

  • Sturdy hiking shoes or boots: The trail is not overly uneven or rocky, but to reduce your chance of injury and support your body under the weight of your pack, it’s important to have well fitted and supportive shoes.
  • First aid kit: You should ensure you have a snake bite bandage, sunscreen, tape for blisters and antiseptic scream.
  • Water filtration or purification system: LifeStraw or iodine tablets will do the job if you’re not keen on boiling your water.
  • Emergency device: Carrying a PLB can save your life if something was to happen on the trail.
  • Power bank: Extra juice for your phone is important if you’re relying on it for GPS, communication or anything else.
  • Rubbish bag: You need to carry all your rubbish out with you.
  • Basic toiletries: You won’t have showers along the way so carrying bare minimal is a good idea to reduce weight.
  • Backpack: A well fitted and good quality backpack between 50L and 70L for overnight trips. 
  • Tent: A lightweight tent that can withstand some wind and rain is ideal.
  • Sleeping mat and sleeping bag: Lightweight and warmth are the two important factors here.
  • Cooking stove, lighter and gas canister: Whatever your preferred hiking stove is you’ll need to bring it along.
  • Headlamp or torch: For those nighttime toilet runs.
  • Water bladder: You should be able to carry around 5L of water with you. I have a 3L bladder and x2 1L water bottles. 
  • Bowl, cup and cutlery: For those cups of tea or coffee and dehydrated meals.

Clothing

  • Hat and sunglasses
  • UV resistant shirt
  • Fleece or warm jacket
  • Waterproof rain jacket
  • Two t-shirts (merino wool is ideal)
  • Shorts, pants or tights (whatever you prefer to walk in)
  • x3 socks (wool blend is ideal)
  • Sandals for camp
  • Underwear

Read my review of Ottie Merino Hiking T-Shirts here

Optional extras

  • Trekking poles: This is a personal choice, and the terrain does not necessarily demand the use of poles. However, for additional safety from snakes, I carried them.
  • Camera: If you’re like me and into photography, then this will be an added extra that is worth the weight.
  • Down jacket: For winter or if you’re a cold person, this is an added luxury or extra item if you want to carry it.
  • Solar panel: A small lightweight solar panel can be a great addition for extra battery life in your phone. I carried my GoalZero one and it worked well.

You might also be interested in reading…

Check out my trek report from the Great Ocean Walk here, which includes my day by day personal experience on the trail.

If you’re exploring more of the Great Ocean Road, check out:

If you’re interested in more trails and national parks in Victoria, check out:

If you’re interested in another epic long distance walk in Australia, check out my trek report from the Larapinta Trail here.

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