At the end of 2015, I attempted by first long-distance, solo hike, walking 100km (62 miles) from Apollo Bay, Victoria to the Twelve Apostles, one of Australia’s most famous natural landmarks.
The walk, known as the Great Ocean Walk, proved to be one of the more enjoyable experiences of my life, featuring a range of different environments — cliff tops, beaches, eucalyptus forests, etc — and absolutely gorgeous (and well-maintained) campsites.
Plus, the walk itself is not even that difficult. I’d never walked this sort of distance before in a single stretch (my previous record was about 60km over the course of 3 days), and certainly not by myself. But because of the way the trail is designed, and because there’s plenty of places to refill your water (and even a couple of places to resupply your food), it’s an excellent adventure for anyone looking for a relaxing wander through the wilderness.
But even though the walk is fairly straight-forward, a little planning can go a long way, so I’m going to share everything you should know about the walk, along with my thoughts on each of the available campsites.
What You Need To Know
For the latest details about the Great Ocean Walk, you should visit the official website, but based on my experience, these were the most important details:
1. The hike begins in Apollo Bay
To get here, catch a train from Southern Cross Railway Station to Geelong, then a bus from Geelong to Apollo Bay’s Information Centre. You can book this journey as one trip using V/Line, Victoria’s regional transport service.
If you catch the earliest train and bus, you can start the Great Ocean Walk on the same day that you arrive in Apollo Bay, but it’s easier to spend the day in Apollo Bay and a night at the YHA hostel, and start walking the next morning.
2. There are seven (official) campsites
I spent a night at all of them, but as I’ll explain later in this article, this isn’t necessarily the best approach. All of the campsites are nice, but there are some that you might like to skip.
3. You need to book the campsites in advance
All of the campsites along the trail need to be booked for approximately $27 AUD per night. In exchange for the price though, you get one of Australia’s most beautiful hikes.
For the entire time I was on the trail, no one actually checked my bookings, but there is limited space at the campsites and they can fill up, so if you don’t have a booking, you might be without a place to pitch your tent.
Visit the Parks Victoria website to make your bookings.
4. Every campsite has a rainwater tank
There’s no guarantee that there’ll be water in these tanks, but I never had any trouble with filling up my bottles. The water itself was clear, and one of the hikers I met was comfortable with drinking the water straight from the tap, but I still preferred to filter the water.
Before leaving camp each morning, drink as much water as you can, then fill up you water so you’re carrying at least 2 litres. You can easily drink that amount between campsites.
5. Every campsite also has a toilet, a shelter (for sitting, not sleeping), and a map
The toilets were stocked with toilet paper, but it’s always useful to have some of your own, just in case they’re running low. I also found it comforting to carry a own copy of the map, which I ordered from Walk 91. (Alternatively, you should be able to buy a map from the Apollo Bay Information Centre, where the bus from Geelong drops you off.)
6. The ideal timeframe for the hike is six days
I did the hike over the course of eight days, which is the officially recommended timeframe, but this is unnecessarily long. On every day except for the last, I arrived at my destination before midday, and I’m not a fast hiker. I appreciated the slower pace at the end of the hike, since the walking becomes more difficult and the views are gorgeous, but if I were to do it again, I would skip the Elliot Ridge and Cape Otway campsites.
With a six-day schedule, my itinerary would look like this:
- Day 1: Apollo Bay to Blanket Bay (22km)
- Day 2: Blanket Bay to Aire River (20.5km)
- Day 3: Aire River to Johanna Beach (14km)
- Day 4: Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den (14km)
- Day 5: Ryan’s Den to Devils Kitchen (16km)
- Day 6: Devils Kitchen to Twelve Apostles (16km)
By walking for six days instead of eight, you’ll be able to carry less food, minimise the risk of walking in bad weather, and get a couple of long, relatively easy days out of the way before starting on the tougher, shorter sections. Elliot Ridge and Cape Otway are also the least interesting campsites, so you’re not missing out on much by skipping them.
7. You can buy food at two places along the hike
The first place is at the Cape Otway Lighthouse, right before the Cape Otway campsite. There’s a cafe onsite, but this requires that you pay $20 to pass through a reception area. If you don’t want to pay the entry fee, the reception area itself has simple snacks and drinks available.
The second place is Princetown, a town that’s half-way between the Devils Kitchen campsite and the Twelve Apostles, and impossible to miss as you walk along the trail (although the town isn’t directly on the trail itself).
