After waking from my second last sleep for the hike, I was aware that I was well and truly on the home straight. It wasn’t too bad a snooze either, considering I was still using a deflated sleeping mat and pillow. Anyway, the walk may have been rapidly concluding, but there was still plenty sights on offer to see before it finished. I was looking forward to this section. My target was the ominously named camp of Devils Kitchen, Great Ocean Walk via 1800’s shipwreck anchors on the aptly named Wreck Beach below the camp.
During the evening, I tried to be clever by using my pack as a pillow. It seemed to work whilst awake, as at last I had some decent elevation to my head. Dozing off, I felt quite pleased I’d come up with a great idea, but after a few hours sleeping I woke up with my chin touching my chest. Slightly too much angle, which put my throat into positional asphyxia. Being folded in half seemed more suitable for origami, but a little difficult for breathing.
Anyway, I hoped to catch the sunrise, as the camp gives a great view over the ocean. I missed it a little bit though and only started snapping photos when the sun had already reached the horizon. Oh well, I can always come back for the third time!
Ryans Den is such a fantastic spot though, so I took my time enjoying the view.
I eventually got my things together and thought about the day to come. Again, this leg involved some lovely ‘roadside walking’. The Great Ocean Walks hardest parts are near the end of the hike, as I had another solid day of about 15 km and quite a few undulations.
One theory is I should be fitter after walking for a week, but I had an alternate theory. My legs were tired after walking for a week! I sat down to inhale my standard porridge when an unusual thing happened. I use a ‘spork’, which is a spoon/fork combo. It’s a fairly standard, plastic utensil for the outdoors. Surely, if you’ve read about this hike from the start, you can guess what happened?
Yep, my spork snapped in half whilst eating porridge. I’m not sure if that’s possible, as I think porridge is quite a soft meal. It would make sense if I’d been hacking on a piece of boot leather steak, complete with maximum use of the shoulder and full throated animal yelping. Anyway, I was slightly stunned, but it fitted the overall experience of the hike of walking and breaking things.
I guess my ‘spork’ was no longer its correct name. Instead it had become the world’s smallest cutlery set. The spoon was now so tiny it suited a pixies hand, instead of my gorilla sized paw. It was getting near the end of the walk, which was a good thing as I now had to make do with dolls-set sized eating utensils.
Well, I packed up and said goodbye to campsite number eight and headed off into the hills. The first two hours of walking are generally straight up and down. It’s hard going, but at the top of each hill I was rewarded with expansive views of the coast line. At one point after climbing an annoyingly steep hill I could look back and see my lovely bench where I watched the previous nights sunrise.
Although tough, this section of the walk is really rewarding. Besides the coastal views the path would lead down among a forest of trees and cross small creeks full of water.
The previous year I saw the largest kangaroo I’ve ever seen in my life on this stretch. He was so large and intimidating I almost began to blubber, as he stood front of me blocking the path. I waited for him to go, but he didn’t, so we ended up in a full-throttle stare-off.
Thinking a deep voice was needed to frighten him, I summoned the standard Lee Marvin method. This consisted of squinting fiercely, screwing up my face and replicating his deep vocals, but going one step further. I imagined Lee with bricks suspended from his testicles, which really bottomed out the voice in the hope it would scare off the mammoth marsupial. It didn’t really work, but he eventually left, which I think was more because of boredom than anything else. This year I had my eye out for ‘old man kangaroo’, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Views of the ocean still threw up surprises. I could imagine this sea cave would be interesting in bad weather, as surely waves would impressively crash in and out of it.
Another surprise was a very low flying helicopter. Hopefully I hadn’t mucked up my leave dates and they were looking for me.
Moving on, it took me two hours to walk the first five kilometres, which wasn’t exactly land speed record pace. The path eventually led to a disused dirt road and continued with the ups and downs until I came to an extended staircase constructed out of rocks. This is the final section of bush before the roadside walking begins. I was sad to leave the area behind, as I was now walking on open dirt roads. It’s amazing how much it hurts the feet to suddenly move from soft, winding paths to a constant hard, flat surface. I got into a good rhythm though and began to make good time.
