Trek Report: Great Ocean Walk

The Great Ocean Walk winds its way along one of the most spectacular coastlines in Australia. The 104km multiday trail travels from the Apollo Bay Visitor Information Centre through the Otway National Park to the famous Twelve Apostles. I did the entire walk in six days as soon as we were allowed to get out of Melbourne, and it felt incredible to be able to spend my days outside in nature once again. 

I hadn’t carried a full pack since doing the Larapinta Trail, and so it was a little bit of a shock to the body. However, just like the Larapinta, it was an incredible experience to be completely self-sufficient and isolated in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia. This is my detailed trek report for hiking the Great Ocean Walk (GOW), including my day by day experience on the trail as a solo hiker. It is more like my diary entry from the walk with track notes and is an insight into my personal experience.

If you want to do this walk yourself and are wanting more practical information, check out my guide to hiking the Great Ocean Walk here, which includes everything that you need to know about planning and packing for the trail. 

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Check out my video from the trail

Getting there and away

The Great Ocean Walk begins in Apollo Bay at the Visitor Information Centre and ends at the Twelve Apostles near Port Campbell. There are a variety of transport and parking options to get to and from the Great Ocean Walk.

As a solo hiker, it limits the opportunity for a car shuffle to the start and end, however, there’s a popular alternative using a combination of your own car and public bus. Some people leave their car at the Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre which is open 24 hours. However, with no security overnight, I decided to leave my car at the Princetown Recreation Reserve which is about 7km from the end of the walk. The reserve is a managed campground and they charge $5 per night for parking.

I planned to start the walk on a Monday, so I stayed the night before in my van at the Recreation Reserve. In the morning, I left my van at the reserve and walked the 1.2km to the V/line bus stop on the Great Ocean Road in Princetown. This bus only runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Warrnambool to Melbourne. Tickets can be purchased online here (online bookings still need to be picked up from a ticket outlet) or at the Apollo Bay Visitor Information Centre. The bus came through Princetown at 10.45am and I was dropped at the Apollo Bay Visitor Information Centre at 12pm to start the walk. 

Once I finished the walk at the Twelve Apostles, it meant that I would have to back track the 7km to Princetown to get my car (which obviously would add nearly 1.5 hours onto the last day). This was my original plan, but I was able to get picked up from the Twelve Apostles by my parents and dropped back at Princetown to my van (much more convenient!).

If you want to know more about the transport options and practical information about hiking the Great Ocean Walk, check out my guide here.

Great Ocean Walk Apollo Bay
GOW sign at the Apollo Bay Visitor Centre

Day one

Apollo Bay to Elliot Ridge

Distance: 10km | Walking time: 2.5 hours | Elevation gained: 350m

The V/line bus dropped me outside the Apollo Bay Visitor Information Centre at 12pm. I took off straight away and walked past the sign indicating the start of the official trail. From there, the trail just followed the main footpath through town and out towards Marengo. It then passed through Marengo Holiday Park and finally left the signs of civilisation behind as it followed the coastline heading west.

The weather was wild. I battled gale force winds, constant rain that fell on and off throughout the afternoon and some brief pockets of sunshine. It was Victoria’s notorious weather at its worst: the skies seemed to change every five minutes.

The trail was a skinny track that wound up and over the coastline hills until it eventually led into the forest of Elliot River. Luckily the first section was only 10km and I walked quickly to arrive at the first campground after just two and a half hours of walking. 

Leaving Apollo Bay
Leaving Apollo Bay

The campground was in the middle of the dense ferns and tall white eucalypt trees of Elliot Ridge. The wind was howling, and the tall thin trees were bending so far over that it seemed they might snap in half at any moment. I arrived at camp and sat in the shelter for a while biting my lip as I watched the tops of the trees being thrashed by the weather. Another solo hiker rolled into the shelter and the first thing he said was, “The wind is a bit scary.” I was glad that I wasn’t the only one a bit nervous. 

I picked one of the eight tent pads available and set up. I carefully positioned my small tent off to one side where I thought it was slightly less likely to have a limb fall on it during the night. I returned to the safety of the shelter and chatted for the rest of the evening until dark. 

Elliot Ridge

Day two

Elliot Ridge to Cape Otway via Blanket Bay

Distance: 22km | Walking time: 5.5 hours | Elevation gained: 590m

I had only managed a few hours of sleep in between bursts of wind overnight. There were pieces of bark and small branches strewn across the entire campground from the weather the day before, but as I rose out of my tent in the early morning light the forest was completely still. I was ready to leave Elliot Ridge behind. 

