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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

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

rock shelf and ocean near apollo bay

Hopefully I didn't press the friendship too much regarding the last post. Truly, it was a tale about nothing. Don't panic though, there's walking and stuff in this entry.

Before starting, I must mention, Smuffin has complained about swearing, which has been used more frequently in the blog. He noted, "It's starting to lower the overall tone and standard". It's a tough crowd when the bloke who swears like a drunken sailor with a stubbed toe starts to complain about my writing. All I can say is reference to a defendant I saw in court once. He had a limited vocabulary and overused one word (guess what word it was) so frequently it became meaningless. As the magistrate delivered his finding the exasperated defendant paused and then pronounced, "this is just a big bunch of fuck". Not quite Ned Kelly's 'such is life', but a lot more entertaining and it sort of sums up what's happening within the infernal walls of this blog.

So, to the start of the walk. March might be autumn, but recently it feels no different to summer. Continual hot days had me wondering what to expect on this hike. I figured we'd get baked and the first day of the hike fitted the bill. A forecast top of 30 °C would make for a steamy beginning, but at least I knew the strolling wasn't going to be too taxing.

That's until I was making arrangements to leave my car at a caravan park for the week and the proprietor gleefully exclaimed, "Hot one today, but there's rain tonight!" Rain had been a rare event for the previous months, but somehow, starting day one, we were going to get cooked and soaked. All at once.

Anyway, we made it to Apollo Bay and dismounted the Smuffin transport vehicle. Looking around the start line I scanned the sky. Dark clouds hovered inland, but a Jackson Pollock style confusion of floating water vapour hung over the ocean. It could only mean one thing. It was polariser weather.

apollo bay foreshore
The official start line at Apollo Bay.

Throwing on the backpacks, we powered off into the wilderness and wide blue yonder. The main street of Apollo Bay. I used all my bush skills to avoid a BBQ pavilion without stealing a sausage and the occasional parking vehicle. I kept my head down, whilst bystanders stopped in their tracks and stared. One exclaimed, "Look Mavis! Am I seeing things? I thought they were extinct, but no goddammit, they're hikers!"*

I must say, the opening salvo of this hike is remarkably dull. A stroll next to the road is never much fun, but even more so when there's no shade on a hot day. Our first target was the sleepy hamlet of Marengo a few kilometres up the road.

Guess what? I'm not sure why, but the extraordinarily light backpack was killing my shoulders. You've never heard so much moaning, as I wrestled with the shoulder straps. Not to mention after approximately 375 metres my feet were killing me. I was feeling confused by the amount of agony I was enduring and ended up uttering, "Well, it looks like I'm going to pull the pin at Marengo". If this was to occur, it may have been the most pathetic attempt at a hike ever witnessed and I could see the following conversation occurring.

"The Great Ocean Walk is 110 km. How many did you do?"
"Well, I dug deep, but couldn't go on. I did a solid 2.7 km though".

Maybe it was the 'haven't-walked-in-yonks-blues'? I did have one trick up my sleeve to take my mind off the torture. The polariser. It's glare cutting and contrast enhancing was almost at arousal level. I warn you. Don't be looking at these pictures on the train whilst wearing fine cotton trousers. You may get arrested. The defence, "But Sir! It wasn't my fault! It was the big blokes polariser photos!!" won't get you anywhere. You're better off saying, "this is just a big bunch of fuck!" At least you'll get a laugh from the blokes arresting you.

barham river and marengo
Passing Barham River with Marengo in sight.

Slogging along the footpath (yes, footpath) it was a matter of keeping eyes left. At least there was the ocean and sights to take my mind off things. The expansive clubrooms of the Apollo Bay Pony Club...

apollo bay pony club

...and an intrepid kite flying pair struggling in the breezy conditions...

flying kite on apollo bay beach

...whilst a ship passed through some showers out at sea.

ship at sea under rain clouds

Eventually, we performed frenzied back-slapping, as the first target of the day was reached. If only we had some champagne to celebrate with, whilst exclaiming we were now officially the 'Masters of Marengo'. It took a lot of sweat and toil, but by digging into our genetic 'true Aussie grit', we'd successfully walked 3 km since Apollo Bay. Amundsen, eat your heart out.

beach at marengo victoria
Marengo beach.

Some delicate navigation was now required to avoid kids on bicycles, overweight blokes in thongs (Australian thongs) and a shop selling ice-creams, as the track goes directly through the Marengo caravan park.

Finally, exiting the raucous caravanners, the track entered a coastal area and for the first time it felt like I was on a hike, rather than going down to the shops in the suburbs.

great ocean walk track at marengo

There were some impressive looking big grassy things...

long reed grass marengo

...but there were also dark clouds looming.

rain clouds over great ocean walk marengo

Now, what else do you need to know? As I've done this hike about a million times, I reckon I can actually offer advice to any punter wanting to do this walk. For a first, I'll include a tips list at the end of each post. It'll be full of wisdom and crap jokes, which is a rarity for this highbrow blog.

The main toss-up for the day though, was do we stick to the beach or take the high tide options? The entire walk has a few of these decisions, but I'll mention more of that later. I can't be giving you tips too soon, can I? We stuck to the beach initially, whilst wondering if we could get all the way to Elliot River without heading inland. The trouble was, on some of the headlands we couldn't see exactly what was to come, especially near Bald Hill.

Smuffin was ahead and powered along the rocks. The thing is, could we stick to these rocks or would we have to backtrack at some point? It may have been the heat, but Smuffin took on a dazed look and continued, whilst ignoring my calls as I became concerned about the way ahead. It went exactly like this.

walking on rock shelf great ocean walk

walking on rock shelf great ocean walk
"Smiranda...Don't go up there! Come back!"

screaming whilst wearing wig and false beard

If you don't know what's just happened there or what it alludes to, then I pity you. Maybe I'll give you a hint later. Smuffin was now gone and never to be seen again.

