Location: Apollo Bay to 12 Apostles
Surface: Mostly compacted earth with some sections of sand, sealed or fine gravel
Grade: Difficult (4)
Open: No seasonal closures
Fees: Free, camping fees apply
Wheelchair accessible: No
More information: visitgreatoceanroad.org.au/greatoceanwalk
Strap on your walking boots and hit the spectacular Great Ocean Walk. Taken as a multiday adventure, the east-to-west epic has been labelled a 'mild to wild' journey as its remoteness and ruggedness increases the further towards the 12 Apostles you step.
Stretching from the seaside village of Apollo Bay west to the 12 Apostles, the Great Ocean Walk passes along a dramatic coastline of soaring cliffs and remote beaches, with tangents exploring giant eucalypt forests full of kangaroos, wallabies and koalas, and meandering estuaries brimming with birdlife. Then there are the beach stretches where whale sightings are common.
Walkers who tackle a multiday experience stay in on-trail campsites or enjoy the comforts of B&Bs, hotels or lodge accommodation easily accessible from the numerous trailheads along the way. The sea and landscapes are layered by fascinating historical elements from the Indigenous connections to that of the pioneers and their tales of shipwrecks.
Beach and bushland
Setting out from Apollo Bay, walkers take a brief cove excursion at Shelly Beach before heading inland through stands of giant mountain ash. Rejoining the coast at Blanket Bay – an ideal picnic or camping spot – the trail continues westwards to the secluded and postcard-worthy Parker Inlet.
After a short climb back to undulating farmland, stop in at the historic Cape Otway Lighthouse (fees apply) for tales of the seafaring history of this dangerous stretch of coastline. The trail returns high above the ocean through sand hills to reach Escarpment Lookout, which boasts views over Aire River inlet, to where walkers descend and can camp.
The heathland section between Aire River and Johanna Beach tracks below and then atop the cliff-line. Endless lookouts offer vistas up and down the coast.
Coming off the cliffs, walkers continue along windswept Johanna Beach, which includes a river crossing (tides should be monitored).
Farmland, forest gullies and shipwrecks
From Johanna, the route heads briefly inland on farm tracks and dirt roads before plunging down to magnificent Melanesia Beach, where an old fisherman's hut is tucked beneath soaring cliffs. A steep climb reaps rewards as view after stunning view are captured from up high, the trail weaving and undulating through beautiful forest areas and across small creek crossings (with bridges).
Along this stretch is Ryans Den campsite, an isolated but magical place to spend the night. Further on, the Gables Lookout offers commanding views 130 metres above the seascape towards Moonlight Head. Here walkers can decide to drop onto Wreck Beach, home to the upturned anchor remnants of the Marie Gabrielle and Fiji wrecks, or, after considering tides, continue low along the coastline and rejoin the main trail further on.
Alternatively, choose the inland route along a finger of land wedged between the Southern Ocean and the Gellibrand River. Walkers traverse ridges and pass through forested gullies to Devils Kitchen campsite. A vegetated sand dune section leads on to the estuarine beauty of Gellibrand River Inlet and the small outpost of Princetown.
From Princetown, the reward of viewing of the 12 Apostles is palpable. The route undulates on its way west with occasional high-point glimpses of the trail's crowning rock stack features. The short walk down to the beach at Gibsons Steps is a highlight. Finally, walkers arrive at the Twelve Apostles Visitor Information Centre, the end of the walk. Don't forget to use the road underpass to visit the numerous Apostles viewing platforms.
Suggested shorter options
Blanket Bay to Cape Otway, 10km one way
A good short option that takes in stunning Parker Inlet, weaving across headlands and through heathlands to finish at the imposing Cape Otway Lighthouse.
Wreck Beach, 2km or 4.5km loop
Beginning at the Wreck Bay car park, take the 366 steps down to the beach and explore the shoreline to discover the old anchors of two 19th Century shipwrecks, the Marie Gabrielle and the Fiji. Being mindful of tides, you can continue on to Moonlight Beach and make a loop back to the car park via the inland route and Devils Kitchen, or backtrack up the stairs.
Cape Otway to Johanna Beach, 23km one way
A two-day hike that begins with the impressive Cape Otway Lighthouse (fees apply), before exploring undulating heathland to Aire River campsite. The following day switches to cliff walking (both underneath and on top of), before dropping down for a final beach walk and river crossing at Johanna.
Milanesia Beach to Twelve Apostles, 35km one way
A challenging section with lots of undulations and steep sections, this option takes hikers from one of the most stunning beaches, through varied terrain from high cliff heathland and gully forests to top of dune walking. Spend the first night at Ryans Den Great Ocean Walk campsite and the second at Devils Kitchen Great Ocean Walk campsite.