[Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4]
Jan 5, 2015
Great Ocean Walk, Day 5
Once again, I got up early, made breakfast and took down camp. I only had about sixteen kilometers to go, so I knew it would be a short day. Soon enough, I would be back in civilization. But for now I wanted to focus on the final bit of solitude that this trek could offer. Once again, I left camp alone, before Leon and Renee were up. I figured I wouldn't see them again.
The landscapes were more open than they had been the previous few days, with some broad fields and few trees. The cliffs prevented me from walking on the beach, not that I was keen to dig my boots into the sand anymore. The weather was great: warm, with blue skies.
Signs of civilization gradually appeared. First, I saw a couple of isolated farm houses. Later, I heard the noise of cars driving along a nearby road. And finally, people! The trail took me close to the village of Princetown, where Leon and Renee planned to grab lunch. And I passed a caravan park, full of people packing up their trailers after a long weekend of camping. I continued along the trail, and soon I was alone once again.
I walked up one final hill and got a glimpse of the majestic Twelve Apostles in the distance. Soon I reached a lookout point, with a plaque confirming that indeed, I had been walking on correct trail for the last five days. Then I saw two older ladies wearing yoga pants and day packs, carrying a trekking pole in each hand. They had started walking at the Twelve Apostles and would likely hike to Princetown before turning around. They were among the first day-hikers I had met on the trail.
Eventually I reached the Gibson Steps, just a few minutes from the end of the 100 KM hike. Hundreds of tourists were slowly making their way to the beach for a good view of the Twelve Apostles. I also walked down the steps, though with a different motive. I wanted to hitch a ride back to Geelong (public transportation was hard to find in these parts), but I was filthy and smelly from five days' walking without a shower. I had to do something about my body odor before I would have a prayer of catching a ride. Absent a shower, I figured an ocean bath would be my next best bet.
When I reached the beach at the bottom of the Steps, I saw that ocean was so turbulent, getting even close to the water would be a hazardous proposition. But I had to do something – my own stench was almost enough to knock me out. I walked away from the crowds and found a semi-private place to change into my swimsuit. I waited for the swell to drop, then I walked to the edge of the water, soap bar in hand. A giant wave crested, higher than my head, and I wished I had thought about this plan more thoroughly. I sucked in my breath, twisted my head and shoulders away from the wave and braced myself for a beat-down. The water hit me with such force, it brought me to my knees. Before I could react, another wave hit, and I found myself scraping along the sand, totally submerged. I rolled a few times, then somehow clung to the ground while the water was sucked outward. The wave left as quickly as it had come, and I took a fresh breath. I was disoriented, but I quickly figured out which direction was inland and ran. When the next wave struck, it only came up to my knees. Against all odds, I was still clinging to the bar of soap, but I decided not to lather up. No way I was going back into that swell to rinse off. I walked back to my backpack, caught my breath and brushed off as much sand from my scraped skin as I could. Then I put on my clean Hawaiian shirt and made my way back up the Steps. I hadn't exactly “bathed,” but I still felt like a new man.
From the top of the Steps, I walked the last few hundred meters to the Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre, the official end of the Great Ocean Walk. The building, full of overpriced food, souvenirs and tourists, was anti-climactic. Still, after five days and 100 KM of walking, I was ready to move on.
I walked out to the highway to look for a good place to hitchhike. Unfortunately, traffic was flying by, and there was no safe place for cars to pull over. I considered walking east with my thumb in the air (but not raised so high that unpleasant odors might escape). Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice. Renee was marching up the road, calling my name. It turned out that she and Leon had boarded a public bus a few miles back, and they had seen me walking. The bus had stopped at the Visitor Centre. In a few minutes, it would continue to the town of Warrnambool, from where we could take a train back to the city. I thanked Renee for finding me, and we headed to the bus together.
I paid the bus driver $4.60 for my ticket to Warrnambool and took a seat. A few other people were aboard, looking anxious to leave. Ten minutes after our scheduled departure time, a middle-aged couple climbed aboard. The bus driver hit the gas and said, “You're ten minutes late. You're lucky I didn't leave without you.”
“We were guaranteed thirty minutes at Twelve Apostles!” the man who had just boarded yelled, in a German accent, loud enough for everyone to hear. “You only gave us twenty minutes.”
“I have a schedule to follow,” the driver said. “We got here late because of a traffic jam. I'm still supposed to leave on time.”
“You are late because you drive too slow! We come here from Europe to see Twelve Apostles!”
“This is a public bus,” the driver said calmly. “You can join a tour group if you want to see the Twelve Apostles. Or rent a car.”
“I know the law here. You cannot make us miss Twelve Apostles. We come all the way from Europe!”
“Take a seat!” a woman yelled. “You're making us all late.”
The German man appeared to become self-conscious from his tantrum. He finally shut up and sat next to his mortified wife. We continued along the Great Ocean Road and pulled into a parking lot.
“This is the famous Loch Ard Gorge,” the driver said. “I would explain its history, but due to circumstances, we don't have time. We leave in ten minutes.”
The German man grunted, but he didn't say anything. I shuffled off of the bus, along with everyone else. To me, this situation was hilarious. I had already seen Loch Ard Gorge, so I didn't mind spending only a short time there. Everyone other than the German couple seemed fine with our short stop. Leon, Renee and I ran up to the lookout point, snapped a few photos and ran back to the bus. I felt like Clark Griswald checking out the Grand Canyon in Vacation.
We stopped at a couple more national landmarks for about five minutes each, then continued to a small town. At this point, the German man revealed that he and his wife were staying there. The driver stopped the bus and they got out. They had come “all the way from Europe” to spend $5 to ride a public bus that wasn't even meant for sightseeing. And their accommodation was less than an hour's walk from the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge. As I watched the Germans shuffle to their hotel, I realized that this was the most entertained I had been in a week. I thanked Renee again for showing me this bus.
The bus dropped us off at the train station in Warrnambool. Leon and Renee bought tickets for Melbourne, and I got a ticket for Geelong. The train was big, clean and comfortable. We rode inland, passing many cattle ranches along the way. I did some reading on my Kindle and watched the scenery go by. It was a great way to end my trek.
When we reached Geelong, I said goodbye to my fellow hikers. Craig was waiting for me in the parking lot. He had decked out his van with surfboards and a kayak. We drove to a national park and set up camp. Craig kneaded a ball of dough, which he then sealed in a cast iron container and covered with coals from our campfire. The result was a loaf of delicious damper. We sat around the fire and shared our stories from the last few days. Craig loaned me his swag (traditional Australian bedroll) and I slept under the stars. Maybe I wouldn't be back in civilization quite so soon, after all.