Week 8 – Port Campbell National Park

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Gadubanud country, the Gunditjmara people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

At the start of the year I’d told friends if they were keen to hit up a National Park to pick a date, lock it in and we’d decide where to go later.  My oldest friend, Laura, had put this weekend in the diary and with lovely weather forecast we decided to head to Port Campbell National Park.  Despite being one of the smaller National Parks, it’s probably among the busiest with busloads of tourists departing Melbourne daily to take in the sights of the monolithic 12 Apostles.

I got the first train to Geelong on Saturday morning and Laura picked me up from the station and we headed west from there.  After a quick stop over in Colac to stock up on the essentials (food & booze) we continued along the inland route to Peterborough. A friend’s family had kindly offered their place for the weekend, as our initial plans to camp seemed like hard work for only one night away. We stopped for a coffee as we went through Port Campbell and went down to the foreshore to soak up the blue skies.  Watching the SLSC rowers and kids jump of the jetty soon melted away the stresses of the week just passed. 

Laura and I have literally known each other our whole lives – we were born hours apart in the same hospital.  We were inseparable as kids, spending hour after hour entertaining ourselves on our respective farms and getting into all sorts of mischief.  We were more interested in making mud cakes than playing barbies and since then our love of adventure and the outdoors hasn’t abated.  Laura moved away to Geelong in Year 1 and as we’ve grown up our friendship has revolved around summer holidays and hiking adventures.  From the Overland Track to the Victorian High Country, Laura and I have spent many evenings out under the stars.  It was a given that on this occasion we’d be hitting up some trails, but Laura was very adamant that she was going to be setting the pace! I’d pulled up quite sore from The Archie, so that suited me just fine.

 

After settling into Peterborough, we made some sandwiches and made some calls, trying to arrange a drop off on the Great Ocean Walk so we could do a point to point section.  I got onto Callum from Ride with Us; a Timboon based company that specializes in drop offs etc for hikers.  We arranged to meet him at the 12 Apostles Car Park and be dropped off at The Gables Lookout.  It was $80 for the half hour drive and arrived there at about 1.30pm.  After farewelling Callum, we detoured to The Gables Lookout; the views gave us a peak of what was east of us, before heading west, towards Wreck Beach.   I had done this section of walk years before with my sister Anna, and Wreck Beach was a highlight, so wanted to return.  However, the tide was in, so the exposed anchor on the rocks wasn’t visible.  The vibrant colours of the rockpools and pounding surf made the steep descent worthwhile, and after enjoying a bit of lunch we headed back up the stairs, continuing to follow the cliffs west.  If the tide is out, you can continue along the beach and re-join the GOW further along.

 

The tracks were in excellent condition, with lots of raised mesh sections, in a hope to prevent the contamination of fungi.  The beating sun cast beautiful shadows across the bracken lined trail, under a canopy of sprawling native trees.  We’d seen several other walkers around Wreck Beach and just before Devil’s Kitchen passed a school group.  We bypassed the campsite but soon after were stopped in our tracks, as a tiger snake was basking in the sun on the path.  While Laura doubled back to let the school kids know, I did whatever any responsible millennial would do and took some videos.  It was still for the few minutes while I was watching it, so we gave it a wide berth as we passed it.  It reared its head as I passed, then scurried off into the bush.  It was the first snake I’d seen on a trail in years – I am always wary (and prepared) for them, but in reality, the chances of seeing one had been pretty slim. 

Not too far along, a moment of lapse in concentration led to me twisting my ankle, with the pain and shock making me light headed, and I needed a bit of a sit down before pushing on.  It was the same ankle that I’d strained the week before, so it was no surprise that it was a bit fragile. After composing myself we continued onwards, with my teeth gritted for the remaining 10k.

