GREAT OCEAN WALK: Day 1
I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline ~ explorer Matthew Flinders, on the Shipwreck Coast
I settled back in my window seat and felt the tension float free as we shrieked free of the tarmac and began our journey south. Weeks of planning, one final late night frantically trying to get everything in order before a few hours’ dubious sleep…
..and now the satisfaction of the seat-belt snapping closed as I surrendered my fate to the pilot and a flimsy, riveted-together machine. Everything now, the actual walking part, would be relatively easy. Wouldn’t it?
Then the pilot announced that there was fog below — did I mention this was Melbourne? — and two hours of circling ensued till it cleared, a string of farm dams repeatedly appearing in the window over my shoulder, reflecting the morning sun like a stream of silvery tear-drops…
JUNE 12, 2011
Foggy, chilly Melbourne. I’m glad already for the cold-weather gear swelling my pack. Several hours till the hostel opens, so I get a tram out to St Kilda, 6km south, seeking some of that cheap Middle-Eastern food I remember. But my felafel roll is bland and the chips are buried in chicken salt — whatever that is.
From memory I navigate my way to the botanic gardens where I spent a lot of time, many years back, evading the Ackland Street crowds and, sometimes, my then-partner in our nearby apartment. The sun emerges; the bench is warm. But I feel empty and sad. Why do I do this to myself? Not a good start to the adventure, Goat. Let’s walk.
This is more like it. The esplanade abutting Port Philip Bay is throbbing with weekend sun-lovers. Even here at the beach, Melburnians wear a lot of black. Smoke a lot, too. But I’m in unfashionable blue and grey, already daydreaming about the wilder, more secluded coastline to come…
..I start walking back into the city. Then I remember I’m about to walk 104km. I don’t need the exercise. I get back on a tram.
Spencer Street hostel is abuzz this evening. A violinist busking on one corner, a cellist on the next. Cheap food joints everywhere. Excitement in the air you seldom find in Brisbane. Lots of Asian students, black clothes and cigarette smoke. Vegetarian slop at a restaurant called Om. It’s cheap, but I make a note never again to eat anywhere called Om.
My hostel is a nightmare. I am too old to sleep in a ceiling-less cubicle among young Europeans. It’s noisy, my ear-plugs fall out and my guts are om-ing. The European in the next cubicle attacks his armpits with pungent fragrance in a lethal burst. Then another. And another. The fluorescent lights stay on all night.
In the morning there’s a girl’s voice in there. I make a note to invest in under-arm fragrance, grab a squalid shower and flee into the pre-dawn dark.
Two hours till my train. I head to the Yarra River, scene of the city’s foundation, where the first white settlers, from Tasmania mostly, first set foot on dry, foggy land from 1835:
With my coffee I stroll along the river bank. This anchor seems like a good omen as I head to the Shipwreck Coast:
The train to Geelong; flat, pleasant countryside in the window. My mother’s message about my lucky timing confirmed in the news. A few hours later and I’d never have arrived in time:
From Geelong, a bus to Apollo Bay, the winding Great Ocean Road tormenting my stomach. The fog and cold have blown away. I set off , south-west, in splendid winter sunshine:
At Marengo, I take to the sand and the honeycombed, science-fiction landscape of the rock shelves. There are several “Decision Points” along the GOW, where you need to assess the safety of the next leg. Right now the tides are on my side. I pass a few fishers, and as the sun begins to sink behind me, surfers take to the waves.
Walkers: one, strolling east. I am soon alone, rock-hopping, pool-skirting, crevice-jumping, having a blast.
This is the biggest cuttlefish bone I’ve ever seen. But over the next few days I realise that it’s just a baby:
It’s an easy start — only 9.7km to my first night’s camp. I cross the narrow mouth of the Elliot River and begin climbing:
The path levels. Eucalyptus forest, the air cooling:
The campsite at Elliot Ridge is deserted — almost. A young couple is tenting behind the shelter. I try to engage them in this thing called “conversation”, but the concept seems new to them. Well, they’re young.
The shelter is magnificent. All the hike-in campsites on the GOW (there are seven) are permit-only. Designed for cooking and congregating, rather than sleeping, all were built to the same attractive template: three-sided, recycled timber, a slanted roof feeding water into a tank, benches surrounding a table, platforms outside in the camping spots.
High-set composting outhouses feed roof water into a tank. Full marks to the designers and builders — these are among the best campsites I’ve ever stayed at:
They also come with logs — registers, as we call them on the A.T.:
A chill creeps in. I don my Monkey Man and elf hat and put the kettle on:
The view from the dinner table:
I scan the map, already excited about the next leg. Maybe too excited. I’m quickly asleep under my tarp and inside my bivy, but a few short hours later I’m awake and ready to walk…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote
Next post: Day 2