There was an echidna scuffling in the undergrowth – not a metre from my right boot! I won’t share the photo I took – a blurry one showing an indistinct creature half covered with undergrowth – but nothing can detract from the excitement of being half a metre away from the unique and incredible wildlife of Australia on the Great Ocean Walk.
Yes you read that right: the Great Ocean Walk. Not the Great Ocean Road. This is a four-day hike that follows the famous coastline and offers a very different experience from the traditional Great Ocean Road Trip that is one of the key attractions in the Australian state of Victoria.
Guided hiking with luxury accommodation on the Great Ocean Walk
At the breakfast briefing before our first day on the Great Ocean Walk our hiking guide Jane mentioned that we may see echidnas and she was emphatically proved right – we saw five that day alone. Did you know Echnidnas belong to a very exclusive class – the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals? Along with the platypus, echidnas are the only surviving monotremes in the world. Somewhat harshly they were named after a half-woman-half-snake monster in ancient Greek mythology.
This was my first experience of a guided hike (I come from the Kiwi do-it-yourself school) and I was impressed both with Jane’s knowledge of this unique natural environment and her ability to manage the group so as to allow people of different fitness levels to walk at their own pace.
I love hiking but if there is one thing that detracts from the pleasure it is carrying a heavy pack. That’s fine for day trips but what about the multi-day ‘great walks’ I aspire to conquer? I can only think of aching hips, back and feet.
Perhaps nowhere is my dilemma bigger than in Australia, where hiking often necessitates carrying large quantities of drinking water and camping gear as there is not a system of huts or refuges (like in New Zealand or Europe).
This therefore is my kind of hiking holiday. One where a daypack containing lunch, a water bottle, a warm layer and waterproof jacket is all you carry.
Jane’s pack on the other hand is big. It holds six litres of water for us to drink if we need it, an extensive first aid kit, a satellite phone and an EPIRB emergency locator beacon. There is something of the Mary Poppins about Jane and her pack: she produces picnic blankets, morning tea supplies and more at appropriate moments on the walk.
The Great Ocean Walk – one of the Great Walks of Australia – was established in 2006 and has seen regular improvement since then, with sections switched from old coach tracks to pure walking paths, until now it is an exhilarating natural experience.
Walking through a forest of Stringybark with its wiggly tree trunks and an understory of silky green bracken and Grass Trees, I start anticipating the next glimpse of isolated clifftops and deserted beaches.
A bridal bouquet of creamy mountain clematis decorates the path and then the scent of groundsel almost overwhelms me. The intense golden yellow of the flowers mingled with the purple Kangaroo Apple is offset by the rich blue of the sea beyond.
Less of the trail is on the coast that you might expect but the Great Ocean Walk is all the more varied for that. You are not endlessly looking at the horizon of the Southern Ocean but walk through different types of forest and coastal vegetation, as well as along cliff paths, beaches and riverbanks.
But there’s no doubt the beautiful beaches are a highlight of the Great Ocean Walk. Digging my toes into the yellow sand on shores that you can only access by foot
Emerging from some low scrubland we disturbed a flock of Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos, which rushed up into the air, squawking and flapping. Jane explains how the Aboriginal people who once called this area home carefully watched the cockatoos after they had been feeding because the birds would then make straight for a source of fresh water.
On the final day the path crests hill after hill and each time the 12 Apostles rock stacks draw closer and closer. The Great Ocean Walk is an opportunity to see one of Australia’s iconic landscapes from a different perspective and without a tourist in sight.
At the end of each day on the Great Ocean Walk a blissful footspa awaits us in the sunshine on the deck at the Both Feet eco lodge. I listen to the birdsong and the sound of the gentle breeze in the tall eucalypts. The chef comes out of the kitchen to inform us that the three-course dinner will include poached pears with creme anglais and vanilla icecream sprinkled with wattle seed.
The Great Ocean Walk is a true Australian nature experience and the team at Both Feet makes it an immensely pleasurable one.
By Natasha von Geldern
Tips for hiking the Great Ocean Walk:
- Wear quality hiking boots and look after your feet. If you notice a hotspot developing, don’t wait to treat and protect it before it becomes a full blown blister.
- Carry one litre of water per day when the temperatures are forecast to be 20 degrees Celsius or below and two litres if it is going to be hotter.
- Sip water steadily throughout the day rather than gulping large amounts. That way you will hopefully avoid needing a toilet when they are few and far between.
- Be vigilant about applying sunscreen, the Australian sun is strong and can burn and damage your skin even on an overcast day.
By Natasha von Geldern
I was a guest of Both Feet Walking Lodge, which runs a full seven-day Great Ocean Walk itinerary as well as a shorter four day Twelve Apostles Walk. Hikers can opt to walk guided or self-guided – both are able to stay at the luxurious Both Feet Walking Lodge, make use of the transport services and enjoy the amazing meals prepared by the in-house chef. The guided walk package includes a thrilling 10-minute helicopter flight over the Twelve Apostles (more on that later). As always my opinions, and my complete failure to lose any weight during the walk due to the deliciousness of the meals, are my own.
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