My next stop was Wreck Beach and this spot has its own problems. Again, there’s a decision point, but the decision is made quite some distance from the beach. Wreck Beach is a history buffs delight as it contains old, rusted anchors from shipwrecks and is quite dramatic, just for the 30 metre cliffs in which the high tide reaches.
If one elects to go to the beach there’s a staircase of 473 steps to get down from the high cliffs (No, I’m not so demented that I counted the stairs. I Googled it!) I didn’t want to walk all the way down the stairs to find I couldn’t get across the beach. The other option is to follow the high tide route, which is a casual kilometre walk on flat ground to the next campsite at Devils Kitchen. This is what I did the previous year, as I didn’t have the tide in my favour, so my aim was to walk the beach this time.
It’s actually very easy when feeling stuffed to take the high tide route. If the legs are weary the thought of a million stairs, plus a few kilometres of sand walking doesn’t really appeal. I was psyching myself up, even though I didn’t really have the tide in my favour again. I got clever though upon reaching the decision point. Checking my phone and finding there was mobile coverage I rang the Port Campbell Information Centre to get the tide times. It pays to put these numbers in the phone before the hike! I spoke to someone who said that, one, I had the wrong time, as apparently daylight saving had started and I missed it and two, “The swell is small, you’ll be right”. It was sort of convincing so I headed for the beach.
I had a few kilometres walk on the road, dodging the odd car coming at me which was giving me the feeling I was no longer in the wild. I had to pass the Moonlight Head Cemetery, which I thought would be full of old pioneers graves. There wasn’t much in the way of history though, so I kept walking to a lookout marked on the map called ‘The Gables’. This is a great spot with an expansive view over the ocean…
…plus, the waves breaking across rock platforms were impressive.
There was an information sign and I was hoping to get some facts and figures from it. If I could read it though. I’ve seen weathered signs, but this was getting silly. It was literally obliterated and I wondered if there had been some stray atomic blasts in the area over the years.
Well, it was now or never, as I set off to the 473 steps to Wreck Beach. Upon hitting the sand I noted the tide wasn’t too bad, as waves weren’t around my ears. I started the slow trudge on the sand to the first shipwreck anchor which lies in rock-pools. I reached it fairly quickly and was going to take some close up photos even though waves were still washing over it.
I figured I’d drop my pack and just take it easy. Well, until two people came wandering up the beach from the opposite direction carrying cameras on tripods complete with remote switches. I waited for them to pass, but they didn’t, as they set up their tripods in the water to take pictures of the first anchor, which is from the Marie Gabrielle that wrecked here in 1869.
I sat back on a rock to wait for them to finish and noted they took photos of the same object for over 30 minutes. Really, I truly hope they got some good pictures, as they certainly put the work in. There are so many nice photos of this spot taken with the beautiful glow of dawn or dusk, but I had to put up with harsh midday light. Not exactly ideal from a photography point of view.
I did have quite a bizarre moment before taking pictures. I’d dropped my pack for maximum mobility amongst the wet rocks. With camera in hand I casually walked up to a large flat rock and within a split second I found myself lying flat on my face with my fall broken by the camera and my guts. I was lucky my face wasn’t driven into parts of the Marie Gabrielle. It could make for a good headline though, ‘Man dies in shipwreck from 1869 in 2010’.
After clambering to my feet and finding nothing worse than a scratch on the body of the camera and a bruise to my stomach, I began to wonder how I fell. Did I somehow miss putting my foot on the large rock? I examined the rock and found where I’d stepped had broken off. Yes, I stepped on a massive rock which snapped. What is this? I might be feeling a bit beefy, but surely I haven’t reached Bigfoot type weight? Ass man indeed. I took a photo for posterity.
Aching slightly, I moved on to the next shipwreck anchor. All the waiting around for the Ansel Adams clones to take their photos was actually helpful. The tide had receded some more and as I walked up through the glare, I could see the next anchor, jutting out of the beach.
