The previous days stroll from Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay was a rather sedate affair, which left me with only a few scraps to write about. How did you pull up? Not too traumatised? Spare a thought for me, who has to come up with this stuff. Then again, I think I’ve cornered the ‘talking crap’ market, so I should survive.
There’s no time to waste though and it’s a whole new world as I move onto the latest instalment. Guess what? The 12 km stretch of coast line walking from Blanket Bay to Cape Otway is officially my favourite part for the entire hike. Sorry? What’s that noise? If I didn’t know better, it sounded like the dull thud of 100,000 half a dozen eager readers jaws dropping to the table.
You better believe it, as this has all I could want in a day walk. Small hills (vitally important for my postage stamp sized lungs), elevated views of surf pounding coast, easy walking on rocks where armless pottering will reveal remnants of shipwrecks, culminating in a dizzying climb to the top of the oldest lighthouse in mainland Australia.
Like anyone else though, you always want a little more, such as random bleeding from walking partners or overhearing the music of Vangelis, but really, these wishes are pretty far fetched. You can always hope though. Oh yeah, a big day means a big post, so if you haven’t got long to live, then I suggest you do something else, as this will finish you off completely.
In the beginning, it was a peaceful evening at Blanket Bay. The weather was mild and other than my sleeping bag, the wind was still. Whilst hiking, my usual dozing method is as follows. When darkness falls, I sprint to bed. It may explain why I love winter hiking, as it’s dark by 5.30 pm. Snooze until roughly 2 am before waking up, with a fearsome need to visit the comfort station. You know the Rolling Stones song, ‘Midnight Rambler’. It’s quite appropriate for me, if you alter the lyrics slightly. Next time you hear it, try this instead. ‘…Talkin’ about the Midnight Dumper…’. I guarantee you’ll never think of the song in the same way again.
Following the early morning rampage amongst the wilds of the bush, I’ll return to my tent and find I can’t sleep. Mind you, I feel a million dollars and always think I could walk 500 miles at that hour. If only I could see. Instead, I’ll listen to The Proclaimers until around 4 am, before thinking to myself, “I feel great. I should stay awake and I’ll be able to hit the track like a complete bastard (if you’re wondering, this means good)”. Suddenly though, I’ll collapse into a coma and the next thing it’ll be 9 am with someone banging on the tent, telling me to wake up.
There’s always one problem with this. At 4 am, I’m more fired than Thor after he’s had a fistful of donuts. Come 9 am, after some sleep, my body feels as if Lord Lucan’s gone nuts on me with his favourite lead pipe. Quite the transformation.
On this 4 am occasion, I made a pact with the weak side of my brain. Forcing myself to stay awake, by repeating, “stay awake ya’ bastard (if you’re wondering, this is no longer good. I’m actually insulting myself)”.
So, I hung on and rose early to see the sunrise. Look I can prove it with a photo.
There was something wrong though. My theory of carrying early morning energy through into daylight hours wasn’t working. Maybe thoughts whilst lying cosy in a sleeping bag, don’t translate to real life? Anyway, my body felt as stiff as a bastard (if you’re wondering, this means not good. How long can I continue this crap joke?).
I may be the most inflexible man in the southern hemisphere. Generally, I can reach my waist with both hands okay, but anything lower is off-limits. If I try and touch my knees, there’s always the fear I’ll freeze and be left with my torso frozen horizontally. As you can imagine, this would make hiking tricky. Oh yeah, I know what you’re wondering. “How does he tie his shoelaces?” Ah, that’s easy. What I do is lie on my back with legs aloft and do it that way. I must admit it’s awkward if a shoelace comes undone in the city. You try lying on your back in Elizabeth Street with your legs vertical.
This inability to bend at all is a major problem when packing a tent. On this day, I psyched myself up before bending down. As I did so, suddenly there was a searing, eye watering bolt of pain from my lower back, as I ripped something. I’ve no idea what. Muscle, ligaments, spine, major organs, torso, the entire kit and caboodle. It was one of those almighty muscle rips where it feels as if the torn muscle is three times its normal size and the slightest movement results in burning jolts of agony.
