Johanna Beach to Ryans Den, Great Ocean Walk

The night spent at Johanna Beach was a peaceful one. No other hikers had arrived late in the day, so I had the camp to myself. Again, I’d gone to bed early and slept quite well, considering I was still lying on the ground due to my inflatable mat failure a few days before.

When I woke up, I stuck head outside and was confronted with an insanely blood red sky. How does it go? Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning? What’s weird is I had an identical sunrise the year before, which led to a day of heavy rain. Again, surely with such an fearsome colour in the sky, I’d bound to get wet. Oh, the only difference is this time I didn’t have a raincoat. Remember? I left it behind to save weight.

Anyway, a sky so vivid was my main priority. Knowing the rules of photography about great morning light which disappears way too quick, I got up and decided there was no time to get dressed. I started to snap photos in boots and boxers, which felt a bit Village People-like, but there’s no time to put pants on when the light’s good.


Red sky in the morning…?

One bonus of being half naked is the wind had picked up and was now blowing a gale, which meant no mosquitoes could hang onto my bare legs.


Flames in the sky over Johanna Beach

Actually, it was hard to know when to stop taking photos and even harder trying to select the best out of dozens for this post.


There was certainly a strong red glow over Johanna Beach itself.


Johanna Beach

It didn’t take long though for the light to increase, causing the intense glow to subside. Luckily I’d woken up in time, as another half hour and I’d have wondered what all the fuss was about, as the sky now took on a more standard look. The camp was still dry, but rain was all around.



In between snapping photos, I gathered all of my stuff and took it out of the weather by piling it up in the enclosed kitchen shelter. Reluctantly, I even put some pants on. The bright red of early morning sky was gone, but out to sea, the overall light had a strange look about it. Almost like an oil painting, with different layers of cloud with splashes of colour in them.


After a million pictures, I sat down inside the shelter to inhale some porridge. My breakfast reading material was the ‘walkers intentions’ book, which is in each camp along the way. I was intrigued by one entry…


With this piece of enlightening information, I was careful where I put my spoon, as I didn’t want to pick up any stray jism that might be on the table. Being the only hard, flat surface at the camp, I guess it’s the equivalent of a washing machine to some people.

On a less interesting topic, a heavy rain cloud was rapidly approaching from the sea. It looked like a curtain of water between sky and ocean, as it made it’s way towards me. I was definitely going to get wet, so I took my time making sure the contents of my pack were well-packed into dry bags. Alas, I didn’t have waterproof cameras, so they had to be hidden away as well. Before burying the camera deep in the pack, I took one last photo as the rain approached. The difference in light and colour to the sky is interesting, as the next photo is taken from the same position as my oil painting one earlier.


Last photo as the rain approached

I’d secured everything and was more or less ready to move on when the rain hit. Besides hitting hard, it also brought with it a howling wind. I observed where the wind was coming from and noted it would be directly in my face as I walked.

The bad weather had also arrived in possibly the worst place for it to occur. The opening stages of this section are on completely exposed hillsides with no vegetation at all for protection. Just to make it a little bit more exciting, it also involves a steady uphill slog on a tyre and cattle rutted path full of mud and water.

It was part exhilarating, part horrific, as I wandered along with wind driving rain into my face. Due to the strong wind, the droplets were stinging, as they struck me and it felt like my face was being used as a pin cushion.

At one point I put sunglasses on so my eyes wouldn’t be demolished, but naturally all this did was reduce visibility more and I was at risk of falling over on the unsteady ground. Off went the glasses and I went for the ‘freestyle extreme squint’ approach, whilst also ruing not having a raincoat. I have one called the ‘Tempest’, which is what was needed now, but at the time was casually hanging up in my wardrobe at home.

It was certainly the worst wind and rain I’d faced for a while. In saying this, it was also memorable. How boring would it be if the weather was always perfect? Although I was in pain from a rain-punctured face, I was finding a bit of perverse pleasure in it all. I may not have had a raincoat, but I did have over-pants, which were doing the trick, instead of my Village People outfit of an hour before.

The first hour of the walk was a bit of a bummer, as it’s predominantly uphill on the paddocks until a road is reached. At least when the roadside walking started there were a few trees around, which blocked the wind a little. The rain continued belting down, but after slogging up an eternal hill the walking direction changed. It was then I got a bit of a tailwind and was soon motoring along. I’d spent a couple of hours inland, but was now headed back to the coast. The next place of interest Milanesia Beach, which always feels pretty isolated.

Following a bitumen road, I eventually reached a large gate. A dirt road then continues on to Milanesia Beach. I clambered over the gate and started walking down a soaking wet, steep track. As I did so, I was surprised to see a van parked down the track. This seemed a bit weird, as the previous gate was well padlocked. It wasn’t a Parks Victoria vehicle, so I had peek inside. First though, I checked there wasn’t a vacuum cleaner hose attached to the exhaust, as it had the suicidal look about it. It was empty though and I couldn’t see anyone around, so I decided the best thing to do was keep walking, but at a slightly faster speed.