As he'd vanished into thin air, I decided to backtrack a little and go inland over Bald Hill. An elevated view might also be quite good for a few photos. It's a pity it took me about three decades to climb this hill, which is about five feet tall. Eventually though, the marker from previous summit attempts was in sight...

top bald hill great ocean walk

...and I crossed the top without using any supplemental oxygen. In front of me the coast unfolded.

view from bald hill great ocean walk

As the track plummeted right back to where I started, the beach, as dark clouds began spitting the odd drop of rain.

rain clouds over hills

It was easy going on the beach...

near shelly beach great ocean walk

...but there's a problem. As the first light shower arrived, I put my camera away. Normally I also carry a compact as a back-up, but not on this occasion. I couldn't see the point of risking drowning my only camera on the first day, as it would make trip write-ups problematic without any photos.

Smuffin remained vanished, so I followed the beach until taking an inland section called the 'Three Creek Circuit', which avoids Shelly Beach. Mind you, this was not a solo crowd pleaser. See my tips for what I mean.

Under the trees, the return of the sun allowed the camera to come out again, as I did a little inland strolling.

walking on three creek circuit track

...before the track again plummets back to sea level and crosses Elliot River. I really should have more photos, but for some reason I don't. I think it may have something to do with steep climb immediately after the river crossing. Rising up with not a zig-zag in sight, was a bit of a ball-breaker in my supremely unfit condition.

I think I was the happiest man alive, when I stumbled across the sign indicating Elliot Ridge campsite. Who should already be there, lounging around? Well, Smuffin of course, complaining why it took me so long. After his vanishment, I assumed he'd gone the same way as Flight 19, but in reality, I must have climbed so slowly up Bald Hill (I did), he'd simply gone out of visual range.

It was all pretty good timing. We were well and truly set up when heavy rain arrived. The hike has a shelter at each camp, so it was pretty casual fare relaxing under cover. As it was getting late in the day, Smuffin was feeling confident no one else would be arriving, so we'd have the walk to ourselves. My previous experience of this hike though, was someone always lobs up late in the day and on this occasion it was no different.

Out of the gloom arrived a couple who would end up accompanying us for the entire week. Their names were a bit too complicated for us Aussie speech mangling clowns, so they became known as 'Harold and Maude'. Why those names? Well, there is some semblance to their real names in that moniker. Mind you, some, but not much. As in none.

Anyway, they introduced themselves as the 'Rockets from Rotterdam' and proceeded to unfurl their gear, which appeared to be brand new. It was also the first appearance of the Steripen. Rain water tanks are at each camp, but a cautionary sign proclaims, 'untreated rain water'. Yep, that rain water will kill you if you're not careful. Harold was perturbed though. After filling up from the tank, he spotted a wriggler in the water. Us yokels know a wriggler in a rain water tank is just a mosquito, but 'Big H' yelled, "There's a fish in the water!!"

Luckily for him, the Steripen was able to work its glowing magic...

using a steripen in water bottle

...and that my friends, is the first day done. It was a day of heat, rain, vanishing men and uncalled for fish. What's next? Well, of course it's the inaugural...

Big Greg's GOW Tips of the Day.

This is easy. On my first GOW I parked my car near the end at Princetown and caught the V/Line bus back to the beginning. During the hour journey, the driver informed me he was going to drop me off at Marengo, rather than 3 km further to the official starting point of Apollo Bay. I asked him why he would do this and he replied, "Because the start is crap. Walking along the road. Trust me, it's better to start at Marengo." Listening to the locals sounded like a good plan, but I didn't really have an option. At Marengo he stopped and threw me out.

On my second trip, I began from the official kick-off point at the Apollo Bay Information Centre. What I discovered was the bus driver is quite correct. It's only a few kilometres, but it really is kinda crap and annoying. So, if a bus driver wants to throw you out at Marengo, just relax and let him toss you to the side of the road like a Christmas tree in January.

Next up, the map. There is an official GOW map. I bought one in 2010, plus the latest updated version. Along the entire walk there are numbered 'Decision Point' signs at various points. You know, if the tide is dodgy, take a high-tide route. No problem, but it seems a little weird the current map no longer has the numbered 'Decision Points' on it. My 2010 map does though. Mm...

This leads me to this entire first leg. If the tide is out, follow the beach. The rock shelves aren't too gnarly, there's little sand to get bogged down in and it's a lot more cruisy. No more so than the section which avoids Shelly Beach. I kid you not, but if you stick to the rocks you'll walk about 300 metres, but the inland avoidance section will take you on a 1.5 km stroll up and down hills before finally returning a minuscule distance from where you started. If you want views, then take Bald Hill, as that will give you the best elevated look of the coast. Don't bother to look for it on the map though. It's not marked, but on the actual walk it's signposted. Supplemental oxygen is your choice though.

Here's the GPS route for the day. Mind you, Garmin Connect revamped their website and it's thrown up some bizarro results. As per usual, it appears Garmin have replaced a quite functional website, with something a little odd. Mainly to do with elevation corrections. So, what you're looking at may be correct or it could be complete crap. I'm sorry, but it's all care, but no responsibility in this place.  

I think that's it? Next up. The terrifying slog to Blanket Bay. Oh yeah, maybe you're still a little confused by the earlier 'Smuffin vanishing' sequence? Hopefully this will help you out.

Edith screaming in Picnic at hanging rock

* - The character depicted in this work is fictitious. Any resemblance to a real person is purely coincidental. Even though it's mighty believable.