Wreck’s Beach to 12 Apostles – 18kms
Our last day on the GOW.
This is all happening way too fast. I think I need to become a monk. Maybe that is a little extreme. Maybe just become a part of the Slow Movement concept. How can we possibly have walked nearly 100kms and it is over in the blink of an eye?
We were being collected for our drop off to Wreck’s Beach by 7:30am, meaning alarms had to be set to be up with the birds. I had the foresight to pack everything the night before, leaving nothing out but my clothes for the day, toiletries and breakfast, so didn’t have to wake up too early. That’s right. I am still not a morning person.
The biggest concern was whether Bree had come through and stopped the rain. I opened the blind and looked out. There, in the pre-dawn light, I could see clear skies. I was flooded with relief and utter, pure love for Bree. The thought she really was with me every step was overwhelming.
9 months after Bree passed away, I fled overseas. I was attempting to escape the heart-wrenching grief. I backpacked around Europe for 3 mths in the middle of Winter. In all that time, I had what I called my “happy weather cloud” travelling with me. Everyone wanted to travel with me because everywhere I went, the rain stopped during the day. (Ask me this story one day, quite an entertaining one.) There was an unfortunate downside to this in that I never saw a single working fountain the entire time, but I got to walk around exploring, without being rained on, even in Scotland. Scotland went as far as giving me blue skies!
The same thing happened on the Camino. For a week leading up to our final day into Santiago, it had been raining, torrential rain at some points. Suddenly, on the momentous, final day where we were walking into Santiago, it was blue skies the whole day, allowing me to experience that huge, emotional occasion without rain dumping down on us. It began to rain again the very next day and continued to rain for two weeks.
I felt it in Santiago, but it never crossed my mind all those years ago in Europe, that maybe, my happy little weather cloud was actually my beautiful daughter, watching over me.
In moments I was dressed, packed and ready for breakfast, followed by the much needed Cafe Latte. Prior to our walk, Ange and I had spent time researching caffeine sachet options that could go part way to replacing the morning caffeine hit without the benefit of electricity and in my case, fresh milk.
After a couple of awful options tasted, I lucked upon Starbucks Caramel Latte sachets (thanks to Ange). With nothing but boiled water, they had a level of creaminess and sweetness that could almost make me forget I wasn’t in the luxury of home with a fridge and fresh milk for my much-needed morning cup of tea.
So, given this was my morning crutch, you can imagine my horror to discover that little sachet wasn’t on the bench where I left it the night before. I began to feel like I was going crazy. I was sure I had left it there in my attempt to be organised. That was until I asked Ange if she had seen it….
Ange had seen the sachet and thought it was her who had been more organised and left it out for herself, so there she was, drinking my caffeine hit, wondering why it was a little sweeter than normal.
I’m not sure who is the craziest in this scenario. The one who was organised, but questions if they were, or the one who wasn’t, but suddenly thinks they are!
As a small blessing to me (and probably life-saving moment for Ange as I may have harboured thoughts of pushing her off a cliff without caffeine), my beloved crazy Italians must be rubbing off on me and I over-packed on food and drink, including extra sachets of the Caramel latte. In fact, I over-packed so much, I put Ange, an actual Italian to shame. A quick rummage through the food bag and I found a spare sachet. Crisis over.
The (in my opinion, extremely) early morning light and the clearing rain clouds created the most eerie light effects in the sky. The photo shows how it looked like two images are superimposed to each other.
Our timing coincided with the low tide, meaning we could take the beach route. But first, we had to climb down the stairs – all 356 of them. Finally, my time to shine! As I raced down the stairs, I tried to ignore the niggling thought of what goes down, must go up….
Wreck’s Beach was gorgeous.
The other benefit of the beach route was seeing the infamous anchors, leftover remnants from shipwrecks in the late 1800’s.
The beach route of the GOW can only be taken at low tide due to an area of rock scrambling. It required a fair amount of climbing and throwing our poles over to the other side of rocks to make it through. It is definitely not something you want to be doing with waves crashing even remotely near you.
After a second rock scramble that meant our feet got a little wet, we came around a bend and saw nothing but cliff face, with no beach area and definitely no path. Somehow, we had missed an arrow and walked too far. Backtracking on any long walk is never ideal.