 

 Before descending to Princetown, we were offered amazing views to the west, with the coastline stretching out before us, all the way to Port Fairy.  We skirted the Gellibrand River at Princetown, before coming upon the local cricket game at the Caravan Park.  Laura was a bit thirsty, so we popped by the cricket sheds to see if we could grab a quick beer.  Sadly, ‘The Swamp’ was cash only and we only had card, so continued on.  After crossing the River we were finally in the Port Campbell National Park – marking National Park number 10.  We were now on the home stretch, with only 8 kilometres til the 12 Apostles.  Despite the stunning coastal views, there was not an Apostle to be seen.  The track undulated along the coastline, with each rise offering the chance to spot an apostle through the sea spray. 

Before too long we could spot a few and soaked up the evening sunshine as we neared the official end of the Great Ocean Walk.  We stopped an obligatory snap at the end, before pressing on to the carpark.  As we passed through busy Gibson Steps carparks and paved trails the frequency of rubbish along the track became greater, as I added it to my stash for the day.  At 6.10pm we reached the 12 Apostles Visitors Centre, roughly 4 ½ hours after setting out from The Gables.  It had been 21.5km hike, with 510m of elevation gain.  We jumped in the car and made a beeline for Port Campbell, where we finally quenched our thirst at the local pub.  Despite being a touristy town, it certainly felt like a small-town pub, with all eyes on you as you cautiously wait at the bar, feeling very out of place.  With a local musician drowning out the main bar, we retreated to the balcony to enjoy our schooners in the last of the evening sunshine.  From here it was back to Peterborough to put the feet up and ice the ankle.  After a late dinner and a game of Rummikub (with Laura winning, as usual!) it was bedtime, both of us zonked from a big, glorious day outdoors.

Sunday morning was a slow start before pulling on the runners and heading out to explore the beautiful local trails of Peterborough.  It was another glorious day, with blue skies and flat, endless seas.  Mini apostles and limestone bridges dotted the landscape, but without the tourists and infrastructure of the more popular tourist traps.  After stopping for a quick #TeamLucy photo at Halladale Point, we continued onto Worm Bay and turned around at Bay of Martyrs.    We finished up our 5k circuit at the golf course before returning to the house for showers and a hearty breakfast.  We packed up and headed into the centre of Peterborough in search of coffee – with the main street offering limited options.  The local antique store cum café seemed like the best bet, with our hopes for a good coffee quickly dashed when the barista asked how to make a long black.   But we were pleasantly surprised, and later found out the café was owned by a friends Mum, so be sure to visit the Antiques Store when passing through!

Although the 12 Apostles draw the bulk of tourists to the area, there is a heap of other sights along the Great Ocean Road.  We checked out a few of them along the way, including The Grotto and Gibson Steps.  The Grotto was overrun with tourists talking loudly and drinking breakfast beers, which certainly disrupted the serenity of the occasion.  We continued onto Gibson Steps, which were unfortunately closed due to erosion. I’d only seen the Twelve Apostles from the cliffs before, so was keen to get onto the beach for a fresh perspective.  That dream would have to wait for another day. 

It was hard to pass through Port Campbell and not grab a coffee, so after injecting some more cash into the local caffeine economy we returned to the foreshore.  We chilled on the grass and soaked up the precious vitamin D and people watched, content to relax and in no hurry to return to reality.  After finishing off our leftover food in a cobbled together picnic lunch it was time to head home. We detoured via Timboon to check out the lovely local stores, most of which were closed on account of it being Sunday.  Thankfully the renowned Timboon Fine Ice Cream was still open, so enjoyed one last treat before calling it a weekend.

Despite only being away for 34 hours, it felt like we’d had a proper break and had the time to enjoy the sights and tastes of Port Campbell.  Our quick trip had been the perfect combination of outdoor exercise, eating good food, quality time with friends and recharging for the week ahead.  Given the affects the summer bushfires had on tourism and the growing effects of Coronavirus, it was great to be a tourist in our own backyard and support the local economies that rely so heavily on tourism.

If you’d like to do a section of the GOW, be sure to give Callum at Ride with Us a call. And if you’re in Peterborough, be sure to stop by Peterborough Antiques, Art & Coffee.

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