I knew that I had a longer day ahead of me as I was combining two sections into one day and skipping over one of the campgrounds. The first section of the day was to Blanket Bay on an easy rated 12km trail. It rambled through the dense forest of the Otways along mostly flat and undulating dirt tracks. The cool air made it a breezy walk, although my back was still stiff from the sudden shock my body had felt the day before of suddenly walking with an additional 20km of weight.

The trail finally emerged onto the pretty Blanket Bay beach. I walked through the GOW hike-in campground and then passed the public drive-in campground and found a picnic table on the trail to drop my pack and enjoy a much-earned rest.

It was only 11.30am, but I was hungry for lunch. I made a cup of tea with my JetBoil, fished out my biscuits and beef jerky from my pack and sat to enjoy my food in the sun. It was unusual for me, but I ended up sitting on that picnic table for nearly an hour. I knew that I was still only halfway through the day and my body was going to need to rest more than I usually allowed.

Great Ocean Walk trail

Just 15 minutes out of Blanket Bay, there was a small lookout just off the track which I stopped to enjoy. A young couple walked through and stopped to ask me a bunch of questions about the walk, hoping to one day do it themselves. I moved on, knowing that this third section of the walk was a medium-rated trail.

It climbed through forest steadily, but I had plenty of energy after my lunch. I then meandered down to a beautiful secluded beach known as Parker Inlet. From there, the trail climbed up a brutally steep set of stairs to a public drive-in campground at the top of the hill. I stopped for a drink but kept pushing on as the trail wound its way along the top of the coastline.

The views were stunning from the undulating trail heading towards the Cape Otway Lighthouse. I passed a lot of day hikers coming and going from Cape Otway and Parker Inlet. As the lighthouse was getting closer, I could feel my legs were getting tired under the weight of my pack. I spotted a nice sized tiger snake in the middle of the trail, but the weight of my boots on the ground alerted it to vacate its spot. It still gave me a slight heart palpitation and it made me vigilant of snakes for the rest of the walk.

The historic lightstation at Cape Otway was closed and the GOW hike-in campground was just a further 500m amongst coastal scrub. I was the only independent hiker there for the night, with a school group staying at the group campground just down the track. 

Cape Otway Lighthouse
Cape Otway Lighthouse

Day three

Cape Otway to Johanna Beach via Aire River

Distance: 24km | Walking time: 6.5hours | Elevation gained: 635m

I had a couple of factors that I was trying to balance for my long third day on the trail. I was again combining two sections into one, with another 20+ km day. It was forecast to be quite warm, but at the same time I couldn’t leave too early because I needed to time the tide right for the Johanna Beach crossing at the end of the day. So I started at 9am, after a leisurely morning at camp.

Leaving Cape Otway, the views were spectacular of the coastline that I was about to tackle in this one long day. To begin with, it followed a wide, sandy trail and I had phone reception for much of the way. The ocean views made me stop frequently for photos and it culminated in a beautiful lookout over Aire River, where the dark river water met the blue ocean. From there, I trudged downhill through sand to the public drive-in campground and GOW hike-in campground. I sat at a picnic table under shelter to have lunch and prepare for the second half of my day along section five of the GOW. 

Hiking the Great Ocean Walk

The sun was getting warm, so I made myself an electrolyte drink and covered myself in my UV-resistant long sleeve shirt. My break lasted for nearly an hour again, as I allowed my body to rest. The first few kilometres after lunch was a gradual uphill slog to a beautiful ocean lookout before it continued to trace the ups and downs of the rugged coastline to Castle Cove. 

The hot sun was relentless, and the trail had no coverage from the heat. I could tell that I was starting to become dehydrated – my fingers were swelling, and the sweat was dripping from my body until my shirt was completely saturated. I promised myself a rest at Castle Cove lookout and when I made it there, I simply sat in the only small bit of shade offered by the signpost on the trail. 

Cars pulled in and stopped at the popular lookout. Tourists walked right past me as I made myself another electrolyte drink and chowed down an energy bar. One lady commented on the heat as she passed me and another said, “You look quite hot.” Neither actually asked if I was okay (though, I was). A guy from Apollo Bay stopped to check the surfing conditions from the lookout and said, “Pretty hot today, hey?”. I muttered something back to him as I peeled myself off the ground and heaved my pack back on. I looked at the sign even though I already knew that I still had 7.5 km to go and said to myself, “You got this.” 

