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Walking with the Apostles

MiNDFOOD discovers how a four-day walk along Australia’s rugged coastline is more like a pilgrimage.

Walking with the Apostles

A few of us gather around the table and help ourselves to freshly baked scones. I lather my scones (we’ve been walking all day, kilojoules don’t count) with homemade jam and a big dollop of clotted cream and then sprawl myself out on 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. 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 cliff tops 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 quickly discover that hiking with a knowledgeable guide alongside like-minded people (maximum of 10 guests per walk) offers an entirely different kind of experience. I learn a lot about the surrounding environment and wildlife and I 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 along with his wife Dana Ronan (both avid hikers, Gavin has walked the four-day section that the tour covers over 300 times) picks us up bright and early and transfers us to the lodge. The Twelve Apostles Lodge isn’t just any lodge – it’s an eco-resort nestled in spotted gum and pine forestry in beautiful Johanna.

Dana explains that a lodge of some sort was always the plan and it was just a matter of working out the how and where. “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,” she explains. “We looked at various options, including partnering with the Victorian National Parks Association and building in the park, but this didn’t work out with the legislative framework.”

Gavin and Dana found a site in picturesque Johanna and joined forces with distinguished 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 weaved 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 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, even waterproof pants if you want them – is all sorted by the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk team. Although I’ve never been on a guided hike before, I get used to it pretty quickly. The only thing I really have to do is turn my alarm on each morning to ensure I make it to breakfast.

Our walking guide Jenny Vran is an excellent reporter of the wild environment and over four days she enlightens us with stories, anecdotes, information about the flora and fauna, and history about the coastline that wasn’t named Shipwreck Coast by accident.

Day tripping

Starting at Castle Cove and ending at the iconic Twelve Apostles, the 40-kilometre hike (although avid trekkers can trek up to a total of 56 kilometers) 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.

Day two is by far the most challenging and four eager guests in our group choose to get up very early and leave before sunrise to hike an additional eight kilometres prior to the rest of the group joining them for the remainder 12.5 kilometres.

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 forceful wind whips around us adding to the mood. We pass shipwreck remains, we spy a couple wedge-tailed eagles soaring high, and there are plenty of kangaroos and wallabies jumping about.

The fast foursome get used to their swift pace, however the rest of us prefer to meander a bit more. We stop often to take photos, or just because. 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 come to celebrate a milestone, while some book the getaway to simply escape the everyday for a little while.

For myself it’s a chance to work on mindfulness and learn to relax a little more. I take the walk slowly, I use the foot spa daily, and I sleep better than I’ve slept in months. Gavin explains that 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 AU$1995 per person during low season (AU$1595 for children) to AU$2195 per person in high season (AU$1755 for children). The walking season runs from September to May and bookings are now open for the 2015/2016 calendar. The price includes transfers to and from Melbourne, 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. For more information go to twelveapostleslodgewalk.com.au or call 1300 767 416.

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