This was not good. If I remained 100% vertical, it was bearable, but the slightest movement caused me to holler like a Yowie who’d been kicked in the nuts. There I was worrying about the prolapsed disc in my neck and how it was going to handle wearing a backpack, but instead something totally different had wiped me out.
What was I to do? It was only day three and I don’t think my masculinity could have faced pulling out. I’m one of those blokes who will only activate my emergency beacon if I’m one breath away from death. Rescuers would find my frozen body, lying on my back with beacon held vertically in one hand and some Deb mashed potato in the other. The conversation will be as follows.
A young, pencil-neck looking bloke with arms like shaved bicycle-spokes will quizzically wonder, “Why didn’t he activate it earlier??” Then there’ll be a pause as the camera slowly pans to a wizened looking, outdoors, beardy looking bloke who would utter in disgust, “Huh? Because he was a man. Goddammit!!” Note to film directors: This is only one cutting edge part from my rom-com called ‘Burnt Out in Brooklyn”. By all means be in touch if you want the full script.
Anyway, back to reality, I turned to what I know best. Medication. I reached into my ‘superb pills and medication’ (SPAM) bag and grabbed a fistful of chemical joy and gulped them down with a fake espresso coffee combined with lumpy powdered milk. If only I had some bourbon/heroin to go with it. All I could do now was wait for the pharmaceuticals to work.
I won’t detail the exact combination of tablets, as it’ll be a spoiler for the next post. I stood vertically for about 30 minutes, donned the pack and took a few steps. I’ll tell you this. Early on the pills weren’t fully activated and as we left Blanket Bay, the overcast view looked like this…
…but my pain addled brain saw something a bit darker.
Sorry. During all this pain describing, I forgot to mention our Dutch friends who we shared camp with every evening. There’s not much to say, other than they’d only just got up when we left. Talk about taking it easy. They don’t get their nickname, the ‘Bolsward Balltearers’ for nothing I guess.
Trudging on, there’s a steady climb out of Blanket Bay and I must have been feeling the pinch, as I have exactly no photos of this stretch. All you need to know is there are a million grass trees and a beautiful winding path with spectacular, elevated views of the coast for miles. Just the usual stuff you’re probably not interested in seeing anyway.
Then following a casual descent into Parker Inlet, we were faced with a decision. Well, it’s not a decision you have to make if you abide by the current GOW map. The latest edition indicates the only way forward is to follow the track up and over a hill on the far side of the inlet. Mm… It never used to be like that. My previous map has a low tide option by following the rocks before linking up with a beach near Cape Otway Lighthouse. Guess what? The new map has ditched the low tide option altogether. Huh?
On my previous visits I’ve followed the rocks both times, as I’ve found them fantastic. Yeah, it was lowish tide on both occasions, but it’s not remotely hairy, as the rocks are expansive. I guess it’s part of the new way with these things. It’s risk assessment gone nuts. If you follow the route over the hills, you’re going to miss all sorts of good stuff.
Firstly, there were some nice reflections on Parker River to look at…
…before facing the inlet itself.
By the way, the piece of timber in the photo above has been there since I first walked through in 2009. Hopefully when I return in 2059 it’ll be matchstick size and I can just put it in my pocket.
Now we followed the rocks to the right of the headland and comfortably strolled around…
…to find ourselves on a fairly open landscape. I’ll show you what you’re missing if you take the hills. Firstly, some wild looking rocks…
…which are in multiple colours.
Remains of shipwrecks litter the area…
…including pieces you can pick up. Such as this bit. Well, it looks part of a ship, but I guess it could be some sort of ancient mariners sex aid.
Look what you’re missing out on!!!! Okay, I’ve calmed down now. Continuing on along the rocks…
…eyeing off waves breaking in rocky gullies…
…and even checking out some windswept sand dune spots.
The rock shelves are huge and the waves were some distance away. Briefly I investigated, hoping to capture some decent rollers, but this is the best I could do.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. My back was flying due to full chemical acquirement, so you don’t have to hear about it for a while.
