Turning 70 is certainly a milestone so I suggested to my adventurous daughter that we hike the 12 Apostles Walk together as a celebration. Revealing this piece of information to some people brought out horrified exclamations of ‘I couldn’t think of anything worse’ – this, after I revealed the weather forecast – or ‘why would you want to do that at our age?’ Undeterred I set out on a fitness program and as recommended by the tour company, to break in my walking shoes with new orthotics.
The 12 Apostles Walk is run by the Australian Walking Company and at a reasonable cost, includes a guided walk over 3-4 days, returning each evening to the 12 Apostles Lodge for foot baths, gourmet food, wine and a comfortable, dry bed. Each day the walk extends for 7 to 17 kilometres along 50km of the Great Ocean Walk in the Great Otway and Port Campbell National Parks. The walk is graded moderate, so it seemed perfect for a lapsed bushwalker, even if the lapse was close to 35 years!
Six of us women rendezvoused at the Lodge and were greeted by Sue, who welcomed us with homemade scones, jam and cream and freshly brewed coffee. Outside the mist cleared into brief sunshine revealing our cabins, built in a semi-circle around an open fire pit with the stone foot baths aligned outside. We introduced ourselves, two mother and daughter pairs and two independent women who had left work and family behind. Two of us had grey hair. Our very fit looking guides, Kyle and Harry, spoke about their winter work on the Larapinta Trail and the snowfields of Mt Hotham.
Donning our Lodge supplied gear, Gortex rain jacket, overpants, gaiters and grabbing our walking poles and back packs, we set off to Castle Cove with our lunch and water bottles packed inside. The rain misted in from the Southern Ocean as we set off along the Great Ocean Trail along the cliff top and then down into the grass tree forest. Our first breather stop was held in steady rain.
Lunch of quinoa and ratatouille salad was spent under the dripping stringy barks and mountain ash. Here Kyle explained that we were on Gadubanud land and respectfully acknowledged the elders past and present in a welcome to country. We didn’t stop long before setting off again to the cliff top to head down to Johanna Beach, named after the wreck of the brig Johanna in 1843. The tide was high so walking along the beach involved running single file at the first inlet to avoid the crashing surf. Finally shoes off, we waded knee-deep through Johanna River before heading up to the waiting bus.
The foot baths filled with warm water awaited our arrival and Sue served us drinks and a huge antipasto platter as the rain continued to patter down. At our evening briefing later that night, Kyle quietly explained that tomorrow would be the hardest day, 1052 metres up and 898 metres down over a distance of 14.5 km, along the Milanesia track. It rained all night.
Day 2 – We set off in cool weather and headed straight down the slippery track, our hiking poles essential. Crossing Milanesia Creek we stopped for a hot drink for morning tea. Harry magically appeared having taken the van to our finishing point and running down the slippery slope to catch up with us. We passed a dead sheep and then began the steep ascent up Wattle Hill, passing massed ti-tree and wattle bushes in flower.
This was the first of many steep ascents and descents. Squalls came in off the ocean, sending us unpacking our rain gear, only to get very hot and stripping it all off again. Harry and Kyle came and went at the head and rear of our little column, checking we were still OK. Finally we reached the lunch stop at Rowdy Den – we were only half way and already legs were getting very tired. First aid was applied to the beginning of blisters. Through the afternoon, our little band became strung out as the younger fitter ones powered on ahead. Eventually after climbing 110 floors and 27,000 steps we arrived at the bus, just as the heavens opened. On our return, Aya the masseur had magically appeared and three of us retired for a much needed massage of our tired muscles.
Day 3 dawned misty. This was the 17km and longest trek. Only four intrepid souls decided to attempt it. We two decided to rest our legs and walk close to the Lodge. Sue offered to take us to Wreck Beach Lookout and the Gellibrand River shuttling Harry with the pick up van. We spied 2 huge cormorants sunning their wings at the Gellibrand River. A walk to the Johanna Beach Lookout took us past dairy cows. At the Lookout carpark a superb blue wren and jenny were flitting in and out of the Warragul greens along the dune.
On our final evening, Harry and Kyle transforming into their superb wait staff mode, served pasta with beef ragout with Sue’s homemade garlic bread followed by sticky date pudding all washed down with local Victorian pinot gris and shiraz. The conversation turned from politics to shared stories and back. We six were now firm friends, checking on Elizabeth’s inflamed hands, Sue’s and Cass’s blisters and everyone’s tired legs.
Day 4 we packed up at the Lodge and headed out to the Gellibrand River at Moonlight Point to walk the final 8km to the 12 Apostles. Kyle explained we were now on Giraiwurrung country and he requested safe passage on their land. This trek along the coast line featured local bush foods, such as the native rosemary, lomandra and wattle seed and wattle grass.
Kyle asked us to walk in silence and reflect on the highs and lows of our 4 days together. We were blessed with sunny, if windy weather and meandered along to the 12 Apostles Lookout for our final photo shoot.
Our final treat after passing the Gibson Steps was a 15 minute helicopter ride over the Apostle Coast to Port Campbell and back, fittingly passing through a rain squall on our return. We had trekked between 40-55km over our 4 days together and experienced the best camaraderie that bushwalking can offer.