When I woke up that morning I was nervous. I’d never done anything like this before, and as much as I love to walk and do a lot of it, it’s usually around cities or towns and in a pair of trainers. Never before had proper hiking shoes been a requirement of going on a trip and I was scared I wouldn’t be cut out for the days ahead.
Since I’d heard about the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk I’d wanted in. The idea of doing the last 56km of the 104km trail known as the Great Ocean Walk, taking four days and three nights to walk some of Australia’s most iconic coastline while spending the nights in an eco lodge and eating gourmet food along the way sounded pretty darn wonderful to me. The helicopter ride at the end would be icing on the cake.
But that morning as I got dressed and prepared to go to the pick up point in Melbourne to be driven to the lodge and the start of our walk I had butterflies.
I was seriously excited about the walk ahead, but also scared. I had to laugh at myself when I realised how Goldilocks I was being. As well as worrying about my fitness levels I didn’t want it to be too hot, I didn’t want it to be too cold, and I didn’t want it to rain. I wanted the conditions to be juuuuust right.
As it turned out over the next few days the temperatures soared to around 40 degrees one day and we walked in the rain the next, but it still turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. When the countryside is this beautiful any Goldilocks tendencies don’t stand a chance.
What Makes the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk So Great
I had expected to be wowed by some of the spectacular coastal views, and indeed I was, but for me the real magic of the walk was in the way the landscape and vegetation changed and how it was all so beautiful in different ways.
We may only have been covering 50km or so, but in that time we went from being dwarfed by big beautiful stringy bark trees to covering barren rocky stretches that reminded me of moonscapes.
We walked on dirt, clay, rock, sand, and occasional single file walkways made of wood or recycled plastic, and as we went the smells changed from eucalyptus and ferns to tea trees or just pure salty air.
We may have had plenty of food in our backpacks but the chance to snack on wild blackberries with a light sea salt spray dusting was too good to pass up.
Our guide, Darlene, introduced us to more bush tucker in the form of bower spinach and also pointed out the berries on the Kangaroo Apple plant with a warning that as they can vary from edible to toxic we were best leaving those be.
As someone who both likes a chat but also savours her alone time I loved the way Darlene allowed us to have times when we walked together and got to know one another, but other stretches where we had a meeting spot down the track and so could strike out on our own.
By forging ahead or holding back a bit I could create times when it felt like it was just me walking through this ruggedly beautiful part of Australia, as if I was some brave explorer out seeing the world for the first time.
Of course, with a pre-prepared gourmet meal in my backpack, an eco lodge to sleep in that night and a fully equipped and trained guide just around the corner I was much more Mild than Wild, but my imagination didn’t care and neither did I.
We had history lessons along the way, learning about the shipwrecks that took place on the rocks below us, and seeing where some new dinosaurs were discovered.
The bird sounds around us were the perfect soundtrack and as well as some familiar feathered faces I was excited to see some gang-gang cockatoos in a tree.
And I may be Aussie and see kangaroos regularly but I still got a little rush when a handful of ‘roos hopped lazily across the path in front of us, especially when I saw how it made the lovely Canadian lady on our trip’s day.
Our lodge team was professional, friendly and supportive, and when those hot days settled in they were adaptable and suggested we start walking earlier in the morning to beat the worst heat of the day.
Even without knowing we were facing 40 degree days I would have preferred those early starts anyway, to be out and about when the day was so fresh and new and to get the blood pumping in that cooler part of the day.
I’ll share more on the lodge and that food later, but now to the question that worried me before the walk….
How Fit Do You Really Have To Be
The walk is broken up into four days and each day except the last has optional extra walking that you can do.
The first day you arrive and can then walk 7.5km or 10.5km, Day Two is the hardest and is either 12.5km or 20.5km, day three is 12.5km or 17km and the final day is 8km for everyone.
When I first read that the longest main walk was 12.5km in a day I thought ‘I can do that!’. After all, I walk all the time and I’d clocked one of my regular walks and knew it was about 5km. Two and a half times that would be just fine.
Yeah, maybe if the terrain was the same.
I hadn’t factored in how many steps and hills we’d be tackling, and I’m not going to lie: a few times on Day Two when I got to the top of one big hill and then looked across at steps going up the next big hill I really didn’t want to walk all the way down and all the way back up again.
A zip line seemed like a much better idea to me but that wasn’t available. And throwing my toys out of the pram, or my walking sticks over the side of the cliff, wasn’t really an option. You can’t just go ‘well, that will do me’ and stop.
Fortunately Darlene is very skilled at keeping your spirits up in those times and can also help with sugar levels with some of the treats in her bag.