At the end of the rocks, we hit the beach, but there was some fanfare ahead, which was taking our attention. A group of people came flying down to the beach and some bloke roughly 175 years old came over to us. I was intrigued by some sort of new-fangled headset he was wearing and contemplated whether he looked hip or like a complete dick. He said, “Have you been looking for the curlew?”
I must admit, I had no idea what a curlew was. Did he mean a Russian submarine? Some sort of game from the Winter Olympics? A new type of toothbrush?
In the end, I had to ask and he revealed it was a rare type of bird. Well, I assume rare, as he was fired up about it. Apparently one had been spotted in the vicinity and he’d brought a bus load of freaks down to look for it. Eyeing off the group though, they didn’t seem to be looking too hard.
Suddenly, within seconds they left. It may have been the shortest, rare bird spotting expedition in history. Some of the gang were looking a bit creaky, so I wondered how they were going to get off the beach without having heart attacks. Guess what? I kid you not, but what happened next looked like this. Throw in a Vangelis mash-up with Motörhead’s, ‘Killed by Death’ and you’ve got the soundtrack as well.
After a crazed sprint along the beach, the grey army took off up the dunes, onto a track and headset man followed them. Mind you, he didn’t walk or run. No, he sprinted like Carl Lewis. Behind him, a cloud of sand hung in the air from his furious stride and I’m sure I could feel a breeze from his pumping arms.
It’s then I realised he was the bus driver for the older set and had to push the 400 m record in order to catch up. There was no sign of them as I scanned the hills, so I presume they were performing a shoving, eye gouging, trekking pole-between-the-legs-tripping-method, no holds barred race to the top. I guess it also explains his new-age headset and willingness to talk to anyone. As we know, give a bus driver a hands-free microphone and you’ll never shut him up. Once I was on a bus in New Zealand and we were approaching a spot for morning tea. Driver man decided to fill us in and it sounded like this,
“Once stopped. Enter inside and there you’ll find cups, mugs, plates, tea, coffee, hot water, cold water, milk, sugar, cream, chocolate powder, scones, butter, jam, bread, various spreads, napkins, paper towels…”
It went on and on and only stopped when I smashed him over the back of the head with portable rubber mallet I happened to be carrying, resulting in a cheer from the other passengers who gave me high-fives. I must say, driver man went beyond the limits of minutiae and was just begging to be assaulted.
Anyway, back to the excitement. I didn’t really expect to hear Vangelis as well. It was almost a perfect day. If only I had some blood though? Well, lo and behold. Smuffin didn’t disappoint. Blood was aimlessly spurting from his arteries for no apparent reason. This truly was the best day of walking ever.
We now began a much slower climb from the beach until reaching the road to Cape Otway Lighthouse. It would be nice if the track continued along the beach, directly to the lighthouse, but alas, no. There’s a reason for this, but I’ve forgotten.
A track runs alongside Otway Lighthouse Road, but it has some comedy attached to it. The road is fairly flat, whereas the track goes on some sort of roller coaster, undulating hill method. Smuffin declared he’d rather risk getting run over, so he took the road. I tried a road/track combo, but noted he beat me to the lighthouse by about 12 hours.
Maybe my slow speed was due to the snoozing tiger snake on the track, which caused me to change my pants?
Finally reaching Cape Otway Lighthouse, there was no way I wasn’t going to miss having a look around, so I stumped up the $19.50 (!!!!!!!) to get in.
The staff let us drop our backpacks near the entrance, but even this wasn’t simple. Placing them on the ground, an English accent began booming out. I turned to see a tourist in cargo pants containing approximately 250 pockets. One look and I said to myself, “Oh god, here we go”, as pocket man let rip,
“Hey, I reckon putting your pack there will be fine. People look at a pack on the ground, but no one will take anything. I’ve left packs all over the place in the past and they’re never touched. I’m a hiker you know. I’ve hiked a lot places. Especially in the Laplands. I’ve done plenty of walking there and you wouldn’t believe the size of the mosquitoes. They’re huge. Not so much in other areas of Europe, as I’ve hiked a fair bit of Europe as well. Done plenty of walking over the years”.