If you’re hiking for six days, eating at these places means you carry less food for the second and sixth day.
8. There is (some) phone reception
I left my phone turned off for most of the hike, so I’m not sure how widespread the reception is, but I did have full bars at the Ryan’s Den campsite. Even so, I’d suggest not relying on phone reception for keeping in touch with friends and family. Personal Locator Beacons are the ideal alternative.
9. You’ll be walking near cliff edges
The track is wide enough that you don’t need to be worried about tumbling over the edge, but a storm passed over while I was at the Aire River campsite, and that did make me worry about getting blown off a cliff edge during the next leg of the hike. Fortunately, the weather passed, but it’s useful to have a backup plan if the weather does turn. If the weather had remained bad, I would have stayed at Aire River for another day. This would have stretched my food supplies a little thin, but if you hike for six days instead of eight, it’s easy to carry some extra supplies with you.
10. Parts of the trail are impassable at high tide (or after heavy rain)
There’s only a handful of these sections though, all of which are marked on the maps and none of which gave me any trouble. Just remain aware of the weather and the tide times to avoid getting caught off-guard.
11. To get back to Apollo Bay, catch a shuttle from the Twelve Apostles
I booked a shuttle with Walk 91 for $50. They picked me up from the Information Centre at the Twelve Apostles and about ninety minutes later I was dropped off at the YHA. Their service was great, and as far as I’m aware, it’s the cheapest option.
12. To get back to Melbourne, book your tickets at the Apollo Bay Information Centre
Or book your tickets online, once again from the V/Line website, and pick up your tickets at the Information Centre. The bus stop is right outside the door.
There are no bad campsites on the Great Ocean Walk. Some can be skipped for the sake of shortening the trip though, while some should definitely not be skipped, so here’s my brief review of the places where you might choose to pitch (or not pitch) your tent:
Set amongst towering eucalyptus trees, this campsite has a lovely tranquility, but since you’ll probably arrive here early in the day, that tranquility can overstay its welcome and turn into boredom. I enjoyed my time here, but I would have preferred to skip this campsite and continue ahead.
Positioned right next to a beach, this is one of the best campsites on the trail. As is the case for most of the campsites, it’s broken into two areas: an area for individuals and an area for groups. The individual area is further away from the water, so if no one seems to be camping in the group area, that is the better spot to pitch a tent. There is no bad place to camp at this site though.
If you plan to spend the night here, pay for entry to the Cape Otway lighthouse and hang around there for the afternoon, since the campsite itself is quite dull. It has a “I’m camping in the desert” kind of vibe, which is neat, but it’s worth skipping if you’re able to.
The campsite itself isn’t remarkable, but immediately before the campsite you pass through a field where people gather for picnics, and there’s a river where might like to cool off with a pleasant swim, so the overall package is pleasant.
This is the campsite with the best views. You can setup a tent right beside the cliff and wake up to a view of the beach and cliff edges you hiked the previous day. Unfortunately, it was windy on the day I was here, so I had to camp further back, among the trees. Either way though, it’s a great spot.
The phone reception here was so great that I was able to download a podcast, which is exactly what I needed after what proved to be the most difficult section of the trail. Some of the places to pitch your tent aren’t that great, but there’s also a few gems. If you walk past the shelter and take an immediate right, that’s where I camped and it’s a nice spot. It seemed like the spots furthest from the entrance to the campsite had the best views, but a group of hikers arrived before I could setup my tent, so they had the best pick of the bunch.
Overall, the campsite is unremarkable. There is, however, one place to pitch your tent that leads to a lookout spot with a wooden bench and an amazing view. It’s hard to describe exactly where this spot is, but here’s my attempt:
- Walk into the campsite.
- Take an immediate left.
- Walk as far as you can in that direction.
- Walk up a (very) short slope.
When you find the wooden bench, you’ll have found the absolute best place to pitch your tent.
It’s worth nothing that, if you take one of the optional detours on this day of hiking and walk along the beach, you’ll enter this campsite from the opposite side, so you’ll have to take an immediate right instead of a left to find the wooden bench.
This isn’t a campsite, but it is the end of the walk. Reaching the end feels great, but stumbling into a mob of selfie-taking tourists is a brutish reintroduction to civilisation. Even so, buy yourself a Coca Cola at the Information Centre, find yourself software to sit within sight of the large rocks jutting out of the ocean, and rest your feet. You’ve earned it.