View from Castle Cove
View from Castle Cove

The views leaving Castle Cove were beautiful, and I could see all the way back along the coast that I had walked so far that day. The trail then ducked back into shrubs and forest until the final descent onto Johanna Beach. I was so delighted to finally see the sand, until it dawned on me that the final 2km was in fact along the wide sandy surf beach. I dragged my bare feet through the sand, carrying my boots in my arms and just stared at the horizon until it finally got a little closer. By this point I was cursing out loud to whoever was on the beach (no one), it had been a rough day in the hot sun.

I clambered out of the sand at the end of the beach to the carpark, where I heard someone say, “Look who it is!”. The guy from Castle Cove was standing there with his mates after an afternoon surf with a wide grin on his face. He came over for a chat, but I was quick to say I just wanted to get to camp (if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I was rude!) and he pointed over to the sign that said GOW hike-in camp 800m. I climbed the grassy trail for the last 10 minutes to the campground situated right on the edge of the hill overlooking the entire stretch of Johanna Beach. It was an absolutely spectacular sight and the best campsite of the walk, but as soon as the sun had set, I was crawled into my tent fast asleep.

Johanna Beach
Sunset over Johanna Beach

Day four

Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den

Distance: 14.5km | Walking time: 4 hours | Elevation gained: 630m

The joy of waking up and knowing that I only had 14.5km to do was indescribable. I was up at 6am to watch the incredible sunrise over the waves of Johanna and I was ready to leave camp at 7.30am (probably the earliest I’d ever left camp on a multiday hike!). It was forecast to be 30+ degrees and I was not going to be caught out in the sun for a second day in a row. 

The trail climbed through grassland past private properties for a good hour, before it joined with a dirt road known as Old Coach Road. It past by more properties, one of which has made a creative drink station out the front for hikers to stop and get some water. The GOW trail eventually left the dirt road and then took a steep track down to Milanesia Beach. It briefly crossed the sand before heading back up into the grassy hill above the coast. I stopped briefly for a snack on the beach with a little phone reception before continuing on.

Milanesia Beach
Milanesia Beach

The sun was well and truly getting hot, but I knew I wasn’t too far away from camp. The last 4.5km wound up and down through the forest on a skinny dirt track. I was just thinking that the camp must be around the corner when the trail was met with a set of tall wooden stairs that ascended into the forest for as far as the eye could see. I sighed out loud and stared at them for a minute, until I slowly began to climb one step at a time to the top. But the camp was still not there. The trail continued zig zagging through the forest until finally I reached Ryan’s Den camp at 11.30am. 

I picked a nice tent spot and set up. There were two young guys who came in just behind me and a local guy from Apollo Bay who was doing the walk in the opposite direction. We all climbed the short steps up to the beautiful lookout above the campground, but as the temperature soared above 30, we retreated to our tents for an afternoon nap.

I enjoyed another stunning sunset, this time surrounded by other hikers, as we laughed and joked about the joys and misfortunes of overnight hiking (including, climbing those horrible wooden stairs from earlier in the day).

Ryan's Den lookout
Sunset from Ryan’s Den lookout

Day five

Ryan’s Den to Devils Kitchen

Distance: 14km | Walking time: 4 hours | Elevation gained: 560m

I was up before anyone else at 6.30am and I went up to the lookout to enjoy the serenity of the coastal views completely alone. The sky was overcast, and the temperature was only going to be about half of the day before, so I knew that it was going to be a much more comfortable walk. 

I was ready to leave by 8.30am and I was first to hit the trail heading west. I cruised through the morning, with my pack finally feeling a lot lighter than when I’d started (or more likely that my body had adapted to it). The first 6km were similar to the last few the day before – up and down over relentless small hills. I was sweating after just an hour, despite the cool air and grey sky. 

We had all been told that just two days prior, a hiker had been airlifted out of this area from a snake bite, and so I was scanning the ground closely as I walked. I encountered a tiger snake curled on the side of the track, but he moved away as I stomped my feet on the ground to alert him. 

Gables Lookout
The Gables Lookout

The trail moved inland a bit more and the views disappeared. It eventually came out onto a dirt road next to a private property and followed that for a short while until it ducked back into the forest again. It became much easier through the cool trees until I emerged again at Gables Lookout and the Wreck Beach turnoff. The main trail followed the inland route to Devil’s Kitchen, but there was also the option of taking Wreck Beach to camp. I was not thrilled with the idea of more sandy beach walking, so I followed the main trail all the way to Devil’s Kitchen. It turned out that everyone else had the same thought as me – sand is not a hiker’s friend.

I was first to arrive at Devil’s Kitchen camp and chose my tent spot before sitting in the shelter to have my lunch. It was two hours before anyone else rolled in but soon the campground was full of the same hikers from the previous night. There was another nice lookout above camp, and we all sat together again to watch the sunset. Even the toilet at the campground, had an ocean viewing window built into it!