While there were times going up some of those Day Two hills when I kept telling myself I just had to get through it and then I’d let myself have a big rest back at the eco lodge, something strange happened.
When we got picked up by the van to be taken back I decided I wanted to join some of the others in doing the day’s extra kilometres. Well, after being assured that it was mostly downhill and at a gentle gradient and that I wouldn’t be struggling up any more hilltops, that is. But still, I surprised myself by wanting to keep going.
According to my FitBit on Day Two alone I did 31,000 steps and the equivalent of 176 flights of stairs (I took that screenshot to show how much up and down there was on Day Two before those extra kms, which is why it says 150 floors. I was too delirious to think to take another at the end of the day).
Over the four days it was around 95,000 steps and 460 flights of stairs.
As FitBit users will know, when you reach certain milestones they give you cute badges to encourage you. I’d only started using mine shortly before the hike and had to smile when I saw I’d been given the Helicopter Badge to say I’d climbed the equivalent of 500 flights of stairs just before I got in a real helicopter to fly over the Twelve Apostles.
Again, even though that’s a lot of steps you have to keep in mind that some of them are harder than others. Not just the going up hills ones but also the walking for long stretches in soft sand along a beach ones (ouch my legs after that!).
While most of the group of six women I was with were fitter than me we were all in varying levels of pain by the last night, barely shuffling between our rooms and the dining room back at the lodge with lots of ‘ouches’.
One of my legs was so stiff and sore it hurt to bend and it hurt to straighten, and I wondered how on earth I’d do 8km on that last morning when I could barely make it to the kitchen for a cuppa.
But there was no way I was missing those last kilometres, especially as they were the ones to the Twelve Apostles so I pushed on through and oh, it was worth it.
These Boots Are Made for Walking
I mentioned earlier that one of the requirements of the walk is that participants wear hiking boots or shoes, and leave the trainers at home.
Another point I should make is if you have a pair of hiking boots and you haven’t worn them for ages you should make sure they’re still in working, or should that be walking, order.
As I discovered there have been times when people have started a hike only to have their boots literally fall to pieces on them.
Apparently after being in the back of the cupboard for a period of time they can just lose whatever chemistry was holding them together. I’m told there have been a number of occasions where guides have had to ask for new shoes to be brought down the trail by another guide so the shocked and shoeless person can continue walking.
Being new to this whole area I was lucky to cross digital paths with James Menta of Sole Labz who was looking for some people who were new to hiking and wanted to try out some shoes and boots.
Well, that was me to a T.
After chatting about the sort of hike I’d be doing, James explained that I needed something light and breathable, and suggested a pair of Merrell Siren Sports with some multi performance cushion hiking socks to go with them.
When they arrived they looked more like a pair of good trainers than anything hard core, but I still wanted to break them in slowly so I started off just wearing them to the supermarket.
The first couple of times I wore them it wasn’t love. In fact every step I took hurt the top of my foot and I was seriously worried about how I’d cope with four days of hiking if it hurt to walk around a store.
Then I realised something rather embarrassing, which I will share in case anyone else is this stupid: I had been doing up the laces too tight.
Yes, all I had to do was find the sweet spot between making the laces firm enough to keep the shoes on but not so tight as to hurt myself. Problem solved.
Over the course of a couple of weeks I went from the shops to taking them around the block, then finally on my 5km walks. At one stage a blister did start to form on the base of my heel but I just took a day off and then it was fine.
When it came time to do the hike they were as comfy to me as a pair of trainers, and although I felt some pain in parts of my body during those days it was never on my feet.
As it turned out, one of the other walkers had bought another pair of hiking shoes that I had been considering buying and shall remain nameless. When I saw what they did to her feet and heard her talk about how she couldn’t wait to throw them away and buy a different pair I was very grateful for my easy to wear and comfy Merrells. Thanks James!
What Else Do You Need to Pack
When you get your track notes you’ll find the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk recommends that you also bring…
- 1L Water bottles x 2 (or you can use their Stainless steel ones)
- Long sleeve shirt x 2 (for good sun protection)
- Warm long sleeved top, fleece or vest
- Thermal top x 1
- T-Shirts x 2
- Long pants x 2 (But NOT jeans)
- Shorts x 1 pair
- Hiking socks x 3 pairs
- Swimmers (summer only)
- Small body chamois or towel
- Toiletries (note: they provide Myrtle & Moss shower products and also sunscreen and insect repellent)
- Change of clothes for evening (casual)
- Lightweight lodge shoes or sandals (note: they provide crocs for use at the lodge)
Personally I’d say don’t worry about the towel. They have them in the lodge, obviously, but they also had facecloths in our backpacks to wipe sweat and on swimming day they kindly brought towels down to the waterside for us.
