Saturday, April 19, 2014

Blanket Bay to Cape Otway Lighthouse, Great Ocean Walk, Victoria. March 2014.

cape otway lighthouse
Cape Otway Lighthouse

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 stretch 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.

sunrise over ocean blanket bay otways
Sunrise over Blanket Bay

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...

dark clouds over blanket bay otways

...but my pain addled brain saw something a bit darker.

blanket bay otways

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...

reflections in water of parker river

...before facing the inlet itself.

parker inlet otways

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...

parker inlet from rocks
Looking back at Parker Inlet 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...

erosion of rocks near parker inlet

...which are in multiple colours.

erosion of rocks near parker inlet

Remains of shipwrecks litter the area...

wreckage of martha 1853 cape otway

...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.

piece of shipwreck cape otway

Look what you're missing out on!!!! Okay, I've calmed down now. Continuing on along the rocks...

rock shelf cape otway

...eyeing off waves breaking in rocky gullies...

wave breaking on rocks cape otway

...and even checking out some windswept sand dune spots.

windswept sand and rocks cape otway

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.

wave breaking cape otway

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.

people taking pictures on beach

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.

running on beach chariots of fire

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.

bleeding arm

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?

tiger snake lying in grass

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.

photo of hand holding camera landscape

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 other 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...

cape otway lighthouse

...and the area was calm with the crowd keeping a distance. The sky was perfect for the traditional 'looking up the white wall' picture...

looking up at cape otway lighthouse

...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.

modern cape otway beacon
Cape Otway Lighthouse. The modern version.

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.

seated inside dinosaur exhibit cape otway lightstation grounds

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.

memorial plaque cape otway lightstation

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.

signal flag i require a tug

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.

trees and stars at night

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay, Great Ocean Walk, Victoria. March 2014.

long exposure of water on rock shelf blanket bay
Sunset at Blanket Bay 

If you write about the outdoors, the absolute worst result is things going to plan. Who wants to read about me walking without complaining or injuring myself? Am I complaining now? Technically I am, but it's not good complaining. Good complaining is finding myself at the bottom of a ravine with no way of escaping. Bad complaining is lying on a couch wondering why there's no food in the fridge. Like right now.

Anyway, who wants to read about me being relaxed and happy at the end of a days stroll? Even I don't and I'm the one living it. Simply put, sometimes things go to plan and the end result is a blog post, which will struggle to keep the most dedicated insomniac awake.

Where am I going with this? Alas, the walk from Elliot Ridge campsite to Blanket Bay was one of those days. No injuries, no unusual occurrences, no near misses from meteorites, no nothing. The one bonus is you'll just get up off the couch to make a cup of tea and by the time you sit down again with brew in hand, the post will be over.

Oh yeah, I must mention one thing before getting into the detail of this walk. During my spare time I've been putting in some work trying to locate Jimmy Hoffa. After a fair bit of research, I've managed to narrow down the search area to the following. A few weeks ago I sent this map to the FBI, but am still waiting for a response. Hopefully they'll get some benefit from my extensive analysis.

google earth with circle around united states

Now the walk. Previously, this inland stretch through the Otways, whilst following management roads (then again, maybe they're plain old roads?) hadn't inspired me much. Mind you, on the last occasion it was a bit of a mud-fest, so maybe that didn't help my mojo. All I remembered was some gradual uphill strolling, before suddenly standing on Blanket Bay beach wondering how I got there so quickly. I guess this feeling was revealed when I looked at my watch, which indicated it was only midday.

The map says it's easy and I concur. If a generously sized gentleman such as me says it's a cinch, then, well, it must be.

The first night was a bit of a wet one and nothing beats a bit of rain to see if a tent is sealed properly. Unluckily for you, the reader, my tent performed flawlessly. Morning brought a bit of sunshine and dry conditions, so I leapt out of my tent like a Valium-fuelled Ninja. Breakfast was inhaled and gear packed in record time. Unlike the 'Rotterdam Rockets'. Our late arriving Dutch friends hadn't stirred by the time we left. I wasn't sure if they were sleeping in or had entered into a suicide pact overnight. If it was the latter, I'd want to get some distance on them, as nothing ruins a bush experience more than rotting corpses.

The next photo sort of sums up the entire day. A track surrounded by towering trees and ferns.

elliot road in otways

I must say, in the dry it was a bit of a different walking experience. Previously, I'd sloshed and slipped through mud for the majority of the time, but on a dry surface it was plain sailing. Not a lot to photograph, although I did spot this rare Otway black snail getting some speed up. Remember, other than the Otways, these aren't found anywhere else in the world, so don't go stomping on them thinking they're garden snails.