I stood there wondering if he was going to stop and breathe, whilst also cursing I wasn’t carrying my trusty rubber mallet with me. What is it with these blokes? I’ve said it before, but the outdoors are full of them. Hiking heroes. They lure you in by saying hello, but as soon as you reply, you’re trapped. The conversation is never about what you’re doing, but it’s just a leg-up so they can spend the next 20 minutes talking about themselves. More was to follow with pocket man, but I think I’ve buried it in the deepest parts of my brain, so I can’t recall it all. No doubt it’ll reveal itself when I sleep tonight and cause me to wake up in a cold sweat.
Back to the lighthouse. I noticed a new addition to the area. Some sort of dinosaur information building, which looked interesting, but we couldn’t get near it due to being packed with people. Deciding to come back later, we headed to the lighthouse instead. There’s not much to add about the Cape Otway Lighthouse, which I haven’t written about before in my previous GOW posts from 2010.
The reward for climbing the steep stairs to the top is a fantastic view. I warn you now. Photography can be tricky, as there’s always some lunatic who tries to get a photo in front of where you’re standing, causing a complete balls-up.
This also follows when one attempts the ‘path-to-the-lighthouse-with-no-one-else-in-the-shot’ photo. Do you realise how long it took to get the following picture? As soon as someone was about to move out of shot, another punter would stroll in front. One family approached, saw what I was trying to do, paused and then walked in front of me anyway. They couldn’t wait the handful of seconds for me to take the photo, so I had no other option than to pick them up one by one and hurl them off the nearby cliff. I held the last one high above my head, as a warning to others, before throwing him into the abyss.
The intended photo was now taken in peace…
…and the area was calm with the crowd keeping a distance. The sky was perfect for the traditional ‘looking up the white wall’ picture…
…before admiring the current light, which is operated now. I love an old lighthouse, but that’s what they are, old. The modern beacon is not quite so romantic. Actually, it’s a bit of a fizzer and there’s no fancy photography trick can make this one look good.
Wow. Will this post ever end? Apparently not, as we still had to check out the new dinosaur exhibition. Yet again it was a crowd pleaser, so Smuffin had to push his way inside. In the end he was lucky to get a seat.
Don’t worry, it’s downhill from here. I’m not sure if anyone has noticed, but this plaque intrigued me. You do realise Sir John Holland, the commemoration is for Henry Bayles Ford? It’s not all about you John.
A last minute visit to a shady shed, which masquerades as a museum, revealed a signalling flag of interest. Apparently this is the one Smuffin runs up the flag pole at night when he’s in his caravan. I’m not sure of the success rate regarding his plea.
Okay, I think I’m done. The campsite was a short distance away, so I don’t think I can add anymore. Oh, dinner was cooked by Lady Smuffin. Sausages, I think.
Did you wonder how my back went regarding all this? Don’t underestimate the power of chemicals. I was on a drugged high all day, so I survived in flying style. What about the next day after a sleep though? Well, you’ll just have to read the next post to find out.
This leads us with the one and only…
Big Greg’s GOW Tip of the Day.
There’s only one main tip. If possible, take the stinkin’ beach! The whole hike has plenty of strolls on undulating hills, so why not head along the coast if the tide is okay? There’s plenty to see and the walking is easy on the expansive rock shelves. The map may have given this option the flick, but I can whole heartedly recommend it for a change of scenery.
Before the day started, I mentioned to our Dutch friends about this beach option, so I was eager to see which route they took. I excitedly asked Harold, “Did you listen to me and take the beach???” He paused for a moment and ran his hand through his non-existent hair, before slowly proclaiming, “No. We followed the cliffs.”
Bloody hell. Is there anyone who will listen to my tips?
What else? Nothing, but I’ll leave you with my only night photo of the trip. Some bare eucalypt trees at Cape Otway campsite under the stars.
Entertaining as always Greg. I can relate to your back pain and look forward too hearing your tips on chemical combat. Highlight of the blog was you throwing the family off the cliff. Something I've always wanted to do. This has been a very enjoyable series so far – I'm a big fan of coastal photography and you've captured some amazing moments.
very enjoyable post.. love your photography and travelogue.. pity smuffin didnt get a pic of the family free falling 🙂
Hi Mandy, my medical use for back pain is not for everyone. In fact, I should apply a disclaimer to the next post 🙂
I'm glad you enjoyed me tossing the 'standing in front of my camera wanderers' off the cliff. It's the least I could do! The whole Cape Otway visit was a bit of a freak show. Believe it or not, but I cut it short, otherwise you'll still be reading it!