Even though the guide carried sunscreen and insect repellent that I happily used I also liked to have some of my own in my backpack for those times when we were walking apart.
And something I’m glad I had and everyone else on our hike wished they had? A fan.
So simple, and oh such a relief when it’s baking hot and you’ve just climbed a hill.
I happened to have my Ibiza fan in my bag when I got to the lodge and didn’t think much of it when I put it in my backpack.
But what a difference it made, and when one of our group became overwhelmed by the heat at one point it was able to help cool her down and get her back on her feet again.
The lodge provides backpacks, waterproof jackets, ankle gaiters, water bottles, and things like fly nets if needed.
They also provide walking poles from Black Diamond, and while most of our group were new to them by the end we were total converts.
Embrace those walking poles! As one of the women put it, using them “was like going from two wheel drive to four wheel drive up those hills” and from now on whenever I see people with them I’ll be giving them a nod of respect rather than thinking they look crazy.
What About Toilet Breaks Along The Way?
I love to have a few cups of tea in the morning, which isn’t a problem when you’re close to a toilet. But when I know toilets will be few and far between, or non-existent as they are on most excursion days in Antarctica, I hold myself back.
So I was quite interested in this toilet question. How many chances would we have to use one along the track?
If we’re talking actual physical toilets with doors on them, the answer is two.
If we’re talking bushes you can duck behind, the answer is an almost endless supply.
Always ask the guide where the next good opportunity will be as there are times when you may come across other people, but for the most part it wasn’t a problem.
Also, those two loos have a view, so even if you don’t really need to go at the time pop in for a visit anyway.
The Lodge Part of the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk
And what about the lodge itself? Well it felt like a little piece of heaven when we rolled in at the end of our days.
The hiker-only eco lodge is at Johanna, around 250km south west of Melbourne on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
They only take groups of up to ten people at a time (twelve for special bookings), so it’s limited to around 900 walkers a year.
It’s all very peaceful and calm with no TVs or distractions beyond a good book and swapping tales with your fellow walkers.
The food is delicious, thanks to the new chef Zane Demnan, who has worked as both a chef at Saffire at Freycinet and a guide on the Bay of Fires Lodge Walk in Tasmania.
That means Zane knows the kind of food that not only tastes great but helps fuel you through the day. Some of my favourites included the apple and rhubarb porridge for breakfast, Thai beef salad for lunch, scallops for canapés, and baked beetroot and sweet potato salad with chargrilled steak for dinner. Oh yum.
Even though we could barely hobble from our rooms at times we never missed one of Zane’s canapés or meals.
Everything is included except alcohol, though the fridge is stocked and you can help yourself through the honour system.
Massages are also available, and cost extra, though you can always soak your feet in one of the big footbaths for free.
The only thing they were missing for me was fly screens in the rooms. I loved being able to look out at the trees beside my room and would have liked to have been able to have the sliding glass doors open so I could have the fresh air and sound of crickets while keeping those mosquitoes and other critters at bay.
Mind you, I was told that mozzies aren’t a real problem at the lodge, but if there was one within a 100km radius it would find me so I couldn’t quite relax with the doors open all night.
Reaching the Twelve Apostles
At 5am on our last day I woke to hear the unmistakeable sound of rain on the eco lodge roof.
The day before we’d battled through the heat, and when I heard that sound I was surprised that the Goldilocks side didn’t even make a peep.
Instead I was excited about the idea of working harder for it on that last day and seeing the apostles through the rain and mist.
My legs were in pain and the rain was falling but I still didn’t want it to end. As excited as I was to see those limestone stacks I wasn’t ready to head back to real life and wanted to keep on walking.
I may have seen the apostles before but that was after driving there. When we walked down along the beach to some of the apostles’ neighbors, Gog and Magog, I felt a real sense of achievement, and was seeing those stacks through different eyes.
When we went up in the helicopter I was so tempted to ask the pilot if he could sweep down the coastline a bit so we could go back to where we started and relive the whole journey again from above.
Actually, despite those killer hills and that beach with too much soft sand I wanted to do it all from ground level again.
It will always be my first, but I know the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk won’t be my last great walk.
Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk but as usual her opinions remain her own.
Amanda would also like to thank James Menta of Sole Labz for her first pair of hiking shoes. We will now be going on many many walks together.
Heading to Victoria? You may want to check out some great things to do in the beautiful Yarra Valley, including a surprising stay at the Best Western Yarra Valley.
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