GOW – it’s just WOW!

A freedom and peace settle over me when I tie on my boots and shrug on my  pack. Hiking is a salve for my soul and my sanity.      Shannyn Steel

Multi day hikes while tough going at times are rejuvenating for me. Being on track with all the essentials on my back and my beloved by my side is one of the best ways for me to unwind, recalibrate and reconnect with nature. The Great Ocean Walk (GOW) allowed me to do all that, and more.

The GOW is located in Victoria, Australia, and runs through the Great Otway and Port Campbell national parks. It’s designed to be an eight-day hike through forest, across rocky shorelines and sandy beaches and atop exposed and rugged cliff tops, totalling 100 km.

We made the decision to complete the walk in 6 days, cutting down on the amount of food we needed to carry and also, allowing time for us to go off and explore other areas of Victoria.  Our GOW itinerary looked like this:

Day 1: 10 km from Apollo Bay to Elliot Ridge
Day 2 (combine days 2 and 3) 23 km Elliot Ridge to Cape Otway
Day 3 (combine days 4 and 5) 24 km Cape Otway to Johanna Beach
Day 4 14 km Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den
Day 5 13 km Ryan’s Den to Devils Kitchen
Day 6 16/23 km Devils Kitchen to 12 Apostles (and back to the car).

To give an indication of time, we travelled at approximately 3 km an hour. Which is not terribly fast though perhaps an average speed. Unpacked I can walk 6 km in an hour at a moderate pace.

The memory I will hold of this walk is of its incredible diversity. Passing though so many different landscapes with varying vegetation and fauna was a highlight. Having to be aware of the tides to make river crossings and rock scrambles was a novelty for me.

The campsites are well set out. We pre-booked our sites. There are small numbers of official sites at each campground ensuring a comfortable stay for those on track. We met five other small parties on the walk but were expecting many, many more being the Christmas holiday season so we were pleasantly surprised by the peace, tranquility and chance to enjoy the remoteness of a wilderness hike.

Water was plentiful in the tanks at the campsites due to recent rains. It’s always advisable to carry water when unsure. There are plenty of rivers along the way, though I’d always recommend sterilizing your water, whether from tank or river, before drinking. Campsites were equipped with drop toilets, not the dreadful chemical, eye burning, smelly ones either, another pleasant surprise. Some of them had amazing views. Another added bonus is the no car access to the walk-in campgrounds, making for peaceful afternoons and evenings.

We hiked over the Christmas holiday period, that’s high summer in Australia. We had two very hot days and found them quite difficult to deal with, we drank more than three litres of water each on those days. It rained a couple of nights and was a little showery one morning, cooling things down. We watched fog roll in from the sea and also inland. Friends advise winter is bitterly cold, though those of you from the British Isles might not mind that.  I might advise a September hike – though Victorian weather is extremely variable and it’s anyone’s guess as to what conditions you might face in any season. Best to be prepared for all conditions regardless of when you walk.

The trickiest part of the whole walk was organising transfers.  Having driven from Queensland nearly 2000 km away we wanted to park at the end of the walk for ease of departure. While there are several options for transfers we were only able to connect with  the Timboon Taxi service. It cost considerably more than a bus trip but the convenience outweighed the price. V line buses run every second day and didn’t line up with our dates, another transfer service did not return calls so the taxi was a great option. We were collected from the Princetown Recreation Reserve, where we parked for the small fee of $20 for six days (7 kms from the end of the walk) and were driven back to the beginning in Apollo Bay. While we carried all our food and essentials our taxi driver told us tales of people providing him with shopping lists and paying him to make food drops at each campsite. Nicely extravagant! That’s hiking in style, for sure.

The Great Ocean Road is popular with tourists. It was built by World War I returned soldiers, 3000 in fact, who tackled the difficult terrain and variable weather to build a road that links the region’s coastal towns. The GOW ends at the very popular Twelve Apostles, along the Great Ocean Road, where the crowds are a little disconcerting after 6 days of wilderness but it’s a majestic end to a brilliant walk.

The Gunditjmara people, the traditional owners of the land, ask hikers to take good care of the land they walk on and wish them a visit filled with great experiences, so that part of their Country will remain with you in good memories. I will always have good memories of that beautiful country and am grateful for the opportunity to explore and experience it for myself. I’d like to share a little of it with you in a video my beloved put together of our time on the GOW.  Enjoy! 

Winter Dreaming

The dreaming or the dreamtime indicates a psychic state in which or during which contact is made with ancestral spirits or the Law, or that special period of the beginning.
Mudrooroo

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While on a short break at the beach this week a friend commented that I seemed to be in my element. She was right. I was. There are two places in Australia I feel most at home; the beach and the bush. I feel a strong connection to spirit, to nature and to my own inner being when in these places.

While it’s winter here in Australia it is my favourite time to be at the beach. Okay, it’s not so great for swimming but it is a joy to walk the stretch of sandy shore without the crowds that summer brings. There is a calmness associated with watching the few keen surfers, zipped into their wetsuits, paddle out into the vast blue depths to catch frothy white waves into the shallows. I enjoy peering into the buckets of wadder-clad fisherfolk who line the shore morning and evening, lines held aloft, in eager anticipation of the catch of the day.  I love seeing families, rugged up against the cold, come down to play a ball game or to build sand castles as reminders of their time in the warm winter sun.

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Images of bronzed bodies on gorgeous Australian beaches abound in summertime though Winter, for me, is the best time to visit.  I love the way the sun warms and thaws my cold core. I love the sound of the squeaky white sand beneath my feet.  The cacophony of crashing waves and the daring and courage it takes to wade into their icy maws are all part of the winter beach experience. What really makes my heart sing is the seasonal beauty and atmosphere of the seaside. The light is different, it’s gentler, milder somehow. It’s hard to explain, it’s just different in so many ways.

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There is magic and healing energy in this landscape. The boundless sea takes my breath away yet also brings balance and renewal while the wildlife are messengers of great wisdom.

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Relaxing on the deck of our beach shack I was visited by a plethora of birds, among which was a gorgeous, curious Willie Wagtail that lifted my spirits and reminded me to seek things that brighten my mood and bring cheer into my life. Twice, a flock of Black Cockatoos screeched overhead heralding a time of liberation and freedom to come. Black Cockatoo is also, for me, a strong symbol of inner strength and spirit.

Image by Alfred Schultie

Image by Alfred Schultie

An Osprey, circling overhead, was a powerful reminder of trusting my own wisdom and freeing my spirit to enjoy life more.

Of course the boundless ocean brought gifts as well. Of not only gorgeous tokens to treasure and patterns in the sand but also whale and dolphin.

imageimage Every day I was witness to the majesty of dolphins at play and whales migrating for the winter. At times the whales were breaching, at others simply rolling around or squirting water through their blowholes. One windy afternoon I watched in awe as a whale made a great show of slapping its flukes. These encounters were at times at a distance and at others, quite close to shore. It is a great honour and privilege to witness whales and for me there is great emotional healing involved. Whales encourage me to seek a deeper awareness and consciousness, they remind me to keep evolving and not to stagnate.

Source if image unknown

Source of  image unknown

Our dolphin friends with their playful ways always lead me to focus on my breath and remind me that, while introspection and self development are good, bonding with others is also a meaningful part of life.

I don’t know about you but the beach is my place to recharge and to get back into balance by listening to the whispers of nature. It’s my dreaming.

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