Australia, Beach & Coastal Walking, Long-Distance Walking
Comments 7

A Moonlight Mile on the Shipwreck Coast


Walking back from the cemetery last night, the shouts and shrieks of what sounded like a thousand youngsters grew louder and my fears were realised as I entered a radically transformed camp. My solitude was gone and so were the koalas. A dozen teens were hammering tent stakes, trading raucous insults while their poor teacher attempted to preserve order.

I surrendered to the inevitable. “You’re welcome to share the shelter,” I offered as they gathered outside for dinner. The teacher and a few girls, from a rural Victorian high school, joined me with their Trangia stoves and home-cooked meals.

I enjoyed the company, and we talked a while. They were out for a few easy days, an introduction to the GOW. Their first hike. I was amazed at what they were carrying: cartons of milk, plates, cutlery, tea towels. In comparison I was a penitent with a rosary and a pair of straw sandals. I turned in early and, fortunately, so did they…

I sleep well but wake far too early again, the almost-full moon glowing through my roof like the fluorescent lights back in that damned hostel. I use its light to pack and resume hiking at 4:38. So long, kids.

A moonlit hike through shrubby dunes. White sand underfoot, fantasies swarming in my head. I’m a soldier on night patrol, enemy troops lurking in the bushes. Then I kick a bent root jutting from the path; it enters the webbing of my right shoe, surgically incising the whole front of the shoe. I’m snagged. When I bust free, there’s a gaping wound in my shoe.

A tall cliff, gibbous moon gleaming onto a smooth and placid ocean. All is still, utterly silent, a hint of offshore breeze. This whole coast is mine, mine and the moon’s. At the junction I veer down the duckboards to Station Beach:

It’s low tide and I can beach-walk the 6km to Aire River. Wild surf crashes to my left as I start, but the sand is sloppy, my wounded shoe filling with wet sand. I backtrack and fire up the stove, dig out my sewing needle and dental floss for some moonlit shoe repair.

Absorbing work. When it’s done and I’ve breakfasted, it’s almost dawn. The moon plummets into the sea, and the Spirit of Tasmania, the big passenger ferry, a floating Christmas tree, speeds across Bass Strait, Devonport-bound. Planks, rope and other flotsam are revealed:

I return to the cliffs and resume my journey paralleling the beach:

Fresh morning air, pleasant miles as my stitch-work unravels:

Another day of solitude; I’m grateful I was born a morning person. Surf-battered coves, secret inlets, gnarled outcrops down on my left. A half-hearted sun, the sky a welcome pale blue.

Aire River comes into view, fog hovering over its surface:

I enter a wondrous fog-moistened wood of creaking, lichen-encrusted trunks, curtains of a succulent creeper hanging down:

I decide to sacrifice half an hour of battery life for some music, but the experiment backfires. Shuffle delivers a bunch of proven favourites — My Morning Jacket, Califone, Built to Spill, Lambchop, The National — but they don’t work for me today. When the Stones and Iggy Pop bluster onto the scene, I switch the thing off in disgust, in time to emerge into sunshine and the quiet grandeur of the Aire:

Fishermen focus on their task. I cross the bridge as the clouds return. On the far bank, the Aire River Campsite in the trees, deserted, silent. Dewy spiderwebs sparkle by the dozen in the wet grass:

Back among those fabulous, gracefully arching trunks:

The escarpment in the next section is rugged and other-worldly. Castle Cove comes into view, and the Great Ocean Road where it sweeps in to join my path at a viewing platform:

I spend an hour relaxing at the viewpoint, airing my bag, making lunch, while a succession of motorists come in for a look. Few speak to me, but a pleasant Chinese couple says “‘Bye,” and a young English guy travelling in a camper with his girlfriend asks about my walk. I tell him I’m thinking about Land’s End to John O’Groat’s, and he replies glumly, “I’ve never even been to Scotland.”

I move on again, soaking up the welcome sunshine:

Another sweet stringybark forest, grass-trees whispering. Then the first glimpse of Johanna Beach. The tide is still on my side. Soft, slushy sand, the crack and boom of breakers like rifle reports.

“Johanna” is actually a misnomer; the ship wrecked here in the early-19th century (named after the Captain’s daughter) was the Joanna, and the survivors endured a rough journey back along the coast to Cape Otway and thence, assisted by local Aborigines, all the way to far-inland Geelong:

At the end of the beach the path leads inland and upward, up into dairy country to that sheltered copse on the top, where Johanna Campsite huddles out of the wind with a spectacular aspect, views stretching back towards Cape Otway and beyond:

The camp, again, is mine. I set up on a soft bed of pine-like needles in a cassuarina thicket. There’s an old cake of soap at the water tank. I brave the cold evening air for a billy-can shower and then, dinner simmering, watch the full moon resume its timeless climb. Good to see you again, old fella.

Writing in my journal, I sit the iPhone on the table and give my stereo another shot.

It didn’t really work for me this this morning, and I killed it as I neared the bridge. It messed with my peace, the feeling of being the only person around, my flow, my rhythm, my headspace. It’s working much better now in this lonesome place to counter a bit of a dark spell I was feeling earlier.

But I’ll turn it off soon…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

Next post: Day 4



  1. a strawberry patch says

    Wow! Stunning photos, love the one of the clouds reflecting in the river ( or was that a lake?)

    • Thank you! They’re all taken with a tiny point-and-shoot, a great little camera. Fits in a shirt pocket, waterproof, shockproof, great image quality.

      That’s one of my favourite sections of my favourite hike in Australia so far. It’s a river. I was lucky with that shot, and also those great spiderwebs.

  2. I guess you got your money’s worth out of those shoes? I reckon you did! I loved this bit of GOW as well and I did the same trick as you. When I saw the sign leading me down to the beach I went racing down expecting a nice sandy stroll. The sand in that section was like quicksand though! At the first opportunity I was climbing back up to the cliffs! An incredible amount of junk on the beach as well in that section wasn’t there?

    There’s some fantastic scenery along there. Imagine what you could do with your NEX now…!

    • Yes! I miss that little trail! What a beauty she is. I’ll definitely do it again when I get home. That section was awesome, an incredible dawn. Sigh…

  3. Nice! Always reading about ocean things & lighthouses, etc. We run Lighthouse Library in Dexter, KS. Miss the ocean very much! Again – enjoyed your page – photos, etc. Thanks.

      • Great! When you do come to Kansas, stay in the cabin at Lighthouse Library in the heart of Kansas & the heart of the Flint Hills – Grouse Valley. Grouse Valley Lodge is on Facebook. Proceeds from the cabin go 100% to fund literacy programs. I notice you guys camp out a lot! If you prefer, just camp on the site 🙂 Take care. Lynn (Here’s the cabin page: ) I wanted you to see the lighthouse. It is in the courtyard at the library (a memorial tribute to our daughter who was lost her life in an auto accident) – but mostly it’s a tribute to our hometown: Your photos are so great on your blog!! You’d make a great speaker for a writer’s conference! Thanks for sharing.

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