For thousands of years, the original inhabitants of this land that now features the Great Ocean Walk were the Gadubanud Aboriginal tribe. The plateaus and coastlines were their home long before European settlers arrived. It’s believed that the Gadubanud tribe lived an abundant life here, with the rich environment providing plenty of food and shelter. There has been evidence found that the Gadabanuds hunted not only on land but with bark canoes along the rivers, lakes, estuaries, and even along the coastlines.
It wasn’t until 1846 that the Gadubanud were no longer able to avoid the incoming European settlers. Two previous attempts had been made by the Europeans to penetrate the thick rainforest, and finally, they succeeded at making contact with the tribe. Later that same year, a European surveying team was sent into the rainforest and subsequently were murdered by the Gadubanud tribe, although no reason is known as to why this happened.
In August 1846, a retaliatory expedition was sent from Melbourne to avenge the European settlers who had been murdered; joining them was another Aboriginal tribe, the Gunditjmara. Seven people from the Gadubanud tribe were killed, now known as the Blanket Bay Massacre. Today, the Gunditjmara people are the traditional custodians of these lands, and some can still trace their ancestry back to the original Gadubanuds.
In 1974, the idea of the Great Ocean Walk was created with the hope of forming a unique coastal experience for travellers and as a way to protect the habitat that it passed through. It wasn’t until 1994 that the local community came together, over a few bottles of port, to develop the Great Ocean Walk into a feasible concept. Over the next 20 years, the community worked together with environmental agencies and the Australian government to build this walk. Finally, in 2006, the idea came to fruition when Parks Victoria launched the Great Ocean Walk which is now 104km long after a few extensions since it was opened to the public.
Shipwreck Coast Background
Early Explorer Matthew Flinders once said, “I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline.” He was referring to Shipwreck Coast along the Great Ocean Walk. There are few places in the world where you will be able to find as many shipwrecks as along this coastline.
The ‘Eye of the Needle’ is the reason behind this deadly coastline, a narrow gap between Cape Otway and King Island. Many ships dared to risk threading this needle after spending long months upon the open ocean. It appears wide enough, at 80km wide, but even wizened sailors forgot or ignored that the mighty force of the Southern Ocean is forced through this passage, causing massive swells onto a continental shelf that is quite shallow. It was because of this that Cape Otway Lightstation was commissioned.
Johanna, Milanesia, Wreck Beach, and Loch Ard Gorge are all named after famous wrecks, and you can still see evidence of the wrecks on the beaches today. Evidence includes anchors either buried in the sand or memorialised in rock, but occasionally you will catch a glimpse of something more.
Surf Coast Background
The Great Ocean Walk is naturally linked to the Surf Coast region, a region that offers more than just beautiful landscapes; the landscape itself provides a platform for the magnificent and daring sport of surfing. There are dozens of beaches along the Great Ocean Road known as some of the best in Australia where elite surfers come to test their skills.
Bells Beach is world-renowned for its two main breaks, the Bowl and Rincon. Every Easter, at Bells Beach, the Rip Curl Pro is held where only the best of the best come to compete. Another major surf spot, which can be seen along your walking holiday, is Johanna Beach. Johanna Beach has a huge beach break which contribute to the steeply sloping ocean floor as well as the many reefs around Castle Cove. On rare occasions on really big swells you’ll find big wave surfers at Port Campbell, at the end of the walk, surfing swells up to 10 metres.
The surf coast is a playground for surfers, from beginner to pro, so keep an eye out for those colourful boards bopping along the waves.