Thanks re the photos. I'm a coastal nut and hopefully the photos in a few posts time will be a crowd pleaser!
Thanks! This was an extended travelogue, but I always say there's all you need to know about a particular walk in each post. You've just got to wade through some rambling to find the pertinent bits 🙂
People can be weird. Those two lighthouse shots with the path took a decade to take, as the tourists refused to wait for a second. Talk about a struggle 🙂
Might be time to offer your readers some prints for sale…or a calendar? I'd love some shots hanging on my wall. Only problem is I'd have way too much trouble deciding which ones to choose out of your stunning collection. I assume you also have trouble picking which ones to put on the blog. Thanks for sharing these. As usual your writing gave us a load of smiles, but we send our sympathies regarding the muscle ripping though. The shot that you darkened to show your pain levels was a brilliant way to impart the mood. Ugh! I hope you recover soon. I think I may have given up at that point. What more can I say, other than we are eagerly anticipating the next installment in the series. One day perhaps I'll make it down south and attempt the GOW myself. You've whetted my appetite… 🙂
Got a good laugh out of the picture of the plaque – and by chance I also had a memorable plaque experience the other day while passing under the bridge to Redcliffe on a walk. There, rusting in obscurity, was a relic of darker times: the bridge had been opened by the "Honourable" Joh B. Peterson and the "Honourable" Russ Hinze, aka Minister for Everything. Both dead, mercifully, and long gone.
History: It ain't what it used to be.
Nice memories again from this post. I remember skipping the lighthouse tour when I walked through as the guy working in the shop annoyed me so much with his creepy patronising tone to a couple of young Asian tourists. If I remember correctly, that night's camp was near those old graves back in the sand?
Jane, yeah, the prints and calendar thing has been on my mind for a while. I had an idea to do a Ben/Big Greg combo site, as he's got urban covered and I can do the landscape stuff. It also helps to build a portfolio for Ben, but as is the way, full time work takes out a chunk of my 'doing other stuff' time. I've got to attend to this blog, plus do some other writing on the side and by the end of it all I'm usually wanting to go to bed. Anyway, one day the photos might be printed!
The muscle pain is not so bad, as at least it gives me something to write about. It makes me laugh a bit, as I used to train for longer hikes like this, but now I tend to do absolutely nothing for weeks beforehand. Maybe that's a reason for the injuries which always occur on the first few days!
Wow, I hope you got a photo of that dubious piece of history! Russ Hinze. Now there's a name I'd forgotten about. I remember him as a surly looking, fat white bloke, who appeared to reek corruption. I think my memory is fairly correct! Those blokes epitaphs should be 'gone, but unfortunately not forgotten'.
The lighthouse tour is a bit pricey, but I've been lured in there each time by the cafe! I can recommend a nice frittata. I must admit the staff were a little odd. When I paid I received a 30 minute spiel of the upcoming highlights, which created a bedlam of a queue inside the tiny little gift shop. I didn't ask for this extensive detailing, so I'd hate to see what would've happened if I did!
Yes, your memory serves you correct. The cemetery is tucked away near the camp. As a fellow deadhead, I can appreciate it was one of the highlights. Unfortunately, my visit on this trip didn't go to plan!
Hey Greg! thanks for the awesome blog! I’m planning to go to the great ocean walk this winter as well. Do you know where I can get the latest map for it? I’ve heard that you can phone the info centres along the GOR and purchase them on the phone, but not really sure that works…
Thanks. Mm… You can get it at any of the hiking stores in Little Bourke St, Melbourne. I’m sure you could purchase it online from somewhere as well? I’d stick to the paper map. Coverage is flaky along there. All subjective I guess, but I prefer the the reliability of a paper map. In hindsight, I found I rarely looked at it. Track is well marked, so it would be some weird event to cause someone to get lost. Handy to have though for any escape routes if one wanted to abandon though!