Jan 1, 2015
Great Ocean Walk, Day 1
On the first day of 2015, the three of us drove along the Great Ocean Road to the small town of Apollo Bay. I picked up a trail map at the visitor's center (the official start of the trek) and we organized our food. Mandy had to work the next day, and Craig had to work the day after that, so I would be on my own for the majority of this walk. I packed five days' food for myself, figuring that I could complete the trail quicker than the suggested eight days.
We left Craig and Mandy's vehicles behind, walked across town and passed through a large campground. Many people were relaxing in lounge chairs and hammocks, sleeping off their New Year's hangovers. We found the trail at the far end of the campground and headed to the coast. From that point, we would only see a handful of people all day.
The low tide exposed the rocky shore. We scampered along, Mandy with her lunch and water bottle stuffed into a book bag, Craig with his overloaded day pack and me with my full backpack. The frame had broken during my flight to Australia, and I was still holding out for a replacement. My temporary solution was to remove the frame entirely, causing my backpack to sway with each step.
Soon we reached our first “decision point,” where we had to choose to either continue along the beach, or take an inland trail. The beach route was shorter and devoid of hills, but if we encountered sand, walking would become difficult. At high tide, there would be no decision – the waves would crash against the shore's tall cliffs, making it impossible to walk on the beach. Lucky for us, the tide was low, so we didn't hesitate to stay on the shore.
Eventually we reached a point where the ocean's swell came right up to the cliffs, even at low tide. We headed inland and stopped for lunch at a fork in the path. After the three of us had eaten our tuna, tomato and cucumber sandwiches, Craig and I said goodbye to Mandy. She followed a trail to a gravel road, from where she would attempt to hitch a ride back to her car at Apollo Bay.
Craig and I continued inland, and soon we entered a thick forest of tall eucalyptus trees. The trail was flat and wide, so we walked side-by-side. Suddenly, Craig yanked my shirt. I stopped and saw what had alerted his attention: a brown snake, the second-most venomous terrestrial snake in the world. It was sunbathing on the path, a few paces in front of me. I never would have seen it without Craig's keen eye. I shuddered at the thought of what could have happened if I had stepped on it. Meanwhile, Craig crouched and admired the snake. Finally, it slithered away from the trail and we were able to continue. From that point forward, every twig looked like a brown snake, ready to attack.
There was also plenty of non-venomous wildlife to admire. Koalas were clinging to many of the eucalyptus trees, munching leaves and taking naps. Wallabies (smaller cousins of the kangaroo) stood next to the track and hopped away when we got too close. Cockatoos and scarlet-chested parrots sang from the trees. We hadn't seen any animals in the open expanse of the beach, but now that we were in the forest, there was wildlife lurking around every corner.
We continued walking until dusk and set up camp near Cape Ottaway, thirty kilometers into our walk. This was our second straight long day of hiking, so I was exhausted. But we had only begun this trek, and the trail was about to get more challenging: the next day was forecast to hit at least 40 degrees (104 F).