After a leisurely introduction to the Great Ocean Walk yesterday, the hike begins in earnest today with a slippery 12km from Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay before lunch and a further 11km onwards to Cape Otway for the night. The wonderful winter weather hasn’t quite held, but there are still plenty of beautiful views and magical moments to enjoy on today’s mostly muddy journey.
Trail stats: Elliot Ridge to Cape Otway via Blanket Bay
Trail hours: 6h30m
Highlights: Beautiful forest scenery through Great Otway National Park; a muddy but very scenic descent to sunny Blanket Bay; wild coastal views out towards the cape; historic Cape Otway lighthouse; a night of wine and chocolate in my tent as the lone camper at Cape Otway
Startling awake in what I originally believe to be the dead of night to the sound of wind practically ripping trees in half over my head, I’m alarmed to squint down at my Kindle in the dark and see that it’s 7am. Surely not. And yet…
It is with that level of resignation that I find myself crawling out of my saturated tent and into an equally wet forest, completely transformed from yesterday’s sun and clear skies by the intense events of last night’s storm.
Determined not to let the weather get the better of my day, I squelch my literally dripping tent into the outer pouch of my backpack (a too-late attempt at keeping the rest of my belongings dry, since basically everything is already soaked from being in a wet tent) and set off with a smile.
Most of the morning is spent navigating through enormous stretched of muddy trail that are either too gluggy, swallowing my boots up like quicksand and threatening to eat my trekking poles, or too slippery, leaving me to flail around like a spider on roller-skates. I can only imagine the scene from the outside, but at least I’m not too tired to laugh at myself.
For all the unpleasant trail conditions, I still find myself really enjoying the walk, entirely alone again this morning. That enjoyment only increases when the clouds suddenly break apart to reveal blue sky, just in time for my wet descent into sparkling Blanket Bay.
I arrive to the campsite in Blanket Bay in under 3hrs, delighted by the pristine beach and sunny weather I find there. Having made good time and feeling in need of a little rest, I stretch out on one of the communal tables and sun myself for the better part of a half hour, not moving except to slide skittles slowly into my mouth and glance over at the little willie wagtails hopping excitedly through the grass. If not for my saturated boots and socks, it could almost be spring!
Buoyed on by the afternoon sun, I set off from Blanket Bay after lunch for the somewhat more challenging walk to Cape Otway. The rain returns sporadically over the next few hours as I navigate the steep trails up and over headlands, descending to the beach at Parker Inlet to cross the narrow river and then head straight back up into the trees on equally steep stone steps.
Although the path is anything but direct and I find myself (and my knee) getting a little bit frustrated by all the steep, slippery descents, there’s no denying the journey has been worth it as I approach the cape.
It’s sunny one moment and raining the next, leaving me to whip my hood on and off about 5 million times, but the rare moments of peace are worth the trouble.
Low shrub gives way to expansive views of the wild coastline, surf whipped into a frenzy by the wind and clouds swirling ominously overhead. Rugged and insanely beautiful and precisely the kind of drama I’ve been looking for.
Just when I feel my feet beginning to ache for camp, Cape Otway Lighthouse comes into view down the coast, a fitting beacon for the final leg of today’s walk. At first it seems impossibly far, but every minute brings me a little closer.
And I absolutely love having a fixed landmark to navigate against, being able to see the progress of each heavy step forward. It’s exactly the motivation I need to power ahead through the final kilometres, breeze past a few wet tourists checking out the Cape Otway Lighthouse, and continue on to my own camp amongst the trees.
Yet again, I find the entire campground unoccupied— and bloody lucky, too, because I’ve already decided that I’m pitching my tent under the communal shelter to let it dry out properly.
As if in answer, tonight brings even worse storms than last night, all of which I happily weather under the little plexiglass roof with a glass of wine and a good book. I’m dry in no time.