Devil's Kitchen lookout
Sunset from Devil’s Kitchen lookout

Day six

Devils Kitchen to Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre

Distance: 16km | Walking time: 4 hours | Elevation gained: 380m

The last day on the trail. It was a nice and cool morning, with overcast skies. I was again up at 6.30am (what had I become?) and sat with my cup of tea at the lookout to ponder the last five days of walking. I set off at 8.30am, after saying goodbye to everyone I’d met on the trail.

The track undulated as it went through coastal scrub, although it was more overgrown than any other section of the walk. I was wary of snakes but when a group of off-road cyclists came bashing through the bush on the trail, I let them past thankful that they would scare any reptiles away. 

There were a few viewpoints along the way, but otherwise I was mostly looking through overgrown bushes and keeping an eye on the track. I came across a small baby brown snake, just before the nice viewpoint over Princetown. I slid down the sand dune to the dirt road and passed the Recreation Reserve where my van was still sitting. 

Twelve Apostles
View of the Twelve Apostles from the trail

By this time, the sky had completely cleared and the sun was coming out as I hit the final stretch to the Twelve Apostles. The first sighting of the rocky outcrops in the water was an incredible feeling – I was not far away from the end. The trail continued to be overgrown and I spotted a huge tiger snake off to the side that was basking in the sun. Final snake count was at four.

I made it to the official GOW lookout known as the Walk Victoria’s Icons lookout. I stopped for some photos with the Twelve Apostles in the background before walking the final stretch past all the tourists through Gibson Steps to the Twelve Apostles car park. I arrived at 12.30pm surrounded by camera-toting tourists who didn’t even take a second glance at me, but I didn’t care as I thought to myself, “What an awesome trip!”.

Walk Victoria's Icons
Walk Victoria’s Icons Lookout

Accommodation

There are seven campgrounds spread out along the trail which splits the walk up into eight sections. This means that many people undertake the entire trail over seven nights and eight days with one night in each campground. I decided to combine a couple of the sections together, so I finished in five nights and six days. 

The campgrounds are well maintained by Parks Victoria. There are eight tent sites per campground with up to three people allowed on each site. They must be pre-booked ahead of your walk which you can do on the Parks Victoria website here.

If you prefer something a bit more comfortable or camping isn’t your thing, then some people opt to stay in B&B’s or caravan parks that are within reach of the trail. There are self-guided tours that can arrange the transport and accommodation for you, or you can simply book the accommodation and arrange transport to and from the trail yourself. If you want to know more about this, check out my guide to the GOW here.

Great Ocean Walk camping
Cape Otway Hike-in Campground

Food

As with most multiday hikes, you need to carry your food with you. I carried enough food for all six days from the beginning with no direct access to shops along the way. I met a group of people who had placed their own food drop at Johanna Beach campground which meant carrying just half the total amount of food at any time. However, there is no official place to leave anything and you would have to arrange this yourself. 

If you’re opting for a tour or staying in accommodation along the way, then you will be able to arrange meals or transport into towns through them if you like. 

Each of the seven campgrounds have untreated rainwater in tanks available. These are not filled by Parks Victoria and rely on the frequent rain that the area gets. I boiled the water for cooking and drank it through my LifeStraw filter bottle, which was fine. 

Read next: How to plan your food for hiking

Camping food

Trail Navigation

The trail is extremely well marked and maintained by Parks Victoria. There are signposts and big yellow arrows pointing the way. 

There is an official Great Ocean Walk map that you can get at the Apollo Bay Visitor Information Centre, or you can rely on a GPS app on your phone. Despite the fact that you should generally consider multiple navigation tools for any hike, I never once needed the help of the map or my phone for navigation. It really is very well-marked so you don’t need to be too concerned about trail navigation.

GOW signposts
Yellow arrows and signposts

Cost

There are no permits for the walk, however, you do need to book and pay for the campgrounds prior to starting which you can do here.  Apart from these camping fees, the cost of food, gear and transport is completely up to you and your budget. I already had all my gear from previous trips, so I had no extra costs there.

A breakdown of my costs for hiking the Great Ocean Walk:

  • V/line bus from Princetown to Apollo Bay: $11.20
  • Car parking at Princetown Recreation Reserve: $25
  • Five nights camping fees on the trail: $84
  • Food and snacks for six days: $130 

Total: $250.20

You might also be interested in reading

If you’re interested in hiking the Great Ocean Walk either from end-to-end or in sections, then check out my guide to the Great Ocean Walk here. It includes more practical information for planning and packing purposes.

For some hiking tips, you might like to read:

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