As we retraced our steps, we crossed paths with an older couple who had been staying at our accommodation and were dropped off at the same time. Turns out, they had been following us, so also had to back track, though not as much as us. (I could’ve told them following us was never a good idea.) Sure enough, halfway between the first rock scramble and the second, there was the yellow arrow. In our defence, it would have been quite easy to miss coming from the other side as it would have been shielded by shrubbery. That’s my argument anyway.
Of course, the path went straight up. Energy wise, I was fine, however the high humidity and being enclosed by trees, was wreaking havoc on my lungs. I felt like they had closed up and I couldn’t get enough air in, or I was sucking in water. At one point, it got so bad, I could almost feel my body panicking about not getting in enough air. Thankfully, at that moment, we came into an open area, allowing me to breathe in lungfuls of fresh air.
It had been slow going up until this point, but once I felt better, I was able to move. And I really moved. The older couple had been keeping pace with us and chatting to Ange about all manner of things. Turns out they lived not far from Ange. But I needed quiet. As if I was having some kind of delayed reaction, I suddenly felt how I often feel on Bree’s anniversary, not being able to talk and listen to people’s lives go on as normal. I knew Ange would catch up, so I picked up the pace and soon left everyone in the distance, leaving me with the quiet and time to simply absorb where I was and why I was there.
And my surroundings were just breathtaking. I know, I know. I have raved about how stunning the scenery is on the GOW, and each day I have claimed it to be more beautiful than the last day. But honestly, today was incredible. Thanks to the rain the previous night and the tinted light from the sun and the clouds, everything just glowed. It was that magical lighting photographer’s talk about. We would drop into gullies, sourrounded by trees and ferns and just as quickly, be on the cliff edge, clambering over rocks and seeing the vast coastline.
I even got to see a weird variety of funghi.
The serenity of the surroundings helped ease my unsettledness and I was able to slow down and as I knew she would, Ange caught up. We enjoyed a short break on a bench, looking out over the coast before moving on.
We walked and walked, with no markers giving any indication of how far we had walked. We were constantly guessing. 6kms? 7? What became noticeable though, was the trail becoming more and more coastal, with the ground becoming rockier, the shrubbery squat and hardy, and sand once again sucking at our shoes.
Just when it seemed like the coast was stretching out forever and the 12 Apostles felt like a 100kms away, there in the distance stretched out Gellibrand River, the gateway to Princetown and the knowledge of less than 10kms left of the Great Ocean Walk.
This was to be our stopping point for lunch and a very welcome break. We had been moving at a relatively quick pace, with little break due to our transfer collecting us from the 12 Apostles at 3pm to return us to Apollo Bay. It was nice to take our packs and in my case shoes off and not think about anything for a while. It was actually quite a shock to discover we had already walked nearly 11kms.
We still had 8kms of rugged walking to go though, and just two and a half hours (not including my relentness need to stop every 5 secs and take a photo of the amazing scenery) to do it in so, as much as I wanted to drag my feet and not move, we had to be on our way. I was delighted to see as we were leaving, the stunning blue on my favourite bird, the fairy-wren bouncing around. Another reason to love the camera on my phone. With a quick zoom, I was able to get a photo of him.
What was of concern, was the mounting storm clouds. We knew a storm was forecast for later in the day, but would we make it to the end before this happened? Ange had first-hand experience in how quickly the weather could turn in this area and was anxious not to be caught in it. I just kept talking to Bree, asking her to hold out the rain until we finished.
With less than 8kms to go, we didn’t think it would be long before we finally got a view in the distance of the 12 Apostles. The woman who Ange had been talking to earlier had said she didn’t want to look out for them as they would end up the same as the Lighthouse – constantly in view, but never getting any closer. Given I had felt the same about the Lighthouse, I thought this was probably a wise thing to follow, but how could you not look at such a compelling view? Because, out of nowhere, we came over a crest and there they were.
As tired as we were, this view spurred us on. We were constantly mindful of the loud ticking of the clock, ever edging closer to 3pm and the feeling we were still so far away.
Weirdly, as illusions go, this one turned out not to be the case. It felt like my feet were flying and before I knew it, we had reached the photo location for walkers completing the GOW to signify the end of the walk, away from the maddening crowds at the 12 Apostles (or what used to be before Covid hit).
