The Great Ocean Road is Victoria’s most iconic destination for international and domestic visitors alike. But it’s not really about the drive, as I’ve discovered. It’s a very well kept secret that the road less travelled is actually the road that should be taken, or in this case the track that should be taken.
Forget the crowds, don’t board that charter tour or rent the hire car. Check into the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk and be prepared for a very special experience. Sometimes it’s about the food, oftentimes it’s your travelling companions, frequently the destination is the highlight but this is one of those rare occasions where a getaway ticks every box on your checklist.
Guests are collected from the Travelodge at Southbank and delivered to the Twelve Apostles Lodge at Johanna after a three hour drive from Melbourne. This stunning Eco-lodge, set amongst gum trees and hydrangea bushes was custom built in 2008 to support hikers on the track. Hosts Daisy and Zane are always on hand to ensure that you enjoy your stay and journey along the track.
On arrival at the Lodge you will enjoy the first of the many tempting dishes prepared for you by Zane for morning tea. Darlene, your guide for the next four days gives an overview of the walk ahead and distributes any walking gear you will need. Most of your requirements are supplied from day packs, water bottles and walking poles to rain jackets, gaitors, and fly nets for when you become weary of giving the Aussie wave.
Darlene carries sunscreen, insect repellent and extra water each day. She is passionate about the walk and shares many stories about the history, folklore and characters along the way. Every evening Darlene describes the itinerary for the next day, offering the choice of extending your experience with an endurance option either before or after the days walk.
Our journey begins from Castle Cove along the cliff tops with spectacular views out over the intensely blue ocean with its white peaked waves washing onto Johanna Beach. It’s a relaxed start to the four day hike. At day’s end there is Daisy with a revitalising glass of lemon cordial for us to enjoy before bundling us back into the van and homeward bound to the blissfully soothing foot spas awaiting us on the deck. With a cold drink in hand and a sprinkle of mineral salts, the hot water works its magic on our tired feet.
After a rejuvenating shower the evening begins with canapés and the chance to sample some of the locally produced wines and craft beers. Swapping stories with fellow guests while sharing great food is the perfect way to end the day. The sun has hardly set before we head back to our rooms. There is utter silence, no traffic noise or street lights shining in your window. Once your light is turned off you are enveloped by the silence, the serenity is complete.
Awakening to gentle birdsong, breakfast is shared with a mother wallaby and her joey who hop into view and sit nonchalantly grazing while we madly scramble for our cameras. The following days hold many surprises as we walk along the track. The peaceful tranquility of the forest trail from Milanesia Gate as its winds down to the beach is the perfect start to the longest day on the track. As we head upwards our climb is sweetened by the numerous blackberry bushes we pass literally laden with fruit. It is hard to tear ourselves away and keep hiking onwards as we sample the succulent berries. There are other tasty tidbits along the way, bower spinach and edible berries.
We find ourselves sharing the track with four sheep for several hundred metres as well as a couple of slithery friends. The first is just a brief glimpse of a black snake as his tail disappears into the undergrowth as we round a corner. We can see his beautifully patterned skin hiding under a log as we peer in. The second is sunning himself along the side of the track but hurriedly moves off as we pass.
We traverse some very different terrain over the course of the day heading in and out of the open, up stairs and down bouldered paths, over stiles and through lovely treed pathways. But always after veering away from the coastline for awhile, we round another bend or two there again is the amazing vistas out over the ocean with its stunning colours of blues, greens and aquamarine.
Day three sees us heading out from Moonlight Head. Thanks to favourable tides we are fortunate to have opportunity to get up close and personal with the two shipwrecks the “Marie Gabriel” and the “Fiji” which sunk in 1869 and 1891 respectively. Darlene entertains us with the stories of the fateful journeys of the Marie Gabriel and the Fiji with their cargoes of tea and 260 tonnes of dynamite, the misfortunes of the sailors and rescuers alike.
As we head across the lunar landscape on our homeward stretch towards the Gellibrand River, we stop to let a slothful echidna shuffle across the path before he rolls himself up in a shy ball. We emerge at the inlet of Gellibrand and take off our hiking boots and socks, roll up our pants and wade straight into the water, lemon cordial in hand.
Our final day sees mobs of kangaroos watching us as we pass, even jumping across the track in front of us as we make our way to our final goal of the Apostles. We are able to walk along the beach to see the formations of Mog and Magog. Our journey ends with a helicopter ride over the coastline allowing us to just marvel at the beauty of this unsurpassed scenery.
The Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk is truly a rare treat. The opportunity to indulge yourself with incredible (and plentiful) food absolutely guilt-free as you walk any excess off each day along the spectacular coastline of the Great Ocean Road.