 Otway Black Snail Victaphanta compacta

Mm... some Chernobyl green fungi were kind of interesting to look at.

green coloured fungi otways

I'd be hesitant eating any though. Here's one hiker who had one too many of the green devils. He'd need more than Panadol and a good nights sleep to get over these symptoms.

covered in toxic waste emil antonowsky robocop

As per usual, Smuffin sprinted off, aiming to arrive at Blanket Bay before morning tea. He may have vanished into the distance, but his calling card was sighted in various spots. If you ever see any of these on a track, then you'll know he's in the surrounding hills. On a sidenote, did you know these used to be called an 'iley face'? His ground breaking method of applying part of his name to words, has helped create the English language we know today. Smokestack, smooth, smallpox and smegma are just a few.

smiley face on dirt track

One highlight was the amazing floating leaf of the Otways. It probably won't drag the crowds in, but I was impressed. A dry leaf, suspended above the track had me seeing things. I'll be buggered if I could see what was holding it up and I was staring at it from about 2 cm away. Yeah okay, these days I do need a portable Hubble telescope to see things up close, so I may have missed the exact source of the suspension.

leaf suspended by fine cobweb

No sooner had I turned away from the magical leaf and I was here (just to clear things up, 'here', means on the beach in the next photo, not 'here' that I'm lying under your bed with an axe in my hands). Talk about the world's quickest walk.

blanket bay beach through trees

In traditional fashion, we'd arrived at Blanket Bay in the early afternoon. It was time to put the feet up and lounge around, whilst contemplating dinner, which was about a decade away. There is a reason a lot of people skip Elliot Ridge and do the double leg from Apollo Bay. Just be prepared for what happened to me last time. Late in the day I was relaxing on my own, thinking I had the camp to myself. Suddenly, hordes arrived who had muscled their way from Apollo Bay in one hit. When hiking, there's nothing worse than a big group, as without trying they take over the place. This is exactly what the super-sized group did. It was a traumatic experience.

Anyway, I had time to potter around the beach taking photos. A large piece of flotsam became my target and I cursed not having a proper tripod with me. This is the best I could do in the 'long exposure stakes'.

long exposure of flotsam blanket bay

It was all a pretty casual fare with plenty of relaxing going on. I'd hoped to get some nice photos of the waterfall which sits at the back of the camp, but it was dry as a chip, so I was out of luck there. A lone koala sleeping in a nearby tree was of interest, but the big moment of the day was seeing the arrival of the 'Rotterdam Rockets'. They hadn't committed suicide after all.

There's absolutely nothing to say for the rest of the day, other than dinner was chilli con carne and it was mighty tasty. I guess this leaves us with the inaugural plus one more...

Big Greg's GOW Tip of the Day

Sleep in. Even by taking your time, you'll find the walk from Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay will take no more than four hours. There's nothing wrong with leaving Elliot Ridge at 10 am, as you'll still have a thousand hours of daylight to spare to make it to the beach.

What else? I found this leg following wide bush roads quite dull, but there's nothing wrong with it. I'm just a coastal sort of bloke who likes seeing waves and mermaids. I always thought though, this day through the Otways would be perfect for someone who had never walked in Australia before. Towering mountain ash, huge ferns and a lush undergrowth with the occasional wallaby hopping by, would be the quintessential down under walking experience in one hit.

What better way to test my theory, than by asking Harold and Maude what they thought? They'd previously only had limited time in Australia, so I was keen to hear what their opinion was.

I said, "What did you thing of today's walk?"

Big H pondered for a moment, scratching his shiny, eye-blindingly, polished bald head and replied,

"It was kind of boring."

So there you go. In one hit, he shot my theory down in flames.

Anything else? Just one last thing. The savvy follower of this blog will know I tend to throw in a little map of each walk, which is taken from the GPS and uploaded to Garmin Connect. It gives the elevation, time taken and all sorts of guff. I'm sorry to say, but no more. Garmin have well and truly dakked that application. Essentially, nearly all the maps I'd uploaded in the past are now incorrect, so I spent about three hours the other night deleting them off individual posts. I knew I was in trouble when I checked out the Viking hike and the map displayed was of a stroll around Albert Park Lake, which I'd done after work one day. If you ever need a gpx file of these walks, I can provide them with the only payment being a decent lemon tart.

That's it. I'm done.

pink sunset sky above blanket bay