We only had an hour before we were scheduled to be collected for our transfer and we were still not at the 12 Apostles, so as soon as we got our photos, we were on the move again with no time to rest. I kept waiting to see the turnoff for the rock formation known as Gibson’s Steps because the sign at Princetown had said they were just over 5kms. Despite over 90mins of walking, we still hadn’t passed it. I was beginning to feel a little worried. Was this another mirage situation? We could see them in the distance, but how far away were they really?
By this point, my body was starting to ache and I could feel twinges in my knee. We had pushed ourselves hard today to reach the destination in time for the collection and I was feeling every bit of it. When the turnoff for the Gibson’s Steps finally appeared, I barely registered it. Ange had said you could walk down the steps onto the beach for incredible views. I knew my knee wouldn’t make the climb back up, but the bigger concern I had was I thought we were still 2kms from the 12 Apostles and we only had 45 mins before being picked up. Ange had thought we were already there. As soon as she realised we had further to go, she knew we didn’t have time. Next time, I said.
From here, the trail became frequented by people walking from the Visitor Centre at the 12 Apostles down to Gibson’s Steps. They had the fresh look of people who have recently stepped out of air-conditioned cars, out for a Sunday stroll, unlike the dusty, sweaty, just crawled out from the bush look we were sporting. I voiced my less-than charitable thoughts of how I felt towards these people to Ange. Turns out she had been thinking the same! I knew there was a reason we got on so well.
Apparently, it is only 1km from the Gibson’s Steps to the end, so while it was a relief to see the sign for the Visitor Centre, it also felt extremely anti-climactic that this meant the end of the walk.
Thanks to the fast pace we had kept, we had time to walk down to the viewing area to see the 12 Apostles, though technically, only seven remain. After walking over 100kms to reach them, it wouldn’t be right not to see them up close. By this time though, the physical and emotional drain of the week washed over me like a wave and I hit the wall. I shuffled down to the Apostles, those few hundred metres feeling longer than the entire walk from Princetown to the Apostles.
The one benefit of Covid for us was that this tourist destination, normally jam packed with visitors, all jostling for a view, was relatively quiet, giving us the space to look out in wonder and contemplate the path we walked over the last week.
By the time we made it back to the Visitor Centre, our transport was waiting for us. The older couple who had been with us in the morning and were also being collected, hadn’t even had the time to walk down to the Apostles. We were able to take a bathroom break and buy a celebratory ice-cream, before being whisked away, back to Apollo Bay. It didn’t feel right. I needed time to process and my brain couldn’t catch up with the reality.
What I did register though, was as soon as we got in the van and started to drive, the rain came. Bree had held it out for as long as she could.
Less than 90mins later, we were back in Apollo Bay. It actually felt a little offensive to think how quickly we had gotten there after it had taken us a week to walk to the 12 Apostles. It felt like this big thing we had achieved, was being squeezed by normal life and all too quickly it was over.
With the wisdom of hindsight, I should have given myself more time to process the walk before returning to the “normal life” of home and work responsibilities. I felt the rush of these things coming at me and I was overwhelmed. I found myself unable to write this final chapter and an immense need to hibernate.
By allowing myself the time to reflect, I could see the things I got out of the walk that I had been expecting, such as the peace to my spirit and the things I hadn’t been expecting, but valued just as much.
Given I was doing the Great Ocean Walk in memory of Bree, acknowledging the anniversary of losing her, I wasn’t expecting to laugh as much as I did. This would have seemed infathomable not too long ago. But time has given me this ability. Time has helped to ease some of the pain and to build a new relationship with Bree that keeps me connected to her, to have conversations with her and bring her alive in the good memories. This is all I have, so I treasure every single memory, especially if a new one comes to mind or that conversation with Bree makes me laugh.
How precious time is, for all manner of things. I gently encourage bereaved friends newer in their grief than me, to give themselves time and to not be hard on themselves for not being “better” just because they or others think they should be. This period of reflection showed me I wasn’t following my own gentle counsel. I haven’t been respecting my own need for time. I’ve changed. The Camino changed me and changed my relationship with my grief. I need time to learn what that looks like and what I need to help me manage this.
I’ll get there. I know now, without a doubt, I have Bree guiding me with every step I take.