Walking With The Apostles
6 August 2015
MiNDFOOD discovers how a four-day walk along Australia’s rugged southern coastline becomes more like a pilgrimage. Words by Tatyana Leonov.
A few of us gather around the table and help ourselves to freshly baked scones. I lather mine (we’ve been walking all day, kilojoules don’t count) with homemade jam and a big dollop of clotted cream and then sprawl out in the lounge. Some of the others are soaking their feet in the foot spas and a couple, who have booked the four- day walking experience to celebrate an anniversary, stroll around the eco-resort taking in the vistas.
As hikes go, this is as plush as it gets. I’m on a guided trek – a condensed version of Victoria’s 104-kilometre Great Ocean Walk, which traces the rugged coastline from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles, magnificent rock stacks that rise from the Southern Ocean on Victoria’s coastline. If walked the whole way, it usually takes seven to eight days to complete.
Although dedicated hiking enthusiasts can trek the entire route, I’m covering just 40 kilometres over four days ... and I’m doing it in style. I’m indulging (yes, that’s the right word) in a guided hike, accommodation and dining combo from eco-tourism outfit Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk. It’s one of Australia’s best multi- day walks – so good, in fact, that it’s one of the eight Great Walks of Australia.
The hike itself is, of course, the star of the show – four days of traversing luscious sclerophyll forest, negotiating clifftops with stunning vistas around every corner, and strolling along weathered beaches where crashing waves toss and froth relentlessly. It’s a wonderful synthesis of land and sea: natural Australia at its best.
FUN IN NUMBERS
Although you are able to walk the track on your lonesome, I discover that hiking with a knowledgeable guide alongside like-minded people (maximum of 10 guests per walk) offers a different kind of experience. I learn a lot about the surrounding environment and wildlife and develop friendships with my fellow hikers. Then there’s the stunning lodge, the delicious and nutritious cuisine, and the way everything flows so smoothly.
The experience starts in Melbourne, where Gavin Ronan, who founded the company 10 years ago with his wife Dana, picks us up bright and early and transfers us to the base. The Twelve Apostles Lodge isn’t just any accommodation – it’s an eco-resort nestled in spotted gum and pine forestry in beautiful Johanna.
“It was always our intention to own and operate a lodge to support our walk and even before we set our first boot on the trail, we began researching modular buildings and semi-permanent structures,” Dana explains.
Gavin and Dana found a site in picturesque Johanna and joined forces with Tasmanian architect Stephen Sainsbury, who is known for his low-impact and sustainable design work. “We liked his business philosophy and the influences to his architecture, such as the Japanese use of symmetry,” Dana recalls.
When we arrive I understand what she means. The lodge structure is woven beautifully into the surrounds; each of the five sleek cabins (all with ensuite bathrooms and heating) is designed purposely to minimally impact the environment. There’s a large dining room with enormous glass windows, so guests can take in the views, too. It’s here we enjoy a lovely morning tea, which consists of hot drinks (the Nespresso machine is popular) and date slices, then pack our daypacks with supplies (water, gourmet salad lunches, rain jackets and any other gear we might need) and embark on our expedition.
This sets the precedent for the rest of the trip. We’re just here to hike. The rest – well-appointed rooms, foot spas at the end of each day, delicious low-glycemic cuisine, walking poles – is all sorted by the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk team. Although I’ve never been on a guided hike before, I quickly get used to it. The only thing I have to do is turn my alarm on to ensure I make it to breakfast.
Starting at Castle Cove and ending at the dramatic Twelve Apostles, the 56-kilometre hike is split into four days. Day one begins a short drive from the lodge and the walk entails making our way back to Johanna Beach – or the lodge for those who wish to add a further three kilometres to the day.
Over the next two days we make our way to the final destination. We trudge through thick bush and sparser vegetation, our track fringed by wild berries and native shrubbery.
Sometimes we stroll along sand dunes, gazing at the raging sea as the wind whips around us adding to the mood. We pass shipwreck remains, spy a couple of wedge-tailed eagles soaring high and spot plenty of kangaroos and wallabies jumping about.
The Victorian coastline is one of Australia’s most stunning sights and as a group we’ve come from all over to immerse ourselves in the surrounds completely.
The beauty of this trek is that the journey can be whatever you want it to be. Although some people take this time to focus on their fitness, other guests come to unwind and use the walk as a way of getting closer to nature – and themselves. Some come to reconnect with a partner, others to celebrate a milestone, while some book the getaway to simply escape their everyday life for a little while.
For myself, it’s a chance to work on mindfulness and learn to relax more. I take the walk slowly, I use the foot spa daily and I sleep better than I’ve slept in months. Gavin explains the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk experience is about our bodies doing what they are designed to do. We walk, chat, eat and sleep and I realise that Mother Nature really does know best.
The Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk is priced from A$1995 per person during low season (A$1595 for children) to A$2195 per person in high season (A$1755 for children). The walking season runs from September to May and bookings are now open for the 2015/2016 calendar.
The price includes return transfers from Melbourne to the lodge, three nights’ accommodation at the luxury eco-lodge, a scenic helicopter flight at the conclusion of the walk, an expert eco-guide who treks with the group daily, vehicle support, walking gear hire and all gourmet low-glycemic meals for the duration of the trip (three breakfasts, four lunches and three dinners) as well as a variety of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. Optional extras include alcoholic beverages and massages. For more information, go to twelveapostleslodgewalk.com.au.