- A disparate family group of ten people covering three generations, aged between eighteen months and sixty-eight years of age, wanting some experience of the Great Ocean Walk.
- Backpacking is not an option.
- Available time, three days.
To select a section of the walk and find appropriate accommodation. Six people to walk each day and two to baby-sit the toddlers and to cook the evening meal. One of the baby-sitters drives the walkers to the start point each day and picks them up at the day’s end.
Having settled the approach, we rented accommodation at the Blue Johanna House, just a couple of kilometres from Johanna Beach, and arrived the day before our walk was to commence. The stretch of track we selected was the section between Cape Otway and Ryans Den, a distance of about forty-five kilometres out of a possible one hundred and four.
We squeezed in a quick visit to the Cape Otway Lighthouse, which was where our walk started. It was worthwhile to see the preservation of old technology which, until it was decommissioned in 1994, shone a beam forty-eight kilometres out to sea. The replacement solar powered automatic beacon has a lesser projection of only twenty-five kilometres.
Shortly after we set out, a visit to the Cape Otway campsite took us a few metres off the track. Campers there pointed out a large, contented koala perched in the fork of a eucalypt. The koala, with its very human facial expressions, paid us little attention.
After a short section of coastal scrub and heath, we were treated to the expansive seascapes we had come to see. We looked up the coast at foamy breakers rolling into the cliffs of headlands stacked up one behind the other, away into the distance. This scene repeated itself for our entire walk and each new sighting brought with it more “oohs” and “aahs” from us as we paused to admire and photograph.
When we arrived at a fork in the track that offered either a beach walk or a high track, we took the beach option in order to make a side trip to Rainbow Falls. We scrambled down a sand hill to the beach and although the tide was almost in, we decided that we had sufficient time to walk up the beach to the falls. Rock hopping around a headland took us to a point where we could see the mossy expanse of vertical rock over which the water spills. The marvellous variation of colours created as the sun sparkles on the water gives the falls their name.
We retraced our steps to the high track, where our reward was yet more magical ocean vistas, and a spot on the cliff top for our lunch break. Our day finished with a great view from the escarpment lookout up the coast beyond the coastal flats of the Aire River, which provided a pleasant contrast to the great ocean views that had filled our day.
Next day we started at Johanna Beach in order to avoid the high tide, and walked back to the Aire River. The tide was already well in as we commenced the two-kilometre beach walk. It was cool and windy on the beach and the onshore winds had blown bluebottles up on the sand.
We climbed the headland to make our way to Castle Cove, heading inland from the cliff-top. We were taken by the change in the environment from the day before; there now appeared stands of robust eucalypts and at one stage we came upon a section of hundreds of vibrant grass trees, more profuse than we could remember seeing anywhere before. We stopped for a scroggin break and a breathtaking view across the coastline towards Castle Cove, where the Great Ocean Road briefly meets the track.
From here the track meanders to and fro for some distance just above sea level with the exposed clay cliffs of the coastal escarpment towering nearby, and eventually climbs again to wind around the cliffs above the ocean. We lunched at an open flat area overlooking the Aire River as it meets the sea.
Our final day saw us travelling west to east in order to manage the midday high tide. We walked a kilometre and a half down an unmarked 4WD track just east of Wattle Hill to the main track and continued west a couple of kilometres and up several flights of stairs, then climbed a steep gully to Ryans Den. Here there is a cosy campsite with stunning views across the cliffs to Cape Volney.
Returning east towards Milanesia Beach, the elevated coastline track is particularly picturesque. We disturbed several swamp wallabies and a dozen eastern grey kangaroos that were also enjoying the scenery. On Milanesia Beach we managed to keep our feet dry as the tide rolled in. We took advantage of the obvious lunch spot by the old stone hut nestled at the base of a hill offering views of the rugged headland of Ryans Den.
Well fed and rested, we began the steep climb up and out of Milanesia Beach. For the next five or six kilometres we followed a vehicle track up and down as it meandered inland through farmland. The final couple of kilometres of track rejoins the coast, descending to Johanna Beach. There, our party was greeted by the two youngest members of the group and their carers, proudly heading up the hill to meet the weary walkers at the end of an eighteen kilometre day.
In hindsight, an alternative to our last day would have been to hike eleven kilometres west from Milanesia Beach to Moonlight Head, eliminate most of the road walking. This offers hikers a great day of coastal views with easy vehicle access to the drop-off and pick-up points.
However, we all agreed that our plan had allowed us to sample some great sections of a wonderful track - the Great Ocean Walk.