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The Goat, the Sow & the Piglets

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GREAT OCEAN WALK: Day 5

The first rain of my hike began with periodic drilling on my sil-nylon roof some time after midnight. Almost soothing, though the pattern of recurrent waking had resumed. I’d had a good few hours, though, and got up one final time in darkness to lug gear to the shelter table.

Lit the stove while I packed; after coffee I topped up the beer-can stove and burned off some of my remaining metho for added light and log-cabin homeyness… ~ Journal entry, 17 June, 2011

My final morning. Rain in angry little bursts. I’m in no real hurry to get out there and reach the end, 16 or 17km north-west. But I have a 10:40 bus to catch at the Apostles, and a flight home from Melbourne.

During a lull, I pack up the wet tarp and its accumulation of sodden leaves, stop in at that spectacularly situated outhouse with its its view of the rumbling surf through the rain-smeared perspex. Start out at 5:53…and then the confusion kicks in.

The map tells me to go back to where the newly realigned path branches off. Backtracking in the rain and dark, increasingly frustrated, I concede defeat, curse and bitch till satiated, and squelch up the muddy road to rejoin the Old Coach Road — the original route — 10 minutes later.

What a long, dreary slog that was, wet, puddled and treacherously slippery, like smooth ice, on several downward sections. I fell on my arse twice — not impressed, but glad of my waterproofs. Those steep downward slopes were a nightmare, actually, and without a stick I would’ve been in a bad way…

No markers, no signs of life till some kangaroo tracks just before dawn. But the moon sneaks out, the ocean comes into view — on the correct side — and rolling farmland materialises on my right.

I dropped the pack, checked the map again and confirmed that I would, all going well, intersect with the Gellibrand River — which soon came into view, a grey, shining band, ahead and below… I got down to the river, a nice stretch of water, sandy-banked, fields of rushes, a precipitous red-rock bluff on the far side…

The sky colours with a pinkish blush. A detour to the river mouth and its deadly breakers:

The rain is back, and the biting wind. I struggle, ludicrously, with my lightweight umbrella, hand aching from trying to hold it still. Mary Poppins herself would be flung into orbit on this stretch. I pack it away.

On the was I surprised a big roo that bounded off around the bend; the lawns of the tourist park on my right were kangaroo central…

Crossing the river, another roadside reminder of the treacherous coast beyond these hills:

I’m back on the “real” G.O.W. now. A gentle climb, and an excursion through dense, head-high shrubs like a topiary maze, to the cliffs, the appalling, exhilarating winds.

The home stretch:

Wild surf gnawed and gnashed at the cliff base down to my left. The Twelve Apostles came into view — end of the line. The Great Ocean Road and a complex of structures visible a few km off…

I was curiously unaffected by the sight, countless full-colour photos no doubt having dispelled some of their grandeur. but I warmed to them as I inched closer, and then with wondrous timing a huge, arching, perfect rainbow, both tips planted in the steel-blue sea, one just out from those limestone giants themselves…

My turn for some postcard photography — very trying in the gale-force tempest, which made holding a camera steady all but impossible…

The wind seems intent on hurling me out onto the road. I slip onto my much-abused rear on some duckboards. Stinging sheets of rain, hands going numb, camera threatening to fly free like a liberated cage-bird.

It’s awful.

It’s bloody fantastic.

I come in peace

Oh, for a 20kg tripod…

And then, suddenly, just like that, I was at the end. The track descended, passing an almost-complete viewing platform, part of the extension to the steps a few hundred metres ahead which will mark the new and more emphatic conclusion of the walk next year. $108,000 well spent…

Not with a bang but an official announcement

9:17am. The Great Ocean Road is just as empty as the trail. I peel off long underwear and muddy rain-gear and ready myself for re-immersion into the human race.

Back into that awful wind, straight down the road for 20 minutes to the National Parks visitor’s centre, attempting a few shots of the Apostles that look like they were taken in a food processor:

The Apostles, limestone stacks up to 45m high, numbered nine till erosion thinned their ranks. Wind and water have moulded them from cave to arch to spire. In recent times the process has been fast-forwarded, with the collapse in 1990 of the London Bridge formation, stranding two tourists on the far end, and one stack toppling into the sea in 2005.

Wikipedia:  The site was known as the Sow and Piglets until 1922 (Muttonbird Island, near Loch Ard Gorge, was the Sow, and the smaller rock stacks the Piglets); after which it was renamed to The Apostles for tourism purposes. The formation eventually became known as the Twelve Apostles, despite only ever having nine stacks.

Enduring that hellacious wind, I try  without luck to get some decent shots of my limestone finishing line. Maybe next time. The shop is open: coffee. Attempting my first English in a few days, I find that it still works. Outside, I sip the delicious elixir, my faithful Monkey VII resting at my feet, feeling good, proud, strong, and more than a little, well, sad.

A tiny bus pulls in, “SCHOOL” emblazoned across its front. I dash across the parking area, climb aboard and plant my pack once more against my feet — my wet, cold, sandy feet, already itching for another go.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

Next post: An Appalachian Trail flashback

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good write up again G. How was that infernal ‘Old Coach Road’? I’ve walked it twice and I reckon it was better the second time as I did it at night. Definitely a mind numbing experience that one! Great work with the rainbow, I’m envious as it was a spectacular one :) New tracks in 2012? Might wait until then to have another look…

    June 29, 2011
    • Greg, yeah, next time I do that stretch I’m gonna wear crampons and a wetsuit. I still don’t know how I missed the “new” section – I prefer to think that’s it’s just a phantom trail…

      June 30, 2011

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