After a slippery descent on the wet track, I finally saw the coastline ahead and Milanesia Beach was in sight. What was interesting was the weather again. It was no longer raining and the sun was now shining. The odd rain cloud was still around, but now it was quite warm and humid.


Approaching Milanesia Beach

I was impressed I hadn’t tumbled on the slippery track, as I had quite a few near misses. As I reached the sand, it was time for a break and I needed one. Now in a lather of sweat, some clothes had to be dispensed with.

I also wanted to stop, so I could potter around a peculiar sight at the back of the beach. There’s a small white cottage, which must be the ultimate beach house. As far as I know, there are no other houses remotely nearby, so it’s a surprise when first seen.


House at Milanesia Beach

I’ve no idea who owns it or if it’s used any more. Peering through the windows, it appeared untouched from when I saw it last year. It seemed to fit the overall ‘weird’ feel of the area. Maybe in summer it’s rocking? I took a few photos before wandering back to the beach. A few rain clouds were passing by off shore.


Looking around, there were a few things washed in. Some were man-made…


…and others were natural.


Eventually I’d have to move on, but I was at one of the Great Ocean Walk decision points. I had to clear Milanesia Beach and initially I thought I had the tide in my favour. If it’s low, there’s a wide expanse of beach to casually walk on before reaching a path, which then begins to scale the hills behind.

I was quite happily walking along the sand, when I came to a rocky outcrop which the waves were hitting quite hard. I analysed it for about 12 seconds and didn’t even think I could sprint through. It was only about 10 metres wide, but I’d learnt my limitations about sprinting between waves on rocks on my Croajingolong hike a few months earlier. Rocks + water + waves + large man = upside down in water. I elected to play safe by back tracking and finding the path, which is set aside for ‘high tide walking’.

What I didn’t expect though, was my diversion to go straight up a near vertical hill. I huffed and puffed upwards, which was no fun at all. Once at the top, it continued for a short distance, before returning to the beach and then went back uphill again. What? My thought was I’d climbed some height, so it would be nice to stay there. The answer was no. Downhill big boy, you’re not getting it that easy. Are you at the bottom yet? Good. Now start going uphill again.


Hugging the coast, the path begins undulating all the way to the next camp and it seemed a lot harder than the walking earlier in the trip. The views along this section are pretty spectacular though, as I left Milanesia Beach behind.


The path was wet and muddy, plus the weather was pretty unstable. Out to sea, a number of heavy showers were passing by the coast. Combined with the sun, the dampness in the air made for some humid conditions, so I was working up a sweat again.

This changed though, when suddenly the wind began to pick up, chilling the air. Rain seemed imminent, so I stopped to put my jacket back on. It wasn’t a problem getting wet again, but as the rain arrived, I certainly didn’t expect to hear rolls of thunder accompany it. I was on an exposed hillside as lightning flashed, so I made a bee-line for some cover under trees. Being tall doesn’t help my lightning fear, so I found a semi-protected spot and decided to wait out the heavy rain. I was enjoying flashes of lightning which were combined with thunder. When they’re together, I’m figuring it’s quite close?!


The storm before it hit me

I remained in my little shelter until the worse of the rain blew by, as I really wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to get zapped. When it appeared safe, I moved and guess what? Yes, the sun came out and within minutes the air was humid. It felt more like unstable summer weather, instead of spring in October.

By now, I was feeling a little knackered, so I was keen to get to camp and get the day over with. The camp isn’t given away easily though, as there’s a hill before it, which seems standard enough, but a lengthy staircase has been attached to it and it’s quite a lung buster.

The people who built the wooden staircase, up a hill in the middle of nowhere must be wild-men and it’s easy to overlook the work, which has been done to put the entire hike together. This especially applies to my destination, the Ryans Den, Great Ocean Walk campsite. Perched on a hilly outcrop, jutting out into the ocean. It certainly feels isolated and as I arrived it was empty again. It seemed I’d have the place to myself for another night.

I felt glad to make it and my first task was to pour some water over my head. This seemed appropriate, as the theme for the day was having a wet face. It was either rain or sweat constantly dripping from my forehead.

I was familiar with the camp lay-out, so I prepared an early dinner and then headed up to the end of the rock outcrop. At the top, there’s a perfectly positioned timber table.


Ryans Den relaxation point

Sitting down, it was a perfect spot to relax and eat dinner, whilst waiting for the sun to set. Mind you, considering the comment in the intention book I’d read earlier in the day, I was cautious of any stray DNA, as the hard timber table is definitely large enough to qualify for an entry in the Kama Sutra. A romantic spot like this would have plenty of gymnastic potential, but I tried to forget and reflect on the day just gone. My main thought was I hadn’t broken anything, which had to be a first for this trip.

Before heading to bed, I sat out the sunset and it was certainly worth waiting for…


Sunset at Ryans Den