This one is from the Fiji, which wrecked on the beach in 1878. Its wedged position made it look incongruous, but it’s still an interesting thing to examine. It was also easier to look at from the other direction, as the lack of glare meant I could actually open my eyes completely.
It’s another piece of unique history. I imagined how disappointed I’d be to sail for an eternity from England and then get shipwrecked at the last minute. I could imagine being swept off a ship, getting dashed against rocks in the dark, with the foam of breaking waves smashing all around me thinking, “Bummer”.
At this spot, it wasn’t just the anchor which was interesting. The cliff nearby had fluid running down it, spilling out onto the sand. Have a look at it this.
I know it sounds quite standard, but the liquid was quite vivid. I’ve no idea what causes it, as it looked more oil-like than water based.
Eventually, it was time to move on, as I left the anchor behind…
…and now faced one small obstacle. The map specified a rocky outcrop that’s impassable at high tide. As I approached it, I could imagine this would be the case. The outcrop of boulder sized rocks with the cliff face directly behind it would be tough to negotiate with water coming in.
The rocks were quite jagged and not remotely soft to touch. Knowing my clumsy antics from before, I didn’t want to fall over at this spot. Wreck Beach is a great spot, but I don’t like it that much I want to leave my teeth embedded in a rock. I slowly negotiated the barrier and before I knew it, I was back on sand and in the clear.
I was now getting close to the climb back up the cliffs to reach the campsite. There were still a few things to look at though. This barnacle encrusted piece of timber…
…and a large, blue barrel. Its exterior showed the scars of having being bounced and bashed across the rocks. I’ve no idea if there was anything in it, as I didn’t examine it too closely. For all I know it could have contained nuclear waste or maybe the result of a Mafia hit? Then again, seeing how it’s blue, it was probably full of fresh water.
Finally, it was time to leave the sand. I felt glad I’d put the effort in to visit the beach, as it’s a bit confronting to do all the stairs after a day of walking. There was of course the climb back up, as my target, Devils Kitchen camp, sits at the top of the cliffs.
I was under the impression a staircase would have to be climbed. Instead though, it was a zig-zagging, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. On the way up, I paused a few times to look across Wreck Beach. You can even play a Great Ocean Walk version of ‘Where’s Wally’, except this one’s called, ‘Where’s blue barrel’.
Weather wise, it had been a perfect day, but I was feeling a bit weary, as the sun had a bit of bite to it. I was feeling tired and glad to finish the day, as I reached the cliff tops and found the turn-off to camp.
Upon arrival, I performed my standard method of ditching the pack and then pouring water over my head. I hadn’t seen any other hikers during the day and it appeared most people walk the initial stages, but give the end a miss.
Checking the ‘walkers’ intentions’ book, it also seemed most people avoid Wreck Beach and used the ‘high tide’ route. It’s understandable, as it’s a very inviting proposition upon reaching the decision point. How do I know? Well, because that’s exactly what I did the previous year. I saw the ‘high tide’ signage and headed straight for camp.
Anyway, I was stuffed, but really glad I made the effort to walk the beach as it was fantastic. It had it all. History, breaking rocks, anchors and a big, blue barrel. I checked the campsite number I’d been given and it was no surprise to see it was number 8 again. Guess what? Number 8 is the pick of the spots at Devils Kitchen. A short distance from the campsite is a small chair overlooking Wreck Beach.
I decided to eat dinner whilst sitting at this lookout. With the view I had, using my pixie ‘spoon and fork’ was bearable, complete with placing my fist into my food to get anything on the actual spoon. There was only one day to go, which was a little sad, but all good hikes have to end sooner or later.
I had a slight sea breeze in my face which seemed to blow the mosquitoes straight at me. I commenced my chemical wash down technique with DEET and finally relaxed to watch the sun descend in a blaze of red…
…until it sank beneath the waves, leaving a rich glow to the sky.