Australia’s Great Ocean Road is justifiably famous for its sweeping coastal views just outside of Melbourne. But there’s a Great Ocean Walk, too, that reaches even more hidden and spectacular parts. Lace up your boots and prepare to meet koalas, kangaroos and quietness. Whether you have a week or just one day…
I am alone. Beautifully, soft-earth-thumpingly alone. The skies are clear but the path still springs with the rainfall of the last few days.
The fur coats of the koalas still glisten and rhinestone diamonds still wibble and quibble on kangaroo ears.
The road, the Great Ocean Road, may swoop around the coastline like a car ad run wild but, impressive as it is, there are still some places it doesn’t reach.
For that, there’s the Great Ocean Walk, a 100km or so path that takes around a week to complete. Because of time constraints, I’m just clomping through a taster. And I’m doing it alone.
Gavin is the co-owner and co-founder of an eco-lodge called Bothfeet, a hidden (literally, there’s no signpost) gem (not-literally, it’s made of wood) designed with walkers in mind. And it’s clear from the time I spend there that he’s passionate about his work.
The entire Great Ocean Walk can be done in seven days, but there are shorter options. Bothfeet drives hikers to the starting point in the morning and picks them up again when their day is done.
There’s a mudroom, home cooked food, a smattering of wifi and a cosy communal lounge.
There’s also a dedicated line of foot spas. Trail mix appears in the morning and rooms follow simple clean lines.
They also overlook the forest, from whence a wallaby appears.
A wallaby! Just right there! With a Joey snug inside and everything.
I consider trying to play it cool but soon stop short of that. Why break the habit of a lifetime after all.
Out on the track, things seem a little less wild. Peaceful, yes. Beautiful, of course. There’s nothing like some salt-whipped air to freshen the senses and it’s never good to spend too long in a car.
But the path is clear and constant, well signposted and well maintained. Despite Gavin’s ominous words, I feel confident that all will be well.
And so it is, with the sun shining, the waves crashing and the turret of the Cape Otway lighthouse hoving into view that I leave my solo reverie and rejoin the travelling hordes.
I queue for tickets, wait for photos, learn some Australian maritime history and then drive on to those iconic 12 Apostles.
But just before that happens, in the moments when I am still alone, some words and visions fall into the march of my mind.
Of men bent double in trenches, spending months upon months on ships. Of returning from that so-called Great War. Survivors, yes, but very much still in need.
I think of Doug, the 92 year old author I met on my first night here in Lorne. Though only a child when the Great Ocean Road was built at the end of the First World War, he was called to serve a generation later during World War Two.
“A strong bond develops,” he told me, “there’s a strong a camaraderie in war. You live in danger. You have to depend on each other. You see friends die.
“When soldiers come home, they can find civilian life difficult. Even if they have their family around them, they can feel very, very alone.”
I listen, I agree.
“This project, the Great Ocean Road, helped them to transition. They were working side by side with men they knew, with men who understood. That was the deeper value of the project.”
The Great Ocean Road runs for more than 243 km and it’s easy to see why it’s called the Greatest War Memorial in the world.
And while that may be true, perhaps when it comes to the number of men involved and the sense of brotherhood and support, perhaps another phrase is more appropriate.
Perhaps it’s this, and not the Taj Mahal, that is the Greatest Memorial to Love after all.
Disclosure – This road trip along the Great Ocean Road forms part of the #MelbourneTouring project with iAmbassador, Visit Victoria and Visit Melbourne. As ever, as always, I’m free to write whatever I like here on Inside the Travel Lab. Otherwise there’s just no point.
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