The most challenging day on the trail both in terms of terrain and kilometres, my 4th day along the Great Ocean Walk sees me navigating up and over countless steep headlands and sea cliffs between Johanna Beach, Ryan’s Den, and eventually on to Devil’s Kitchen. Limited daylight hours contribute to the 27km challenge, but in the end, it’s a great day spent completing the penultimate stages of the hike.
Trail stats: Johanna Beach to Devil’s Kitchen via Ryan’s Den
Trail hours: 8h10m
Highlights: Eastern Grey Kangaroos hopping through the rolling hills near Johanna Beach; sun at secluded Milanesia Beach; wild coastal views from Moonlight Head & The Gables Lookout, on one of the highest sea cliffs in Australia
Despite an excellent and snug sleep at Johanna Beach, I wake up with the burning knowledge that I’m trying to cram a “medium/hard” 27 kilometres (and what Parks Victoria believes to be 10.5hrs of walking) into an 8hr window of daylight. After also walking 23km and 24km on each of the previous days.
There’s no doubt that day 4 is going to be a challenge, but I’m eager to rise to it. Unfortunately that means setting off at the ungodly hour of 9am (I’m really not a morning person)— the only good news is that I’m joined on the first few hours of my walk by countless Eastern Grey Kangaroos hopping through golden hills and turning to appraise me with reluctant curiosity as I come round corners, looking like deer in the headlights of my camera lens or perhaps like children who’ve been caught doing something a bit cheeky.
Living in the middle of the city, I don’t see kangaroo as often as I used to down the coast— and even after 8 years in Australia, it’s a novelty that will never quite wear off. I waste a bit of precious time trying to get a good shot, but it feels necessary.
The next section of the walk is a bit less pleasant, leading up and down a rollercoaster of paved or gravel roads. There’s not a lot to look at and the terrain is unforgiving to an already aggravated knee, so it’s with great pleasure that I arrive, about an hour later, at the secluded Milanesia Beach.
The pleasure is short lived. In no time, yellow arrows are leading me right back up a steep headland and onto the cliffs again.
It’s not the ascents I dislike, although I’m certainly puffed enough— it’s the knowledge that I’m going to have to descend again, navigating down slick, precariously positioned stone steps or wooden planks with about as much traction as an inclined ice rink.
There are slips, there are near-catastrophic trips, and there are more than a few heart palpitations each time I have to come down one of these steep hills, constantly reminded that I haven’t actually seen another human all morning and now would probably not be a good moment to injure myself (as I’m wont to do at only the most inconvenient of times).
By some miracle, I make it to the half-way point at Ryan’s Den in 4hrs, all but dragging myself along the final kms of steep forest trail as frustration mounts (HOW am I not there yet) and energy wanes. I later recognise this as advanced stages of major hanger.
Collapsing to the ground in a relieved pile, I allow myself just 15min to rest before I need to get back up and keep moving. It’s the first time I’ve stopped for a rest or taken my pack off since I departed Johanna Beach— in fact, it’s the first time I’ve even stopped walking (for more than about 3 seconds to snap a photo).
The thought of setting up camp in the dark is enough to keep me lurching forward, even through sore muscles and throbbing feet, but it’s definitely left me a little haggard.
Finally at the halfway mark, though, I’ve now got a good gauge of my speed on these harder sections of trail and I am confident in my ability to make it to camp before dark. That confidence goes a long way in making the second half of the day infinitely more enjoyable, nearly all the stress and uncertainty draining away.
The next 4 hours to Devil’s Kitchen fly by in comparison, my body finally falling into a more comfortable (and less manic) rhythm as I cross over Cape Volney, Moonlight Head, and the towering Gables Lookout, all the while enjoying dramatic views back towards the Cape Otway coast.
The final stages of the walk wind through farmland, where I’m delighted to find a little echidna digging under a fence, and an endless stretch of forest, before finally delivering me, somewhat worse for wear (especially after a dramatic fall on a polished bridge), to Devil’s Kitchen just in time to set up my tent in the final minutes of daylight. I end up pitched in a pit of leeches (I’ve got the suck-wounds to prove it), but all I really care about is that I MADE IT.